Thursday, 10 July 2014

Dragon Ball, Volume 1: The Monkey King Review (Akira Toriyama)


I’m gonna say Dragon Ball was the first comic I ever came across in my life - that’s probably wrong but it’s definitely the earliest one I can remember. The copies I had were in Japanese as I lived briefly in Japan as a kid so I couldn’t read them but I still remember paging through them, back to front of course, trying to figure out from the characters’ faces and body language what was happening in the scenes and making up my own dialogue. 

Later on I saw a few episodes of the TV show, then even later I saw a bit of the awful American Dragon Ball film (I changed the channel after about 20 minutes - it was unwatchable). But while I was aware of Dragon Ball as this massive franchise, I’d never actually read a Dragon Ball comic - until this week when I decided to remedy that and pick up the very first book. And it was really good - totally worth rediscovering the comic with words I could actually read! 

Dragon Ball is based on the classic 16th century Chinese novel, Journey to the West, and Son Goku’s character is inspired by the novel’s protagonist Sun Wukong aka the Monkey King. In this first book (also subtitled The Monkey King) we’re introduced to Son Goku, a young boy who lives alone with his “grandpa” (a Dragon Ball) practicing martial arts in the wild, and living off the land. He’s not lonely, he’s a happy-go-lucky kid… who also has a monkey tail! 

Then a teenage girl called Bulma crosses his path - she’s looking for the seven mystical Dragon Balls on her summer holiday from school. The legend goes that if you put all seven balls together, the Dragon God will appear and grant you one wish. Together, Son Goku and Bulma set out to collect all of the Dragon Balls and have adventures along the way! 

Dragon Ball is the first place to start if you want to go from the beginning of this saga - Dragon Ball Z is the second phase of the series where the hero, Son Goku, has grown up. Son Goku, by the way, is one of my favourite comic book characters ever! I love his innocence coupled with his good heart and spirit, and he can kick ass like nobody’s business. And I know it’s way in the future but shooting fireballs from his hands, flying, going super-saiyan… forget Superman, this guy is AWESOME! 

It’s easy to see why Akira Toriyama’s series was such a success. The loose framework of the plot allows him to create anything he wants - in a world where capsules can become cars and houses, and magical wishes, mystical dragon balls, and an unstoppable fighting machine kid with a tail are all real? Game on then, because there are no limits! The world of Dragon Ball is so deliriously wonderful and crazy, how can you not fall in love with it? At one point a flying cloud appears that only allows the pure of heart to fly on it (only Goku is able to) and then a dinosaur randomly stumbles into the comic! Amazing. 

However, I was surprised with how unexpectedly pervy this book turned out to be! Bulma tries to sway Goku into giving her his Dragon Ball by flashing her underwear but Goku’s too innocent and doesn’t understand “girl parts” or things like sex. Bulma does the same thing later on with Kame-Sennin, the Turtle Hermit, to get his Dragon Ball, and later on when they encounter the shapeshifting pig Oolong, the character - true to his nature - ends up drugging her so he can attempt to rape her!! Bulma’s no great female role model either, dressing up as a Playboy bunny (just because) and using her looks at every opportunity to get ahead. I assume there are “kid friendly” versions of Dragon Ball with those scenes edited out because that stuff is just disappointing to see in a book so many kids will read. 

That was the only low point though - everything else from the art to the writing to the storytelling is absolutely delightful. Dragon Ball Volume 1 is thoroughly enjoyable with a great sense of humour and high level of invention. This first book is really excellent and only whets the appetite for more Son Goku and his mysterious world, and I definitely don’t intend to wait decades until picking up the next one either!

Dragon Ball, Vol. 1

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