Comic Book Curious

The Anime that Made Us: Dragon Ball

March 11, 2022
An image with cartoons and anime (including Dragon Ball) from Toonami

Credit: Toonami, Warner Bros. Entertainment

Ever wondered why some anime shows seem more memorable than others? Remember staying up late watching Toonami, catching the latest episodes of Dragon Ball, Bleach, or Death Note? I sure do! Maybe others will resonate with this series as well: this multi-part article series will be diving into which popular anime withstand the test of time, why they seem so memorable, as well as a bit of their history!

An image from Netflix that says "The movies that made us"

Credit: Netflix

To be truthful, I've been on quite the kick recently with "The Movies That Made Us" and "The Toys That Made Us". It's interesting to hear the history of favorite toys and old movies. In addition, with the new season of anime coming up (April 2022) and Sakura-Con around the corner (which I will be doing a vlog on announcing now), I figured: why not combine both that "History of" style with anime! So, throughout this series, I'll be going over various shows from different eras: 80s, 90s, early 00's (pre-06), mid-00s (06-08), late 00s (08-09), early 10's (pre-16), mid-00s (16-18), late 10s (18-19).

Beginning this series, we'll start with a series that is seen to have the most pop-culturally impactful influence: Dragon Ball (and subsequently: Dragon Ball Z).

Surprisingly enough, the opportunity to even write Dragon Ball was thanks due to the success of Dr. Slump back in 1980.

An image of the manga Dr. Slump

Credit: Jump Comics

Taking inspiration from the Journey to the West novel, Dragon Ball was written by Akira Toriyama. Toriyama saw an opportunity to finally write what he wanted, the series titled: Dragon Ball, and we all know how that turned out today. The original Dragon Ball serialization ran from 1984 to 1995, reaching a circulation of over 6.5million weekly sales, grossing nearly $7 billion (yes, 7BILLION USD) during that run. Interestingly, while the action was a big player in the series, the story (initially) was more about the hijinks of the super Saiyan than the fighting itself. You can see that in the anime, where during the original run of the series it transitions from just hijinks and lighthearted fare to the fighting frenzy it is today.

Its story is…also quite adventurous! It is about finding all seven dragon balls, summoning Shenron (the Dragon God), and granting the wish of whoever finds all seven dragon balls desires. However, the story focuses more on the character development: who Goku meets, defeats, and befriends along the way. We meet a plethora of characters, such as Piccolo, Gohan, Vegeta, Bulma, Master Roshi, and so on.

-Editor's note: This section is a super high view summary of the series (and both of Goku's child/adult eras).

The manga itself had an astonishing 519 chapters (42 volumes), which you can divide into effectively two main eras: child Goku, and adult Goku.

-Editor's note: The adult era of Goku starts fully in the Dragonball Z series, which I am happy to go over if people would like to see an article of that!

The child Goku era (properly, not including the Jaco prequel) begins with Emperor Pilaf Saga, where at age 12, he meets Bulma. After some exciting conversations between the two, Goku takes Bulma back to his house.

He ultimately meets master Roshi, learns the Kamehameha beam, and sees the beginning of many sagas that would define the series, such as the Tournament saga and Red Ribbon Army Saga.

Fast forward to the last major arc: the 23rd World Martial Arts Tournament, Goku has to defeat Piccolo Jr.

There is a time skip during this arc (due to Goku going into the Hyperbolic Time Chamber), in which he comes back at 18yrs of age. Ultimately, Goku wins the championship, defeats Piccolo, and asks Chi-Chi's hand in marriage. Goku and Chi-Chi get married, thus ending the original Dragon Ball series.

We can see why it became such a hit with its relatively simple storyline of good versus evil, its focus on character development, and relatively short story arcs. Adding to that, there was a perfect storm brewing over in the states as well:

• By the time Dragon Ball (More notably Dragon Ball Z (DBZ), since the franchise really took off during the DBZ era) had reached the states, other shows were gaining steam: Inuyasha, Sailor Moon, Digimon, and Pokémon.
Pokémon is probably the most notable for breaking the floodgates and introducing children (and adults) to the world of anime.
• Channels such as 4kids (for better or for worse) and Toonami showcasing anime and introducing these new shows to children.
• Big names such as Chris Sabat are being brought alongside these shows to help get the characters to life.
• The overall excitement of this new form of entertainment had American audiences hungry for more.

Thanks to this combination of Dragon Ball's low barrier to entry, as well as the anime explosion, the series became a massive success leading to numerous video game franchises (DBZ: Budokai, Budokai Tenkaichi, Xenoverse, and DBZ: FighterZ, just to name a few), massively successful movies, with the 25th anniversary of the series having Dragon Ball Super: Broly having claimed the title of highest-grossing Dragon Ball film ever, fourth highest-grossing in the US and Canada, and one of the highest-grossing anime films of all time.

With this level of success, there's no question that Dragon Ball has left its mark in many different areas of popular culture outside of just anime.

The franchise's popularity is prevalent in almost every aspect of pop culture you can imagine from other anime shows:

• Naruto
• One-Punch Man
• Bleach
• Gintama
• Assassination Classroom

just to name a few examples.

In short, most mainstream Shonen shows are either directly or indirectly inspired by Dragon Ball since the franchise seemed to have defined what a successful Shonen series is or can be), to video games (the first three of these Toriyama helped with as character designer):

• Dragon Quest
• Chrono Trigger
• Blue Dragon
• Jump-Force

to athletes:
• Lonzo Ball Los Angeles Lakers guard
• De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings guard
• Darren Fells Cleveland Browns tight end

and even musicians:

• Chance the Rapper
• Kendrick Lamar
• Even RZA from the WU-Tang Clan

-Editor's note: to be honest, the reasoning as to why most hip-hop artists love Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z is because of the lessons and takeaways. For example, many artists can relate to Goku in always wanting to improve and become better, or just that feeling of being the underdog. So, it's interesting to see how many artists relate to that.

Goku even made it into Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade one year, specifically the 2018 parade, thus solidifying the franchise's status as a pop culture icon. (Since Macy's Parade tends to focus on pop culture icons with staying power.)

With a solid breakout: Toriyama now had an opportunity to work on a passion project after his breakout series Dr. Slump, his reimagining of the Journey to the West. However, the journey that Dragon Ball would take was one no one expected, ultimately reaching far longer than just the West. The franchise seemed to have come in punching and has maintained its hard-hitting status for nearly thirty years. If you have never seen Dragon Ball or DBZ, I highly recommend it!

A cover of Journey to the West and an image of Akira Toriyama

Credit:Top-The university of Chicago Press, Akira Toriyama

As if this series isn't hard-hitting enough, get ready for the next installment of this series, as we'll be seeing some more fists thrown around! Prepare yourself to head north as we tackle: Fist of the North Star!

An image from Fist of the North Star

Credit:  Weekly Shōnen Jump/ Viz Media



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