Dragon Ball

TV (153 eps)
1986 - 1989
3.971 out of 5 from 44,449 votes
Rank #1,134

A mysterious monkey-tailed boy named Goku teams up with a teenage computer-wiz girl named Bulma to search for the mystic Dragon Balls. According to legend, whoever collects all 7 Dragon Balls will have any one wish granted. Join Goku in this hilarious anime masterpiece, as he races and battles to save the world from the forces of darkness. Who will find the balls first?

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#1: Emperor Pilaf Saga Just like it happened with so many other people of my generation, I instantly fell in love with Dragonball. And I am talking about the original series, not Z which was what most watched in America and didn’t know there was more before it. By then, the plot had become the stereotype everybody was copying, instead of something completely different from everything else that was airing at that moment. Unless for some reason you were lucky enough to get another action adventure comedy series, with plot continuity, where everybody was a selfish idiot, instead of picture perfect boyscouts and one-dimensional bad guys. It’s funny to think how Dragonball, which came to be the monolith of fighting shonen formulas, began as a deconstruction of the typical hero’s journey and a satire of Chinese epics. I won’t get into many details regarding the plot, which was all over the place and still full of creativity, and I will focus on its strongest element. Although you can easily separate the cast into good guys and bad guys, most of them were selfish and had their own agenda. They were moving as a group, but they had no unity. This was making it so fun to watch, as you never knew when would someone betray his allies and steal the Dragonballs. Furthermore, they were so different from one another, and had a negative trait to offset their positive one. This was creating a small and very balanced cast with fantastic chemistry during their interactions. And even the Dragonballs were seen as a way to fix their negative side, so they were in effect a form of catharsis, instead of a cheap way to come back to life all the time. You don’t get that as the number of characters increase and their features become less and less distinctive. - Goku: Strong but dumb- Bulma: Smart but vain- Oolong: Cunning but naïve - Yamcha: Ambitious but afraid of women- Roshi: Super strong but slave to lust- Pilaf: Has a huge armory but no leadership skills Also, a big part of the appeal was how everyone was sexually frustrated, which was adding a lot to the comedy and the chemistry. It may not seem like much today, and can even be considered creepy, since it involves underage girls getting constantly naked and groped, but back when it was airing it was very bold and kinky, without striking as politically incorrect by excusing it as gag comedy. And the best part is that it never became a lame ecchi show, where they dig each other but always chicken out at the last moment. They were proactive about it, and by the end of the arc they got what they wanted.- Bulma: Got a boyfriend- Yamcha: Not afraid of women anymore- Oolong: Got the underwear of a hot babe- Chichi: Got a husband (eventually) Just like it happens with every arc, Toriyama did not develop every concept, which was part of what caused inconsistencies and plot holes down the line. For example, a thing that was abandoned fast was Goku’s ability to communicate with animals. It was fun seeing him understand simple-minded creatures like himself. It was adding to his feral side, as opposed to the civilized humanity, which was relying on technology. Another dropped idea was the transformation school Oolong mentioned, and we never got to see. As much as I am glad there are no schools in the show, having the ability to change your shape would offer an aspect of strategy and deception to the battles. You could say Naruto picked up that idea, and even there you see how creative the battles were at first for being based on deception rather than huge energy beams, and how it lost its magic when it became all about chosen ones and sharingans. Just like a certain other show, which after a point on, it became all about saiyans and prophesies. It’s almost as if they repeat the same mistakes.A last thing I want to point out was how short and compact the first arc was. It’s only 13 episodes long (12 if you remove the pinball filler) and the pacing was fast, with constant developments. It wasn’t letting you get bored, unlike later arcs which were dragging everything to last as much as possible. Thus, as a whole, it was a fantastic arc, and it even ended in a way that excuses a continuation, since it had already introduced Muten Roshi and his wish to train Goku. It’s easily a 9/10, with the only negative thing being the pinball filler. #2: First World Tournament Unless you were living in Latin America, this was the first time you would see an animated tournament arc. This is what would popularize it as a concept in the decades to come, to the point people were hyping the completely generic school festival of My Hero Academia. The one in Dragonball was still a fresh concept, thus it didn’t need to resort to the gimmicks of later arcs, such as