animefringe july 2003 / reviews

Dragon Ball Vol.1
Format: right-to-left manga, 175 pages
Production: Viz / Shonen Jump / Bird Studio / Akira Toriyama
Comments: Akira Toriyama's most famous series finally comes to the U.S., with its humor intact.
Animefringe Reviews:
Dragon Ball Vol.1

It's fashionable for new "hardcore" anime fans to decry Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z as too mainstream to be cool. However, this viewpoint disregards the popularity that both series enjoyed in Japan. Indeed, Goku is (still) iconic in Japan. Despite the loathing of newbie fans, (and to the delight of casual and obsessed Dragon Ball fans) Viz has released the first volume of the original Dragon Ball manga in the U.S.

However, the manga you'll find in stores now is significantly different from Viz's first run of Dragon Ball: the more recent releases of volume one are presented in the right-to-left format that all Japanese manga is created in and is largely unedited. The more Americanized first run Dragon Ball has been discontinued and is something of a collector's item now. The newer version is, for the most part, manga done right in America.

As the first volume of Dragon Ball, this manga features Akira Toriyama's more "chubby" art style. Throughout Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z Toriyama's art gets more refined, the characters leaner and more muscular, but this volume starts off at the genesis of Goku and company. The characters are cute and the art is clean. The manga mirrors the anime closely, but Viz's manga trumps FUNimation's anime in one important respect: unlike the cartoon, the manga is unedited. Yes, that's right, Dragon Ball's trademark lowbrow humor, which made it a fan favorite in Japan, makes its debut in the pages of Viz's release. Much of the dirty humor, boobs, butts, and even Goku's penis (he is a hillbilly, of sorts) grace the manga. In the English broadcast of Dragon Ball, one scene features Bulma fishing for Uulong with dollars (leading to the terrible pun of a "Fish full of Dollars") but the manga recreates the scene correctly, with Bulma using panties as bait.

Viz decided to mix and match the Dragon Ball names, however: P'war keeps his name (more or less), but Yamacha is renamed "Yamcha" (as in FUNimation's dub) and Buruma (the Japanese rendition of bloomers, or girl's gym shorts) is changed to the FUNimation style Bulma. However, Viz does mention Bulma's relation to bloomers by having Goku ask "Bulma? Doesn't that mean bloomers," which comes off as rather artificial.

Viz does a lot of things right in the Dragon Ball manga, but there are still one slight problem. In addition to the above line and a few others like it, the translation uses a very informal language (in an attempt to capture Goku's country accent) and it does sound rather similar to FUNimation's dub of Dragon Ball. However, the language sounds forced and odd on the page.

Volume one of the series covers Goku's first encounter with Bulma, who is searching for magical Dragon Balls. The seven Dragon Balls, when gathered together, summon the Dragon god Shenron, who can grant any wish. After meeting each other, the two kids take off and stumble across Kame Sennin, the turtle hermit. From there, Bulma and Goku find a village terrorized by Uulong, a shape shifting pig. After Goku defeats him, Bulma forces Uulong along on their travels. Along the way to Fry Pan Mountain, the hiding place of one of the Dragon Balls, the trio is ambushed by Yamcha and his sidekick P'war. Yamcha plans on stealing everything the company has, but Goku beats him back. After a thrashing, Yamcha decides to tail Goku and friends to Fry Pan Mountain, where they all meet the Ox king.

With all that adventure, fans of manga and of Dragon Ball are sure to enjoy Viz's release of the seminal series. I myself prefer the manga versions of Dragon Ball to their animated counterparts, as there is far less pointless filler in the manga than there is in the anime series. Toriyama's manga moves much more quickly and is a much more satisfying experience than the slower-paced TV series can be. Whether it's the great fights or the lowbrow humor, fans will enjoy the beginning of Goku's adventures.