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Alex returns to champion his pals, Goku and Toriyama! Forget about all those silly memes about filler and screaming, everybody! There's much more to this than just pointy hair and power levels!

Previously on OTAKU COMING HOME...

Guess what Anime Vice readers - - I'M BACK! Just when you think you're rid of me, I come slinking back out of the ancient cartoon wasteland to hurl more burning-hot opinions at you! Well, this time, I'm not going to be griping. This time I'm actually pretty excited to sing the praises of the WORLDS STRONGEST franchise - - DRAGON BALL.

When I was coming up in the nerdy world of anime, there were few things that could elicit as immediate and intense a reaction in a 13-year-old boy as DRAGON BALL (with the possible exception of boobs - - luckily it had those, too!). Today, however, I’ll be focusing on the art and punching aspects of this Shonen titan (sorry, 13 year-old boys) because I worry that show's reputation has been a bit tarnished.

These days, DRAGON BALL is arguable most famous for having lots of filler and mercilessly-padded plots with fight scenes spanning entire seasons. It’s easy to focus on the memes, the abridged versions, the “over 9000-ness” of it all. And, of course, there was that live action movie…

Seriously, what happened here? And more importantly, why?
Seriously, what happened here? And more importantly, why?

But to write off DRAGON BALL for any of that would be foolish! Foolish!

Revisiting this show, and the work of Akira Toriyama, in my post-art school years has proven an enlightening experience. There’s actually a whole lot to admire in this stuff, and not just because it’ll put hair on your chest (though it will absolutely do that). If your complaint is that the pace is glacial and there's too much fighting.... well, you should probably give up on shonen anime altogether, buddy.

I’m just going to come out and say it - - Toriyama is one of manga’s greatest talents, deserving of no less praise than Katsuhiro Otomo (AKIRA), Naoki Urasawa (MONSTER), Masamune Shirow (GHOST IN THE SHELL), or even Osamu Tezuka (BLACK JACK). Toriyama can draw his ass off, he has a unique and recognizable style and design sense, and he has a good eye for layout. Plus, the guy knows how to make characters you want to spend time with.

Most of this great work makes its way to the screen, as well. The anime may be a lot more drawn out, but it's still got all the qualities that made the comic so strong.

These covers blow me away. That thing Bulma's flying looks amazing. The color schemes are nicely designed and interesting. Plus, Goku's riding a damn dinosaur in goggles!
These covers blow me away. That thing Bulma's flying looks amazing. The color schemes are nicely designed and interesting. Plus, Goku's riding a damn dinosaur in goggles!

This man can draw anything. He has an obvious affection for giant chests and square biceps, but a large part of the appeal of DRAGON BALL is the setting. The book is full of awesome designs, absurd machines, dome houses, dinosaurs (for some reason), sprawling landscapes and Chinese-style hills in the mist. And that’s just on Earth!

Namek (my personal favorite setting) is a really nice looking backdrop for all the bright warm colors of the cast, with lots of lush greens and blues and a seemingly endless supply of mountains to smash through and bodies of water to plunge into or skip across.

How scenic! I would gladly summer on Namek if it wasn't a destroyed, make believe, cartoon planet.
How scenic! I would gladly summer on Namek if it wasn't a destroyed, make believe, cartoon planet.

Oh yeah, and there’s also a whole lot of guys punching each other. Through mountains. This probably goes without saying... but the action sequences in DRAGON BALL are utterly fantastic!

Yes, by the time Buu rolls around, things are really over-the-top and ridiculous, but I’m not going to argue when this show jumped the shark (not this week, anyway). Even at its worst, this series provides some of the best and most satisfying fight scenes around.

Toriyama knows how to convey weight and force and how to keep things exciting, and that all translates easily from still drawings to animation. The hits feel hard, the sense of speed is convincing, and the movements and poses of the characters are always interesting and lively.

The movement here is awesome. This page is pure energy!
The movement here is awesome. This page is pure energy!

