Akira Toriyama’s manga Dragon Ball is one of the most widely known and adored manga or anime series of all time. Even if you don’t watch anime you’ve probably heard of Dragon Ball or at least would recognise if you were shown one of the main characters. After one of the major arcs in Dragon Ball, Toei Animation, the company in charge of the anime decided to carry on with their adaptation under a new name. This is where Dragon Ball became Dragon Ball Z. It wouldn’t be hard to go online and find an analysis of Dragon Ball Z but that’s not what I’m here for. Today I intend to dive into the things that distinguish Dragon Ball from Dragon Ball Z. It is all part of the same series but it is clear from looking at the two that they are vastly different types of shows.
Starting in 1986 Dragon Ball tells the story of 12-year-old Son Goku, a crude, idiotic boy with a monkey tail. Our story starts with Goku being hit by the car of Bulma Brief. She tells Goku about the dragon balls and together they set off on a journey together to collect all seven and make a wish and this is basic premise of the first arc in Dragon Ball, a super strong mountain boy, a girl, a pig and ruffian from the desert on an adventure. At the start of Dragon Ball Z, we have a now 24-year-old Goku’s son being kidnapped by an alien who reveals that Goku too is an alien so to rescue his son Goku teams up with his archenemy, the Demon King Piccolo to fight Goku’s evil older brother. Can you see what I mean? I’m not saying one type is better than the other, only they are drastically different. As the stories progress they get more and more insane to the point where the end of Dragon Ball Z is almost indistinguishable from its humble beginnings in Dragon Ball.
“But Dragon Ball’s a battle show, right? The story doesn’t matter!” I hear you say. To which I would respond that you’re wrong and you should definitely pay attention but now that we’re onto the fights, the fights in each series are incredibly different also. In Dragon Ball, the fights are about Martial Arts. In Dragon Ball, we follow our heroes as they get stronger and practice martial arts while Dragon Ball Z likes to focus on brute strength and attaining the next transformation. In Dragon Ball, there is a distinct sense of weight to every action taken by the characters. You feel the impact of Goku’s punches as the collide with his opponent. I’m going to take this scene from Dragon Ball for an example.
The fight between Goku and Krillin in the World Martial Arts Tournament. As the two characters fight each other you really feel everything Dragon Ball is about. From this one scene, you can understand Goku and Krillin’s history and you get that these two kids are masters of the martial arts. Goku is on the offensive and Krillin’s on defence. Goku has Krillin on the ropes but Krillin isn’t completely screwed as he blocks every single punch and kick thrown at him. This seems to be the standard for the Dragon Ball fights. A lot of the time it’s not immediately clear who is going to win and the two characters seem to be evenly matched. The flow and pacing of the fights seem to be a lot smoother than it’s successor. In Dragon Ball, the fights are slower and shorter with the characters literal movements not being as fast as Dragon Ball Z’s but it also flows a lot better. Dragon Ball’s fights will be start to stop fights from the beginning to the end. In Dragon Ball Z since the attacks are so over the top characters tend to go flying in every which way stopping the fights for upwards of 10 seconds as the characters exchange dialogue.
But a lot of this could be chocked up to the new characters introduced in Dragon Ball Z. These too are different from the original series. Dragon Ball is a more comedic series, typically with a decent amount of laughs this is more in line with the original writing style of Toriyama as a style close to this can be seen in his other series such as Dr. Slump and Jaco the Galactic Patrolman. As such Dragon Ball is much lighter in tone a lot of the time. Dragon Ball Z has comedy too but it seems more sporadic to me as it often has a more heavy and dramatic tone. As such the characters introduced are often more serious, this can be used to great comedic effect when combined with Toriyama’s original style i.e the dancing Vegeta scene from Battle of Gods.
In the end, Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z are two series from the same mind but are drastically different. Dragon Ball with its more lighthearted, comedic tone is the story of a boy’s adventure through life as he grows stronger. Dragon Ball Z is the story of that boy now in adulthood and a team of other characters as they fight to save the world and the universe from extraterrestrial threats. It is at this point that we loop back around to Dragon Ball Super. It’s unquestionable that Super had a rocky start. Plagued with animation errors and the first 2 arcs, were just retellings of the first two films but I think where it is at the moment, with its belated release in the west and its confirmed dub Super is at a good place. The last couple have been solid and the Future Trunks Arc where we are now is actually pretty good. I think it’s safe to say that Super is a sort of amalgamation of the two styles. Carrying with it the dramatic science-fantasy and over the top battles of Dragon Ball Z and mixing with it some of the more comedic elements and occasion light-hearted tone of Dragon Ball. I feel it is a worthy successor to the Dragon Ball lineage and I am excited to see where Toei takes the series in the future