Before I start, I’d like to get it out in the open that I am in fact a Dragon Ball fanboy. That being said, it will explain why I regard this series with favour, however I cannot for any reason say that this series (nor the series that follow) is perfect. There are flaws that show up on a good number of occasions, but overall, they don’t make this series anything less than standard and it does catch the viewer's heart, in one way or another.
In a nutshell, the series Dragon Ball is the epitome of the Hero’s Journey. Streamlined, it’s boy meets girl, boy goes on quest to help his newfound friend, get stronger, eventually topple an entire army singlehandedly and save the earth from an evil menace and in his free time, make friends and eventually get married to start a family of his own.
We’re introduced with our lovable, gullible and flat out ignorant protagonist Goku, who learned how to raise himself in the mountains after his surrogate grandfather’s demise. On one fateful day, he meets with Bulma, who theoretically sets the whole series into motion by informing the reader or viewer of her search for the Dragon Balls; mystical artifacts that can grant any person one single wish.
These wishes are restricted only by the wisher’s imagination and Shenron’s (Porunga’s on the planet Namek) own physical capabilities; so notions of the world’s wealth, bringing someone back to life or for the world’s softest pair of panties are totally valid. While many people, when posed the option will choose something greedy such as wealth or power, other wishers such as Goku use the power to bring back to life someone who was killed unjustly.
As the series progresses and a friendship is formed between Goku and Bulma, we’re introduced to other characters who play some role in developing Goku as a character and as a Saiyan who lives his life as a human. Chronologically, they are:
Muten Roshi (Goku and Krillin’s master and world class pervert)
Oolong (shapeshifting pig, pervert and friend)
Chi-Chi and the Ox King (Goku’s future wife and step father respectively)
Pu’ar (rival of Oolong, shapeshifting cat and ally of...)
Yamcha (Bulma’s eventual love interest and warrior who later becomes a friend of Goku’s)
Krillin (best friend, training rival and overall nice guy; has a tendency to draw embarrassing defeats)
Launch (psycho bitch with a sneeze-trigger bipolar disorder)
Korin (talking cat and a guardian of Earth)
Mr. Popo (the one black man who actually plays some role in the DB series, S-Class horror in DBZ Abridged)
Chiaozu (opponent in the Tenkai’ichi Budokai, friend, secret gay lover of…)
Tien, a.k.a. Tenshinhan (powerful opponent from rival martial arts school)
Piccolo (arch-rival turn best friend via story progression)
Let’s not forget, what is it that makes Dragon Ball a popular shonen series? If you guessed the obvious notion that it’s primarily about martial arts, then you are correct. As the story progresses, we see Goku grow from an abnormally strong child to one of the great defenders of Earth, toppling foes of greater and greater magnitude, although if one entity COULD be given notable mention, it would have to be the Red Ribbon Army.
In brevity, they could be aptly described as a collective of terrorists under the guise of being a military in order to pursue their own power hungry ideals. While many of the members are left nameless, the key “heads” of the army each go by a specific colour: Commander Red, Staff Officer Black, Murasaki (tr. Purple), General Blue, General White, etc. They have a strict code of conduct in which failure of any sort can be an executable offense and yet they have a wide range applicant acception, forgoing discrimination by race, creed, religious faith or sexual orientation (made apparent via General Blue). Act like the Nazis and yet include EVERYONE. It actually doesn't sound too bad for an extremist organization.
While a bit on the lighthearted side with a good deal of action and a bit of drama, Dragon Ball fits, if not sets the tone for your mainstream shonen series. While its “older” form practically defines what it means to be mainstream and what it means to be an action series, the “younger” form seems to fit right into the mold and is enjoyable, but unfortunately short lived. Then again, while it COULD have been written to be longer, it does tidy itself up rather cleanly.
Reviewed by Kris "Kaz" Sturm
Reviewer Rating: 4/5