The Dragon Ball anime franchise is based on Akira Toriyama’s manga series of the same name. The early part of the manga and anime series are based on a Chinese folk tale called Journey to the West.
Over the course of the anime series’ run, there were three series produced: Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and Dragon Ball GT. There were four films produced for Dragon Ball, 13 films and two television specials produced for Dragon Ball Z, and a television special was produced for Dragon Ball GT. In 2009, a re-working of Dragon Ball Z (which was titled Dragon Ball Kai in Japan and Dragon Ball Z Kai in North America) aired on Japanese television to commemorate the series’ 20th anniversary. In 2013, the film Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods was released in Japan.
The first Dragon Ball anime series aired on Japanese television from February 26, 1986 to April 12, 1989. When it comes to a North American release, this series had a rocky history.
In 1989, Harmony Gold USA licensed the series for English-language release in the United States; when they produced their dub, almost all of the characters were renamed. Harmony Gold’s dub version was test marketed in several cities, but was ultimately cancelled before it was broadcast to the general public.
In 1995, FUNimation Entertainment acquired the North American license for both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. FUNimation had BLT Productions create the English dub track, and the dubbed episodes were edited for content. 13 episodes of Dragon Ball were aired in first-run syndication during the Fall of 1995; unfortunately, the project was cancelled due to low ratings.
In March of 2001, after Dragon Ball Z had been successful on Cartoon Network, FUNimation produced a new English dub track for Dragon Ball for the series to be aired on American television. For this new dub, there was also less editing done and the original Japanese background music was included. The new dubs aired on Cartoon Network from August 20, 2001 to December 1, 2003.
The main character of Dragon Ball is a young boy named Son Goku, who, along with his friends, goes on a journey to find the seven mystical Dragon Balls. When all seven balls are brought together, the dragon Shen Long is summoned; the dragon will grant one wish.
The story begins when Goku meets Bulma, a girl who is out searching for the Dragon Balls. It turns out that Goku unknowingly has one of the Dragon Balls; the four star ball had been a memento left for Goku after the death of his grandfather, but Goku has never been told that it was a Dragon Ball. Goku joins Bulma on her journey.
Along the way, they rescue a lost sea turtle and return him to his home; as a reward, he brings the pair to Master Roshi, an old man who is also known as the Turtle Hermit. Roshi gives Goku a flying cloud called Kinto’un, and Goku also learns an impressive attack called the Kamehameha.
Over the course of the first series, Goku meets many allies as well as adversaries. They include such characters as Oolong, Yamcha, Pu’ar, Kuririn, Tenshinhan, Chaozu, Chi-Chi, Lunch, Yajirobe, Emperor Pilaf, Mai, Shu, Baba Uranai, Kami, Karin, Mr. Popo, and Piccolo Daimo, among others. The adversaries that cause Goku the most trouble are Emperor Pilaf and his minions, as well as the Red Ribbon Army, because both groups want to acquire the Dragon Balls for themselves for evil purposes.
In addition to searching for the Dragon Balls, Goku also trains under Master Roshi and competes in some Tenkaichi Tournamets (which are big martial arts tournaments that are only held every few years). These tournaments allow Goku and some of the other characters to display their martial arts abilities.
Dragon Ball Z
Dragon Ball Z is based on the later volumes of the Dragon Ball manga series by Akira Toriyama.
Dragon Ball Z aired on Japanese television from April 26, 1989 to January 31, 1996. FUNimation dubbed the series into English, and it began airing on the WB network in September 1996. In order to adhere to broadcast standards, there was extensive editing done to the series; the amount of cuts that were made is the equivalent of cutting 14 of the first 67 episodes. The entire musical score was replaced, and various elements were changed.
The show was canceled by the WB in May 1998 due to low ratings. In August 1998, Cartoon Network added Dragon Ball Z to its Toonami block. The series found a new life and new heights of popularity after being included in Toonami. In 2003, FUNimation redubbed the first 53 episodes and restored them to the original 67.
Dragon Ball Z continues the adventures of Son Goku and his companions, who defend the Earth and other planets from various supervillains. While the original Dragon Ball followed Goku from childhood into adulthood, Dragon Ball Z shows Goku’s adult life and the maturation of his son, Son Gohan.
The series starts out with Vegeta being the main villain of the series. Over time, Vegeta changes as a character, and other villains are introduced. Over the course of the series, other villains include: Frieza, Cell, and Buu. Dragon Ball Z also features some of the characters powering up to new levels of strength and power. The series is also known for stretching out the storylines.
Dragon Ball GT
Dragon Ball GT is the only Dragon Ball anime series to not be based off of Akira Toriyama’s manga.
Dragon Ball GT aired on Japanese television aired on Japanese television from February 2, 1996 through November 19, 1997. FUNimation acquired the North American license for Dragon Ball GT and produced an English dub. FUNimation’s dub aired on Cartoon Network from November 14, 2003 to April 16, 2005. The television broadcast initially skipped the first 16 episodes of the series; these episodes were replaced with a composition episode called “A Great Problem,” which included scenes from the skipped episodes to summarize the story.
The series begins with Emperor Pilaf and his cronies sneaking into the Upper Realm to find the six Black Star Dragon Balls that had been hidden away by Kami before he had split with Piccolo Daimo. Goku happens to be training with Oob in the Upper Realm at the time. Goku catches Pilaf in the act, and out of frustration, Pilaf wishes that Goku was a child again. Shen Long grants Pilaf’s wish, and Goku is a child again.
It’s quickly discovered that the Black Star Dragon Balls scatter across the universe instead of across the Earth after a wish has been granted. It’s also learned that if the balls are not gathered together and returned to Earth within a year, the Earth will be destroyed. Using a spaceship from Capsule Corp, Goku sets out on a journey to find the Black Star Dragon Balls; he is joined in his quest by his granddaughter, Pan and by Vegeta’s son, Trunks.
Dragon Ball Z Kai
Dragon Ball Z Kai (which is known as Dragon Ball Kai in Japan) is a re-working of the first 194 episodes of Dragon Ball Z that was produced to commemorate the series’ 20th anniversary. When this series was produced, it was done in a way to remove much of the content in the original series that was not featured in the original manga. Also, the series also includes a remastered high definition picture, sound, special effects, and a re-recorded voice track with most of the original voice actors.
By removing the extra material that had been added to the original anime series, the story in Dragon Ball Z Kai goes at a much more natural pace, and doesn’t feel nearly as stretched out as the original series.
At the time of this writing, the only thing I haven’t seen for the Dragon Ball franchise is the 2013 film, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods.
To me, the strongest portion of the Dragon Ball franchise is the first Dragon Ball anime series. While I do enjoy the story in Dragon Ball Z, there are times that the story can be stretched out ridiculously. While Dragon Ball Z Kai improves the “stretched out” problem, I don’t think it’s quite as strong as the original Dragon Ball series.
Without hesitation, I can say that Dragon Ball GT is the weakest of the three series in the Dragon Ball franchise. I think that the whole concept of the Black Star Dragon Balls was rather ridiculous, and the story just didn’t seem to be nearly as strong as in the other two series.
After being able to see practically everything that’s available for the Dragon Ball franchise, I can see why this has become such a classic anime series. In my opinion, anyone who considers themselves to be an anime fan needs to expose themselves to this anime classic in some way, shape, or form.
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