The Shonen Jump classic Dragon Ball has garnered what is probably the biggest fanfare of any manga series to date. It became one of the most successful anime series of time, produced an enormous fan culture on sites such as Facebook and Tumblr, and even sparked discussions on what would happen if Goku faced off against Superman. So I decided to take a look at the source material to see if it would be a good read.
I was highly disappointed.
The manga series begins with a different storyline than what Dragon Ball Z fans would be used to, and really a different style of storytelling, too. It begins with Goku as a child, faring for himself in the jungle (usually naked). The curious thing about Goku is that he has a tail, but you aren’t really sure why. Bulma comes to the jungle looking for the Dragon Balls, so that she can summon the dragon and wish for . . . well, a boyfriend. This creates some comical story elements, since Goku has been by himself for a while, his grandpa Gohan having disappeared some time ago, and thus is incredibly ignorant about mankind in general, and specifically about the fact that a second gender exists.
On its face, you’d think that this would make for some comical story elements similar to a mother telling funny stories about her toddler. But it doesn’t work out that way. Instead of using this aspect of the story in a charming way of expressing Goku’s innocence, we find that Bulma is far less than virtuous, willing to use her body to further progress their journey.
This trend continues as the story goes on, and even gets worse. When they meet Kamesennin (The “Turtle Master”), it gets much worse. He’s nothing more than a dirty old man, and the sexual innuendos and situations increase exponentially when he’s introduced, which is unfortunate, since when that aspect of his character is left out of the story, he’s actually a very cool character.
The one bright side to this comes when Kamesennin gives a magical cloud to Goku, which only the pure of heart can ride. Bulma and Kamesenin neither one are able to ride it, but only Goku (who, once becoming more aware of anatomical differences between the sexes, still is not interested in exploiting Bulma or any other woman they meet along the way). That’s a nice nod to the only pure character in the show, but it’s really too little too late.
The true horrifying nature of the early stories, however, are accentuated with the appearance of Pilaf, one of the manga’s first focal villains. He’s a villain more in the Dr. Evil sense than in the Bane sense, who dreams of ruling the world, but exists for more comical reasons than anything. However, when one of his minions makes an off-color joke, Pilaf makes it clear that they don’t tolerate sexual humor.
In other words, it’s the villains that reject sexual humor, but the protagonists can do it all they want. If that doesn’t send a clear picture about the writers’ intentions, then I don’t know what will.
It’s a shame that the series turned out this way, because there are some cool stories. Goku is a really cool character, and his friendship with Kuririn (the short bald guy, to those of you who aren’t fans) is pretty neat, and the fight scenes are awesome. But it’s simply not worth it.
In terms of how much is shown visually, there probably isn’t quite as much here as there is in numerous American graphic novels. That doesn’t make it an okay amount. But even if it did, I would still be telling you to stay away. Why? Because it’s not just the visuals that make this despicable. It’s the context. As I mentioned earlier in this article, Bulma uses her body to advance the protagonists when it’s “needed.” Kamesennin makes perverted requests in exchange for favors.
The innuendos, as well as these sexual situations, aren’t dangerous just because of the visuals and the related temptations they present, but because it conditions readers to look at female characters as objects to be exploited. I don’t care if it would never negatively affect a reader. It makes me sick, and it should you, too.