Sure, DRAGON BALL pretty much amounts to “Japanese super-heroes” as it’s often described, but I’d argue that it’s just as artistically successful and culturally important as SUPERMAN or THE AVENGERS. I mean, c'mon - - even your mom has heard of DRAGON BALL Z! SOULJA BOY is rapping clumsily about which members of the cast he looks like.

America has completely embraced the show despite how insane and foreign it is in a lot of respects - - just look! Its appeal stretches across borders. It's like POKEMON with balls.

Every character here has personality, and they're drawn with the confidence of a cartoonist at the top of his game.
Every character here has personality, and they're drawn with the confidence of a cartoonist at the top of his game.

So don’t be ashamed to watch, read and enjoy DRAGON BALL at any age.

And if you haven’t read any of the manga, then I demand you take a look! No matter how much you think you know the franchise already, you'll find a pretty damn good reason there for why it has such a wide and fervent audience.

What a smug sack...
What a smug sack...

DRAGON BALL is as old as I am, and it's still going strong for me. The story and the look have evolved over time and despite owing a lot to JOURNEY TO THE WEST (especially in its early days), DRAGON BALL feels unique and complete as its own world. I'm a fan of cheesy shonen action cartoons, but most of them feel totally derivative, and the truth is a lot of them owe a hugest debt to DRAGON BALL for defining the winning formula.

And I happen to think no one has done it this well since.

Alex Eckman-Lawn is an illustrator and comic artists from Philadelphia. Check out his site - - - rumble with his Tumblr - - - and hit up his Twitter: @alexeckmanlawn

Marshal Victoryon Dec. 4, 2012 at 2:02 p.m.

"When I was coming up in the nerdy world of anime, there were few things that could elicit as immediate and intense a reaction in a 13-year-old boy as DRAGON BALL (with the possible exception of boobs - - luckily it had those, too!)."

Wait it has boobs?... tell me more !

Seriously tho its a series i have not even started. But now that Bleech is done just might go back an look at this series.Human nature tho in groups always goes backward .People attack what was popular to prove their not in that "herd" .An yet People do this in mass to prove how difrent they end up in just another herd.

Of course this does not aply to glittery ( cough Twilight cought) vamire movies... they suck on so many levels.

Destinyheroknighton Dec. 4, 2012 at 2:24 p.m.

I'll never stopping hating DBGT, but the other ones are awesome :)

Also this is why One Piece is awesome to, but it take more from Dragon Ball instead of Z

Fat_Magnumon Dec. 4, 2012 at 2:26 p.m.

@Marshal Victory: Groups haytin on other groups, yo. Humans do it reel gud.

I thought DBZ was cool when I was... 10-ish and it remained appealing til about 13. Every once in a blue moon I might revisit it briefly for nostalgia's sake but, ultimately, I can't deny the ridiculousness of it all. Not to say it isn't quality stuff, from what very little I know of the anime world it still ranks among the best, by my estimation. Even so, I shan't cease the hatred! :P

Petiewon Dec. 4, 2012 at 3:25 p.m.
I really prefer the early volumes of Dragon Ball. Going from an adventure arc to a tournament arc helped the pacing, and I enjoyed the light hearted tone and the gags. Though even the early parts had the problem of relegating all of the side characters, it wasn't as bad since people like Bulma and Krillin still took part in the adventure arcs. Namek sort of did this, but it just consisted of Krillin getting the crap kicked out of him by everyone and Bulma being irrelevant since they were fighting dudes that could destroy planets.
DBZ is still fun for some over the top shonen fighting though.
Destinyheroknighton Dec. 4, 2012 at 3:38 p.m.

This is one of the best moments of Dragon Ball

YotaruVegetaon Dec. 4, 2012 at 4:18 p.m.

I eat filler for breakfast!

Akira Toriyama= master, and not simply for what he did with Dragonball. I started reading Dr. Slump, and that's great as well. Don't even get me started on Dragon Quest!

