Dragon Ball is iconic, inspired so many Shonen manga that came after it, and is one of my favourite shows of all time, but I’ve ranked it only #4 in this list?! Yeah, well, this is top debut arcs, and although this has some good, funny moments, it has some pretty unfunny ones as well… Not enough to knock it off the list entirely, obviously, more good than bad and all that. Anyway, it’s also another debut arc that doesn’t actually represent what the show would become, though it took a lot longer to end up more action focused this time. So let’s take a look at what is actually my first Dragon Ball review for this blog, despite 101 reviews elsewhere!
Son Goku is a quiet boy, having been raised in a secluded forest by his grandpa. After his beloved elder died mysteriously, Goku has been fending for himself, but that all changes when he meets the first girl he’s ever seen in Bulma, a girl who is looking for artefacts known as Dragon Balls…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
Goku mistakes Bulma’s car for a strange beast, the classic start for any long time friendship!
Son Goku (Masako Nozawa / Stephanie Nadolny) – Goku doesn’t know who his parents are, but he never thinks about it, if he’s even aware that just having a Grandpa is unusual. He’s perfectly happy with his simple existence, but his life is about to change forever, which is usually a cliché statement, but in this case couldn’t be more true given the life he’s about to end up leading…
Bulma (Hiromi Tsuru / Tiffany Vollmer) – Bulma is the spoilt daughter of the famous Briefs family. She is spending her summer vacation looking into the mythical Dragon Balls, which when all seven are gathered, any wish can be made, like world peace, cure all diseases, or for the perfect boyfriend… one of the three.
Master Roshi (Kohei Miyauchi / Mike McFarland) – Master Roshi, the Turtle Hermit, is a master of martial arts and a powerful warrior… who lives on a small island with just himself, a turtle and a bunch of porn mags. Still, give him a flash of your breasts and he’ll do anything you want! A character trait all good hermits share!
Oolong (Naoki Tatsuta / Bradford Jackson) – Oolong is a talking pig-man who has the ability to shapeshift… for a few minutes. He has used this ability to terrorise the people of a local village into giving him all their pretty girls… A noble endeavour, I’m sure you’d agree…
Yamcha (Toru Furuya / Chris Sabat) – Yamcha is a bandit who lives in a vast desert, waiting for people to pass through so he can rob them. He has a crippling fear of women which has held him back from having much of a social life, beyond his floating, shapeshifting cat buddy Pu’ar.
Pu’ar (Naoko Watanabe / Monika Antonelli) – Pu’ar is the floating, shapeshifting cat buddy of Yamcha. He can hold his transformations for as long as he wants due to actually paying attention in “Shapeshifting school”, unlike his classmate Oolong…
Pilaf (Shigeru Chiba / Chuck Huber) – Pilaf is a short and ill-tempered goblin man who wishes to conquer the world. Sadly he’s not very bright, has only two followers, and rarely leaves the large castle he somehow acquired. Still, the Dragon Balls would provide a good shortcut to all his desires…
Mai (Eiko Yamada / Julie Franklin) – Mai is a regular female human who is helping “Lord Pilaf”, for some reason. She and Shu often do small tasks for their leader, and often fail. Still, collecting seven Dragon Balls? How hard could that be?!
Shu (Tessho Genda / Chris Cason) – Shu is a small dog-man who is loyal to Pilaf. He dresses like a ninja, complete with sword, but hasn’t shown any real ability in that field…
Behold! The only time in the series Yamcha’s even slightly on the same level as Goku! (and even then, not really…)
The core concept of the arc is simple: naïve country boy (with a tail!) goes on an adventure exploring the wider world and meeting an odd mix of new friends and foes. Comparisons to Journey to the West are obvious, not just the lead character having a tale and being called Son Goku, but also in people like Oolong the pig and generally the backgrounds being plainly based on Chinese artwork. Goku is a fun character, extremely powerful and skilled but incredibly stupid, he goes along with Bulma thanks to his Grandpa telling him to be nice to girls. Now, when I talk about his naivety, there is none more infamous than when Goku is laying on Bulma and freaks out that she has no balls, which leads to Bulma thinking someone stole the couple of Dragon Balls they’d collected. It’s still a funny scene, unlike some of the other humour, and goes a long way to showing just how amazingly inexperienced Goku is at this point.
