Previously on OTAKU COMING HOME...
- How FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST Saved Anime (For Me) *** SAILOR MOON is for Boys (Too)!
- KINGDOM HEARTS Rescued an Anime Fan *** The Art of the Remake Part 1 * Part 2 * Part 3
- The Do's & Dont's of Conventions *** For Under-Rated "Japanimation" *** Capcom vs. Alex!
- America in Anime * Why the EVA Rebuilds are Trivial * It's Not So Fun to be an American Otaku in Japan?
- A Photologue of Nerdy Japan * Real Japanese Cuisine for the Traveling Otaku
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 - -alexeckmanlawn.com - - rumble with his Tumblr - -dudenukem.tumblr.com - - and hit up his Twitter: @alexeckmanlawn