ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Ah! One of the first anime I really liked several years ago. I know most prefer the more action-based Z series, but skipping the origins of a great series is like not caring about the history of your own country.
The creator of the original story, Akira Toriyama, had just finished his Doctor Slump slapstick comedy and decided to make a more action-oriented show. Dragon Ball was the result and although it began as a slapstick comedy, it progressively dropped the comedy in favor of the battles. I guess he got affected too much by the trend of Saint Seiya and slowly went for that field.
The series began with a very magical atmosphere, reminiscent of ancient China. After a dozen episodes, the ancient China motif gives place to a more sci-fi world, were houses fit into portable capsules, huge monsters roam free in the wild and anthropomorphic animals coexist with humans. It is quite a wacky representation with little sense but with extreme originality and humor. Makes a fine JRPG world. It took me some time to get used to the characters’ chibi looks, as they looked extremely short and cartoonish. But their semi-funny, semi-battle frenzied attitudes make them bearable to watch.
In general, the animation quality began very poor, with crude movements, too short and round objects and cheesy visual effects. But steadily, it improves a lot; especially towards the ending. With some tolerance, even younger otakus can stand them. It has a catchy opening, medium music themes and decent voice acting. But nothing great as a whole; the dialogues tend not to be any smarter than the phrases “I’m going to beat you!” and “Are you looking at my panties?”. So, if you are looking for sophisticated talking, look elsewhere. Sure, there are some very classic shonen phrases in here that fit the genre just fine but then again prefer the smarter way Full Metal Alchemist uses, so I am torn between liking them for being stereotypically cheesy and just being plain silly. I guess the slapstick and the constant wordplays and teasing work fine for its kind but I’m not going to lose my mind over them.
The story began as a slapstick version of the most famous Chinese fairy tale, Journey to the West . Most elements and characters in the story are in fact, comical representations of those in the fairy tale. But the similarities become fewer and fewer as the story progresses. The scenario is about a strong boy, named Son Goku, looking for magical spheres that grant wishes, taking part in martial art tournaments and fighting evil people and demons that want to rule the world. The story can be summed up as followed: Find the Dragon Balls, train to get stronger, fight in the World Martial Arts Tournament, find the Dragon Balls, train to get stronger, fight in the World Martial Arts Tournament, find the Dragon Balls, train to get stronger, fight in the World Martial Arts Tournament… Do you see a pattern forming here?
Although the general story is quite simple, it is presented in a non-predictable way. There are various mysteries and some side stories that easily make you forget its predictability. And things get very complicated and atmospheric towards the end that really makes the general shallowness of the story a trivial thing. So yeah, I liked the story despite its simplicity. The world definitely isn’t detailed or realistic but it is still one of the most distinguished worlds, ever made into anime. Some silly explanations from time to time give a simple meaning to all the wackiness.
Plus, the general story becomes more and more grand-scaled (and thus more interesting), as it progresses.
-The first villain, Emperor Pilaf, is a useless idiot who wants to rule the world. If he succeeds, the world will be at the mercy of a hapless asshole but nothing more.
-The second villain, General Black, is also an idiot but a heartless killer as well. If he succeeds, the world will be at the mercy of a hapless asshole in command of a merciless army of assassins. That’s much more serious.
-The third villain, Lord Piccolo, is a serious and very powerful demon. If he succeeds, the world will become a hellish place, at the mercy of demons that don’t care about life and justice. That’s even more serious!
The upscale in interest works just fine, although the resolution to every arc is quite convenient. It may look cool at first but if you look closer you realize it has lots of plot armor in it, which eventually make it look bad in a way. There is conclusion but every time it is like that of a fairy tale, with the villains beaten and the good guys saved or resurrected. Because as Saint Seiya taught, you must never permanently kill your characters if you are to milk the kid audience for decades.
But the cast is definately more interesting and colorful than that of Saint Seiya. Some men are funny, some are dramatic, and some are scary. But the thing they all have in common is that they all solve their problems with violence. Is something wrong in your life? Just kick the shit out of it and it’s solved! Expected in fighting shonen but this anime makes sure to even make fun with the premise. I mean Goku will challenge people to a fight even when there is no reason to it and the opponents are hardly strong. It’s not like the series doesn’t leave the option of diplomacy open… It simply never uses it.
Women are treated purely as fan service. You won’t find any good female fighters in it. Bulma, Lunch and Chichi are a bunch of brainless lolitas that exist just for to undress and make sexual jokes about boobs and marriage. Toriyama is a phalocratic bastard! It is yet another staple of shonen which holds true even today and it is fine for the target audience. I mean, who would cheer a girl or want to be like one if it’s a 100% male oriented show? But it’s true that a few token female warriors would be nice just to break the monotony.
