The Dragon Ball franchise didn’t become popular in America until the late nineties. It was the original dub of Dragon Ball Z on Toonami that created the Western fanbase for the show. When Dragon Ball Z was finished, Funimation went back and released an English dub of the original Dragon Ball series. As Dragon Ball Z was shown first, there are many fans who prefer it to the comparatively tamer original series.
What it lacks in extended periods of screaming and spiky gold hair, the original Dragon Ball series more than makes up for it with an excellent fantasy story. It’s time to give the first adventures of Goku and company their due. We are here today to look into the history of how Dragon Ball got started. From the forgotten Dragon Boy to the time that the Goku met his adult self.
Here are Fifteen Things You Never Knew About The Original Dragon Ball Series!
15. The Series Was Inspired By A Comic Called Dragon Boy
Most Dragon Ball fans are aware that the series was inspired by Journey to the West. The story of Journey to the West follows Sun Wukong, the monkey god, as he leads Xuanzang the priest to India. There are many shared elements between Journey to the West and Dragon Ball that lasted until the Z era of the series. Goku was supposed to be Sun Wukong, Oolong was Zhu Bajie, Yamcha was Sha Wujing, etc.
There was another direct inspiration for the Dragon Ball manga. After Akira Toriyama finished Dr. Slump, he tried to come up with an idea for a new series. His editor suggested that he attempt something based around martial arts, as Toriyama was a huge fan of Bruce Lee movies. This led to the creation of a two-part manga series, known as Dragon Boy.
Dragon Boy starred a young kid named Tanton (who resembles Gohan more than Goku). He is a martial artist who trains in the mountains with his master. Tanton is tasked with escorting a spoiled princess back to her homeland. On the way, they encounter a shapeshifting cat named Binyao, who can only change form for three minutes. Tanton owns an item known as a Dragon Ball, but it can only summon a tiny dragon that is useless in battle.
14. Dragon Ball Almost Came To America In The Eighties
The mainstream acceptance of manga & anime in the West can be linked to the success of the Pokémon franchise in the late ’90s. There were many attempts to bring Japanese cartoons and animated movies to America before this, with varying degrees of success. Shows like Battle of the Planets and Robotech were well-received, and the Studio Ghibli movies would see a limited English language release (before Princess Mononoke helped them to find a huge audience in the West).
As strange as it might seem now, we almost had an English language version of Dragon Ball in the late ’80s. A company known as Harmony Gold owned the distribution rights for the Dragon Ball anime in America. They dubbed five of the episodes into English, as well as one of the movies. They did this so they would have enough material for focus testing. Due to negative feedback, the episodes were shelved and the rest of the episodes were never dubbed.
Some of the Harmony Gold episodes have leaked online, though they are tricky to find due to content strikes. One of the most infamous aspects of this dub is the fact that most of the characters had their names changed. Goku was called Zero, Bulma was Lena, Krillin was Bongo, and Korin became Whiskers the Wonder Cat!
13. The First Dragon Ball Game In America Had Nothing To Do With The Series
Due to Dragon Ball’s popularity in Japan, it is only natural that it has received many different video game adaptations over the years. These stretch back to the days of the Famicom. There were many Dragon Ball games for Nintendo’s first console, most of which never saw an international release.
The one Dragon Ball game to make its way to America during this period was totally retooled to remove any references to the show. It was originally called Dragon Ball: Shenron no Nazo but had its name changed to Dragon Power.
Dragon Power altered Goku’s appearance so that he now resembled the design of Sun Wukong. Master Roshi was changed to look like a more traditional depiction of a wizard (and the panties that gave him a nosebleed were flipped over and turned into sandwiches). The Dragon Balls became Crystal Balls and the Kamehameha became the Wind Wave. An unedited version of the original game was released in France, due to Dragon Ball being shown there throughout the ’80s.
12. The Dragon Ball Educational Films
If there is one person you want teaching your children about safety, it’s a kid who travels the world looking for people to get into fist fights with.
Due to Goku’s popularity with the youth of Japan, he was chosen to star in two educational films. The first was about traffic safety. Master Roshi and Krillin watch as a young boy is taught not to run out into the road, and Goku learns that he should always look left and right before crossing. Goku might not be the best spokesperson for traffic safety. He can easily survive being hit by a car (like during his first fight with Tien) and he grew up to be one of the worst drivers in the world.
The second film is about fire safety. Goku is a member of the local fire brigade, along with Krillin, Yamcha and Master Roshi. He spends his free time teaching kids about firework safety. Goku uses his Power Pole to save a lady and her cat from a burning building.
11. Growing Up Goku
There have been many different theories over the years that discuss when exactly Dragon Ball was intended to end. Most fans have heard the (incorrect) fact that Akira Toriyama wanted to end Dragon Ball with the Frieza saga, but was forced to keep going by his editors due to the popularity of the series.
