How "Dragon Ball Z" has survived through the generations
Date Posted: 2020/05/20
On December 3, 1984, the magazine "Shonen Jump" published the first episode of the cult saga, a 42-volume manga adapted into three animated series that toured the world.
"In Dragon Ball Z, how many people does it take to change a light bulb? Easy: only one, but eighteen episodes and Krilin dies at the end. "Didn't that joke make you smile? It's probably because you missed out on one of the biggest pop-culture phenomena of the late 20th century.
Dragon Ball is a 42-volume cult manga drawn between 1984 and 1995 and sold over 230 million copies worldwide. It is also three animated series, Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and Dragon Ball GT, broadcast and rebroadcast almost continuously since 1986. Finally, there are sixteen feature films and more than eighty video games, of which about thirty have been distributed in the united states of America, just over the last decade, not to mention the countless merchandise and collectibles of all kinds.
Martial arts and science fiction
At the center of this teeming saga is Son Goku, a child monkey who loves martial arts and who discovers a superhuman power in his adventures. Initially light, the series has slipped over the years into science fiction, especially from its Dragon Ball Z period. The hero faces various alien or genetically modified creatures increasingly sadistic and powerful (Saiyans, Freezer, Cell, etc.). The fights themselves become increasingly long, spectacular, and bloody, often to the detriment of the hero's best friend, Krilin, a little bald man without a nose and eternal whipping boy of the scenario.
When Akira Toriyama lays the foundations of the series in the Japanese children's weekly Weekly Shônen Jump, he is mainly trying to distance himself from his first success, Dr. Slump, the zany adventures of a mischievous and scatophile little robot girl. After clearing the martial arts manga in the little-known Dragon Boy (1983), he takes his inspiration from both Journeys to the West, a classic Chinese fantasy literature classic in which a monkey king jumps from cloud to cloud, and Jackie Chan's comic martial arts film Drunken Master, to create the fantastic saga of the young monkey child with the eternally firecracker-hair, Son Goku.
But despite the humor and fantasy of the first chapters, the reception is initially lukewarm in Japan. Then, on the advice of his editor, the mangaka strengthens his story: he introduces the powerful Kamehameha, the transformations into a were-gorilla, the invocations of Shenron the legendary dragon, the martial arts tournaments with countless twists and turns, and the super combatants with blond hair.
It will be the beginning of a long and endless visual and scenaristic overbidding, associated with an increasingly dark and apocalyptic tone. There was an ongoing dialogue with the publisher, and from the very beginning, he noticed that martial arts had made the series take off," deciphers Olivier Richard. So he insisted on what people liked, even if it sometimes gave the story a repetitive character. But you can't blame them for that. Everybody wanted to see fights. »
The cartoon of a generation
It's an understatement to say that Dragon Ball and especially Dragon Ball Z unleash the passions. On the one hand, the magazine Pif Gadget awards the 1988 "Golden Truffle" for the best cartoon at the first steps of Son Goku; from 1992, Club D. reaches audiences of more than 1.5 million viewers on Wednesday mornings, by monopolizing up to 65% of 4-14-year-olds; in 1993, Glénat begins the publication of the manga; and arrived in 1995, the DBZmania is such that, as Jean-Luc Nobleau, commercial director of the Samurai derivatives company, tells it at the time: "All you'd have to do is mark Dragon Ball Z on a potato, and we'd sell it. »
But at the same time, the shields are up. In her book "Le ras-le-bol des bébés zappeurs" (1989), Ségolène Royal alerted public opinion to the situation of these children "drunk with violence, ugliness, and mediocrity"; on May 28, 1991, the CSA forced broadcasters to apologize in prime time for broadcasting "scenes of violence and sadism"; while in 1994, a parent created the Association of Young Viewers to denounce the shortcomings of the cartoon: "Violence, sadism, bewitching loyalty techniques, staging intended to stimulate impulsive reactions. »
Formerly criticized, "DBZ" is today the undisputed cement of a whole pop culture without complexes. "What the mainstream media have long missed is that Dragon Ball is a modern mythology, comparable to Star Wars in terms of longevity, fans, and merchandising."
Since 1999, TV viewers who have been fed to the adventures of Son Goku have been sharing their experiences at Japan Expo, the annual convention dedicated to Japanese popular culture. It's the Dragon Ball generation, there's a nostalgic side, an atmosphere of fraternity, cultural affinities," says Pierre, our bald debonair. Here, we don't judge each other, even between generations. »