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Dragon Ball is really the only manga series that's really clicked with me to any noteworthy degree; in fact, it's the only sequential art series of which I own the entire series of books. Even so, whenever I decide to re-read it every three years or so, interest sort of inevitably drops off after the conclusion of the more light-hearted pre-Z books are done with. The series just sort of lost more and more of the elements that made me dig it in the first place, eventually becoming a series of overly long, increasingly Darker and Edgier arcs with more shocking swerves than a Vince Russo wrestling program. Not that it isn't insignificant in this regard compared to the anime, eh guys?
At its best, Dragon Ball is a simply joyous mix of hardcore martial arts action, kooky characters, and indeed very delectable wimmins. Centered around a never-ending search for the titular seven dragon balls—which, when brought together, summons forth a mighty dragon that grants any one wish you may have (though really, the dude gives Genie a run for his money in the fine print department...)—which of course attracts the attention of forces both good and bad, for both good and bad reasons.
Centered mostly around incorruptibly good youth Goku and his increasingly unlikely menagerie of insanely neurotic friends, Dragon Ball balances out the "dragon ball hunt" arcs (once a wish is granted, the balls are scattered all over the world and rendered inert for a while) with frequent martial arts tournaments, providing breathers at choice instances. Bouts of epic drama are offset by DB's innocently racy and occasionally puerile humor to great effect. It knows when to get serious and downplay the humorifics for tonal consistency, but its breathtaking balancing act of the two is Dragon Ball's greatest virtue; one that is unfortunately all but gone in the Z arcs.
I realize this may come off as "Z totally sucks you guys" sentiment, but it's just that for me personally, the series didn't evolve on basis of its strengths. If you enjoy the epic action of Z more than its predecessor, more power to ya. It's all great entertainment, no matter how you slice it. Any detractors of Z's "brainless action" really should give the original arcs a try.
Just before the final pages of volume 2, DB's definitive first arc has been completed. Bulma and Goku went on a quest to find the dragon balls and were eventually joined by Yamcha and Oolong. They were one ball away when they were captured, but they escaped and defeated their captor by making a stupid wish, after which the balls flew away, and because of Goku's convenient turning into a giant gorilla. Yamcha suddenly got over his fear of women for no reason and began a relationship with Bulma, Oolong went with Bulma and Yamcha into the city because...um...and Goku, done with helping Bulma, goes off to the Turtle Hermit to train.
Time will tell if it was wise to not end the story here, but if I did, I would be satisfied.
Akira once again handles his characters with finesse, though there are some bumps to be had here. Aside from Yamcha's flash paper character development and Oolong's decision in the name of nothing, Bulma has her playboy bunny outfit from volume 1 on for a bit too long, though it is removed, and a little girl named Chi-Chi arrives on the scene to help move along the plot by having a somewhat contrived relation to a previously introduced one.
The dialogue is well done, and the characters are likable. The humor remains, and Akira's experimentation with the fourth wall has been done to excellent effect. The combat/violence looks cool and is funny in its own way but still has some tension to it.
However, the bad writing persists. Akira is showing a nasty habit of pulling characters, plot elements, events, and just about anything else straight out of nowhere. Big Lipped Alligator Moment and Giant Space Flea from Nowhere abound. A rabbit that turns people into carrots? T-Rex decapitated by a little girl? Lasers that somehow put out a fire? All of this happens with little foreshadowing, if at all. Maybe Japanese stories differ (I'm an American nerd), but it seems to me as though he's making it up as he goes with no thought to World Building at all.
But Akira is an awesome artist, and even if I should come to hate his franchise, I appreciate the drawing put into it.
40 volumes to go...
Hello everyone, I have embarked on an epic quest: to absorb the entirety of the DB franchise by the end of this year. Planning to read manga before anime before movies, I have started with the humble page 1 of volume 1 of Dragon Ball.
Let me say that the first volume really nails it with the characters. All the characters seem really well done, despite some of them only first appearing in the latter half. Bulma is an adventurous teen who has a bit of an angry streak, but she's really nice at heart. Oolong is well...a little perverted, but his antics have (thankfully) all ended in hilarious failure, and I am sure some character development will get rid of his inappropriateness around Bulma. Goku is naive and as innocent as a little kid despite his 14 years of age, and though he is firmly established as a badass from the first few pages, his non-violent interactions with other people have more than enough meat to prevent him from becoming the team's "fight man".
