A Year of Anniversaries Part 3: 15 Years of Dragon Ball Z

For my third and final anniversary post of the year, I want to talk about Dragon Ball Z!

Around the same time I was discovering blink-182 fifteen years ago, I also made a startling discovery that would shape my taste in comics and cartoons for the rest of my life (well, so far anyway). It was fall of 1998 and for the first time ever my family had satellite TV. Life was good, and I think the whole family was enjoying the new satellite. Among the plethora of new channels was Cartoon Network. Being thirteen, I had largely outgrown cartoons and was beginning to enjoy more “mature” entertainment as well as sports. But I was still in the habit of checking Cartoon Network occasionally to see if there might be anything interesting to watch.

The main cast of DBZ. From the left, Gohan, Bulma, Krillin (Kuririn), Chi-Chi, Goku, and Piccolo.

The main cast of DBZ. From the left, Gohan, Bulma, Krillin (Kuririn), Chi-Chi, Goku, and Piccolo.

One day after school had started, I was using the “guide” feature on our satellite to see what was on the various stations when I saw a title that caught my eye on Cartoon Network. It was called Dragon Ball Z (DBZ). Curious to see what kind of show it was, I started watching. I was really lucky. The first episode of DBZ that I ever saw is episode four where Goku and Piccolo team up to fight Goku’s evil older brother, Raditz. I was shocked. I had never seen anything like it. The ferocity of the action, the power behind the punches, the fluidity of the animation. All of these were far and away different from any cartoon I had ever seen. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I was hooked. I mean instantly hooked. I remember going to football practice afterward completely distracted by what I had just seen. I was back downstairs and in front of the TV waiting for it to start again the next day after school. Not only was I still in awe of the animation, but I couldn’t believe it when the main character, Goku, dies at the end of episode five! I had no clue what to expect, but for the next five years until the series ended in the U.S., I would be at the TV to witness the battles of the Z fighters. In 2001, the original Dragon Ball (DB)series debuted on the Toonami block, and I followed Goku’s childhood adventures with the same fervor. By the time Dragon Ball GT (DBGT) aired in the U.S., I had already seen most of the series through other means so I didn’t follow it very closely (that and I didn’t like the dub all that much). I also watched all thirteen DBZ movies that were out at the time even though I only like a few of them.

But simply enjoying DBZ and the other DB series and movies wasn’t enough. My curiosity for anime grew and grew, and Cartoon Network’s ridiculously awesome promos didn’t help any:

When I couldn’t watch DBZ, I wanted to watch something, anything that was even remotely similar. And I began watching other shows on Cartoon Network like Cowboy Bebop, InuYasha, Full Metal Alchemist, YuYu Hakusho, a few of the Gundam series, and any other anime that I could get via satellite. While trolling for anime one night I discovered Princess Mononoke and was introduced for the first time to the works of Hayao Miyazaki. If it was anime, I was there, but all of it was ancillary to DBZ until 2003.

I already wrote of my introduction to Rurouni Kenshin in 2003. And though it is my favorite series, I would never have discovered it hadn’t it been for DBZ. But little did I know that 2003 would be a pretty momentous year for my love of anime, and for the anime/manga industry in the U.S.

I remember it vividly. I was working in a small town in South Dakota during the summer of 2003 and was at the grocery store when something on the magazine rack caught my eye. It was Goku gracing the cover of the fairly new U.S. version of Shonen Jump magazine. I knew enough by this time that DB and RuroKen had started as weekly series in the Japanese magazine, Weekly Shonen Jump, so I unhesitatingly purchased the magazine. That night in the motel room that was my home for the summer I sat down and read manga for the first time in my life. Here were the comics that had inspired some of my favorite anime plus a few that I had never seen or heard of before. I was immediately impressed by one series in particular. It was a little known series at the time featuring a young ninja in training named Naruto. A few years later Naruto along with Bleach and One Piece (all of which made their first official U.S. debuts in Shonen Jump magazine) would become international media juggernauts, and I followed them closely through the pages of Shonen Jump and would later watch the anime. And none of this would have happened without DBZ.

The August 2003 issue of the U.S. version of Shonen Jump magazine. My very first issue!

The August 2003 issue of the U.S. version of Shonen Jump magazine. My very first issue!

