Friday, October 6, 2017

Dragon Ball - Does it Still Hold Up?

Written by Shiggins

And no, I don't mean Z!

If you were to ask the average fan of Dragon Ball Z whether or not they had seen the original arcs of Dragon Ball, you'd have a 50/50 chance of being told they never have. It's not uncommon for people born in the 90s and onwards to have started at the Saiyan Saga and then never been curious enough to go back to Goku's origins. I did however, and there are quite a few surprises for someone who adores Z and Super. However, is it able to stand with the rest of the franchise?

Look at this little shit... Back when tails were the weirdest thing in Bulma's life.
Dragon Ball began in 1984, written and illustrated by the famous Akira Toriyama, and followed the adventures of Son Goku who almost gets hit by a car (yes, almost! The manga and the anime are different!) and then joins Bulma Briefs on her adventure to find the Dragon Balls so she can have her wish for a boyfriend granted. Along the way, they come across the tiny gremlin Emperor Pilaf, the wild bandit Yamcha, the transforming pig Oolong and the wise teacher Roshi. Eventually, the series expands and more characters join the show, including Krillin, Tien, Launch and Yajirobe.

I wonder how many are aware of what the very first ever wish of Dragon Ball was...
If you're a fan of Dragon Ball Z, you'll notice very quickly that Toriyama had a tendency to think up his stories as he wrote them. He didn't make a big plan and then stick to it. In some cases, like the Buu arc, that didn't work out for him and he ended up making his stories feel a bit disjointed. And sadly, that is definitely the case with Dragon Ball.

The first arc, with Emperor Pilaf, is a short one filled with some good jokes and adequate action, like Roshi using the first Kamehameha wave. It clearly isn't trying to be more than what it is; Some light-hearted fun. The majority of the scenes involve Goku's caveman-confusion at the modern world, jokes about Bulma having breasts, and Pilaf being a nutcase. It's a lot better than it sounds.

I really want him to appear in FighterZ.
The second arc is centred around the very first tournament of the Dragon Ball franchise, which would one day became a classic symbol of the series. In this, Goku and his new friend Krillin train under Roshi so they can enter the Budokai Tenkiachi! As someone who has loves Goku in Z and Super, it's actually quite fascinating to watch his very first days of training and see the education he got from Roshi that made him the man he is today. You can watch him train under 100x Earth's gravity in Z, or you can go back to the original and see as he and Krillin run around delivering milk by foot. Your choice.

The tournament itself is a mixed bag though, at least by comparison of what we see today. While Toriyama finally gets to show off his unique designs, (which I would argue is one of the reasons Super is so fantastic too), a lot of the battles feel quick and mainly used for gags. A perfect example of this is the only female fighter in the tournament who strips down to seduce men. It doesn't feel like a tournament worthy of the title "First Dragon Ball Tournament". The only real exception to this is when Goku fights Jackie Chun in the finals. Not only is that hilarious and tense, it has a great moral behind it and is full of twists and turns that keeps the audience guessing.

Oh god, I forgot how creepy Krillin used to be...
After the tournament, we get the Red Ribbon Army arc, where Goku searches for the Dragon Balls again but must fight the evil Red Ribbon Army to do so and... I'm probably in the minority, but I find the majority of this arc a real bore. With the exception of Mercenary Tao Pai Pai, none of the Red Ribbon Army antagonists ever feel like a legitimate threat to Goku. They are all surprisingly boring and lacking in personality or depth. They aren't funny like the Ginyu Force or scary like Frieza. They're just grown men growling grimly. Sadly, this is also the longest saga in the original series which means a lot of time is spent on this angry army.

The next and final saga however is great, and still stands up high as one of Dragon Ball's all-time best. This is the saga of King Piccolo and then his son, Piccolo Jr! King Piccolo has been freed from his rice cooker after being sealed up by Roshi's master, and now he is back for revenge and world domination! Of course, he fails but not before spitting out a son that would one day come back for revenge and destroy Son Goku!

Now that's one familiar throne.
King Piccolo himself is a great antagonist, full of evil and personality, and his delight at killing multiple key characters, including the mighty dragon Shenron, is on display in every scene. His plans for world domination aren't exactly deep or complex, but the swagger and style is what makes it so enjoyable. One scene in particular I can't help but remember is when he's choosing which city to destroy by using a lottery! This arc would be near-perfect actually, with its introduction of Yajirobe and first ever murder of Krillin at the hands of the sinister Tambourine, if it wasn't for the insultingly stupid Deus Ex Machina that Goku uses to become stronger.

The final tournament of the original series is also a lot of fun, and probably the closest the series has ever become to Z-levels of action. Piccolo Jr, who you will most likely realise as the Piccolo that trained Gohan in Z, is very over-the-top and ridiculous though. Compared to the version in Z where he is far more mature and patient, this one feels almost... silly. Then again, this is a younger Piccolo so you could argue that's part of his development as a character.

Did Goku punch his organs? ALL OF THEM?!
The battles are all great, with Yamcha's being hilarious and Krillin's fight against Piccolo being surprisingly tense. However, it is the final battle between Goku and Piccolo which everyone remembers and it is just wonderful. Both characters try every tactic to take down the other, and the fight drags out to the point of exhaustion. Piccolo stretches, turns giant, sneak-attacks... Whatever he can think of, he does it. And Goku takes every hit but trucks through it and slams back. Literally, his victory is through luck and practically tossing his crippled body at Piccolo from the sky.

So in the end, does Dragon Ball still hold up? The answer honestly isn't as simple as a "yes" or "no". It has some wonderful moments, and the animation and music are surprisingly timeless. (No offence to YuYu Hakusho but it has aged a bit, especially by comparison to Dragon Ball). If I'm being as blunt as possible, around half of the series is still really worth watching. The Red Ribbon Army can easily be skipped without missing much, but the laughs of Pilaf and the exciting events of the Piccolo family are more than worth your time.

You may find the story a bit too cute at times, especially when compared to Goku fighting literal Gods in Super or super evil space emperors in Z, but I think there is still something to enjoy. Sit down and step back in time to when it all began.

And you thought Roshi's perversions were disturbing in Super...
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Born under the stars of the Dark Gods, Shiggins owns the power of the Great Eye and is utterly magnificent in his omniscience. If you dare to discover more about someone as great as him, then go ahead. And to all my friends and family members, YOU are wrong and I should be disappointed! Not the other way round!,. You can find out about him or ask him stuff on or go to his tumblr page


  1. I never understood the love for Dragon ball , for me it looked like shallow , childish and simple manga with characters who look like they are on steroid all the times

    1. It's easy to think that on the surface, but it is anything but shallow once you really start to delve into it. The depth of the series lies in the simplicity of the story, and the development of the characters and their actions is what drives the story. It has childish moments of course, but it knows when to be childish and when to be mature. I love it, as so do many more.

  2. Was there a point were Goku went into a state of depression over the death of Grandpa Gohan? I haven't watched it on a long time but that death is probably one of the most tragic in the series.

    1. By the time we meet Goku for the first time in chapter 1, he has already grieved and so we missed his depression. We do see more of his sadness when he fights the ghost of Gohan during the Fortuneteller Baba contest, and we see Goku feel guilt when realising he was the one who killed him while fighting Vegeta. Other than that, Gohan is rarely talked about at length during Z or Super.