All of these so-called “original endings” for the series are not true. Toriyama never intended to end Dragon Ball after Frieza or Cell. The series ended when he wanted it to end.
There was a point when Toriyama did threaten to end the series, but it concerned an ultimatum that Shonen Jump magazine was almost certain to accept. When the battle against King Piccolo ended, Toriyama said that he would only continue Dragon Ball if Goku was allowed to grow up and become an adult. The editors readily accepted as the series was becoming a huge hit. If the editors had taken a stand (out of fear that Goku was only popular as a young boy), then Dragon Ball may have ended with the death of King Piccolo.
10. The Chinese Dragon Ball Movie
Creating a live-action Dragon Ball movie would be expensive, assuming that the creators wanted to stay close to the source material. This hasn’t stopped people from trying. In 1991, an unofficial live-action adaptation of Dragon Ball was made in China. It was called Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins and it loosely followed the story of the first Dragon Ball movie (Curse of the Blood Rubies).
Despite not being an officially licenced movie, Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins has decent effects and costumes for the time. This is even more impressive when you consider the fact that it was intended to be a cheap knock-off. While it still looks like a film made in 1991, there was clearly a lot of love put into the movie. It follows the source material more closely than Hollywood’s terrible attempt at a Dragon Ball movie.
9. The Coveted VHS Audio
There was a period of time when television shows existed, but home media (like VHS and DVD) did not. During this time, TV shows were considered disposable media. Some shows were not archived after they were broadcast, due to the producers having no plans to broadcast them ever again. It is for this reason that many early episodes of Doctor Who and Johnny Carson’s iteration of The Tonight Show have been lost to time.
When Dragon Ball was first being broadcast, Toei was more concerned about storage space than they were about quality. The audio masters for the show were wiped, with a lower quality sound being stored on the film reel. This means that the Japanese versions of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z have a much lower quality audio than other releases of the show.
Due to the diligence of fans, some of the first broadcasts of the episode have been saved. There were people who recorded the episodes of the show on VHS tapes when they were first shown. This means that some of the higher quality audio episodes have survived and been archived online. VHS tapes with these episodes have become highly sought out by Dragon Ball fans.
8. The First Dragon Ball Video Game
Throughout its run, Dragon Ball has closely been involved with Bandai. As one of the biggest video game and toy manufacturers in the world, Bandai has been a major player in marketing and merchandising Dragon Ball all across the globe.
Since the days of the Famicom/NES, almost every single Dragon Ball video game has been made by Bandai. There is one exception to this. The first ever Dragon Ball video game had nothing to do with Bandai and was released on an obscure Japanese gaming console. Dragon Ball: Dragon Daihikyou was released on the Epoch Super Cassette Vision.
Dragon Ball: Dragon Daihikyou was a top-down shooter, in a similar vein to 1943. The game came on a cassette tape rather than a disk or cartridge. You play as Goku as he flies around on his nimbus cloud. He fights enemies using his Power Pole and Kamehameha as he soars across the sky. Dragon Ball: Dragon Daihikyou is a primitive game that wouldn’t look out of place on the original Atari. It is only remembered due to its historical significance as the first Dragon Ball video game.
7. The Dr. Slump Crossover
Akira Toriyama will forever be known as the creator of Dragon Ball. It is the most famous of his works, with an audience of devoted fans that spans the globe. Dragon Ball has even eclipsed the success of his work on video games, like Chrono Trigger and the Dragon Quest series.
Before Dragon Ball became a success, Toriyama created lots of one-shot manga stories and short series. Most of these can be read in various collections of Toriyama’s work. The most famous non-Dragon Ball manga series that Toriyama worked on was called Dr. Slump. Unlike Dragon Ball, Dr. Slump was mainly a comedy series. It followed a young robot girl named Arale, as she learns to live around the people who inhabit her hometown of Penguin Village.
Akira Toriyama has always had a soft spot for Dr. Slump. It is because of this that Dragon Ball and Dr. Slump crossed over on many occasions. Goku travelled to Penguin Village and teamed up with Arale during the Red Ribbon saga in Dragon Ball. Arale would go on to guest star in many Dragon Ball video games. She has appeared as recently as Dragon Ball Super, where she fought against Vegeta and Beerus.
6. The Nude Scenes
The original English dub of Dragon Ball Z was notorious for the absurd lengths in which it attempted to censor violence. While Dragon Ball Z was certainly violent, it didn’t have much sexual content that needed to be removed. The most that needed censoring was Maron’s swimsuit during the Garlic Jr. filler episodes, and a nude young Gohan.
In the original Dragon Ball manga, there was a lot more sexual humour and innuendos in the story. Both Goku and Bulma appeared nude on several occasions. As Goku is still a child throughout most of Dragon Ball, his nakedness is supposed to represent his innocent nature (as is often seen in Japanese media). In Bulma’s case, she is shown topless on several different occasions, despite only being 16/17 years old at the time. Yamcha witnesses her leaving the shower (which freaks him out, due to his fear of girls) and Krillin pulls down her top so that the blood shooting from Master Roshi’s nose will cover the invisible man enemy fought during the Fortuneteller Baba saga.
