Dragon Ball Anime Review
US Release By
153 25-minute episodes
What's In It
- Violence: 2 (moderate)
- Nudity: 2 (moderate)
- Sex: 1 (mild)
- Language: 0 (none)
One day, the young teenager Buruma runs across a bizarre young boy with a monkey tale who everyone has heard of time and time again. Son Goku, of course. Who did you think it was? Never mind. Anyway, she asks him to help find the Dragon Balls, which will grant any wish (like you may have heard), because she wants to wish for a boyfriend. Gee, how the stake in those things increases in Dragonball Z.
In the original manga version, Dragonball was Dragonball Z and Dragonball Z was Dragonball. Not so with the TV shows. Both are separate shows. As an avowed Dragonball Z hater, I'm basically betraying both my Dragonball Z-hating allies and my Dragonball Z-loving enemies by saying that Dragonball isn't that bad of a show. In fact, I think it's better than Dragonball Z.
Perhaps I may be accused of jumping on a bandwagon with Dragonball Z-haters, but the truth is that I hated Dragonball Z even when I thought everyone in the known world was enamored with it. The reasons I think Dragonball is a better show are many. I'll also say this to you Akira Toriyama fans: Dragonball Z had me convinced that he was a talentless hack, but Dragonball convinced me that he does indeed have some talent, it's just that Dragonball Z was a bad way to show it. Dragonball Z was a show about hulking steroid-pumping men brawling and blowing up huge acres of land, and it was supposed to be dramatic, but I found the characterization thin and unconvincing. Dragonball carries pretty much the same characterization, but it doesn't matter that it's a bit thin because the show itself has a lot of entertainment. The fights are still a bit wearying, but the creatures the characters fight are weirdly amusing, and there are a lot of lowbrow jokes that elicit a few chuckles.
But let me go back a bit. I like Dragonball, and I think it's better than Dragonball Z, but it's still no masterpiece. The storyline is practically nonexistent and the characters are shallow compared with some fare. One reason is that there's simply too many of them. After a bit of show, Yamucha is practically worthless because he's weaker than both Goku and Kuririn, and isn't serving any other practical purpose. It would have been well if they'd just found some way of conveniently taking him out of the show, because his uselessness only grows with time. The bad guys are also completely, totally, absolutely evil. Until they join the good guys. And Goku in particular is practically infallible as a hero. He never has to make hard choices, or do something bad, because killing isn't considered bad in this show unless it's done from behind or something like that.
The technical aspects are also nothing to brag about. Dragonball was made in the '80s, but the animation looks pretty much the same as Lupin the 3rd and worse than Mobile Suit Gundam. Another problem with the animation is that during the fights, as with Dragonball Z, there were long periods where the same three-act animation was repeated ten or eleven times. The music is repeated a lot and, though it fits the show pretty well, it sounds kind of stupid.
But now on to the good. Akira Toriyama obviously has a talent for making up weird characters, even that only extends to their looks, because there are a ton of them in Dragonball. Some of them were still around in Dragonball Z, but all in all Dragonball Z could basically have been designed by a ghost writer because all the Saiyans later on looked exactly the same. In Dragonball, on the other hand, you can revel in the weirdness of all the characters. Even main characters like Goku and Kuririn are weird, and the supporting cast can be downright bizarre. It can also be funny seeing them, thinking "Hey, I've seen something kinda like that somewhere....", and then suddenly realizing that it's a reference to an old Jackie Chan movie that was only released as a cheesy dub ten years ago. A lot of them were taken from mythology or other well-known sources, but they all have a special style given to being interpreted by Akira Toriyama. A lot of the battle techniques are funny as well, like Goku's "Fist of the Rock, Paper, and Scissors." This was also when the old Kamehameha was like rending the skies forth with lightning fury. The attacks are pretty varied, too. In Dragonball Z, everyone shot the same tired old steroid beams, but in Dragonball the different beam attacks actually looked different for some reason other than the animators deciding to draw them that way. It's still much more akin to brawling with giant beams than actual martial arts, but at least it's entertaining to watch. The villains are also much more interesting; since a fight with one doesn't have to be dragged out over 1,000,000,000 episodes, they can have some pretty stupid powers, and a lot of them are made the butt end of a joke due to their blind overconfidence.
Dragonball was a huge surprise to me. I watched it out of curiosity and ended up liking it enough to keep watching it, at least until they canceled it. The bathroom humor can be a little wearing, the fights can get a little long, but it's worth watching at least the early episodes for a chuckle or two. If you're a fan of Dragonball Z and haven't seen this, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.
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Notes and Trivia
The first of three TV series based on a long-running manga series by Akira Toriyama; followed by Dragonball Z and Dragonball GT. The story is loosely based on the ancient Chinese story "Journey to the West", put into novel form around the 16th century; it tells the story of the Monkey King and his adventures among gods and demons. The tale has been told in many forms through the years; the newer anime series Saiyuki is one example.
US DVD Review
The DVDs include both English and Japanese dialogue, and are of the uncut version. The series is on sets including around a dozen episodes per chunk.
No worse than Rugrats or any other modern cartoon; the TV version is 7-up, the uncut video version FUNimation is calling 13-up.
Violence: 2 - If someone dies, it's usually accompanied by huge letters that say BA-BOOM!
Nudity: 2 - Undetailed nudity of a five-year-old boy and bikinis.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - A few jokes, but I would never venture to call them 'mature.'
Language: 0 - In the TV version there's nothing. Goku is five, anyway.
Shown on TV, and released on dubbed, edited VHS. Some of the episodes are also available on uncut dubbed VHS, and a series of hybrid, uncut DVD box sets are working their way out as well, each including around a dozen episodes.