Now, I can pretty much guarantee that everyone reading this already knows this information since Dragonball is one of the best known anime/manga franchises out there. Dragonball was first created by Toriyama Akira in 1984. In 1986 Toei animation picked up the license to adapt it into an anime. They have been swimming in the money bin filled with the profits from the license ever since. Let’s take a look at the series and see how well it holds up. Keep in mind, I’m not going to worry bout spoilers in this one since both it and its sequels are so well known that even people who haven’t seen it are probably familiar with how it goes. If you’re one of the few people who isn’t, then you may not want to continue.
The narrative begins with the wild young Son Goku, named for the Journey to the West character but lacking any of that character’s signature traits, encountering a car for the first time and by encountering I mean getting hit by one. Thinking it’s a monster, he tips it over. The driver, Bulma, comes out and convinces Goku that her vehicle is not a monster nor is she a witch. Sh’s on a journey to collect the titular dragonballs, which can grant any wish when all seven are gathered. Goku has the four star ball, but refuses to give it up. Bulma does, however, manage to convince him to come with her on her journey. From there the story separates into arcs with the first arc being the journey to collect the dragonballs followed by the red ribbon army arc, the Piccolo Daimao arc and the young Piccolo arc. The arcs are separated by short strings of episodes that show the characters training, usually in preparation for the Budokai tournament, which we see thrice over the course of the series.
There are some aspects of the series that really don’t hold up or were just weak to begin with. The biggest one being that the series is really predictable. It does try to throw twists at times, but it’s really obvious where they’re going with those twists and how things are going to end up. There are also some of the attempts at humour. There are a lot of jokes, for example, about Master Roshi or Oolong being perverts. There’s also a reoccurring joke, at least for a while, about Goku patting peoples’ crotches to figure out their sex. It never seems to occur to him to just follow Oak’s example and ask. With his method, he’s definitely in for a learning experience the first time he tries that with a transgendered individual. There are also some really homophobic jokes at the expense of Blue, and they all come down to the entire joke being that he likes other men. At least with the pervert jokes you usually get the main punchline being that Roshi or Oolong is punished for their lecherousness and that can be amusing even if it does get repetitive. In contrast, the gay jokes are just mean-spirited.
Those problems aside, there are a lot of good things about the series too. The pacing is really good with events flowing naturally from one thing to the next with very little filler. Which is surprising given both the length of the series and the notoriety its more popular sequel has for just that problem. It’s also got a lot of charm that stems from its simplicity and high levels of optimism. Most of the humour also does work well in spite of those moments that are head scratching.
The cast of Dragonball isn’t a particularly deep or complex one. Although it is functional for what the series is doing. Goku is your dumb but exceedingly powerful hero. Krillin is the former rival turned best friend. Tenshinhan is the bad dude who redeems himself and becomes a good guy. All in all, they are a pretty typical cast. Although I’m not sure how much of that was true in 1984 and how much of it comes from other action writers copying Dragonball. There is one point I do have to definitively give in Dragonball’s favour, unlike a lot of western cartoons of the 80s and even 90s it has female characters who aren’t there solely to be the token girl character. It has three major female characters, Bulma, Lunch and Chichi and none of them are stereotypically feminine. Bulma has the advantage of doing science and inventing things. Chichi is a strong fighter. Of all of them Lunch comes the closest until she sneezes and her second personality emerges to shoot things.
There are certainly aspects where the visuals have not aged well. The backgrounds can be sparse at times and the action sequences do resort to motion lines fairly often. However, Toriyama Akira’s visual style also has a lot of strengths that still hold up. The distinctive character designs evidenced in this, Chrono Trigger and the Dragon Quest series is probably the foremost of them. All of the major and supporting characters have distinctive and interesting looks, even with Goku’s crazy hair. The background characters also look interesting frequently. Particularly all of the random beast people you see running around. There’s no explanation for why there are beast people, but I honestly like them. I find their designs quite charming in general. The futuristic technology that shows up looks really good as well. And, in spite of the over-used motion lines, the fight sequences do have a good amount of intensity and the series is really visually appealing overall.
There are some really good actors in this series. Nozawa Masako, Furukawa Toshio, Tanaka Mayumi, Tsuru Hiromi & Suzuoki Hirotaka being the most prominent at least in this particular series. The only real issue I have with the acting is that there are times when someone will overly exaggerate. Particularly during moments that are supposed to be shocking. The music is really strong, frequently reinforcing the atmosphere in moments of triumph or moments where things look bad. I especially like the song they play during the first two Budokai tournaments.
There’s certainly a little. Both because of General Blue and because the cast is predominately male so there are times when they’ll interact in a way that seems a bit homo-erotic. There’s also a scene where Krillin talks about how another guy is cute, thinking he’s a girl. But there isn’t much. Blue doesn’t have a boyfriend that you ever see and pretty much every major character gets a girlfriend at some point. So the ho-yay factor is going to be a 3/10.
Dragonball isn’t one of the greatest anime ever made and it certainly has its share of issues. However, it is a charming series that provides some good fun. If you aren’t into long action series, you aren’t going to like it. But if you like that type of thing, whether in general or on occasion, check it out. In spite of its occasional cringe worthy scenes, it is definitely a good series. My final rating is going to be a 7/10. Next week, horror anime month begins with a look at Galerians: Rion.