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Mad Manga Review 05 – DRAGON BALL (3-IN-1) (MANGA) VOL. 01

It's time to rock the dragon! Plus your chance to have your review published!


A seminal series from a legendary creator.

Dragon Ball is a fun ride, with great art and a rollicking story.

It’s time for another manga review, and as always you can have your chance to get your review published! Send in a manga review of maximum 900 words to with the subject line “MANGA REVIEW” and your review might get picked for the next month’s manga newsletter. Want to tell everyone how great a certain series is? Maybe you want everyone to know your deep hatred for a title instead? This is your chance! If your review is chosen you can win an awesome $20 voucher for the Madman store.

A seminal series from a legendary creator. Dragon Ball, a wry update on the Chinese Monkey King myth, introduces us to Son Goku, a young monkey-tailed boy whose quiet life is turned upside-down when he meets Bulma, a girl determined to collect the seven Dragon Balls. If she gathers them all, an incredibly powerful dragon will appear and grant her one wish. But the precious orbs are scattered all over the world, and to get them she needs the help of a certain super-strong boy…

I’ve been a Dragon Ball Z fan since I was a kid, but I never really looked at Dragon Ball. I can’t say why that’s the case, but thankfully I have now remedied this by binging on the 3-in-1 collection. And what a great time I had!

Dragon Ball takes its inspiration from the classic Journey to the West legend. You know the one. It’s been used in all sorts of stories, from Monkey Magic to Saiyuki and countless parodies. You can see bits and pieces of the legend strung throughout the story, such as the carefree monkey antics of Goku, his magic pole and flying cloud and his pig companion. There’s also a heavy influence of Chinese terms, with many characters having names taken from Chinese… food. Yamcha with some Oolong tea, anyone?

Despite it’s age, it holds up well. It’s a classic for a reason, and I implore you to give it a look.

We’re first introduced to Goku, a young boy living alone in the middle of nowhere. He catches food twice his size, breaks wood with his bare hands and has a tail. Just a normal kid!

The plot really starts when Goku meets Bulma, a teenage girl who has a dream to collect the mysterious “Dragon Balls”. We learn about Bulma through Goku’s own naivety, not knowing about the species known as girls other than that he should “treat them right”. The humour that comes from Goku’s confusion towards girls and their body parts might be a bit lowbrow, but it also shows Goku’s childishness and innocence, which makes him seem like a real kid (even though he’s older than he looks). Goku’s pure nature and enthusiasm really help in creating an endearing character; he is happy to be friends with anyone so long as they’re not mean and he’s not afraid to say what he thinks – rather, he doesn’t have the sense to know when to keep his mouth shut. Having such a pure representation of a child really makes this a warm manga.

The other characters aren’t as pure as Goku; Bulma is greedy and spoilt, Oolong is a lech, as is Master Roshi and to an extent Krillin… There’s a lot of perverts in this manga, and your tolerance for that sort of humour will be tested through these three volumes. There’s also occasional nudity as this version of the manga is uncensored. But it’s (mostly) harmless and the plot moves along at such a pace that you soon have the chance to forget about it and enjoy the story instead.

The art is a mix of simple designs with detailed backgrounds. The world of Dragon Ball is extremely fleshed out, with all different sorts of towns and people dotting the land and a well-established science at play. The Hoi-Poi Capsules are great inventions and add to the futuristic yet rustic feel of the manga’s world. The backgrounds are really great, and the monsters, animals and people the gang meet on their journey all seem well thought out. Akira Toriyama’s style is slightly restricted, so background characters do look quite similar, but the main cast are all individual and easily identified, so you’ll never be wondering who someone is.

Most people know that Dragon Ball Z is known for its drawn out battles. For the most part, this isn’t a problem in Dragon Ball. Battles usually span only a chapter or two and are broken up with humour and storyline. Probably one third of this volume is fighting; the rest are adventures and comedy. That said, the fights are action-packed and have some great surprises in them.

Speaking of, the comedy is great. Spanning the aforementioned low-brow humour to fourth-wall-breaking jokes, references to Akira Toriyama’s previous manga, word play and sight gags, this manga will be sure to make you smile. The   characters all have such life and personality to them that you’ll be chuckling at their (mis)adventures just as much as you’ll be rooting for them to succeed.

Dragon Ball is a fun ride, with great art and a rollicking story. I was actually surprised by how well the art – and the plot itself – have dated. Despite it’s age, it holds up well. It’s a classic for a reason, and I implore you to give it a look.

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