Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball series, which ran in Japan from 1984–1995, remains one of the most iconic manga series throughout the world. In part, Dragon Ball is based on the adventures of the Monkey King in the epic Chinese mythological novel Journey to the West. This homage is especially clear in volumes 1–3, which are collected in this edition. Unlike later action-packed plotlines in which the heroes must continually save the world—rebranded as Dragon Ball Z for American audiences—Dragon Ball is more lighthearted and its driving motivation is the characters’ quest to obtain the Dragon Balls and become stronger. For teens who are only familiar with Dragon Ball Z, the Dragon Ball series is a must-read.
In the first part of the Dragon Ball (3-in-1 Edition), readers are introduced to Son Goku, a small but powerful boy with a tail who lives a carefree life in the woods. Although he is fourteen years old, Goku is drawn to look younger, which complements his childlike personality and naive outlook. Other than his grandfather, who was killed by a monster before the start of the series, Goku has never met another human. When a strange girl named Bulma appears using technology he has never seen before, Goku thinks she is some kind of witch.
Bulma introduces Goku to the legend of the Dragon Balls, seven glowing orbs with numbered stars that collectively have the power to summon Shenron, a dragon god who will grant one wish. Eager to explore the world, Goku joins Bulma’s quest to find all seven Dragon Balls. Goku’s inhuman strength and his desire to help others in need acquaints him with an array of people who become integral to the quest, such as Muten Roshi, the venerable-yet-lecherous martial artist; Oolong, a shape-shifting pig who has an affinity for the ladies and reluctantly joins the team after he is defeated by Goku; and Yamcha the bandit and his shape-shifting cat, Pu’ar, who continually try to steal the Dragon Balls before becoming Goku’s allies.
By the second volume, our heroes are in full quest mode as they search for the final two Dragon Balls, one of which is held in the fiery castle of the Ox King. After Goku and the Ox King’s daughter Chi-Chi reunite the Ox King with his former teacher, Roshi, the martial artist uses his signature Kamehameha attack to put out the fire and Goku and Bulma are rewarded with another Ball. The search for the final Ball leads the team to the series’ first villain: a short, comical man named Pilaf who captures the heroes and summons Shenron with world domination in mind. After Oolong undermines his plot by wishing for panties, an enraged Pilaf locks the heroes away. It is only when Goku looks at the full moon, transforming into a giant ape, that they escape Pilaf’s prison—and after Goku’s tail is cut off, he cannot remember what happened.
With the world saved and the Dragon Balls scattered across the globe, Goku returns to Roshi’s island for training, the focus of the third volume. With the help of his new training partner, a small, bald monk named Kuririn, Goku is able to fulfill Roshi’s request to bring back a pretty girl, and the two begin a harsh training regimen in hopes of competing in the Tenkaichi Budokai tournament. The volume ends in the middle of the first round of the final competition—for which Goku, Kuririn, and Yamcha have all qualified.
Dragon Ball is a fast-paced story with a touch of magic, set against a backdrop that mixes prehistoric, modern, and futuristic time periods in clean, detailed art. Toriyama expertly sets up his panels for maximum comedy, especially in scenes that play on young Goku’s naiveté. His characters are a seamless mix of humans, humanoid aliens, and anthropomorphized animals that remain among the most recognizable in the manga world.
The Dragon Ball series will be enjoyed by new readers and avid fans alike, and it should have a presence in every teen manga collection. Viz Media’s Dragon Ball (3-in-1 Edition) is the most economical for libraries who wish to start collecting the series but have limited space. However, the paper quality is not as high as in other releases, and title page art is clumped together in a gallery instead of beginning each chapter. Pages that are typically printed in color appear in black-and-white, and while everything is still clear, there is a grainy quality to them. It is also important to note that previous editions of the series were released with alterations to the art and dialogue, causing an uproar among fans; this is the uncensored version, which includes non-sexualized partial nudity and “dirty” jokes.
Dragon Ball (3-in-1 Edition), vol. 1
by Akira Toriyama
Publisher Age Rating: T