Review: Dragon Ball Season 1

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Dragon Ball is a monster of a franchise including Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT. The original series started in 1986 and amazingly the franchise continues to produce content in the forms of comics, games and Blu-ray releases. For something as big as this, it’s hard to tell where to start. Good thing, then, that Manga has now released Season 1 of the original anime.

The original Dragon Ball is an unusual thing to watch whether you’re an old fan, a casual watcher or totally uninitiated (as I was). Fans of Dragon Ball Z might want to take this opportunity to go back and see where everything started. Some might have seen them on old US imports, while for others this will be their first taste. Whichever group you fall into, watching Dragon Ball could prove to be an interesting experience.

The thing to note with this collection is that this is the original cut without the censorship and with the old Japanese audio included. There’s an English dub too, but the point remains that there’s probably something new here for everyone. So let’s start at the beginning.

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 21.17.49Goku is a young boy living alone in the forest after the death of his “Grandpa”. He’s an energetic, cheerful little guy and is incredibly strong. One day he’s discovered by a teenage girl called Bulma who’s searching for the Dragon Balls so she can wish for a boyfriend. As it turns out, Goku already possesses a Dragon Ball but didn’t previously know what it was. Goku’s Grandpa had given it to him as something to remember him by and naturally Goku isn’t eager to give it up. Instead they decide that Goku should go with Bulma on her journey to collect all 7 Dragon Balls.

The first story arc centres around the search for the Dragon Balls and is made up of multiple episodic adventures. Along the way they meet Oolong, a pig who can shape-shift. Bulma sees his potential uses and decides to act before Oolong decides he’d rather be elsewhere. So Bulma offers him a vitamin pill, afterwards revealing that the pill will make him need the bathroom (to put it mildly) whenever she yells “piggy”. He’s quite a cynical character but that’s understandable given that he’s being forced along on the adventure.

Later, the gang are followed by the duo Yamcha and Puar. Yamcha considers himself to be a good fighter and is keen to get the Dragon Balls once he hears about them. Puar is his cutesy, shape-shifting, side-kick character complete with high-pitched voice. Though they start out as enemies, the pair eventually befriend the group, helping out in the final confrontation. The enemy of the saga is Emperor Pilaf who wants to take the Dragon Balls so that he can wish to become ruler of the world. Yes, it’s really that simple.

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The second arc (rounding off the rest of the 28 episodes in this box-set) has a change of pace after the Dragon Balls are put out of the team’s reach for another year. With nothing else to do, Goku finds the old man Master Roshi and asks to be trained in martial arts. He’s joined by another young boy, Krillin, who also wants to be taught by Roshi, but Master Roshi refuses to train anyone until they can find him a pretty girl to train.

A girl is eventually found and the young pair start their training. At first Krillin attempts to cheat his way through his tasks, but this doesn’t last long with Roshi seeing through his every move and Goku beating him at every turn. That’s not to say he’s a mean character: the pair become close friends and when things get tough they’ll cheer each other on.

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 21.24.57After training, Goku and Krillan are entered in to the World Martial Arts Tournament where they compete against the best fighters in the world and do surprisingly well, even after they’ve been told they shouldn’t expect to win. As well as seeing a wide variety of fights, the tournament is also a chance to catch up with old friends as Goku gets to see Bulma, Yamcha, Oolong and Puar again.

Dragon Ball is light-hearted and silly but your enjoyment of it might depend on your tolerance towards 80s cartoons and your appreciation of its very Japanese sense of humour. You have to watch certain sections of it with the “it was a different time back then” hat on, and on some occasions repeat to yourself, “Oh Japan, you can be so strange!” For starters, the depiction of different nationalities are all horrible stereotypes. No one acts in a terrible way but the design and voices of certain characters might have you cringing.

Women don’t have it so great either. Even if they’re not on a single-minded hunt for a boyfriend like Bulma, they’re strange, manipulative creatures who cry to win fights. Then there are the odd, perverted elements that are littered throughout the show: panties, girls flashing to old men, bunny suits, porn mags, jokes about balls, they’re all in there. Even Goku manages to get naked a few times but in these cases there is an amusing innocence to them. He’s a small kid, used to being alone, who barely knows the difference between men and women, so you can forgive him for not understanding the taboo.

Once you get past the oddities and the things that were only okay in the 80’s, there is a gem of a show to be found. Characters are two-dimensional, dialogue is clunky and the plot is thin but in spite of all that there’s a great deal of fun to be had. Goku’s optimism and energy are extremely infectious. There’s something very appealing about a character who’s happy even while everyone else is anxious or angry.

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The other characters will slowly grow on you too. Even someone like Bulma, who can be obnoxious and irritating at times, ultimately has you caring for them. There’s an episode where two characters get together and I felt genuinely pleased for them. Master Roshi spends so much time acting like a crazy, old pervert and yet over the course of the training and the tournament you do gain respect for the man.

Dragon Ball is one of those shows that against all odds will have you smiling like an idiot. For people who are already fans of the franchise this is a dream come true and a potential nostalgia fest. For the uninitiated, this is your chance to get in at the beginning and see where it all started. Dragon Ball has its faults but most of the time they’re just part of its charm. It’s silly, fun and Goku is someone you won’t regret spending your time with.

DVD extras: Trailers and character profiles on all discs as well as the 45 minute feature “Curse of the Blood Rubies”.

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