Monday, May 14, 2012

5 Unpopular Opinions About Dragon Ball

[By the way, the poll on the left is finally closed. According to it I have...four fans total, and two people who visit periodically. Clearly I'm on my way to internet celebrity] 

No "Z" Necessary
If you were to say that Dragon Ball and/or Dragon ball Z is the best manga/anime of all time it’d be hard to argue with you. It’s been almost thirty years since its debut and it still has a ton of fans all over the world and continues to do pretty darn well as far as merchandise goes, seeing as video games featuring Goku and his friends are still pretty good sellers. My friend Iron Eagle, who is a teacher, tells me that kids are still fully aware of the franchise. When you think about it too closely it’s pretty crazy. But just because it’s popular and long lived doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

Many of you know damn well that it’s hard for me to say I’m not a fan of franchise without looking like a big liar. The truth is I love the manga; it’s a fun comic that doesn’t require a whole lot of thinking on my part to thoroughly enjoy it. I have always been pretty annoyed with the anime though. However my biggest problems with the franchise aren’t limited to its cartoon. Much like with Star Wars about a year ago I decided to express some of my issues with the DB franchise.

Now I need to remind you all that these are just my opinions. I’m just saying how I’ve interpreted things and you can very easily disagree. Feel free to do so in the comment section, or better yet come up with your own lists.

Click below for unbelievably nerdy rambling.

#5: Most of the Characters Are Two-Dimensional
From his debut Tenshinhan became my favorite DB character
Too bad he did pretty much NOTHING for the next 406 chapters!
Let’s face it; Son Goku isn’t complex. He’s dumb, he’s straight forward, he likes to fight and eat, and he is genuine sweetheart. There ain’t too much more to him than that. In fact most of the characters are equally simple, even if they aren’t the same archetype. Most of the cast that are introduced aren’t usually around long enough for true character development to begin and those who do stick around tend to just sort keep their default persona for years and years with little or no growth. We never learn much about Master Roshi (save for information we got from the anime which can’t be considered 100% canon). We know he’s a powerful old master but we don’t get to learn too much about his background. Plus he’s pretty much the same character from when he first appears in the first story arc all the way through the end of the series. Most of the cast pretty much stays static throughout the whole comic and those who do show some growth achieve during time skips. Yamcha certainly ends up in a much different place by the Majin Buu Saga than where he began but 100% of those changes took place off-panel. It’s extremely frustrating to have what boils down to a huge cast of half realized people who never realize their potential.

Piccolo is a notable exception, because we actually get to see him grow and change over time (as opposed to Vegeta who we’re mostly told changed during Time Skips). This is probably why Piccolo is the best written character in the series.

Also his fashion sense is unmatched

#4: Akira Toriyama Can’t Write Women
Has more than once almost gotten her friends killed because she's horny
In a related note have you ever noticed that every major female character in Dragon Ball (discounting guest characters who aren’t around more than a few chapters) is pretty much either a nagging shrew or a violent psycho? And none of the main characters, the Z-Fighters, are female. Bulma is a genius inventor who arguably starts out as being the secondary protagonist but she’s a huge jerk and a coward who abandons (or at least attempts to) Goku and his friend on several occasions and displays some pretty sociopathic tendencies. Chi-Chi, Goku’s wife, is regularly depicted as being the worst wife in the world, showing little regard for her husband or the world so long as her son is raised exactly as she dictates. Sure, these traits are played for laughs 100% of the time but as much of the rest of the males cast display many heroic and self-sacrificing exploits (even the semi-evil characters) it’s a bit disconcerting that there’s not a single positive female character fighting evil alongside Goku. The closet we ever get was #18 but she was never used as a main Z-Fighter for reasons I never really understood other than Akira Toriyama just doesn’t like writing women. If I were a woman who enjoyed Dragon Ball I’d be pretty annoyed that I wasn’t represented among the superhero-like team of martial artists. Hell, as a black man I’m already kind of sad that I’m not represented.

Unless you count this guy...and are racist
I take solace in the fact that it’s a Japanese cartoon and they're probably all Japanese anyway. But the fact is the most positive female recurring characters I can think of it are either the girl who periodically turns into a murdering criminal (who Toriyama literally forgot about after a while) or a money grubbing, blood thirsty fortune teller.  Yay feminism?

#3: Dragon Ball NEEDED to End After the Frieza Saga 
And soon he died for our sins learned how to teleport from some aliens
So the legend goes that Akira Toriyama planned to end the Dragon Ball comic after the final battle on Planet Namek where Son Goku would have died after finally defeating Frieza but he was convinced to keep it going due to the massive success of the series. It further states that he tried to end it again after the Cell Saga, which actually ended extremely similar to the way the Frieza Saga ended (with Goku dead), but again continued due to pressure from others. Now I’ve actually seen A LOT of DB fans who tenaciously disagree that this is true and that it’s just a nasty rumor and that Toriyama never planned on ending the manga before he eventually did. But whether it’s true or not the fact is that Dragon Ball lasted waaaay too long. The Frieza Saga would have been a perfect way to end things, based on where the story had been headed for the last few years. Goku had found himself confronting his ultimate nemeses, who killed his whole species after years of manipulating them, and ended up turning out to be mythical Super Saiyan (the very thing Frieza feared) only to die in Christ-like fashion to save the universe from the massive evil. There wasn’t really anywhere for the story to go after that. And yet it did. For years in fact. And to be honest the last two sagas are probably the weakest (for various reasons I don’t think I can get into now). DB had one of the best potential endings you could have possibly gotten out of a comic like this but for whatever reason it didn’t get used and the whole franchise is a little lesser as a result.

