Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama was and still is an extremely popular manga. It ran for more that a decade from 1984 -1995 and contained forty volumes at the time of its completion. It was turned into an extremely popular anime as well. It was a fusion of comedy and action, mythology and science-fiction and even had a little bit of romance as well. It is the iconic Shōnen manga and almost defined the genre. The first six volumes are a great introduction to the manga, and though it evolved over time, represent the series well.
Dragon Ball began as a parody of the Chinese story Journey to the West but evolved into such a much larger story over the course of its life. It follows the story of Son Goku, the main character of the novel. It begins when he is twelve years old and living along in the country far from civilization. Raised by his grandfather, Goku has been taught in the ways of the martial arts and therefore is able to hunt effectively without the need for weapons. The only memento of his grandfather, who was killed by a monster on the night of a full moon, is four-starred orange sphere.
Enter dragon ball hunter Bulma who is seeking just such a sphere. Guided by the radar she made to seek out their energy signature, She drives to Goku’s home where her vehicle is promptly flipped by a very surprised Goku who just came back from fishing. Believing her to be a monster he threatens her until she reveals her purpose for coming. Bulma explains that when all seven dragon balls are collected one limitless wish is granted. Goku, unwilling to part with what is now revealed to be the four-starred dragon ball, decides to join her in her quest after she convinces him that the best martial artists travel the world in search of adventure and training.
Along the way Goku very comically and crudely learns about the differences between girls and boys and finds out that not all humans have monkey tails. Remaining a teen boy’s series its doesn’t get too graphic, but Toriyama’s sexual jokes are quite abundant in the first few adventures. Using the power of capsules, little pill-sized objects containing houses, planes and anything larger, Goku and Bulma are able to get around fairly quickly. By leading a lost turtle to the sea they meet Master Roshi, a master martial artist turned island hermit who gives them a dragon ball and a magic flying cloud that only the “pure of heart” can ride.
As they continue their search for the dragon balls, they meet Oolong, a shapeshifting pig, Yamcha, a desert bandit, Puar, one of Oolong’s former schoolmates also cabable of shapeshifting, and the Ox-King and his daughter Chi-Chi. Oolong, Puar, and Yamcha, are the only ones who join them in their quest, though Yamcha and Puar only join them near the end in hopes of stealing the wish.
They end up facing Pilaf and his minions who steal their dragon balls, captures them and successfully manage to summon Shenron, the Eternal Dragon. Oolong, the unlikely hero, thwarts Pilaf’s plans for world domination last minute by making a wish for panties. The dragon grants his wish and the balls scatter in all directions. After Pilaf captures them again in rage, Goku accidently looks at the full moon and it is revealed he becomes an enormous uncontrollable ape-monster. Luckily, Yamcha had earlier learned of Goku’s tail weakness and cut off his tail to make him change back to his old self. When he wakes up, Goku has no memory of the event and wonders where his tail has gone.
Afterwards, the dragon team splits up. Goku leaves for Master Roshi’s Island and the rest to the West City, Bulma and Yamcha wishes of finding a significant other being fulfilled by finding eachother. Goku travels to Master Roshi’s island to train where he meets Krillin, who will later become his best friend, as well as Launch, a girl who is only a sneeze away from transforming into crazed gunman. They spend the next eight months training for the 21st World Martial Arts Tournament.
When the tournament comes around, Goku, Krillin, and Yamcha all make it to the quarter-finals, as well as Master Roshi disguised as Jackie Chun. In Goku’s first match, his tail grows back. Goku and Jackie Chun both make it to the finals, where Goku transforms again. Chun changes him back with a magical martial arts move, the Kamehameha, a beam of energy that destroys the moon. Goku ends up losing the championship, and sets off on his own to look for his grandfather’s memento, the Four-Star Dragon Ball.
While on his journey, he comes face to face with several members of the Red Ribbon Army, lead by Commander Red, who are too seeking the dragon balls. By defeating Colonel Silver and General White Goku obtains two balls, neither of which are his grandfather’s. He then finds that the dragon ball radar that Bulma gave him is broken and he heads to her house in West City to repair it. Bulma rejoins him in his quest, and they unknowingly set a course for where General Blue is searching for another dragon ball in the sea. To find the dragon ball they go to Master Roshi’s island to ask for a submarine and where they recruit Krillin.
The track the ball to an abandoned pirate’s cave, being followed close behind by General Blue. After surviving numerous traps they find the dragon ball. Blue shows himself and almost kills Krillian before Goku can stop him. The cave begins collapsing while Bulma and Krillin head back to the sub, Goku continues to look for the dragon ball. He succeeds in his search, but it also isn’t his grandpa’s. He makes it back to the sub just in time and they narrowly escape the collapsing cave, while Blue seemingly does not.