Marshal Victoryon Dec. 4, 2012 at 4:56 p.m.

@Fat_Magnum: Every so often i like something silly to watch like when i was a kid. Bleech filled that for me rather well .Heck it felt familar 1st episode cause some fo the designs were like what i would draw in high school.But we are as old as we feel ... 141 atm give or take 100 years :/

In some respects some fo the gripes of Bleech seem the same for DBZ mainly filler tho?

Donwunon Dec. 4, 2012 at 5:20 p.m.

The original Dragonball series is almost like its own seperate entity that i would not group with DBZ or DBGT. I mean i just completed Dragonball last year after watching Z back in 1999 and i have to say man it's an exceptionally classy anime series and its really interesting to see where they took that and made DBZ with.

I'd say you have missed a great series if you have not seen the original dragonball series, dn't let dbz cloud your judgement with that series people...two different beasts

zaldaron Dec. 4, 2012 at 5:33 p.m.

I love how you skip over all that is wrong with the show (plot, characterization, pace) and talk only about the art...for many the least important part of an anime. Sigh....shonen are great, when you are 13.

Destinyheroknighton Dec. 4, 2012 at 5:41 p.m.


Sigh....shonen are great, when you are 13.

Shonen is always great, it doesn't matter what your age are if you enjoy it.

jj_jacksonon Dec. 4, 2012 at 6:29 p.m.

I grew up with dragonball z and pokemon probably my two first anime. I know dbz like the back of my hand me and my bro can literally say word for word lines for like 3 minutes straight. but id say almost about 7 yrs ago after watching other series i did start to realize little pet peeves about the plot and other things that were in the show. I did love it better however with the original japenese music as opposed to the american music which gave me a hell of a head ache. I mean it will always be a favorites.

I cant watch this series anymore for the simple fact that i have seen this series a HELL of alot of times. I loved kai however it was a fresh take and got right to buisness.

The original Dragonball btw is one of my favorite series. Dragonball when goku was a kid gives me the same feeling one piece does, a sense of adventure and excellent story telling.

kennysomewhereon Dec. 4, 2012 at 7:27 p.m.

I always thought of the dragon ball z series as something akin to Greek mythology. Its outrageous, the characters epic and bigger than life like Greek Gods

xtremekidxon Dec. 4, 2012 at 7:54 p.m.

i actually thought you hated DBZ!!!

i still remember when i watched it,i couldnt wait for the namek saga to end so i started watching the rest of the episodes on youtube........F'KIN youtube!!!

EamonBDocon Dec. 4, 2012 at 8:54 p.m.


As a lifelong Dragonball fan I am likely on the biased side,

I will agree 100% that the tv show has pacing issues. The Manga does not, and reads at a really brisk and exciting pace. That is the nature of anime tv of the shonen kind, I suppose. As far as the characters go, it is definitely part of the reason I stuck with the show, and characters definitely grow, and change throughout the series. The characters and their personalities/abilities are what drives this type of show/comic in my opinion...not necessarily the plot, but we probably just don't agree on this type of thing and it's probably pointless to bring it up.

The thing I don't get is the art in anime (and manga?) being the least important part for "Many"...for real? Animation and Manga are visual mediums...if a comic or manga is drawn poorly, or drawn without any thought process for the reader...or if a show is poorly animated consistently, I don't bother with it. The art is part of the whole deal, it's why I am watching something or reading a comic/manga over a book...I want to see some good drawings w the characters/story I like. The art is of paramount importance. The artwork also helps me like something, like Dragonball, into my older years. The craft is high, and I can appreciate it for the technique nowadays, whereas as a kid I might have liked it more cuz of fights and potty humor. Maybe I'm just opening a can of worms here.

Sonata moderator on Dec. 4, 2012 at 11:38 p.m.
I don't hate DBGT I just deny its existence entirely.
ComicMan24on Dec. 5, 2012 at 1:43 a.m.

