This past week the first episode of the highly anticipated Dragon Ball Z sequel, Dragon Ball Super, aired in Japan. It was immediately uploaded online, with a mostly coherent sub translation in English. As nice as it was to watch, one thing bugged me. This is more preference than anything, but I really missed hearing the characters in my native English. And to be honest, I haven’t watched a Dragon Ball episode for the better part of a decade. So I went back to the very beginning with my wife this past week with the original Dragon Ball, and we hope to go through the entire series through DBZ. While I grew up on the popular anime, my wife had never seen an episode. That changed as we went through the first 13 episodes of the original Dragon Ball, which comprised the very first saga, the Emperor Pilaf saga. And now she wants to cosplay as Bulma for NYCC!
So much is introduced within the Dragon Ball mythos in these first few episodes. A surprising amount, really. Many of the series’ oft returning cast, such as Chi-Chi, Yamcha, Oolong, Bulma and others, showed up very quickly. And knowing the future of the characters and what I have to look forward to is just as sweet as watching my wife’s face light up at each joke or scene for the first time. Young Goku, the eternal optimist, meets Bulma in the very first episode. She’s in search of all 7 dragon balls, which when collected summon an ancient and powerful dragon that grants a single wish.
Bulma’s initial reaction to Goku’s ignorance toward technology, and his brutish strength, was far too harsh. She shot him, expecting to kill him. This is one of those ‘Han shot first’ moments, where it doesn’t quite fit the character, knowing her future. Oh well. Later in this saga, after befriending him, Bulma freaks out when someone shoots Goku – a total double standard.
The series isn’t wholly what I remember. And by that I mean much of it was edited out to fit Cartoon Network’s programming, when it aired on their Toonami block. The show is so so raunchy. It’s a strange thing to see in a cartoon which appears aimed towards a younger audience. The thing is, cartoons (or anime) don’t occupy the same societal niches in Japan as they do in the U.S. Where we understand that cartoons are for kids, anime is a medium enjoyed by all ages in Japan, so the not so subtle circumstances and innuendos make slightly more sense in that context – I guess. To give a few examples of what I mean: Bulma’s nude body is shown in some form or fashion to the entire male cast over the course of 4 or 5 episodes; Goku pats the fronts of girls to see if they have balls or not (as he isn’t familiar with the female form); and Goku’s personal organ is shown a number of times. It’s hilarious. But I’m glad it’s mostly excised out of the show in future episodes.
We learn a few important things about Goku’s legend, including his transformation to the Great Ape, and his tragic connection to his Grandpa Gohan. We see the first summoning of the Dragon Shenron, and the first wish granted was appropriately ridiculous, considering the majority of this run of episodes. Master Roshi teaches Goku the Kamehameha wave, his signature move, and he meets Chi-Chi (whom is offered to Goku as a marriage present).
As Dragon Ball/Z sagas go, the deciding factor is generally the caliber of the primary villain. Fortunately for this first saga, we can’t really compare it with other villains just yet, but there’s still a plethora of excellent moments and introductive ‘firsts’ accomplished in these 13 episodes that other sagas can’t boast. Emperor Pilaf and his two minions are perhaps some of, if not the absolute worst Dragon Ball villains ever. He’s also after the dragon balls, so as to wish for world domination, but his means of operation are so tremendously ridiculous it just doesn’t ever feel like a genuine threat. At one point he sets Goku and his team into a trap that mimicked a pinball machine. A pinball machine!
This is still such a joy to rewatch, and an excellent addition to my rewind series. I’m excited to get right into the next saga. Follow along with me!
The Emperor Pilaf Saga is collected in Dragon Ball: Season 1
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