Although I do find it funny that when Toriyama did finally end the comic Goku in fact does not die, giving us the happiest ending possible…assuming we continue to pretend Dragon Ball GT never happened.

#2: The Anime is Actually Not Great
And one time Yancha was a baseball player for some reason
Dragon Ball Z pretty much saved the anime industry in America in the late 1990s and continues to inspire and entertain worldwide as one of the most popularly franchises in modern history. Butseriously guys, this isn’t a very good show. Its problem is that it suffers from the same issue that most anime adapted from a manga that’s still in production suffer from: overshooting the source material. Now shows like Trigun, X, Gantz, Soul Eater and Hellsing did the same thing but when they did they just went off the rails and did their own ending (referred to as a “Gecko Ending”) with varying levels of success. They could do this because their series were relatively short and weren’t going to last more than a year. Dragon Ball was always going to last years on end because it was a very close adaptation. So instead of simply changing all the details to wrap up the story they did two things to keep from running out of comics to draw material from:

a) They added a large amount of filler stories, such as Gohan’s adventures living on his own for six months or Garlic Jr.’s attack on Earth. A lot of it is harmless aside from the fact that it’s usually not very good but sometimes the filler actively contradicts the manga (because the manga hadn’t gotten around to talking about the subject yet). For example King Kai explains to Goku how his home world of Planet Vegeta was destroyed but it differs wildly from the actual story we later get from manga and thus later episodes of the anime, creating a pretty large plot hole. This would happen fairly often and it always took me out of the story.

b) They stretch out the fight scenes to insane degrees just to eat up episodes. Fights that only last a few chapters can go for a dozen episodes. The most infamous example is the “Five Minute Battle” between Goku and Frieza that went on FOREVER. There’s nothing good about watching the same two guys fight every week for months! Dragon Ball isn’t the only anime that does this kind of thing but any anime that does tends to be pretty unwatchable.

 I also find that a lot of people I know actually hate anime in general because of the second issue from this show and shows inspired by DBZ, like Naruto and Bleach, just confirms the hatred. Dragon Ball Z often gets depicted as the best example of what anime is and it’s really not.  I will point out that Dragon Ball Kai, a remastered version of Dragon Ball Z, is a much, much, much easier cartoon to watch.

#1: One-Piece is the Ultimate Evolution of Dragon Ball
Pictured: Someone making a shit-ton of money
Eiichiro Oda was a big fan of Dragon Ball and was clearly heavily influenced upon creating his own manga. The thing is though that One-Piece is very similar to how early Dragon Ball used to be, to the point that One-Piece’s protagonist Monkey D. Luffy is extremely similar to young Goku. Because DBZ is really the more popular version of Dragon Ball it’s easy to forget that the manga wasn’t originally an action/adventure story but a martial arts spoof that was kind of making fun of classic Chinese novel Journey to the West. It eventually evolved into an action comedy by about the third or fourth storyline, which was my favorite portion of the comic by far. Later still the manga started slowly moving towards a more action oriented science fiction story and I always felt that those later adventures weren’t nearly as fun. One-Piece, in my opinion, perfects that action comedy Dragon Ball-style that Dragon Ball itself abandons. And in fact everything about One-Piece feels more like what Dragon Ball should have been. It’s maintains its level of playfulness no matter how serious things get, there are several main characters who are female who are well written, and characters feel properly developed (with back-stories and everything!), with growth occurring outside of Time Skips. One-Piece isn’t perfect either and the anime pretty much suffers from the same exact issues as the Dragon Ball anime, but reading it makes me feel like I did when I original read Akira Toriyama’s comic but without all the headaches. Maybe one day someone who loves One-Piece will make a comic that is even better. Maybe it’ll even be art.

No joke here; I just think it's a cool picture

I should point out that I like a lot of things about Dragon Ball and that I DO NOT in any way hate the series. I still read the comic, enthusiastically so. I just don’t think it’s all roses and sunshine. 


  1. I do know that Akira Toryama wanted to end it after the cell saga, but do you have any proof of him wanting to end it after the frieza saga? I just feel like there were to many open ends to end it there, such as vegeta being wished back and there being nobody to stop him if he continued to be a villain. There was much more closure at the end of the cell saga.

    1. Hard evidence? No, I wasn't there. I plainly said that the "legend" said he wanted call it quits at that point and I specifically say it may or may not be the truth. BUT what is true is that from an artistic stand point he SHOULD have ended things at that point since everything had been built like it was going to end and all the loose ends in the story were tied up.

      From a business perspective it made sense to continue of course but business decisions and artistic decisions don't always meet eye to eye. And the Cell Saga, with it constantly changing its mind about who the villain actually was, doesn't sound like art to me.


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