I’m not sure why it’s taken so long for me to get around to writing this, but here we are. For people who know me online or follow me on Twitter, I’m most associated with Popeyes, Dipset and probably the guy who posts a lot of Kate Upton photos; which sounds about right.
But if you’re talking about the thing that I truly love, that I’m most passionate about, it’s not fried chicken, a superhero rapper in a cape, a girl who makes zero gravity seem like the coolest thing, or Kanye, or anything sports related, it’s Dragon Ball Z, the manga series created by Akira Toriyama.
Come and take this trip down memory lane with me and you’ll understand (If you’re reading this on the Tumblr dashboard, you might want to click to the actual website to see all the embedded videos and images).
1. The thing about the old days, they the old days.
To start explaining what Dragon Ball Z really meant to me, we need to transport back to when I was a kid growing up in Hong Kong. I recently uncovered a bunch of home videos that my dad had recorded of my sister and I when we were kids. We’re about to get into some real incriminating videos, some Prodigy doing ballet on the Summer Jam screen shit.
This is actually me, singing karaoke in Cantonese.
Here’s what I remember about growing up in Hong Kong: school was really strict (they used to assign numbers to each kid in our class, based on your grades, and this was before third grade, so if you were number 20, you were the 20th best student in the class; Chinese people are so explicit sometimes), there was a lot of homework to do, karaoke was a big thing at home, my parents forced me to play piano, and, Dragon Ball Z (referring to this as “DBZ” from here on out; lazy) was the greatest thing ever.
I was probably 6-years-old when I started getting into DBZ. At the time, the series was still in progress. I actually started with Volume 17, which is where the Dragon Ball portion of the series ended with the Piccolo saga and picked back up with the arrival of Raditz on Earth, which led to Vegeta, which led to the Namek saga, which okay we’re sidetracking we’ll get to that.
The collected manga volumes came out every few months, and my parents would go to the newspaper stand by our apartment to pick them up for me on the release date. I’d speed through it in one sitting, put it away, then come back to it the next day and read it more carefully, really digesting every word on the second go around, and then I’d jump on my bed and pretend to be Goku and start powering up and making all types of fighting sounds. This was cosplay before I learned about cosplay.
2. The scouter, shiny cards, and all the action figures in the world.
(Several years ago when my parents moved houses, they inexplicably threw away boxes of my childhood memories, including a lot of things I will reference below; so instead of real authentic grainy photos from my Blackberry, these are all Google image search research photos, just know I would have kept it realz if I could)
The other great part about indulging yourself in the DBZ world as a child was all the cool gadgets and toys. My favorite thing at the time was when my parents bought me a replica version of the scouter that the Saiyans used in the series to detect the power levels of their opponents.
The other thing that was huge in Hong Kong at the time was the trading cards. At every mall, outside the department stores and around every news stand, these machines were set up where you could just deposit a dollar, turn the knob, and a card would come out. Every time I went shopping with my mom, I’d ask her for all the change she had. Because I basically grew up spoiled, she obliged.
Soon, I had amassed a huge collection of the trading cards, which I had organized by number, by character, by everything in a binder. There was this series of power level cards that I was especially obsessed with. The way the cards work is that they were designated power levels 1 to 10, but certain cards had a different feel to it, and they were special cards that you could peel the first layer off to reveal a shiny hidden card underneath. Here’s an example of the before and after layers of those cards:
It was the coolest thing, but I never peeled those cards because once you did, the value of the card (as if I was ever going to sell them, again, I can’t believe my parents threw all this out) would depreciate. It was my introduction to the term mint condition.
And then there were the action figures. I collected so many of those, and even when I traveled back to Hong Kong several years ago, as an adult with a reasonable level of disposable income, I couldn’t help but splurge on this Frieza collection (I even bought a Mecha Frieza after just to complete the set, again, all of this is now in a bag somewhere in a storage room at my condo. But hey, it didn’t feel like a waste of money at the time!):
Also, super proud of this Ginyu Force and Red Ribbon Army android collection:
So anyways, back to me as a kid. Our family immigrated to Canada in 1993 when I was starting third grade, and I was going through some serious stress about moving to a new country because it was going to be a severe disruption to my Dragon Ball Z reading schedule.
The series did become more popular later on in North America, but when I first got here, it was not a thing at all. Luckily, my dad was still in traveling back to Hong Kong and would be able to pick up the new manga volumes for me.
Although there was this one time when he was gone for six months and I couldn’t wait, so I got my mom to drive me in a snowstorm (again: spoiled) to a really remote Chinese plaza that sold the books. The markup for the volumes here are insane (in Hong Kong, I would say you pay an equivalent of $3 Canadian, here it’s $15 Canadian), and as a third grader, that discrepancy is real money. So basically, I felt terrible that I strong armed my mom into going there and paying that much for it, but not terrible enough to exclude this from the write-up.