As for plot, what can I say? I'm going into a serial work, and many plot developments are just being introduced. So far, Goku has met Bulma, who wants to find the seven wish granting dragon balls. He agrees to help. However, the rapidity of the acquisition of the balls disturbs me. In 1 volume, they went from having 2 to having 5. Considering we have only two left to go, something will slow them down enormously, considering the length of the series.
This is not a complaint, merely an observation: the universe is built quite strangely: why does Goku have a tail and superpowers? Why do people like Bulma have houses in a pill (sure beats hamburger in a pill, huh Jetsons?) yet there are pre-industrial era villages? Magical items and creatures are introduced with little explanation, and some characters come at you straight out of nowhere. PS Those are rhetorical questions; don't spoil the answers for me in the comments.
One scene I really liked the first confrontation with Yamcha. By that point, everything Goku had punched exploded. Even bullets merely hurt. With the magical flying cloud, hs movement was unimpeded. He had dished out two Curbstomp Battles, one to a generic Giant Mook and another to Oolong. He was dangerously veering into Boring Invincible Hero, but the fight with Yamcha proved that he was fallible.
41 more volumes to go...
When I was growing up, I watched a lot of Dragon Ball Z. I thought it was one of the coolest shows I knew. Occasionally I'd come across it's counterpart, Dragon Ball, and watched a whole of two episodes before declaring it dull and boring and not as awesome as DBZ. Years later, after watching the entirety of Dragon Ball, I was terribly wrong about it. It was fantastic! It's easily become one of my favorites.
I remember hearing old fans complain about how DBZ wasn't nearly as good as Dragon Ball and I just thought they were talking out of their ass. After seeing much of both, I have to agree with them. Dragon Ball just out plays DBZ. It really does. I can't even believe that I feel that way, but hell, I do.
First of all, it kills the feeling of watching filler. Some of the major fights in Dragon Ball are dragged out for the sake of pumping the tension into it, but for the most part, it's incredibly tame compared to Z. They're still just as fun to watch and you'll be with them the whole way through. And somehow I was laughing while watching all of this. How Dragon Ball pulls off ass-kicking action and moments that should clearly be serious, but still amuses you to the point of laughter, I don't know how. But one of the most important things I think is that they make other characters useful in their own regard. Okay...remember Yamcha? Tien, Master Roshi, Puar, Krillin and all the others they showed to you in Z and you were too busy saying "Screw them I don't care about what they're doing!"? You will actually LIKE them in Dragon Ball. Really really. But why do I think it's better than Z?
Personally? I think it's all because Dragon Ball isn't afraid of having fun. It has it's share of light-hearted and dark-hearted moments (especially when Piccolo comes in) but it's a wonderful ride and one you won't forget.
EDIT - Removed review
Dragon Ball is revered as one of the foundations of the Shounen Jump-style Shounen Action genre, and is probably the most important series of its type. But at a daunting 508 episodes altogether, many casual anime fans will doubtless wonder: is it really worth my time?
What the newbie should be aware of before diving in is that Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z are really two series with very significant differences. (See the main article.) I much prefer the original series, but due largely to its TV broadcasting timeline, Z is much more popular in North America. Just look at the trope list, and the characters sheet, and everything else — there's a huge Z bias. But Dragon Ball is often the one looked at with more nostalgia in Japan, and for good reason. It's a fun, free-spirited, innocent adventure story with liberal doses of martial arts action and a weird but endearing mishmash of ancient Chinese themes, modern technology, and Akira Toriyama's bizarre personal touches (like Petting Zoo People). The Journey to the West references fall away fairly quickly. Goku's the originator of all those naive but loveable shounen protagonists, and his archenemy Emperor Pilaf is a ridiculous megalomaniac. Meanwhile, Z focuses much more on intense, dramatic battles, science-fiction settings and action, and drawn-out plot arcs. It's much more repetitive, and although the stakes and "power levels" in the battles are higher (and climb as the series marches on), that doesn't necessarily make them more interesting. Episodes infamously consist of lots of trash-talking and preparation and recycled animation, although the fights do get intense at times.
Given the length of these shows, it's understandable if you pass them up due to their datedness and tiresome length. But if you're a newcomer, or have only watched Z, try watching Dragon Ball first. It's a lot more fun, and that's what counts. You will also understand the characters and situation much much more. (Frankly, the opening of DBZ is one of anime's great Wham Episode, but watching it before you've seen Dragon Ball ruins that.) As for Z... try watching the Abridged Series and see if it interests you. DBZ isn't as good as modern shounen series but it does have its moments.
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