The rest of the cast works well together, Bulma is a spoilt brat, but she slowly reveals a soft side, Oolong is clearly only there because he’s forced to, but gives us some sarcasm into the mix, and Yamcha is good as a pathetic baddie, who turns into an ally pretty quick, and is generally good comic relief thanks to how he acts around Bulma. Shorter lived characters like Master Roshi, his old student the Ox King and Ox’s daughter Chi Chi all pad out their episodes well, though some of them have questionable scenes (see below!). There is something sweet about young Goku and Chi Chi agreeing to marry, which we see much later on, especially as Goku has no idea what he agrees to. It also shows Master Roshi using the Kamehameha for the first time, which Goku immediately learns to the surprise of everyone. That’s right, despite being so different in tone, Goku learns the famous Kamehameha right near the start!
Then we get to the main “villains”, though that is a bit strong of a word given their comedic nature. Pilaf is the classic little emperor, quite literally, and his two bumbling sidekicks are like something out of the Saturday morning cartoon shows I used to watch. In fact their role is greatly expanded in the anime, in the manga they only appeared towards the end, but here they’re constantly trying to take out Goku and Bulma and steal their Dragon Balls, but it always backfires, sometimes in a Looney Toons style “explosion that somehow just leaves them black with soot” way.
The final part of the arc at Pilaf’s castle is always fun, we see everyone having to overcome some zany cartoony castle traps, everyone getting put in a prison cell, and Goku turning into an Oozaru (“Great Ape”) for the first time, a mystery for everyone until the opening of Dragon Ball Z. Also, before that, Pilaf is literally seconds away from wishing to rule the world, until Oolong jumps in front of him and uses up the wish by wishing for a pair of women’s panties… The first ever wish on the Dragon Balls, objects that would later be used to bring people back to life, is a wish for a pair of panties… If that doesn’t show how different the show becomes I don’t know what will! Still funny though.
I hope WordPress don’t close my site down for this picture…
There are some bits of humour that just make me feel uncomfortable now. 16-year-old Bulma being perved on by old man Master Roshi is one… if it was just regular old perving it would be one thing, but in order to help them out (and his old student the Ox King) his terms were in exchange for help he got to put his head in between her breasts and squeeze either side and play “puff-puff”. Now, I’ll admit to smirking at how bizarre that sentence was to type, but it does make for uncomfortable viewing now. In 80s Japan it was fine for this to be in what was especially a children’s comic / cartoon (apparently!), but now? It feels… too weird. It’s one thing for Roshi to perv on 20s Bulma and get smacked across the room, that’s fine, but 16-year-old breast fondling is where I, now, have to draw the line…
On a similar note, Chi Chi is only 12 in this arc, yet she’s dressed like some weird erotic Valkyrie, though at least no one pervs on her… That’s a small victory!
On a non-pervy note, the episode focusing on “Boss Rabbit”, who turns people into carrots and then eventually gets sent to the moon (common Japanese children’s story has rabbits on the moon, so that where it was all building to) is still not very interesting. Unlike everything else it doesn’t seem to really connect to the overall story either.
The first ever Dragon Ball wish is made!
Dragon Ball’s debut arc is a fun adventure, full of laughs and a sense of fun, rather than the later action and humour blend the series gets to (as well as purely action focused for a while…), but it’s not perfect, some out-dated humour is more shocking and uncomfortable than funny to me now. It’s hard to hold that against them because it was “of the time” (in Japan anyway) and it isn’t really done now, but as for reviewing it in 2018 I will knock some “points” off of it, so to speak. Still, a fun ride and it’s worth watching just to imagine what will one day happen to these characters, and how simple everything is to them at this point…