3. BTW, this is the OG #TrueDetectiveSeason2 (or #ThisCouldBeUsButYouPlaying).
4. Okay, you’re a big DBZ fan and you were spoiled growing up, we get it, talk about the actual series already.
I’m going to have to go listicle on this one, a rundown of some of my favorite things about the series in no particular order:
a. The World Martial Arts Tournaments: With much respect to March Madness and WWF’s King of the Ring, no tourney will ever matter as much as these. Watching Master Roshi in disguise, or seeing Goku basically doing the equivalent of going to the NBA Finals twice and coming up short (seriously, the ending to his match with Tien was so contrived, but I was hurt when he lost), the excitement of reading through the tournament sagas were unmatched. When Goku finally defeated Piccolo to claim the tournament, it was a moment, and by that I mean a moment I re-enacted standing on top of my bed a million times growing up.
b. Krillin: If you want to get all narrative about the series, Krillin was the heart of the show (to make sure this narrative works, let’s forget how much of a jerk he was during the time he trained with Goku at Master Roshi’s). In the very early stages of the show, the entire concept of the Dragon Balls and its ability to resurrect the dead was a useful vehicle for a manga series that was fun and mostly innocent. But when Krillin was killed (for the first time) to kick off the Piccolo saga, that was when you knew things got real. He was also crucial during the Namek saga, holding it down with Gohan and Bulma while they waited for Goku’s arrival. His death at the hands of Frieza triggered a crucial moment in the series, giving us the first glimpse of what a Super Saiyan looked like. He, of course, was brought back via the Dragon Balls later, and really, I could go on about Krillin’s impact but you just have to respect a man for falling in love with an android and pursuing it. That’s respect.
c. The History of Trunks Movie: I was never really a big fan of the side movie projects that told stories out of continuity. In general, when anime series start spinning off into feature films, it’s usually a cash grab that skims on the overall quality of the show. But “The History of Trunks” was different because it told the story of this alternate future where Trunks and Gohan are the only surviving heroes and the androids have completely taken over. This was the OG alternate future/ flash-forward story for me. For all the really grim things that happened in Dragon Ball Z, the stories always steered itself back in the end towards one of hope and the good guys winning out, even though sometimes at a great cost. But this alternate future was dark, and there was significant weight to this storyline because of the tie-back to what Trunks was warning the present-day Goku about when he came through and slashed Mecha Frieza to pieces. Seriously, alternate future Gohan was such a G, look at him man:
If there’s one DBZ movie you need to watch, it’s this one.
d. The Namek Saga: Everything about this was great. Vegeta scheming his way around Frieza, the Krillin-Gohan-Bulma trio holding it down like the Bulls without Derrick Rose while they waited for Goku’s arrival, THE GINYU FORCE, I REPEAT, THE GINYU FORCE also known as the greatest collective next to the Wu, Boot Camp Clik and peak Roc-A-Fella. The final battle, Goku going Super Saiyan, the entire planet going to shit. So much character development and just pure uncut raw (shouts to AZ) action. Nothing topped this saga. This was DBZ in its prime.
e. The saddest moment of the series. I <3 you, Android 16.
f: When Trunks bulked up and thought he had it wrapped up against Cell: Remember when Trunks and Vegeta went in the hyperbolic chamber during the Perfect Cell saga, and Trunks was all reluctant to show all his cards because he didn’t want his dad to know that he had surpassed him. After Vegeta got crushed by Perfect Cell (don’t feel bad, dude let it happen just for the thrill of the competition; which actually, respects), Trunks finally revealed his trump card and bulked up, pushing his power levels into the trillions (#RoughEstimate). Unfortunately, it destroyed his mobility, and he couldn’t touch Cell at all. He powered down and resigned himself to being defeated. This was like Mark McGwire going on the juice and hitting .211 with five home runs. Tremendous disappointment.
g. The hyperbolic chamber: A genius concept to me when I first read it, if only because I had this phase as a kid of being all into astronomy and science and time travel and the fact that these characters could go into a chamber where years could pass in there over a matter of days seemed like something that was possible. Again, I was like 8-years-old when this concept was introduced to me.
h. Whenever Goku and Vegeta teamed up:
i. The complete illustrations of Akira Toriyama: This was an art collection book that you can still purchase via Amazon. Much respect to Toriyama for the character design and illustrations for this series. One of the underappreciated aspect of most manga series in Japan compared to American comics is that when someone creates a series, they both write and illustrate, which for me is still baffling the type of effort and skill it takes to execute all of it, within the timelines that they’re under. Triple double, no assist for real.
5. I would go on but the Oscars get off the stage music is playing. So I’ll leave you with a couple more thoughts.
(BTW, If you’ve never watched “Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins”, a Shaw Brothers-esque (or a very poor attempt at one) Chinese live-action movie adaptation of the series, I highly recommend it. It sucks, but it’s worth your time. I hope that makes sense)
There was just so much in the universe that Toriyama built. The characters, the storylines, everything. Not all of it worked, and by reading the different sagas you definitely see the strengths and weaknesses of the various arcs. But for me, when you talk about writing and thinking creatively, Dragon Ball Z is most definitely one of the earlier influences, even if there’s no direct translation between a manga and someone writing about sports. I’m sure most of us doing the same type of writing get our inspirations from the same sources, whether it’s sports writers from decades gone by or ones who are at the top of their game today.
But beyond that, the creative things happening outside of sports also help shape some of the thought processes and approaches, to think more outside the box and to find that unique voice that we’re all trying to hone. I’d like to think about so many hours and years spent in the Dragon Ball Z universe, that there are some traces of that influence in the things that I write and the ideas that I come up with, however loosely that connection may be.
And if not, well, it was just a really well done manga series, and most definitely the one constant from my childhood that is worth holding onto. I still can’t believe my dad threw those boxes out though.
PS. I didn’t really touch on the Buu saga because in general, I felt like everything after the Perfect Cell saga was a bit fluff. The real ending for me would be Goku sacrificing himself with exploding Cell and leaving Gohan behind to carry on his legacy. The rest of the series after that was Jordan on the Wizards. Also, no real DBZ fan acknowledges the existence of Dragon Ball GT. Goodnight.