Doing my little experiment with NARUTO - - that is, skipping from the earliest episodes to the latest episodes - - unavoidably made me think of DRAGON BALL. Obviously, NARUTO SHIPPUDEN is analogous to DRAGON BALL Z: a later iteration that’s so dour, action-focused and ‘grown up’ that it actually needs to be branded differently. What’s funny is that, by my understanding, the ‘Z’ suffix was added almost somewhat after-the-fact to rebrand material (even though it was all just DRAGON BALL in the manga), while SHIPPUDEN seemed more like it was part of calculated release plan.
That’s how ‘tropes’ are made, of course, and I have to wonder if DRAGON BALL was actually the first shonen series to gradually turn a silly potty humor strip into a high stakes superhero serial. Yes, I know this happens enough to comics all over the world that there’s actually a term for it (the ‘Cerberus Effect’).
However, while I’ve often described ONE PIECE as being what SPONGEBOB might turn into after 800 episodes of mythology building, DRAGON BALL actually was that. And apparently, so did NARUTO. There’s almost an added level of quaintness to watching the early episodes of both series - - seeing a bellicose Dennis the Menace-style trouble-maker take breaks between fights to revel in some potty humor - - all while knowing how much more serious things will eventually get.
The last time I tried re-visiting the original DRAGON BALL, there weren’t enough episodes to keep going with it. Now, Hulu has plenty of subbed and dubbed episodes, so a proper marathon seems due. I went back through the entire Saiyan Saga in DBZ, not so long ago, and now I’m curious if I can figure out why the initial arc of suffix-less DRAGON BALL so infamously failed to catch on with American audiences. My best guess, at this point, is that all the jokes about Bulma might’ve been too cheeky to even work around; or the tone was so juvenile, there was no way the target audience would still have the attention span for a long-form serial.
Anyway, to answer the question posited in this write-up's title, I'll say that DRAGON BALL and NARUTO are more-or-less the same at this point. The only different is that Goku jokes about Bulma's privates, while Naruto frets about explosive diarrhea. Do you lunatics concur?
Watch “the Emperor's Quest” and decide for yourself.