getting interrupted before completion, once the outcome becomes predictable, or to be used as a cheap excuse to introduce new characters who will be important down the line. The new opponents in the first Dragonball tournament were pretty much fodders, so you were watching just to see how far the established heroes would go.As always, the plot and rules during fighting are all over the place, but unlike the first arc, over here it is a much bigger issue. You don’t have rules to follow when you travel in the wilderness. Messy tactics and random events makes sense there. It is not the same when you are in a tournament and you get disqualified if you break the rules. Toriyama tried to stabilize a bit the complete chaos of his previous arc, but didn’t follow his own rules, as many contestants were using tools or left the arena before the end of the match and were not disqualified. It felt more of an oversight than a gag. A downgrade is how we had less selfish agendas and distinctive personalities, compared to The Emperor Pilaf Saga. Bulma and Oolong became spectators, Yamcha begun his carrier as the guy who always gets defeated first, Chichi and Pilaf were absent. What was left was Goku fighting everyone who gets in his way, and Roshi who wanted to motivate his students. From new faces, there was Kuririn as the new rival, as well as the best character of the arc. Despite sharing the same goal as everyone else in the tournament, he was the only one shown to have an inferiority complex and the only one adjusting to the tactics of every opponent he faced. Compared to him, Goku was a complete blockhead and Roshi was just there as a mentor instead of an opponent. Meaning, he was the typical underdog of sports and fighting shonen, in the role of the deuteragonist instead the protagonist. Funny how many call One Punch Man a deconstruction for doing the same with Genos, while Dragonball is the monolith despite doing the same 3 decades ago. Not many copy cats to be noticed yet, I guess. From the best new character we move to the worst new character. Lunch was there just for pervy humor and some fairly one-note gag jokes. Toriyama had no idea what to do with her and eventually made her disappear. Many say he forgot about her, but the truth is he wanted to reuse her transformation and would feel weird if she was still around. What, don’t tell me her turning from a naïve black-haired person, to a blond battle maniac doesn’t remind you of something. In terms of catharsis we got some, but it’s fairly one-note compared to The Emperor Pilaf Saga. There was only the message of Roshi, telling his students to keep training because there were stronger people out there. Not a bad excuse for Goku to go find the Dragonballs in the next arc as part of his training, but also not much for Kuririn or anyone else to do something about it. The pacing was slower in this arc and not many things happened per episode. There wasn’t much action or adventure to the most part, as it was either a very long training session, or a static arena. Although the training episodes were vital for showing the fruits of their labor, they were also empty of things to care about. It was way better than instantly getting power ups or skipping training altogether, but something plot-relevant should have been happening in the meantime for making these episodes rewatchable. Thus, as a whole, it was still a fairly good arc, but not as good as the first one, so I give it a 7/10. #3: Red Ribbon Saga The Red Ribbon Saga was devoid of character chemistry, making it very boring to the most part. Despite trying to copy the plot of The Emperor Pilaf Saga by having Goku looking for the Dragonballs again, there were no companions with him to make his journey fun. He was meeting new allies for a few episodes, but as soon as he was leaving that place, he would be alone and they would never be seen again. Watching Goku steamrolling his enemies was fun for awhile, but it also felt hollow with no allies to add something more to his fights. Toriyama probably wanted to show how after his training Goku was now capable to fend for himself, but that came at the expense of less tension and no multiple agendas. The Red Ribbon villains were all generic megalomaniacs, with nothing to offset it. Despite having a huge army at their disposal, they were far less interesting that a comic relief like Pilaf. He had his lack of leadership to offset the ridiculously varied weaponry he was using, whereas General Red had only a one-note joke about being short and wanting the balls to become tall. There was nothing to build from it, and he was disposed of quickly. In fact, all the bad generals were disposed of quickly and were never seen again, just like it happened with the new allies. Despite having plot continuity, this arc felt like a series of standalone missions, since nothing was added or resolved at the end of each one, besides Goku getting a ball and the bad guys losing redshirts. I didn’t care about Muscle Tower, the sunken pirate treasure, or the cross over with Doctor Slump. In my mind all these episodes before the introduction of Tao, should have merged with the training ones from the previous arc. Imagine how cooler it would be for Goku to