Without Dragon Ball you could argue that anime and manga wouldn’t be as popular as they are in the west. It laid the groundwork for a lot of modern action manga. Without it big modern franchises like Naruto, One Piece and My Hero Academia wouldn’t exist. Dragon Ball, a weird make it up as we go along manga defied expectations and evolved with its audience to become a true pop-culture phenomenon. Except unlike most pop culture touchstones Dragon Ball slowly spread across the world from country to country. Years between translations and releases in different territories to the point were you probably knew what the characters looked like before ever seeing one of the anime or manga.
Gotta love that cheesy opening song!
Like many people in the UK my journey with Dragon Ball started with the explosive arrival of Dragon Ball Z on Cartoon Network in my early teens. It appeared at just the right time for me, I was seeking something more from the TV I consumed and it welcomed me with open arms. It was bright, kinetic and had just the right amount of violence to be exciting without being slapped with a more adult age rating. It was my first real exposure to true sequential storytelling outside of the soaps my Mum watched and I suffered through. I was immediately captured by Dragon Ball Z’s cliffhanger endings and dangling plot threads.
The characters were also different from the norm. Goku was not a super serious hero (unless the situation demanded it), he was funny and had an infectious enthusiasm that burst from the screen. His circle of friends and frienimies felt like they had a history. (Which I didn’t know at the time they did!) Everything was connected and seemed to be funnelling towards some big confrontation. Which is did multiple times over its run each battle bigger and more spectacular than the last. It wasn’t afraid to play around with its format and established rules either. The death of characters went from being the ultimate sacrifice to a bump in the road. Stories of invaders from another planet weaved into universe altering cosmic epics to humble martial arts tournaments to see who was the best. This was TV like I had never seen it before.
The show’s unique brand of action, adventure, comedy and most importantly, sequential storytelling hooked me in an instant. To the point were events in the original UK run of the series are imbedded in my brain along with cultural and social landmarks. Vegeta’s turn from villain to reluctant hero with a tragic past is a Shakespearean epic to me. Goku as an absentee farther due to a somewhat selfish life goal and the effect that has on his family, Chi Chi, Gohan and eventually Goten was one of my first critical hot takes on a piece of fiction. “Where were you when Trunks sliced Cyborg Frieza to bits?” Is as valid a question to me as “Do you remember how good the first series of Big Brother UK was?”
Most of the time when an arc was airing, Dragon Ball Z was shown every weeknight in the UK with repeats of a week’s worth episodes on the weekend to catch up. It was a crazy and near constant barrage of excitement for young me. As the stakes of the story raised so did my love for it. It helped that there was a small group of people at my school who also watched it so it became a water-cooler moment for us. Every day we would discuss the previous night’s episode and our predictions for the next. I was trapped in a highly enjoyable loop of constantly watching and talking about a piece of entertainment. Again something I had not experienced up to that point, at least consciously. The obsession was fuelled by using the school black market (I went to a weird school) to procure fan translated ROMs of the Dragon Ball Z SNES games from Japan, fan subs of the out of continuity movies and anything else we could get our hands on. For a solid few year I lived and breathed all things DBZ.
From Dragon Ball Z a whole world of anime and manga opened up to me and my life has been the richer for it. It was the vanguard of a big wave of anime that was broadcast on British TV. It is a piece of media that has shaped my tastes and to a certain extent who I am as a person. Dragon Ball Z is in my veins and means a great deal to me. So as the siren song of the sequel, Dragon Ball Super and its 100+ episode count keeps begging me to start watching it. I have decided to set myself an impossible task:
Before I watch Dragon Ball Super I will read the Dragon Ball manga from the start to finish.
From Dragon Ball to the end of Dragon Ball Z, documenting my thoughts on each volume as the story grows and changes. It’s going to be interesting because I only ever watched Dragon Ball Z, I know almost nothing of Dragon Ball’s story. I am also looking forward to reading a more “economical” telling of DBZ’s arcs in manga form. I might dabble with the various anime series and movies for both as I go but getting easily accessible legitimate copies of them to watch on the go is proving to be surprisingly hard. So for now my plan is to stick to the source material but we will see!
A couple of notes on the version of the manga I will be reading. It is the digital version from Viz available on ComiXology. (Which is conincidently ON SALE at the time of publishing this article) The manga has been cleaned up and is presented to you in glorious HD comics format. The downside to this version though is that the artwork has been altered to provide translations for the sound effects. A common practise with the first few waves of translated manga from the 90s and early-2000s. At least the artwork isn’t flopped and I’ll be reading it in native right to left format. There might also be some censorship of manga’s more problematic elements but I’m okay with that as long as the core story is intact.
So that’s the plan.
I now have 42 volumes of manga to read and write about so I best get started!