DBZ continues to be popular. Recently the anime was recut to follow the original manga series more closely. This recut edition was renamed Dragon Ball Z Kai (DBZ Kai) and currently airs in the U.S. on The CW‘s Saturday morning block, Vortexx. And it’s funny, after all these years, I’m still excited to watch it every Saturday. There was also a brand new movie released in Japan earlier this year, and it will be coming to the U.S. soon (though I don’t think an official release date has been set). It’s called Dragon Ball Z: Battle of the Gods and takes place shortly after the end of the DBZ anime series. Toriyama Akira, the creator of Dragon Ball, was directly involved in the production, and it sounds like it was pretty successful. There are even rumors floating about of a new TV series and more movies to come! Naturally, if and when that happens, I’ll be there!

I thought I could create a bit of a guide to what is available as I did with my previous RuroKen post, but quite frankly there is just too much out there. There is the original manga series, Dragon Ball, which is still in print in various formats in the U.S., as well as being available digitally through the Viz Media app. There are three animated series that I listed previously, and they are also readily available in various formats. DBZ Kai, currently airs on Saturday mornings on The CW. There are thirteen movies, a couple of TV specials (both of which are excellent), plus the new movie, Battle of the Gods. On top of that there are numerous video games, a collectible card game, and probably a lot more out there that I don’t even know about. There’s even a terrible live-action movie! That’s a lot, and if you haven’t read or seen anything Dragon Ball related before I’d highly recommend checking out the manga (be warned though that the manga does have some mature content), or watching an episode of DBZ Kai on Saturday morning. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

It has been fifteen years since I discovered DBZ on Cartoon Network, and here’s the craziest thing about it all: I still read the manga, and I watch DBZ Kai on Saturday morning on The CW. On top of that, the American edition of Shonen Jump that I subscribed to back in summer of 2003, well I’m still a subscriber. The print edition of the magazine was discontinued April 2012 and the magazine was moved to the digital medium with weekly releases. I do kind of miss the print magazine. It was something I looked forward to receiving every month, but with the digital releases I can keep up with my favorite series, continue to experience my favorite manga, as well as find new series. The publisher, Viz Media, has also released a lot of their backlist of translated manga volumes digitally, including all of Dragon Ball. It’s one of my favorite apps on my phone, and all of this because I wondered what the heck Dragon Ball Z was and watched an episode.

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DBZ truly expanded my horizons as far as animation, comics, and storytelling are concerned. And for the last fifteen years I’ve enjoyed various anime and manga series, including my favorite comic book series American, Japanese, or otherwise, Rurouni Kenshin. So thanks Mr. Toriyama, Cartoon Network, FUNimation, and Viz Media for bringing DBZ stateside and affecting my life in the way it has.

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A Dystopian, Sci-Fi, Hardboiled, Spy Story: Tom Hanks’ Electric City

It was a rainy afternoon here in New York. I’d submitted all the job applications I could for the day, and not wanting to go out in the rain I needed something to keep me distracted in my roommate-less dorm room. I was surfing facebook when out of the blue an ad popped up for Tom Hanks’ Electric City, a series of shorts hosted on Yahoo. Probably for the first time in my facebook life, I actually clicked the ad link and was transported to the Electric City website where the first video in the series began playing. I was immediately intrigued by the premise, and I watched the whole short series (took about one and a half hours total) while waiting for the rain to stop.

Electric City takes place in a post-apocalyptic world bereft of the technologies we take for granted today. There are no computers, cell phones, motor vehicles, or any of the modern things we can’t live without. The only “amenity” the society offers is a copper wire based radio system and a rudimentary, steampunkish electricity system. But despite the almost agrarian setting, the Electric City is far from a romantic, society of nature lovers. At the top of the social structure, there is a small cadre of old, knitting women (really, no joke), who exercise authoritarian power over the inhabitants of Electric City. They are responsible for squashing rebellions, and technological developments that could actually improve the lives of their citizens. Though they did their own dirty work at some point in their lives, the ladies are too old and feeble to handle their secretive endeavors, so they employ special operatives.

That’s where Cleveland Carr (voiced by Tom Hanks), comes into play. Cleveland is a grid operative (aka an assassin/detective/secret agent), and it is his job to do the twisted bidding of the Knitting Ladies. When Cleveland receives a message from the Knitters, blood follows. But there are a lot of people who realize that Electric City is not all that it could be under the control of the Knitters, and they have begun work on a revolutionary device (to them at least) that will shake the foundations of their very shakeable society. And even the brutally stoic Cleveland will doubt the totalitarian control of the Knitters when he discovers what is happening while on the job.

