Dragon Ball vol 1 (of 16)

UK Distributor:  Gollancz Manga

Author:  Akira Toriyama

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  £4.99

Number of Pages:  208

ISBN:  0-5750-7735-2

Reviewed:  15th August 2006

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)


If there’s one anime series – other than Pokémon – that everyone has heard of it’s probably Dragon Ball.  The epic saga of Goku and pals has been a staple of Sky and Cable television for years, but people are more familiar with the multi-episode battles of latter half of the series (known as Dragon Ball Z) than the more comedic start of it.

The story starts in deep jungle where Bulma, the teenage daughter of a famous inventor is searching for the mystical dragon balls.  Legend has it that when all seven of the Dragon Balls are collected together they can be used to summon the dragon god Shen-Long, who will then grant a single wish.  Using a special radar of her own design (she’s a genius inventor like her dad) to track them down, Bulma is determined to gather the Dragon Balls so that she can wish for the perfect boyfriend.  However, her quest is nearly scuppered when she runs into Son Goku, a boy with amazing strength but no knowledge of the modern world.  Goku has one of the Dragon Balls but is unwilling to give it up, so Bulma decides to take him with her in order to keep the ball close, and also take advantage of his abnormal strength and martial arts skills.  It’s a good job too, as her quest is more fraught with danger than she could imagine.  Goku for his part is just happy to experience something new, and isn’t about to shy away from the challenge posed by the shape-shifter Oolong, the deadly desert bandit Yamcha or even the mighty ox king Gyu-Mao…

Fans of Dragon Ball Z will find it interesting to see where it all began, and also to read a Dragon Ball story which is more than a string of epic fight scenes.  Loosely based on the same Chinese legend that features in the likes of Saiyuki, Dragon Ball is a hugely entertaining action series that comes with a hefty serving of humour and fun.  Akira Toriyama has let his imagination run riot, with gun-toting bears and talking turtles rubbing shoulders with rampaging dinosaurs and Hawaiian-shirted hermits in a bizarre vision of Earth.  His most ingenious invention has to be the hoi-poi capsules, small pills that can hold pretty much anything, including houses and cars – just press a button, throw the pill and whatever’s inside pops out and returns to its normal size.  Sure beats lugging a tent around!  Dragon Ball is littered with great ideas like this, and Toriyama’s bold cartoony style is perfect for depicting them.

As anyone who has seen Dragon Ball Z will expect there is a decent helping of action, but it is easily outweighed by the comedy.  What you may not expect is that the humour is largely of the toilet variety!  Unusually for a manga the comedy in Dragon Ball is rude and occasionally crude, but it’s also cheerfully inoffensive in a Carry On kind of way.  One character getting a diarrhoea attack whenever anyone whistles, a pervy old man trying to persuade Bulma to flash him her knickers… it’s not exactly sophisticated stuff, but damn is it funny.  End of the pier comedy isn’t all Dragon Ball has though.

The action scenes are brilliantly drawn and the characters are great.  Goku’s wide-eyed naivety provides a lot of the entertainment, keeping things fresh whilst also sneakily giving the author a reason to explain things like the hoi-poi capsules and the dragon balls themselves without breaking up the flow of the story.  The characters contrast with one another well too, with the mercenary and narcissistic Bulma being the perfect counterpoint to innocent and trusting Goku, whilst the sarcastic and self-serving Oolong adds another dimension to their group.  The plot itself is a pretty standard quest story, but pulled off with real verve and style.  It goes along at a good pace and has enough original elements to avoid becoming dull or hackneyed, and although it isn’t particularly sophisticated or intelligent it doesn’t really need to be.

Dragon Ball vol 1 is a highly enjoyable read packed with cheerfully rude humour and decent action scenes.  It may have a pretty standard story but the characters are good and it is brimming with imagination and style.  Akira Toriyama has a distinctive, clear and very easy to read style, and he has used it to create his own world, in which he has set up a hugely entertaining series.  It hasn’t got a lot of depth, and it’s not exactly brimming with drama and intrigue, but if you want a fun light read that is guaranteed to raise a smile then look no further.


 The usual adverts for other Gollancz titles are backed up by a lengthy cover art gallery, it is a shame the gallery has been reproduced in black and white rather than the original full colour though.


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