5. The Muscle Tower/Kung Fu Master Connection
Due to the harsh schedule that most weekly manga authors have to endure, they have very little time for leisure activities. The process of writing & drawing eighteen pages of comic each week means that most manga authors are lucky to get a few hours of sleep a day. It is due to these stresses that they cannot spend much time with their family and friends. We only need to look at the case of Masashi Kishimoto (the author of Naruto), who didn’t take a honeymoon until after Naruto ended, which happened over a decade after his wedding took place.
If there is one activity that manga authors do enjoy, it’s gaming. This is mainly due to how easy it is to have a console set up in their work environment. One such gamer is Akira Toriyama. He has lent his character designs to numerous video games, as well as creating original content for some of the Dragon Ball games.
One game that left an impression on Toriyama was Spartan X for the NES. This was a fighting game that involved a martial artist fighting enemies through several floors of a tower. It would be released in the West as Kung Fu Master. Toriyama liked the game so much that it inspired the Muscle Tower from the Red Ribbon Army saga.
4. The Dragon Quest Cameos
Along with his manga work, Akira Toriyama is famous for his character designs. He has designed all of the monsters in the Dragon Quest series, which dates back to 1986. While the early Dragon Quest games first appeared on the NES, the imaginative designs of Toriyama’s monsters managed to shine through the primitive graphics. Outside of Dragon Quest, Toriyama designed the characters & monsters for Chrono Trigger on the Super Nintendo. Chrono Trigger is often regarded as one of the best video games of all time. Toriyama’s artwork is certainly one of the reasons that the game still looks so good (even if we have to admit that Crono is basically Goku with red hair).
As Toriyama created the designs of the Dragon Quest monsters while still working on Dragon Ball, he used them in the background of several scenes of the manga. The Shaman and Killer Tiger monsters both appeared during the second World Martial Arts Tournament saga. The Cureslimes of Dragon Quest have recently appeared during Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods.
3. Dragon Ball Is The Third Best-Selling Manga In The World
When it comes to the manga series, all of Dragon Ball is called Dragon Ball. The letter Z was added to the series for the anime (starting with the appearance of Raditz). This change only happened in the anime. The Dragon Ball manga refers to the events that begin with Goku meeting Bulma for the first time and ending with the appearance of Uub.
In terms of sales, Dragon Ball is the third biggest-selling manga series in the world. Since its debut in 1984, Dragon Ball has sold an estimated 240 million copies across the world.
The two series that are ahead of Dragon Ball are One Piece and Golgo 13. As a franchise, One Piece is a phenomenon in Japan. It’s far bigger than things like Star Wars or the Marvel movies in its homeland. The creator of One Piece (Eiichiro Oda) has listed Akira Toriyama and Dragon Ball as his primary inspirations. The two series even crossed over in a one-shot called Cross Epoch.
Golgo 13 is a highly acclaimed and long-running manga series about an assassin. One of the main reasons that Golgo 13 has sold so many copies is due to its sheers length. The series started in 1968 and is still going.
2. The Dragon Ball Ban
As we mentioned earlier, the original series of Dragon Ball had more sexual themes and humour than Dragon Ball Z did. Those who were introduced to the series through Z might have been surprised by how different the early issues of the manga are compared to, say, the Frieza saga or the Majin Buu saga.
The raunchy humour and nudity found in the older issues of Dragon Ball have managed to get the series banned in some places. There have been several instances of libraries and schools removing collected issues of Dragon Ball, due to its inappropriate content.
While these might seem like isolated incidents, there were enough complaints to ensure that Toys R Us would stop selling the Dragon Ball manga. In 1999, all Toys R Us stores across America removed all issues of the Dragon Ball manga from their shelves. This is what prompted the edited versions of the early chapters that were released later.
1. I Used To Call Me On My Cellphone
One of the most obscure pieces of Dragon Ball Z merchandise has to be Dragon Ball Z: Atsumare! Gokū Wārudo. This was a game & VHS combo that was meant to be played on a system known as the Terebikko. The Terebikko was a toy phone with four buttons, that was meant to be connected to a VHS player. At certain points during the tape, the player would be asked a question that corresponded to one of the four buttons on the phone. These questions were all very simple, as the Terebikko was intended for very small children.
In Dragon Ball Z: Atsumare! Gokū Wārudo, Goku and his friends travel through time using Future Trunks’ time machine. At one point during their journey, they travel back to the days of Dragon Ball. Goku leaves the time machine and meets himself from when he was a child. He pats his former self on the head before Future Trunks pulls him away.
Kid Goku is pretty docile during this encounter. If this portrayal was more faithful to his characterisation in Dragon Ball, then he would likely have challenged his older self to a battle. Goku, being the fool that he is, would probably have accepted and accidentally wiped himself from existence.