Electric City was a good time waster on my rainy day, but not much else. While the setting is great and the characters strong and complex, there is kind of too much going on at any given moment due, I think, to the collision of so many ideas. One minute you’re watching a solid dystopian story, the next a spy thriller, then a (backwards) sci-fi movie. Throw in some narrative storytelling straight out of a hardboiled detective novel, and a love interest who is far more attractive when she isn’t on her back and you have Electric City. A lot of cool ideas that get lost in the mix of all that happens throughout the twenty shorts. But that doesn’t mean that Electric City does everything wrong. While the shorts are maddeningly short, they are very dense, and I was impressed by the creators’ ability to pack in so much character development in each short. Individually, the shorts are great, but when you put them together it’s all a jumbled mess of chaos that leaves plenty of questions unanswered. Maybe there will be a sequel?

Disney and Pixar’s Brave

This is what happens when I actually go to bed at a decent time: I wake up at 3:15 a.m.! Oh well, nothing I can do about it. So I’ll be productive and write a blog post.

I’ve realized that keeping up with pop culture is hard work. I was looking back over some of my older posts and realized I totally spaced it in making posts about thatgamecompany‘s Journey (yes, the company’s name is spelled correctly), and Disney and Pixar’s Brave. I figured I’ll work my way backward with the more recent topics first. Journey will likely be pre-empted again by The Dark Knight Rises, which I’ll probably be seeing today, and no later than Monday if not. For now, Brave.

Movie poster for Brave. Taken from Wikipedia. Owned by Disney and Pixar.

To start, Brave was not at all what I expected. From its darker visual tone and the mention of war in one of the trailers, I was expecting an adventure movie more along the lines of Dreamwork’s How to Train Your Dragon. To be fair, Brave is an adventure movie to some extent, but not in the arrow shooting, horse riding way the trailer might make one think.

The story of Brave centers around Merida, the teenage princess of Clan DunBroch. Being the first born child in the family as well as the only daughter, Merida’s family expects her to marry one of the princes from the neighboring Scottish tribes to maintain peaceful relations. Merida’s mother, Queen Elinor, takes it upon herself to train Merida in the ways of noble womanhood to prepare her daughter for the marriage she thinks is Merida’s duty. Merida feels smothered. She does not want to be a lady, nor does marriage appeal to her. But fate is not on Merida’s side. The neighboring clans’ princes arrive to compete for her hand; none of them are charming, and marriage seems inevitable until Merida thinks she sees a hole in the land’s customs and declares she will compete for her own hand. The result is a total falling out between Elinor and Merida, and Merida flees into the woods. Amid the mist and mystery, Merida discovers the power to change her fate. But it comes at a higher cost than Merida is willing to pay, and she must race against time to undo the fate-changing spell before the damage becomes permanent and war ensues between the clans.

Such is the basic story of Brave though I have to admit that I’m also being misleading in the above description. Let me say it again, Brave is not an adventure movie in the traditional sense. It has some elements of a good fantasy adventure—magic, mystery, impending doom, and even a bit of action—but adventure is not the focus. Instead, Brave is about the relationship between a mother and her rebellious teenage daughter. As one might expect from the setup of the story, Merida and Elinor don’t see eye-to-eye, and the bulk of Brave is spent exploring their deteriorating relationship and eventual reconciliation. Over the course of the movie, they begin to understand one another. Merida realizes how much her mother loves her and only wants what is best for her, and Queen Elinor learns how important Merida’s independence is to her. I know most have probably seen the movie by now, but I still don’t want to spoil the story any more than that for any who haven’t. So I won’t say more.

I will say that while Brave is not what I expected, it is still a fun movie. The humor is wonderful, and the story is touching. I don’t think it is the best Disney Pixar movie (for me, that is Up), but it is still great. I also have to give the movie props for its impressively strong, well-rounded depiction of Merida and Elinor. There have been some standout characters amongst the Disney Princess pantheon, like Jasmine and Belle, but plenty of them have been flat, static characters. Not so in Brave, and that fact coupled with the humor, story, and wonderful animation all make Brave another great addition to the Disney Pixar lineup.

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