Discovering Dragon Ball in 2016
By the time I publish this file, I finished my first reading of Dragon Ball no less than 24 hours ago. Six weeks of discovery, laughter and emotions. Yet I have only red one single manga in my life before starting with Dragon Ball, and I have never been interested in the series. My idea of Dragon Ball was made of excerpts from glimpses on TV, consisting of very edgy characters staring and challenging each other for an eternity, without ever really fighting. I was wrong.
A good friend mine made me want to read Dragon Ball on the evening of January 4, 2016. He was speaking with passion of the fight against Freezer and the first transformation into Super-Saiyan, before deflecting to Cell and the “handover” from Goku to Gohan. I’ve only seen such passion once, it was about Star Wars. It’s his passion that led me to pick up the first book right away, and devour it immediately.
If I write this article in 2016, it’s because the book is still relevant. I plunged head first into this magnificent epic. And today I’ll give those who have not yet taken the plunge a reason to do so. So, why should you read Dragon Ball?
To discover Goku
Let’s start by getting the record straight: there are several translations of Dragon Ball, depending on the editions, animation, etc … Personally, I started with Dragon Ball Perfect Edition by Glénat (French edition). It is for me the most beautiful edition, the most practical today even though it is more expensive than the original edition. The book has an enlarged size, larger pages, and especially a translation closer to the original version. The techniques are not necessarily translated, and many names and wordplays in the original language are explained here, rather than transcribed into a French equivalent. Thus, if most of my Compares know Sangoku and Sangohan, I know Son Goku and Son Gohan (with simplified Goku and Gohan). Now let’s get to it.
As a great lover of comics and TV series, I’m used to my fair share of iconic characters. But a few months ago I would have struggled to determine who the best fictional character ever created was. And after a few volumes of Dragon Ball, I had my answer: Goku. Let’s be clear, this is a completely subjective judgment that may change according to my future discoveries, but compared to my criteria and my current knowledge, Goku is the perfect hero.
He is more than a hero, because he does not do things on principle. It comes naturally from what he thinks is right. He is, for many, a naive character, but he is especially a deeply good and innocent character. Even though, sometimes he can be too careless. We notice it when he gets ready to fight for strangers, to sacrifice himself at every opportunity to save the world, but especially with the Dragon Balls. He has one of the most powerful artifacts in the world, yet he does not seek to exploit it. He keeps it (and retrieves it when it is lost) because it reminds him of his grandfather. He does not have an ounce of malice, and only see fighting as a challenge, for the sake of improvement and to find someone better than him. he will always keep this in state of mind, that would prevent him from killing when he can avoid it, but also create his biggest flaw.
Of course, the character evolves over time, revealing more flaws. For starters, his thirst for challenge constantly gets him away from his family. He has no sense of conservation towards his family, even his own children; since he pushes them to excel even putting them in danger. Moreover, that same thirst can drive him to recklessly endanger others for the pleasure of fighting. We saw it repeatedly with Vegeta, Cell or Boo. Despite all that, the character is so intrinsically good that we forgive these few flaws.
Those who have seen Dragon Ball Z on TV, perhaps did not find it very funny, but that’s because it is important not to miss Dragon Ball and the beginnings of the saga. The first volumes are a breath of fresh air, which is good in this day and age.
You will never forget Goku when he discovered the difference between boys and girls, in the simplest way possible. You won’t forget his meeting with Chichi, her reaction, and the attitude of Goku when he meets her again later.
You will never forget the first battle of Krillin in his first tournament, Goku’s revelation at that time and his final technique to win the fight. You will never forget how that same Krillin saves Yamcha who was facing an invisible opponent…
You will never forget Oolong and his transformations. How he uses them at the beginning of the series, with Bulma and with Kame Senin. And above all, how he uses the wish on the first reunification of the Dragon Balls.
Anyway, I could go on like this for days, but you understand that this series has great humor in its beginnings, which have not completely been erased by Dragon Ball Z. you can see that houmor in the arc following Cell with the Great Saiyaman and few passages with Boo.
We cannot know everything, we cannot learn everything. You have to accept that in life you can have cultural gaps compared to those around you, as they have over you. However there are sometimes works that should be known to all, at least within the same generation. Dragon Ball is one of them, and I have long felt stupid “not knowing” what was going on during heated conversations between friends. I cannot explain the joy I felt last weekend during an hour of discussion on this subject which I understood almost everything. Now I know, and it’s also in your power! And above all, you’ll change your mind on some points.
In the past, I found this image ridiculous, but that was before. Today, I know that no matter how many they are, the Marvel heroes don’t stand a chance. It’s just a fact.
Before, I didn’t understand this Internet meme. But that was before.
For the fights
Ok, I must admit, there are a lot of great fights in Dragon Ball. You might have concerns about redundancies, which is a legitimate concern. But I have to say that the range of characters, techniques and transformations in the series is so diverse that you’ll never get bored. The fights are fun to follow and shaped the future of pop culture ‘, so much so that many were surprised to see the Man Of Steel steal ideas in the 2013 Hollywood movie.
Of course it is often Goku who ends up with the craziest techniques, always innovating before the strategies of his opponents. He comes out with stuff like the reversed Kame Hame Ha, or the one after teleportation. Techniques that we dream about replicating with a joystick in hand or to see in movies.
And we will definitely never forget death by licking.
Because it’s optimistic
If the characters of Dragon Ball are fighting all the time, it is often to protect the planet. And if almost all of Goku‘s friends were once his enemies, they all finally come over to his side, first to fight a more powerful threat, then because he reveals the best in them.
In this aspect, Dragon Ball is deeply optimistic. Toriyama is always trying to bring out the best in his characters, and show that everything will be ok. It does not matter if there are casualties, the Dragon Balls will fix everything. If there is a more powerful threat, it does not matter they will train. And It does not matter if the danger leaves, they will counter it if it comes back. The Series assume that we will always face adversity, and never shy away of showing violence.
Piccolo and Vegeta are the two most striking examples of this symptom (which is nevertheless called the “Yamcha syndrome”). If Piccolo is portrayed as a fundamentally bad person, he mellows with time, to the point of becoming touching. Vegeta on the other hand is the opposite of Goku, he trains to be the best, But in the final moments of the series, Toriyama leads him to realize what Goku is really about. And he finally accepts his place and his relationship with his nemesis.
Can you really discover Dragon Ball in 2016?
Not having seen the anime, I cannot judge its aging, or the importance of childhood attachment in the love people have for the series. But I can say that some parts were too long. But when it comes to the Manga in book form, Toriyama has done a work with a fresh and timeless message, which is always appreciated, but not necessarily suitable at all ages.
Because, if one can very easily read it in 2014, our judgment may depend a little too much of our state of mind. The youngest will fall in love with it, just like their elders. But discovering it during adolescence might not necessarily send the same message. But again it might not be the case, but that’s why Dragon Ball had to evolve into Dragon Ball Z. The series has grown up with its audience and its tastes and the lightness of the beginning turned into violent fights and techniques.
Anyway this is a great adventure to live, and a nice path to foolow. Because we must remember that the road is more important than the destination: Toriyama could have stopped at any time, the end would have been great nonetheless, and the Dragon Ball adventures are far from being over.