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Stop Hating on DRAGON BALL Z! - - OTAKU COMING HOME

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 - -alexeckmanlawn.com - - rumble with his Tumblr - -dudenukem.tumblr.com - - and hit up his Twitter: @alexeckmanlawn

Destinyheroknighton Dec. 16, 2012 at 3:53 p.m.

@zaldar:

As for liking silly immature things...there is that bible verse about putting away childish things as an adult....

You talking about the same bible that said "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet" and "Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and equitable but also to those who are perverse." So using the bible isn't the best thing to make a point. There is nothing wrong liking childish things, cause it is entertainment

It is not just a visual medium but a STORYTELLING medium.

It a entertaining medium, to entertain people. It don't need to have a good story to be entertain by it.

It is not taking life seriously that leads to many of the problems we have now in society.

What is the problem of enjoying a childish thing that make someone don't take life serious? If they over doing it then that is a problem, but if they balance it (it won't be)

AlexEL staff on Dec. 17, 2012 at 12:33 p.m.

@zaldar: Ignoring your biblical references and cutting social commentary, anime is a visual storytelling medium. The story is ONE aspect, of an animated feature. If you ignore the art you're ignoring AT LEAST 50% of what makes anime what it is. Also the story is conveyed with moving images. Unless you watch anime with your eyes closed, then i don't want to hear that the art doesn't matter.

you are of course entitled to your opinion. don't watch shonen anime if you don't want to, i'm not gonna force you.

zaldaron Dec. 31, 2012 at 9 p.m.

@AlexEL: going to have to agree to disagree I actually don't know anywhere in the protestant bible by the way where it says woman should not teach but certainly the bible says many things that I don't agree with (the earth being 6k years old to be one of them). The generation I am part of, the fandom I am part of, and those after me I do think spend to little time actually working and to much time seeking pleasure. I do hold myself in the group that does this though I try to limit it very much.

As for the continuing controversy about art vs story. It is probably best seen as a spectrum. For me story is much more important than art but problem there is a badly drawn art enough that I would not like it even if the story was excellent. However I have NEVER ran across a show like that but there are a metric shit ton of shows where the story is so piss poor that I wouldn't watch it if my life depended on it.

I come from books and still read voraciously. I have never collected comics and I don't read manga, and honestly I very rarely go to art museums. I am much more a words and ideas than a visual person. Does this make me very different than most people in my generation and those after me. Probably does. I am not sure that is a good thing.

Destinyheroknighton Dec. 31, 2012 at 10:33 p.m.

@zaldar:

I feel very lame for knowing where the verse is in the bible without looking up (Timothy 2:12). Wish I have useful info that would help me in life, instead of random bible verses from my days of Sunday school

Well, if they don't change, they all will be hobos. People should really learn how to balance joy and work. (I usually have like four hours of enjoyment a day, the rest is usually work or study)

It a good thing to be different, it make you unique and able to think on your own

Dig Deeper into Akira Toriyama

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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