Dragon Ball started out in Japan in 1984 as a manga created by Akira Toriyama. As of this writing, the franchise now includes five different anime series, 20 animated feature films, a collectible trading card game, video games, and a live-action film. Dragon Ball’s protagonist is Son Goku, who is based off the Monkey King from a folk legend called Sun Wukong. The Dragon Ball franchise follows Son Goku from childhood into old age.
The first Dragon Ball anime series debuted in Japan in February 1986 on Fuji Television. The series closely followed the manga that it is based on, but there is also some filler included. The filler was added when the anime started catching up too closely to the manga, and this gave the manga enough time to progress before the anime continued to follow it again. The original Dragon Ball anime had a strong emphasis on comedy.
December 1986 saw the first animated film, Dragon Ball: The Legend of Shenlong, being released to Japanese theaters. This film basically retold the events from the first several episodes of the series. Two more Dragon Ball films were also released: The Sleeping Princess in the Devil’s Castle in July 1987 and Mystical Great Adventure in July 1988.
The Dragon Ball anime series ended in Japan in April 1989 after 153 episodes. However, a week later, the sequel series Dragon Ball Z made its debut in Japan. A new series name was given to this series to help emphasize the fact that this series had reduced its emphasis on comedy and its increase in science fiction themes. The first Dragon Ball Z film, Dead Zone, was released in Japanese theaters in July 1989. There ended up being a total of 13 animated films produced and released for Dragon Ball Z. Akira Toriyama brought the Dragon Ball manga to an end in May 1995, and the Dragon Ball Z anime ended its run with 291 episodes in January 1996.
February 1996 saw the premiere of Dragon Ball GT, the next sequel anime in the Dragon Ball series. Unlike the earlier anime, however, this series consisted solely of original storylines written exclusively for the series.
Unfortunately, interest in Dragon Ball was waning in Japan, so the producers felt they had to tweak with the show to regenerate interest. It was decided to return to the original comedy style of Dragon Ball, reintroduce some villains that had not been seen since the original series, a return to a “Dragon Ball quest” storyline, and even a mysterious de-aging of Son Goku. These creative changes did not improve ratings, so the focus of Dragon Ball GT was changed after 16 episodes. The remaining episodes returned to the more action-oriented style of Dragon Ball Z.
In the end, only 64 episodes of Dragon Ball GT were produced. With the continued decline in interest, Dragon Ball GT was canceled. The final first-run episode aired in November 1997.
To commemorate the series’ 20th anniversary, a re-working of the first 194 episodes of Dragon Ball Z, known as Dragon Ball Kai in Japan, was produced. This re-worked version removed much of the content in the original Dragon Ball Z anime that wasn’t in the original manga, as well as a remastered high definition picture, sound, special effects, and a re-recorded voice track with most of the original voice actors.
But that wasn’t the end of the Dragon Ball franchise. The feature film, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods was released in Japanese theaters on March 30, 2013. This film introduced two new characters: Beerus (the God of Destruction) and his assistant, Whis. This was followed by another feature film, Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F,’ which premiered in Japanese theaters on April 11, 2015. This film saw the return of the villain Frieza, who has achieved a new form and is out for revenge against Goku.
Both of these films performed well, and they were followed by a new anime series, Dragon Ball Super, which premiered on Japanese television on July 5, 2015. The series is set four years after Majin Buu was defeated. The first two arcs are a re-telling of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods and Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F,’ and then new story arcs are introduced into the Dragon Ball story. This series lasted for 131 episodes, and the final episode aired on Japanese television on March 25, 2018.
2018 also saw the release of the feature film, Dragon Ball Super: Broly, on December 14. The film features a reworked iteration of Broly into the main Dragon Ball continuity. Broly had been a villain in three of the Dragon Ball Z films, which basically have their own continuity that doesn’t necessarily line up with the anime series. The Dragon Ball franchise has had quite the history in Japan. I’m sure in 1997, as Dragon Ball GT was winding down, no one could have anticipated that the franchise would end up having a second lease on life nearly a decade later. As of this writing, it appears the franchise is done for now, but who knows? Perhaps another Dragon Ball series or film could be announced and/or released in the next few years. The franchise came back once, and it could easily come back again at some point in the future.
Additional posts about Dragon Ball: