Dragon Ball. No anime can claim to have the same level of recognition that this series has. Any anime fan worth their salt has at least heard of Dragon Ball Z, and any DBZ fan is well familiar with both GT and the recent Dragon Ball Super. The franchise has been going strong for years, and it likely will continue to do so for years to come.
But I have a question for you: how many of you have seen Dragon Ball? Not DBZ, not GT and not Super. I mean the original Dragon Ball!
Let me take you back to a time before Saiyans, let alone Super Saiyans. To a time before each character could vaporize a planet with only a fraction of their power. To the days when hunting for the Dragon Balls was more than just a gag. Let me explain exactly why you should watch the original Dragon Ball.
Plot: The Youth of Son Goku and Friends
Over the course of its run, the story of Dragon Ball shifts and changes dramatically. However, the general structure of the story remains the same from arc to arc.
Dragon Ball stars Son Goku, a twelve-year-old monkey boy with superhuman strength and an affinity for martial arts. After being discovered by a young Bulma, he’s whisked away on an adventure in search of the Dragon Balls, seven magic orbs that, when brought together, can summon the Eternal Dragon to grant one wish. Along the way, Goku will face off against powerful martial artists, evil military forces, and hordes of demons on his quest to become the greatest warrior on earth.
Along the way, he’ll make plenty of friends to help him out! The shapeshifting pervert pig Oolong, the desert bandit Yamucha and his assistant Puar, the old but powerful Master Roshi, the bald and determined monk Krillin, Lunch and her split-personality (God I miss her), among many others, accompany Goku through his various battles and adventures. Together, they keep the Dragon Balls from nefarious hands, protect the innocent, and push each other to be better and stronger.
In terms of tone, this series goes through one hell of a transition. In its earliest days, Dragon Ball was a gag comedy series. It had a few moments of action, but it was always in service of comedy more than excitement. When you compare them to what was to come, the early days of the series become… strange. Charming, but strange.
But as the tone transitions from comedy to action, the series really starts to come into its own! The antagonists slowly become more and more intimidating. The battles become more thrilling. The pacing slows down to properly explore the different trials necessary to acquire each Dragon Ball. Once the tone transitions, the show becomes impossible to put down!
One thing that I absolutely adore about the original series is the characters! In Z, the show slowly moved away from the side characters as the main cast became more and more powerful. By the time Super came around, Dragon Ball had essentially become ‘The Goku and Vegeta Show’, as they were the only two capable of keeping up with the insane power the villains possessed.
In the original series, the side characters had things to do! Krillin was capable of holding his own against GOKU! Bulma’s brains proved crucial to everyone’s success time and again! Roshi was one of the most powerful and wise characters in the cast! Oolong and Puar’s transformation powers saved our heroes several times! Hell, even Chiaotzu managed to contribute with his psychic powers!
Then, of course, there’s Goku. This is easily Goku at his most charming! His childish and innocent nature leads to some of the most endearing moments in the entire series! Between him shouldering his pole (God I miss the Power-Pole) and casually leaving to beat up an army of adults to him treating everything around him like it’s from another planet, everything Goku does is fun and endearing! This is easily my favorite version of Goku!
Now, it is worth noting that certain aspects of this plot have aged pretty poorly. Practically every male character that isn’t Goku is a huge pervert, and practically every woman is often sexualized to an extreme degree (including the very under-aged Bulma). There are some homophobic jokes, a few mildly racist-looking characters (cough cough Popo) and many other old-fashioned ideas. They aren’t so overwhelming that it ruins the taste of everything else. But it is worth mentioning.
Despite its flaws, this show is incredibly charming! It has a rough start, but it never stops after it finds its footing! Once Dragon Ball starts running, it only picks up speed!
Visuals: Classic Anime At Its Finest
FUCK this show is pretty! Or at the very least, it can be.
Most of the time, Dragon Ball just looks okay. The character designs are fantastic, thanks to the excellent work of Akira Toriyama, and everything is very colorful. The animation is often stiff and limited, due to the show’s weekly format. Some shots are clearly just colored in panels from the manga, but they work just fine.
But when this show looks good? It looks damn good! The animation is smooth, energetic and full of impact! The choreography in the action scenes is often incredible! There are plenty of long, uninterrupted shots filled with movement.
And the music! Oh my god, the music! Every single track perfectly fits the scene, from the bombastic to the goofy and the chilling! They even have insert songs in the Japanese version, all of which I love!
In terms of visuals, this show has aged like a fine wine. When the action gets more intense, it becomes incredibly beautiful. In the down moments, it is still incredibly charming, if not a little limited. All in all, it is more pretty than it isn’t.
I’m quite concerned and upset by the sheer number of Dragon Ball fans that haven’t seen the original Dragon Ball. Sure, Z is fantastic, GT has its charms (even if it’s bad) and Super has plenty of good moments to accompany the bad. But none of them have the same level of charm that the original series.
I implore you: if you are a Dragon Ball fan, go watch the original series! Go buy the blue bricks, get some snacks, set a few days aside and marathon the show! It is a fantastic piece of Dragon Ball history, one that any fan of the franchise should be familiar with!