be fighting these guys not for gathering the Dragonballs, but as part of his training, while also delivering milk or doing construction work. By the time he was ready to go to the tournament, he would have gained enough battle experience to excuse his place in the finals. Anyways, back to the canon plot, the only thing Toriyama could think of for saving this snorefest was introducing a fighter stronger than Goku. This begins the transition to the formula we came to know in Z. No more selfish and flawed teams of characters, trying to help out each other while also having personal agendas. From here on it’s constantly introducing stronger and stronger opponents for Goku to beat after he trains and gets a power up. Plus, the Dragonballs turned into an excuse to bring dead allies back to life, than offering some sort of psychological catharsis, as it was the case in the beginning. The show became way more repetitive and straightforward because of this shift.But if I limit my scope in this arc alone, I gotta admit, Goku kicking the crap out of Tao and then storming the enemy base was one of the coolest battles I have seen in my life, even if it came very late in the arc, it was one-sided, and had no strategy whatsoever. As a whole, it was a dull arc, with a bombastic finale, so I give it a 5/10. #4: Second World Tournament What followed the most satisfying Red Ribbon battle, were more boring missions with little to no consequence behind them. First they had this mini tournament for finding the last ball, which was only about resurrecting a guy we didn’t care about, and who will play no part later on. The only true payoff was Goku meeting his dead grandpa, but even that didn’t matter once it was over, since he also plays no part in later arcs. After that, Goku goes on another trip around the world soloing nobodies and we get another bunch of standalone missions with no consequence.Then the second world tournament begins and you clearly see how little to no engagement there is compared to the first one. It was no longer much of a gag comedy, Goku had already proven to be stronger than Roshi at this point, Kuririn being insecure was hollow once you know he is stronger than anyone else past the known heroes, and Roshi was there for the heck of it. They tried to make it seem like he was afraid of killing Goku but it was disregarded soon afterwards. The new main opponent was Tien, a badly handled character who was introduced in this arc without Toriyama doing something with him or his friend, Chiaozu, in later arcs. He had plans to make him an alien and Lunch his girlfriend but after the declining popularity of the series, he scrapped his initial plan and never bothered to even give him a backdrop. That is why as cool as the final showdown between Goku and Tien was, you were given no reason to care about who wins. They couldn’t kill each other, and there was nothing at stake as opposed to the Red Ribbon arc. Heck, the only reason Tien was there was so he could avenge Tao, a guy he didn’t even care about. At least he got some catharsis by rejecting his master’s command, but even that came before the finale, rendering the outcome pointless. Even the finale was not as good as the one in the previous tournament, since it didn’t feel like they were stronger than Roshi. There was nothing remotely close to an Oozaru transformation or a blowing up the moon situation. So, why this arc was even made besides having a fighting tournament for the sake of hyping the shonentards? In my mind, this is where Tao should have been introduced, as a merciless killer who along with his students was paid by the Red Ribbon army to kill the Turtle team. The tournament would play out in the exact same way, with Goku versus Tao and the attack on the base taking place after the tournament. It could even end with Red Ribbon releasing Piccolo in their desperation or something. It would have given far more meaning to the tournament, and even an opening for the next arc. Without any of that, it was an almost skippable arc and I give it a 4/10. #5: King Piccolo Saga The arc starts with a bang and remains sky high in tension from beginning to end. Not only the new villains can kill even the strongest fighters with a few hits, they also have a personal connection to the heroes. Goku makes it his personal vendetta when they kill his friend, while Roshi was still around when Piccolo attacked in the past and remember the horror. The death count was ridiculously high, seemingly killing half of the cast, and the battles were brutal as hell for their time.Still, it had become “Goku does everything” at this point, which was quite disappointing, since the secondary characters were completely incapable to achieve something significant, or even add something extra to the dynamics of each other. Goku was the one taking everyone out and saving the day, by predictably getting a power up first. The plot was basically the exact same as the one with when he fought Tao, only with many more deaths of characters we know and care about. By the way, the latest power up was one of the lowest points in the series, since it was lazily thrown in and was never mentioned again. No training was involved, all Goku had to do is drink