Thursday, 30 October 2014

Dragon Ball Z, Volume 26: Bye Bye Dragon World Review (Akira Toriyama)

And we are done! 

That’s it, the last Dragon Ball book – finished. 

Boohoohoo!! What am I going to read now – Marvel and DC superheroes seem crappier in comparison! 

Ahh… but what a great ending! It went out with a bang in the best possible way. I am totally satisfied.

Going into this book, you know Son Goku is going to beat Boo and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that he does – what, he was going to lose, everyone would die and Boo would fly off, ready to destroy everything else in the universe? But there’s absolutely no way in knowing how it gets to that point, and I loved that unpredictability. 

What can I say without going into spoilers? It’s an enormously ambitious final arc that’s extra-long. The previous book ended with Son Goku and Vegeta both back from the dead and ready to face Boo – there was no one else, they were the last barrier. And that’s an inspired setup, especially with the potara earrings which fuses the two, which we briefly see at the start of this book (by the way, Vegerot is the worst name ever!). But it’s almost like Akira Toriyama’s sensing that this isn’t good enough and he has Vegeta smash up the earring – this isn’t how we’re going to win. 

There on out, all bets are off and it’s one surprise after another until the final final final fight between Goku and Boo. It’s also THE best way the series could’ve gone out. It incorporates everyone from the series – all 42 volumes! – into it in a way that’s not contrived and is completely epic and fitting. 

Vegeta has some great scenes here and he even grows as a character by the end. He started out as the bad guy at the beginning of Dragon Ball Z and manages to find some redemption by the end so that he’s almost – almost – a good guy. It’s a brilliant arc. 

Then it’s 10 years later and I won’t say how everyone turns out, but it’s happy endings all round. I will say though that the final scene of the book is kinda brilliant – well, that and the one before it. The Strongest Under the Heavens tournament makes another appearance, and the ending is open-ended enough to allow Toriyama to return to Dragon Ball if he wanted to. That said, this title ended in 1995 and, to my knowledge, he hasn’t felt the need to come back.

It’s a great ending though that reinforces the positive message of the series: try your best at everything you do and never stop learning! For me, it’s up there with the endings of Transmetropolitan and Scalped as among the finest finales in comics. 

Dragon Ball, you were awesome – I’ll miss you! 


This next part is a series overview/mash note to Akira Toriyama that’s separate from the final volume’s review above. 

I started reading this series back at the start of July this year and, as I write this, it’s the day before Halloween. This title is 42 volumes long (Dragon Ball is 16 books, Dragon Ball Z is 26) and you don’t read this many books in under four months if they’re no good. Nor does a series sell millions and millions of copies unless it’s really something. 

I highly recommend the series to any comics fans but it does have special significance for me. I came across Dragon Ball for the first time as a kid living in Japan many years ago but couldn’t read it because I was a toddler and couldn’t read any language, Japanese or English! The books literally stayed with me for years, even though I couldn’t read them. I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to it but I’m so glad I finally took the plunge this year and got to understand the characters and their stories behind the pictures. And a lot of it was new to me because I never got into the popular anime series. 

Dragon Ball goes from being a Chinese myth mixed in with contemporary/futuristic Japanese society to cosmic superheroes and the end of the world. It’s a helluva journey but it wouldn’t be anything without the characters. Son Goku is now firmly up there as one of my favourite characters in literature ever (even though there was a really weird panel in one of the books where he smacks his wife Chi Chi “playfully” and breaks her arm!). 

The supporting cast is fantastic and has the unique quality of being almost entirely made up of former enemies: Vegeta, Piccolo, Tenshinhan, even Boo by the end! All of them fought Goku once upon a time, and all lost – but he still kept them around as his friends. And that’s what I love about the series too: its message of redemption and forgiveness. 

But at its core it’s a martial arts comic and the biggest impression Dragon Ball left on me was how good fighting could be in a comic. Up until this series I’d seen fights in superhero comics from DC and Marvel and they almost never interested me. They felt like filler or a dumb way of keeping the reader’s attention, like jangling keys in front of a baby. 

Toriyama elevated comics fighting to an art form. I can’t stress enough how compelling the fighting in this series is. Some battles are literally book-length fights yet they were never boring and always served the story – in fact, the two were inextricably linked. THIS is how you combine action and story. 

Now when I read fights in Marvel/DC books, I’m always disappointed. The fights are over within a couple pages – maybe five pages max – and they never feel fluid or kinetic. The characters are static on the page and everything feels staged, like a WWE match. 

“Fighting comics” sounds like a really dumb sub-genre until you see how Toriyama does it in Dragon Ball. It takes real skill to maintain the excitement and interest in a fight between two figures that lasts for hundreds of pages, and Toriyama has that in spades. I’ve yet to see anyone’s treatment of a fight top Toriyama’s. 

Dragon Ball is not a perfect series and there are a few average books dotted about here and there, even a couple of poor ones. But looking at that number again – 42. He wrote and drew 42 books in this series! - the good easily outweighs the bad to an overwhelming degree and it’s incredible he produced as many good to great ones as he did. 

The story, the art, the cast, the originality, the imagination, and Toriyama and his Bird Studio assistants at the centre of it all, keeping it going – Dragon Ball is rightfully a modern classic and a true benchmark in quality comics.

Dragon Ball Z, Volume 26: Bye Bye Dragon World

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