animefringe august 2003 / reviews

Dragon Ball Z Vol.1
Format: right-left manga
Production: Viz, LLC / Shonen Jump / Bird Studio / Akira Toriyama
Comments: A fun adventure that Dragonball Z fans should have on their shelves.
Animefringe Reviews:
Dragon Ball Z Vol.1

Of the volumes of Dragonball created by author and artist Akira Toriyama, one of my favorite story arcs is the "Saiyajin Conflict" or the "Saiyan Saga," as American dubbers and fans have named it. The first issue of Viz's release of Dragonball Z starts with this exciting and fun story arc and, for the most part, does it justice.

A note should be made early on: as originally released (in manga format) in Japan, there is no distinction between Dragonball and Dragonball Z -- everything from when Buruma meets Goku to Goku's final battle with Buu all falls under the title Dragonball. It is only when the anime was created that a distinction was made between the two series. So, what is released as Dragonball Z in America is actually volume seventeen of the long-running series.

As such, this part of the Dragonball epic formally introduces an adult Goku and the newest addition to his family, his first son Gohan. Named for Goku's deceased grandfather, the shy, nonviolent Gohan is everything Goku wasn't as his age. The new father takes pride in introducing the young boy to his childhood friends, Bulma, Krillin, and Master Roshi. However, the introductions are cut short when a new fighter, Raditz appears. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Earth's greatest hero, Raditz claims to be Goku's brother. Indeed, the powerful new warrior has a tail, just like Goku had. After telling Goku of his lineage from space warriors known as the Saiyans and imploring him to conquer Earth, Raditz steals Gohan in order to compel Goku to cooperate.

Not nearly as powerful as Raditz, Goku and company are at a loss until Goku's arch-nemesis Piccolo appears. Fearing what the new warrior will do to the Earth, Piccolo commits to an uneasy truce with Goku, in order to defeat Raditz. Piccolo and Goku do battle with the new warrior and are, eventually, able to beat him, but at a great cost; Goku dies in the process of the battle. However, a new power takes form, as Piccolo and Raditz both notice Gohan's incredible power. Gohan is going to need all the power he has, and then some. With his last breath, Raditz summons to earth the last two Saiyan warriors, Nappa and Vegeta, who are much more powerful than he.

This story arc started a science fiction theme that would pervade throughout the rest of Dragonball. While the earlier stories had sci-fi elements, they were combined with Eastern folklore and Japanese beliefs into a hodgepodge. From here on out, however, the manga (and subsequent television series) take on a very sci-fi tenor.

The art style is, in my opinion, the epitome of Toriyama's work. Somewhere between the grotesquely enormous muscles in later volumes of Dragonball Z and the chubby characters that started Dragonball, the characters are lean and powerful. The art is clean and sharp, very visually pleasing. The story itself is exciting and fun and is probably my favorite overall story-arc in Dragonball.

For the most part, Viz's release of Dragonball Z is almost as good as having the Japanese version. However, there are a few issues with this volume that strike me as not quite up to par. In attempt to capture the way dialects varied from one character to another in the original Japanese version, Viz has given bizarre English dialects to characters, most noticeably Piccolo and Goku. Piccolo speaks in stiff, formal language in both versions, while Goku is a country bumpkin for both sides. The stumbling block is the fact that it's harder to write that into English subtly. Goku, especially, often combines words in the English version, which is very glaring in English (lines like "Yeah, 'swrong with that?" and "Well, Chi-Chi's been teachin' 'im an' all"). In a questionable decision, Viz replaced all the Japanese visual sound effects (simple kana graphics that represent sounds in the manga) with English equivalents, so that the reader will see sound effects like "pwik pwik" or "shmmmm." Admittedly, this is a sticky situation for any manga company; does one replace Japanese kana, leave it as is (and maybe explain it in foot or endnotes?), or delete it entirely? In a list of questionable decisions, special note must be made of English names. For the most part, Viz has adopted FUNimation dub style names (like Bulma as opposed to Buruma, Master Roshi instead of Muten Roshi, Saiyan rather than Saiyajin, etc.) Finally - and it's a minor nit to pick, but it got my attention - the back cover of volume one features an image of Super Saiyan Goku, despite the fact Super Saiyan Goku doesn't appear for several volumes after this one. It's a small issue, but it's a bit of false advertising.

For all this, though, Viz does a lot of things right. The manga is presented unflipped, in the original Japanese style of being read from right to left. As mentioned above, translators attempted to keep styles of speech like their Japanese counterparts (with varying degrees of success). The translators also made many footnotes. One comes when Goku calls Muten Roshi "Master Muten," a footnote explains the turtle hermit's different names. Other footnotes cross reference volumes of the original Dragonball manga. The manga opens with a helpful character dossier and ends with a cute little note from Akira Toriyama himself.

Any fan of Dragonball Z will enjoy having this fun adventure on their bookshelf. It's a blast to have one of the best Dragonball adventures in a quick fix format, without the filler crap that slowed down the Dragonball Z anime.