Loved that show when I was kid and still do. It just doesn't appeal that much to me anymore. It is always going to have a special place in my heart but if DB was a new anime just starting now, I doubt I would ever check it (and that goes for many anime that I used to watch as a kid, not just DB).

YotaruVegetaon Dec. 5, 2012 at 7:32 a.m.

@xtremekidx: Why would you do that? Wouldn't episodes be segmented into, like, 3 parts? A stereotypically prolonged show divided into even more parts?

NickTapalansky staff on Dec. 5, 2012 at 9:43 a.m.

@zaldar: So, a few problems here:

1) Like said, it's a visual medium. Period. Without the "unimportant" art, it doesn't exist. That you'd consider art so low on your list of priorities is a bit puzzling to me, but it's unfortunately common amongst anime fandom, where liking concepts all too often trumps an appreciation of quality and talent. If this were an article about the cover of a novel being more important than the story within, I might see your point, but that's not the case.

2) Alex's entire opening paragraph is talking about what makes the series appealing to 13-year old boys, an admission of the majority demographic, but he goes on to extol the virtues of the show as it might be appreciated by an older audience. Some of the content may be immature/silly, but it's beautifully conceived by one of the greatest manga artists of our time. Go beneath the surface of the "shonen is stupid" argument and find some truly compelling reasons to appreciate the show as an adult too, even if you believe you think you've outgrown shonen.

2a) Rather than reading an article and having a knee-jerk reaction, try considering the source. This is an OP/ED column (opinion/editorial) that has two contributors - myself and Alex. We come from different backgrounds and have different experiences, but our goal is the same: to share an opinion, based on personal experience, that we think readers would find interesting and worthy of discussion. Alex is a professional illustrator, painter, and comic artist. It's how he makes his living. Most of his articles are going to reflect that, and his love of art, just as much as his nerdy, Japan-loving childhood. Ditto for me as a comic author.

3) already said it, but I'll say it again: there is nothing, NOTHING, wrong with liking silly, immature shonen at any age. Sometimes it's nice to see people get punched through mountains for a few hours. Especially when it's so beautifully rendered.

4) Again, like pointed out - the manga doesn't suffer from these pacing and characterization problems. Alex is talking about both here, but specifically goes out of his way to point you toward the comic, where Toriyama was the one responsible for telling the story in its entirety.

I guess the short version here is thus: you're 100% wrong, which is a rare thing to be able to prove out in a comment thread on the internet where things tend to dissolve into opinion slap-fights. But what can I say?

NickTapalansky staff on Dec. 5, 2012 at 9:49 a.m.

To @Petiew, @Destinyheroknight, @YotaruVegeta, @Donwun,@jj_jackson - cheers on the original DRAGONBALL love! DBZ will always have a place in my heart, and there's lots that I still dig about it, but I know I could never sit through the whole series again (and KAI, to me, was just a bad idea).

DRAGONBALL, on the other hand... I could watch that for days still. And the manga is absolutely gorgeous.

Also, special props to for calling out DR. SLUMP and DRAGON QUEST! And let's not forget CHRONO TRIGGER, too. Toriyama is one of the greats when it comes to creating a world you not only believe in, but would want to explore, including people you'd want to do that with.

zaldaron Dec. 16, 2012 at 3:01 p.m.

@NickTapalansky: hmmm I have to say I disagree but then I come to anime from books, for words, and was attracted to it by the concepts. It is not just a visual medium but a STORYTELLING medium. I wouldn't say putting the storytelling at a higher level than the art is bad. If I want art I will go to an art museum. As for liking silly immature things...there is that bible verse about putting away childish things as an adult....

It is not taking life seriously that leads to many of the problems we have now in society. But eh yes this is an opinion piece and I respect that but that doesn't mean I have to agree with it and not lament the direction the site seems to be taking. As for the facts I honestly don't see many, at least not many I would say are not in contention.

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Akira Toriyama is a successful manga artist, most famous for his manga and anime series Dragon Ball. He has also worked as character designer on a number of well known JRPG's

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