Dragon Ball: 21st World Tournament Arc (Episodes 14 – 28) Review

Dragon Ball 21st WT Arc

Now I’m not currently covering Gundam, and no longer covering a Dragon Ball series for Anime UK News, I thought it would be the ideal time to continue my deeper dive into the original series. So after the original 13 episodes we enter a training sequence (featuring the debut of Krillin!) followed by a Tournament arc, two staples of the Shonen genre still in their infancy here. This is also where Dragon Ball was still more leaned towards comedy than action, so how does that blend with a martial arts tournament? Well…

Synopsis:

Fresh off of his first adventure, Son Goku is flying towards Master Roshi in hopes to become his pupil, but as he arrives on the Turtle Hermit’s island he soon finds he’s not the only one with that idea…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

Dragon Ball 21st WT Arc 1

I wonder how many times I’ve seen this scene via flashbacks compared to the actual episodes…

There are two things always stand out when looking at this arc: the debut of Krillin, and the final round match, so let’s look at the first one first.: Krillin is looking to learn under Master Roshi after his stay in the Orin Temple didn’t work out, and like pretty much all of Goku’s allies, he starts off as a rival, though admittedly in this case its mostly a friendly rival. Krillin wants all the attention and training himself, not to share it with some empty-headed country boy, but it doesn’t take long before the hard training leads to a respectful bond and friendship that will last until whenever you count as the end of the Dragon Ball meta-series.

This being Dragon Ball, Roshi’s first task is to find a beautiful woman, which they soon do in the form of Lunch (or Launch, depending on which language you’re viewing this in), a girl who is all sweet and innocent until she sneezes, at which point she turns into a gun-toting psycho. It’s funny, especially as her bullets oddly just bruise our protagonist and his buddies, making their running the flailing in panic all the more absurd. Anyway, they soon start their actual training, which includes hunting for one specific rock in a large jungle, ploughing fields and delivering milk with increasingly heavier weights on their back, that sort of thing. There are some funny moments, and it only goes on for three episodes. It’s all to prepare for the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai, or “#1 Under the Sun Martial Arts Competition”, or for the sake of simplicity going forward, I’ll just call it the “World Tournament”.

Unbeknownst to anyone, Master Roshi enters the tournament as “Jackie Chun” with a dodgy wig and no sunglasses being his only disguise. He wants to both test his students and make sure they don’t win and therefore think they have nothing more to learn. This eventually leads to the finals of Goku facing off with his Master. The fight has plenty of silly moments, as is the case with the series at this point, but it also gives us our first real glimpse of some of the fights to come. Afterimages are used, some quickly paced hand-to-hand action is shown off, and some unique Ki attacks are used by “Chun”. Goku eventually turns Great Ape / Oozaru again, forcing his master to… blow up the moon so it doesn’t happen again. A tad drastic, but there you go. In the end it’s nearly a draw, but Roshi manages to get to his feet and declare himself the winner before Goku can.

Dragon Ball 21st WT Arc 2

DOUBLE K.O!!

Overall the training segments are a bit of a laugh, and the final round is a good fight (and a good laugh) but the rest fall somewhere in the middle, or lower. Nam, for instance, is a person from a poor village to wants to use the prize money to buy water for his people. He ends up defeated by Goku in the semi-finals, but Roshi secretly gives him all the water he’ll need. He has a basic story and isn’t very interesting, but isn’t bad or anything. Likewise the other semi-final between “Chun” and Krillin is good, shows Krillin has improved and everything, but relies more on comedy that anything else, and not all of it lands. Goku’s first round fight against Giran is fine (weird filler where the bird-beast man is drinking milk at a bar in a trench coat during intermission is… something to behold) and Krillin kicking one of his old tormentors from the Orin Temple through a wall in the Preliminaries is pleasing to watch. There are definitely more good than bad here.

For a Dragon Ball adapted story arc, there isn’t a lot of filler here, which is a shocker, and what little there appears is perfectly harmless. This will probably be the only Dragon Ball / Z review to not have the word “filler” appear in the Bad section…

The Bad:

Dragon Ball 21st WT Arc 3

Krillin’s first fight everyone! *Polite round of applause*

Much like the first story arc, there are some juvenile humour that no longer lands for me. Krillin’s first round opponent, Bacterian, has an extremely powerful stench that puts his opponents off balance because of their repulsion / need to hold their nose, and while the resolution of Krillin being reminded of the fact that he doesn’t have a nose is funny, there are a few fart gags that just make me cringe a little nowadays. Likewise Nam goes through to the semis thanks to a win over Ranfan, a woman who uses her sexiness to distract opponents, including removing her clothing, and again that just sort of … I don’t know, just doesn’t make me laugh or even smirk any more. Master Roshi’s deeds with Lunch and other women during the opening few episodes definitely don’t land, I can tell you that much, though they’re not as bad as the whole Oolong-as-Bulma and Roshi “puffu-puffu” scene from the last arc, mind you…

Overall Thoughts:

Dragon Ball 21st WT Arc 4

So, what’ll it be? Sexism or racial stereotyping? Take your pick!

Dragon Ball’s first of three Tournament Arcs is the weakest of the three, though it’s by no means bad. The series was still very much a gag manga at this point, so it is more about the immature laughs that Mr. Toriyama enjoys so much than anything else, and some of it’s still endearingly funny. Other parts are just that little bit too cringey for 35-year-old me, or indeed any version of me in some cases, but there is definitely more to enjoy here than not as we head into the longest story arc of the original series…

4 Star Watch

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