They go back to Roshi’s island temporarily, where Blue returns, with no explanation for how he survived and he makes off with their dragon balls. Goku follows Blue while Bulma and Krillin stay behind, no longer wanting to come along. Blue is defeated (though not killed) here by a convenient strong girl and Goku heads off to continue his search. He meets Upa and his son Bora, two Sioux-themed characters in the Land of Korin, who just happen to have the very ball he is searching for. Meanwhile, Blue has returned to the Red Ribbon Base and is killed by Mercenary Tao, who Commander Red has hired to kill Goku and retrieve the dragon balls.
Tao then heads off to Goku’s location and easily kills Bora, and defeats Goku with ease as well. However, Goku survived because his grandpa’s ball was in his shirt and softened the blow from Tao’s special move, the Dodon Ray. Tao takes the dragon ball’s he finds in Goku’s bag, but misses the one in Goku’s shirt. He heads off to find a tailor to get new clothes (Goku had destroyed his outfit with his Kamehameha) and is told by Red that he is missing one of the dragon balls and Red orders him to return after he gets a new outfit.
Goku, upon waking up, climbs Korin’s Tower, which is said to house the Sacred Water which will multiply the drinker’s abilities several times over. When he reaches the top, Korin tells him that he may drink the water if he can take it from him first. It takes Goku three days to finally take it. Korin smugly reveals that the water wasn’t at all magical and that it was the difficulty of climbing the tower twice and successfully taking the water from him that increased his strength. The sixth volume concludes with Goku ready to face Tao again with his new-found strength.
Dragon Ball is an interesting series that has a lot of sexual jokes and action. The perfect novel for the demographic it is aimed at: teenage boys. However it is noticeable how the novel evolves from being a satire to a hero’s tale in its own right. Goku is a twelve year old boy and innocent at the beginning of the series and as he grows more powerful and matures the novel evolves with him. For comedic effect, Goku initially cannot tell the gender of a person by looking at them and touches their genitals in order to find out. But as the novel goes one he no longer is fighting comical villains like Oolong, who though he can look intimidating, has a very low pain tolerance, or Pilaf who blushes at the slightest hint of romance. He begins fighting villain like the Mercenary Tao who ruthlessly kills for money and doesn’t care if he leaves an orphan or kills a child.
However, Dragon Ball still retains some of its comedy which counterpoints the often dour mood of the graphic novel. For example, when Krillin in order to win a fight against a very smelly opponent, realizes the artist had drawn him without a nose so he isn’t affected by the noxious fumes. Also, in a fight against his disguised master, he used panties to distract Chun while he takes advantage of the opening. Mercenary Tao, while ruthless, kills General Blue by stabbing through his temple with his tongue.
There is a recurring theme of redemption throughout the manga. Oolong, starts out as a villainous kidnapper who continuously scares the villagers by transforming into various large creatures, but then joins Goku and Bulma in their quest to search for the dragon balls. He was unwilling at first, but he quickly becomes a frequent ally of theirs. Later on, Yamcha and Puar, who begin as desert bandits who feign friendship in order to steal the wish once the seven dragon balls are collected, reform as well and join Goku’s side. Other characters after the first six volumes also undergo this process.
In the few colored chapters in the graphic novel, there tends to be lots of inconsistency with colors. For example, in the chapter where Goku faces Nam in the semi-finals of the tournament, Nam’s outfit changes color once, initially being an orange color, and changing to a bright pink soon after. Later on, when Goku fights the pirate robot, the first few panels show Goku and Krillin to have orange martial arts gi, and in a page directly following, their gi are red. This is fairly frequent throughout the colored chapters, but after the colors switch in this manner, they tend to remain that way for the rest of the chapter.
Dragon Ball, being a graphic novel involves a lot of action - to -action panel transitions. The fight scenes are incredibly detailed, detailing nearly every movement of a character when they perform martial arts moves such as back-flips. Scenes where a character performs a special move such as the Kamehameha or the Dodon Ray are extremely detailed in order to show how powerful and taxing these moves are.
In addition to martial arts there are plenty of mystical elements as well. However this is contrasted very interestingly against incredible technology. Creatures such as dragons and magic are abundant in the graphic novel and are complimented by a large number of technological marvels such as the capsules mentioned earlier, androids, and robots. The graphic novel does a very good job of seamlessly integrating these elements into the story so that it doesn’t seem surprising when Goku obtains a magic cloud that flies faster than a helicopter or when Master Roshi happens to have a submarine on hand when they most need one.
Overall we believe that Dragon Ball graphic novel is a great novel to pick up if you are a teenage boy because it rolls up fantasy elements from many different genres, has a lot of action and often makes jokes that would be most funny if you are a boy. However the novel is well written and well designed. Plot holes are sometimes left unfilled, but often these are not important to the story and would have taken away from it if they were to be explained. Dragon Ball is a good graphic novel for those readers who enjoy high action, high fantasy and can tolerate the crude but funny jokes that the author throws in from time to time. The inconsistency in coloring for colored chapters may be annoying to some, but it is counteracted by the fact that the coloring is vivid and pleasing to the eye.