In general, all the characters have a strong presence in the series (usually funny). Son Goku is one of the most distinctive fighting shounen characters, the Turtle hermit one of the most famous sleazy old men and Shen Long the most renowned Chinese dragon. All the character’s names are based either on the original fairy tale (Son Goku) or some cultural (Oolong) or fetish (Bulma) object. It is very funny to look for the meaning and origin of each one’s name. Their personalities are simply either comical or battle frenzied, making them quite repetitive so you almost feel like the series has only two characters that change cloths all the time. Still, they are two quite distinctive characters.
They all have their simple backdrop stories (just enough to excuse their existence in the story) and practically zero character development. No one really matures; just gets older and/or stronger. And always fights! No one tries to reason with his enemies; he just fights them. No one tries to trick his enemies with cunningness; he just gets stronger and fights them. This again sounds typical of shonen but it is true that Saint Seiya had given far more attention to backdrop stories and even the development of each major character would be triggered by an important event. There is no such thing in Dragonball as everybody is practically goofing around and just trains to get stronger.
I admit the Dragonball bunch has a lot more vividness and quirks to remember them more fondly. It is very cool to see them getting taller, breast-enlarged or stronger but it is also quite disappointing to see them acting the same way, no matter how many years pass and regardless of how many hardships they face. If some become a bit more mature, it is only after they lose to Son Goku. They were interesting antagonists up to the point they rival him; but after their defeat, they change to stunts and uninteresting underlings (such was the case with Yamcha, Krilin, Chaosu and Tien). Which feels poor to say the least.
It seems to be a rather bad legacy this show left to the following shonen, who in an attempt to mimic the glory would also opt for goofy characters and simplistic backdrops. Damn, looks like the subtle formula Hokuto no Ken began with faded even more and got replaced with a bunch of hapless idiots.
My enjoyment equals the percentage of the worthy episodes. I personally have the following remarks about the flow of the story.
-Episodes 1 to 13 were pure slapstick/erotic comedy, with some cool explosions here and there. Not very funny or imposing but definitely bearable and worthy.
-Episodes 14 to 28 were still funny but had a lot of martial art fighting that made them more interesting.
-Episodes 29 to 59 were boring, as Goku feels like Rambo while protecting innocent people from the Red Ribbon Army of terrorists. Not much of story or battles. There was a cameo appearance of the Doctor Slump characters here, but who cares.
-Episodes 60 to 68 were great! Goku fights the extremely ruthless Tao Pai Pai (the first cool villain in the series who kills people in VERY cruel ways) and then storms the Red Ribbon Army base.
-Episodes 69 to 101 were boring, as I didn’t found interesting the ghost tournament, or Tien Shin Han’s quest for revenge. And the battles were quite stale.
-Episodes 102 to 148 were great again, as Piccolo appears, kills people by the HUNDREDS, mountains start blowing up, characters change and mysteries are solved. Very action-based, violent and cool.
-Episodes 149 to 153 were a simple adventure and an atmospheric but also anti-climactic ending to the first series.
If you sum it up, out of the 153 episodes, about 80 were worthy, giving an average of 5.
But hey, it’s the series that hooked millions of people to shonen. It has memorable characters and a distinctive world and it’s not afraid to fool around for dozens of episodes before the actual story kicks in. Because back then the competition was almost zero and even 30 filler episodes in a row felt ok. It is still better than most modern shonen since it never lost its passion; like let’s say Naruto or Bleach. Or at least it didn’t up until GT came to be… I still consider One Piece the only superior descendant of the formula it left behind, which for a 25 year old shonen, that means a lot.
If you like Akira Toriyama’s style of animation, look for the series Doctor Slump and Blue Dragon as well as games such as the Dragon Quest series and Chrono Trigger.
And let’s not forget Journey to the West , the fairy tale Dragon Ball was based upon.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 7/10
General Artwork 2/2 (interesting)
Character Figures 2/2 (generic but memorable)
Backgrounds 1/2 (basic)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (silly but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 4/4 (great)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (erratic)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10
Presence 2/2 (strong)
Personality 2/2 (cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic but it’s there)
Development 0/2 (none)
Catharsis 0/2 (none)
VALUE SECTION: 9/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 2/3 (high)
Memorability 4/4 (extremely memorable)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 5/10
Slow and silly but still fun.