Son Goku lives alone in the wilds, away from civilization, when he literally runs into Bulma, a girl on her summer vacation, searching for the 7 legendary Dragon Balls. If the balls are found and brought together, the dragon Shenlong will appear and grant one wish. Goku has one of the balls, but he’s not willing to part with it, so he goes along with Bulma, where they go on many adventures, collecting the balls and fighting villains—and that’s just the beginning of the story!
Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Volume 1
By Akira Toriyama
Viz Media, June 2013. ISBN: 978-1-4215-5564-5
537 pgs. $14.99
Dragon Ball is one of those rare timeless manga. Originally created in the 1980s, it is still popular today and is called a classic. Once you start reading, it isn’t too difficult to tell why. Dragon Ball is filled with lots of fun characters and light-hearted adventures that readers from teen to adult will enjoy.
The first two-thirds of this title is taken up by the quest for the dragon balls, which is based very loosely on a classic Chinese novel, Journey to the West. As Goku and Bulma gather the dragon balls, they are joined by Oolong, the transforming pig, and the desert thief Yamcha and his companion Pu’ar, who can also transform. They also meet a lot of interesting characters: Kame Sen’nin, the Turtle Hermit, Gyu-Mao, Lord of Fry Pan Mountain, and the self-proclaimed Emperor Pilaf and his henchmen, who are also after the dragon balls. The quest ends happily, but not quite the way anyone expected. The last third of the book follows Goku as he goes to train with the Turtle Hermit and is joined by Kuririn, who also wants to train with Kame Sen’nin. Their training is made up of the mundane task of delivering milk, made difficult by having to cross alligator-infested rivers and outrun dinosaurs. They do so well, though, that they are allowed to enter in a famous fighting tournament.
The story starts by introducing Son Goku, the hero. He is shown going about his daily routine, which includes splitting large logs into firewood and using his prehensile tail to catch fish twice his size. It is immediately apparent that Goku is not your average boy. It becomes even more apparent when he first meets Bulma in her car. He has never seen a car or a female, although his grandfather did tell him about girls before. Goku is good-hearted and innocent in the many of the ways of the world, but I wouldn’t describe him as naive. He has a strong sense of justice and recognizes right from wrong. I would describe him as not being very bright. He can often be tricked by a bad guy, but usually not for very long. This plays into a lot of the humor in this series.
Lowbrow humor is also played up a lot in this series. There are a lot of “potty humor” type jokes. One of the running gags is that the only way for Goku to tell is someone is male or female is to “pat” them below the waist. There are a lot of other gag elements running through these first three volumes, such as Oolong’s all bark and no bite transformations, Yamcha being a powerful fighter who turns to mush when he just sees a girl because he finds them scary, and the girl Lunch, who is sweet and innocent until she sneezes and becomes violent and angry. The creator Toriyama also isn’t above throwing in some bad puns and references to his previous manga, Dr. Slump, which was a pure gag manga. There is also a lot of suggestive humor, usually in the form of men wanting to see or touch girls’ panties. Most of the jokes are harmless, and part of the humor is seeing the men denied. Toriyama makes this part of the humor conspicuous when he has Pilaf shocked and dismayed by the heroes’ casual acceptance of such things.
It’s hard to find anything to dislike about this series. Goku is a great lead, as he’s fun to watch and you want to cheer for him. Even the world Toriyama has created for the series is delightful. It is a fantasy world where dinosaurs and other monsters live alongside villages and cities populated with anthropomorphic beings with modern conveniences like cars and motorboats that can be reduced to a capsule that can put in a case or pocket. It feels like just as much a character as the cast.
If there is anything to find objectionable in Dragon Ball, it would the sometimes low brow humor and brief scenes of nudity. None of these scenes are sexual. They are mostly about bathing, some of Oolong’s transformations, or Goku losing his pants. Toriyama doesn’t hide the maleness of the characters, so if you think your readers will be sensitive to this, read the title first and decide if the context is suitable or not.
This Dragon Ball 3-in-1 is a great way to get into a classic series that has been the inspiration to many of the popular manga creators seen today. Eiichiro Oda of One Piece, Masashi Kishimoto of Naruto, and Tite Kubo of Bleach all cite this series as being pivotal in their becoming manga artists and creating their own successful titles. It is a great bargain, too, as you get three volumes for the price of one and a half. I don’t think I can recommend Dragon Ball highly enough. This title should be apart of every graphic novel or manga collection.