HomeMisc.AnimeRemembering the Classics: Dragon Ball

Remembering the Classics: Dragon Ball


Earlier this week, anime fans across the globe received news that many have waited years to hear. The globally recognized series Dragon Ball is coming back with brand new episodes under the moniker Dragon Ball Chou (Super). It will premiere this July in Japan with no current date for overseas airings, but there’s no way this mega popular brand will stay put. Before we know it, the Z Warriors  will be back on our English televisions after an 18 year absence. It’s a huge deal that was only foreseen by the recent releases of two films, likely to test the waters. The best part is that creator Akira Toriyama will be involved, meaning fans have something more like Dragon Ball Z than Dragon Ball GT to look forward to.

The Dragon Ball series has obtained quite a pedigree over the years. As a manga, Dragon Ball was consistently lauded for its artwork, writing, and strong degree of humor. It is actually the second-best selling manga of all-time. But while the manga is what made Dragon Ball huge in Japan, it was the anime adaptations that international audiences enjoyed more. Dragon Ball Z especially is considered the pivotal show that introduced Japanese entertainment to western culture. The decades before this monumental show were popularized by the belief that people outside of Japan simply wouldn’t enjoy Japanese material. It caused the Dragon Ball series to run almost to completion before ever reaching outside viewers. This meant that by the time Goku first made his way across the ocean as a child, millions of people had already witnessed his near complete journey as an adult.588290_4418_front

Unsurprisingly, this also included video games. The entire concept of Dragon Ball lends it very well to virtual entertainment. Characters shooting energy beams at each other, flying be at high speeds and throwing crazy punches. It’s the perfect recipe for a fighting game. However, Dragon Ball came out in 1984, right when the gaming industry was still rising on a global scale. This meant that a lot developers chose to make some games card based for systems like the Famicom. It was an easy way to tell the story of Dragon Ball while also appealing to early fans. Not every game followed this model though, and the ones that did weren’t able to adapt to the source material’s scale. The shows especially are known for massive explosions and intense battles. 8-bit systems can only go so far in this aspect. As for coming overseas, only one game tried that back in the late 80s, but North American audiences got a version called Dragon Power instead. It was barely connected to the much more popular material.

This is how it was for over a decade. Dragon Ball grew more popular in Japan, so this is where the vast majority of the brand stayed. Games came, made their mark, and left before the rest of the world noticed them. 1993’s Super Butōden was the first game to really make an impression with outside consumers in Europe on the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo. Europe is actually where the series developed its first legitimate foothold with international audiences, and Super Butōden played a role in that. A big part was likely pre-existing appeal. Fighting games were already on the rise across the world, and its easy to get into a seemingly new property if you have past experience with the concept. Super Butōden clearly made an impression too as a few more future entries came to European shores. They still paled in comparison to what Japan got though.Db_gt_box

The mid-90s is where this all changed. September 1996 was when Dragon Ball Z first premiered to North American audiences, and it was a hit from the start. In a manner that the original Dragon Ball wasn’t able to do, Dragon Ball Z broke down the notion that Japanese entertainment didn’t have a place in North America. It wasn’t long before these same neglected masses received their first legitimate Dragon Ball game: 1997’s Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout. Now as every fan knows, GT was neither a manga or created by Toriyama. It’s considered the less well received black sheep that Dragon Ball Chou/Super will ignore. So giving Final Bout the coveted place as North America’s first game is interesting in retrospect. It’s hardly a representation of what international audiences were just getting into. Of course, it fit much better in Japan because they had a ten year head start.

Perhaps realizing that the growing global audience needed time to finally get up to speed, no companies released Dragon Ball games from 1997-2002. There wasn’t really a need either. Dragon Ball Z’s popularity was skyrocketing during this exact period at an astronomical rate. By the time Dragon Ball Z: Budokai came in November 2002 on the PlayStation 2, the lore was permanently ingrained in the public consciousness. Everything from Goku’s first appearance to well beyond the Cell Games was now wide open for use. These new hardcore fans were finally able to play as their favorite characters in epic fights. Plus, the very powerful PS2 gave Budokai a chance to reach the anime’s scale. Sure the game wasn’t the best received, but it was a welcomed addition to people who wanted something. Now the Budokai series is very popular among the games, with Budokai 3 as the best received.

At this moment, games based on the Dragon Ball brand are fairly plentiful. They span multiple consoles, both at home and handheld. There are fighting games, action adventures, RPGs, and even an MMORPG called Dragon Ball Online. Online’s servers have since shut down, but the recently released Dragon Ball XenoVerse has plenty of internet based play for people to enjoy. It also gave the games a legitimate overhaul by introducing the concept of destroyed timelines that your created character must repair. The game was pretty well received, which is nice because the vast majority of Dragon Ball entries had mostly mixed critical reviews.250px-Dbzbox

Dragon Ball Z is easily one of my favorite shows ever, and I don’t make that claim lightly. I dedicated so many hours to the franchise and still hold it in very high regard. Watching the TV show with fervor wasn’t nearly enough too. I actively collected the trading cards, considering them to be hugely prized possessions. My brothers and I would trade with each other and talk about how a lot of what we had wasn’t even known to the American public yet. We had cards featuring characters that didn’t appear until years later. The movies were big for us too. We ordered the Japanese versions with English subtitles, enjoying films like The World’s Strongest, Bojack Unbound, Fusion Reborn, and Wrath of the Dragon well before their English releases. Of course, the games were part of this passion too. I played as many as I could, thoroughly enjoying them and re-creating my favorite battles.

The release of Dragon Ball Chou/Super is a huge deal. This is something that people have wanted for such a long time. 18 years is quite a big hiatus too for any new episodes. Yet in a way, it doesn’t feel nearly as long because Dragon Ball has never gone away. Video games played an instrumental role in this. They filled the gaps with new and re-told adventures of our favorite characters. Chou/Super will definitely lead to a resurgence of new entries too as more characters are created and different stories are told. We are on a cusp of a fresh era of Dragon Ball, and for the first time ever, the entire world can participate together.

Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.


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