a potion. Bah! Still, the final showdown with Piccolo was an amazing fight, and had enough collateral damage to make you believe they were far more powerful than anyone else that came before. If the series had ended here, it would have been the most amazing finale of any shonen, period. But it didn’t. A great arc nonetheless, with the downsides being the lack of meaningful secondary character interactions and the very lazy power up. I give it an 8/10. #6: Third World Tournament Oh great, another tournament, even more hollow than the second one. If the first was about Goku and Kuririn testing their skill, and the second about Tien avenging Tao, the third had nothing. None of the secondary characters had something to do or prove. -Roshi didn’t bother participating, since he accepted being surpassed by the new generation. -Yamcha, and Chiaozu were jokes at this point, complete jobbers to be thrown away without a second thought. -Chichi was a jobber as well, and also evidence of Toriyama not knowing how to write dynamic female characters. As soon as she was beaten by Goku, she became a submissive housewife and never fought again in her life. And by the way, she didn’t even need to fight Goku to have evidence of his superior strength. Just being a spectator would be enough. Being forced to fight was just chauvinistic bullshit. -Tao was also a jobber, and on top of that a discount Tien and Piccolo Jr. since he too was there just for revenge. We are totally not rehashing ideas. By the way, he was still alive for no apparent reason, and became a cyborg without ever explaining how. Great writing there, Toriyama. Furthermore, the only thing he did was making Tien look cool for awhile. The once proud mightiest assassin devolved into a throwaway plot device. -Tien had nothing to prove anymore, and on top of that he already knew he had no chance against Goku. Defeating Tao was his best moment, but even that was hollow since he had already denied his past when he disobeyed his master. There was nothing for him in this battle. -Kuririn wasn’t even afraid this time to the point of stupidity. He gets defeated by a guy he never saw before and doesn’t even wonder who the hell besides his allies is powerful enough to best him.The only ones who mattered were Goku and Piccolo Jr. but even they were just there for a rematch. The objective was the exact same one from the previous arc, without something different to make it worth it. Not only that, it took away all the consequences by resurrecting everyone who died and destroyed the serious atmosphere it was going for. There was no point for this arc to exist. What did it add or change? -We got an origin story for the Dragonballs, but it was more like dressing. -We got a backdrop for Kami and Piccolo, which retroactively ruined the tension of the previous arc, since it turns out there was never any actual threat coming from Piccolo. If Kami was really afraid of him, he could have simply killed himself, which would have ended Piccolo as well. He could have killed himself to erase Piccolo Jr. as well, but he didn’t, because piccolo was never much of a problem. Kami didn’t even need to personally go fight in the tournament, or even to train Goku. Mr. Popo was much stronger than all of them put together. He could always move his ass out of that sky palace, teleport anywhere he likes with his flying carpet, and capture Piccolo in a few seconds. -Goku was taller, and Piccolo looked different, but how did that change their dynamics? I mean, it did change when the Saiyans became a common enemy, but this does not matter in this arc. As a standalone event, it was meaningless and nobody got any catharsis; unless Chichi marrying the guy who was the first to touch her privates somehow counts. Heck, it even ends with Goku letting Piccolo leave so they can fight FOR THE THIRD TIME, while also refusing to be the new guardian deity of Earth. Everything ended the way it began. The filler arc with the wedding was also the worst possible way to end the original series.Here is what I would have done if I had the means to write the reboot. The previous tournament would be interrupted in the finals by the Piccolo spawns. This would leave Tien with a grudge against Goku, that wouldn’t be resolved until he fought Tao later on. All those who got killed would be minor secondary characters that got shelved by Toriyama (like Crane and Lunch) and do not get resurrected later on. When Goku gets defeated by old Piccolo, he would be taken straight to Kami for training. Piccolo would rule the world for 3 years and then would arrange a tournament for gathering everyone who would want him dead in one place. Goku and the others would train all this time and join there, with the goal being to take out Piccolo. This takes out the stupid potion power up and merges the two fights of Goku versus Piccolo into one. As for Jr., his egg could have come from Piccolo when he got killed, promising a rematch when he grows up. There, this instantly made everything ten times better and doesn’t change the overall plot of later arcs.But this is just fan fiction, and the canon is a terrible conclusion to the original Dragonball. 3/10

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