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Dragon Ball

Entry updated 11 March 2024. Tagged: TV.

Japanese animated tv series (1986-1989). Based on the Manga by Akira Toriyama (1955-2024). Toei Animation. Directed by Daisuke Nishio and Minoru Okazaki. Written by Toshiki Inoue and Takao Koyama. Voice cast includes Takeshi Aono, Shigeru Chiba, Toshio Furukawa, Shōzō Iizuka, Masako Nozawa, Osamu Saka, Mayumi Sho, Naoki Tatsuta and Hiromi Tsuru. 153 24-minute episodes. Colour.

One day Old Master Gohan (Saka) finds an abandoned baby with a tail, which he has raised "and marvelled as the youngster grew and became uncommonly strong": after his death the boy, Goku (Nozawa), lives a quiet life in the wilderness. When he is twelve Bulma (Tsuru) arrives, looking for the Master's mystical dragon ball. It is one of seven: whoever has the set can summon the dragon (see Supernatural Creatures) Shenlong, who will grant one wish before the balls are scattered again. Bulma, though a self-obsessed teenager, is also a Scientist, inventing gadgets such as a shrinking device (see Miniaturization). The pair go on adventures, usually seeking dragon balls, with Goku gaining strength all the while. They gather many companions along the way, such as Oolong (Tatsuta), a shape-shifting pig dressed in a Mao suit who at one point presciently wonders if Goku is an Alien.

The series was split into nine stories, or sagas, often involving conflict with other groups hunting dragon balls, usually to abet world conquest (or to grow taller) – such as the comic Emperor Pilaf (Chiba), the Red Ribbon Army, alien invader King Piccolo (Aono) and his son, Piccolo jr (Furukawa). Most episodes feature Goku fighting, his opponents including Monsters, Aliens, a Telekinetic General, Mecha, a Vampire, an invisible man (see Invisibility), a mummy, a devil, Robots and a rabbit that turns people into carrots. Goku befriends one intended antagonist, "Android 8" (Iizuka), who resembles the Frankenstein Monster from Frankenstein (1931) and turns out to be a pacifist. We also discover that, on looking at the full moon, Goku turns into a giant ape – which, tragically but unknown to him, had killed Gohan. Fortunately this problem is resolved when the Moon is destroyed (though it is restored in the sequel). Goku ages during the series' run: by the end, when offered (but refusing) the position of Guardian of the Earth, he is eighteen.

The tone of the show is mixed – the stories, animation style, characterization and most of the jokes are aimed at children; but there is also a surprisingly high death count (albeit some fatalities are later revived using Shenlong) and much juvenile sexual humour with some nudity, usually involving Bulma (see Fan Service); whilst the twelve-year old Chi-Chi (Sho) is creepily attired. Though the action and plots are fairly routine, there is some character development and the series has considerable verve. The dialogue can be amusing, usually when Pilaf is involved but not exclusively: another villain observes, "I really love kids, they break so easily."

There were also four Dragon Ball films: Dragon Ball: Curse of the Blood Rubies (1986), Dragon Ball: Sleeping Princess in Devil's Castle (1987), Dragon Ball: Mystical Adventure (1988) and Dragon Ball: The Path to Power (1996).

The Dragon Ball Anime was based on the first 194 chapters of Akira Toriyama's Manga. The series was popular in Japan and regularly places high in polls, though in the west it was not until the release of its sequel, Dragon Ball Z (1989-1996), that the franchise took off. This iconic show has been influential: its habit of having enemies becoming friends was a central trope of Steven Universe (2013-2020), whilst the young Goku recalls KO in OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes (2013; 2016-2019). [SP]


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