As a Tokyo-based writer, I will introduce you to various aspects of pop culture such as manga, anime, movies and music. I want to spread the joy of Japanese pop culture around the world.
Hi! This is Mokugyo with another Anime Study!
Believe it or not, Dragon Ball started serializing in in Weekly Shōnen Jump in 1984. 26 years later I am tuning every Sunday morning to watch Dragon Ball Super, the latest sequel of the popular series that inspired a whole generation of anime fans.
But what inspired Dragon Ball in the first place?
— 「ドラゴンボール超」公式 (@DB_super2015) October 15, 2016
Do you know Journey to the West? The first Dragon Ball series, the one where Goku is still a child, was created based on that Chinese classic literature title. Actually, his name, Goku, is based on the rowdy monkey character from the book, Sun Wukong. Also, he is monkey, so you can see the resemblance. Akira Toriyama was actually thinking of making Goku a monkey-like character but in the end he just designed Goku as a human boy with a monkey tail. The monkey-like characteristics were passed on to his transformation to Oozaru (Great Ape).
Dragon Ball recognizes its roots in every opportunity it can get. In the movie Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, there is a scene near the end where the four earliest characters (Goku, Bulma, Oolong, and Yamcha) are all together. These characters’ design was based on the four main characters of the Journey to the West: Xuanzang, Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie, and Sha Wujing.When the movie, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (China, 2013) was released in Japan, Akira Toriyama drew Sun Wukong for the movie’s advertising poster. In Dragon Ball, when all seven dragon balls are gathered, Shenron (Divine Dragon) shows up and bestows any wish to the one who gathered the balls together. This setting is modeled after the Japanese classic literature work Nanso Satomi Hakkenden.
Nansō Satomi Hakkenden is a Japanese epic novel by Kyokutei Bakin, a late Japanese Edo period gesaku author. In the west the title was translated as Tale of Eight Dogs or The Eight Dog Chronicles. The story is set in the tumultuous Sengoku period and tells the story of eight samurai half-brothers who bear the word ‘dog’ in their surnames. The dragon balls are based on an episode where spirit-enhanced balls are spread to every Japanese region.
It’s really interesting that Dragon Ball has its roots to classic Asian literature.
Dragon Ball’s original author Akira Toriyama is a huge movie fan and it’s no secret that he was heavily influenced by them. The title of the series, Dragon Ball, is influenced from the Bruce Lee movie Enter the Dragon (1973).
But Bruce Lee is not the only martial artist Toriyama was inspired from. Jackie Chan and his drunken master style in the classic martial arts film Drunken Master was another major influence. In one of Dragon Ball‘s earliest episodes, Master Roshi appears at the World’s Martial Arts Tournament (Budokai Tenkaichi) under the name of Jackie Chun and fights using the drunken style of martial arts, Zui quan.
Akira Toriyama is also a fan of Hollywood movies. His Dr.Slump series (the manga he wrote just before Dragon Ball)and his heroine robot Arale Norimaki are a parody of Superman and Star Wars.
The same influences can be traced in Dragon Ball. Most of the characters can fly and often do battle airborne. The concept of ki (energy) in Dragon Ball’s world is not a direct influence from Star Wars and The Force, since it probably happened the other way around (the Force was first influenced by the concept of Ki) but the similarities are evident. The characters fly and detect enemies using their Ki. That sounds like The Force to me.
And then there is The Terminator. Dragon Ball and The Terminator came out in 1984, and in an early episode of the anime, a huge cyborg enemy named Sergeant Metallic appears who looks very much like Arnold Schwarzenegger from The Terminator. Toriyama’s love for the Terminator franchise reappears in the Android Saga of Dragon Ball Z.
The most recent homage to one of the most famous cyborgs of all time is Trunks who made a comeback in the new series Dragon Ball Super. His character design is modeled after John Connor from Terminator 2.
— 「ターミネーター：新起動／ジェニシス」公 (@terminator_JP) November 10, 2015
Well, not all of them, as we previously said that some of them were inspired by Journey to the West, but they may have partly been designed based on Disney characters.
In the series there are so many animal-faced characters such as Oolong, Korin and Bills, the god of destruction. Akira Toriyama is a big animal lover and was strongly inspired by the Disney movies during his childhood. One of his favorite Disney movies is One Hundred and One Dalmatians. He often reproduced the images he saw in the movie’s picture book and he was very impressed by Disney’s skills in character design.
Akira Toriyama’s love for Disney movies can be traces to the characters’ names. Remember the Buu saga? There, the wizard Bibidi’s son Babidi resurrected Majin Buu. The characters are named after the Fairy God Mother’s magical spell ‘Bibidi Babidi Boo’ in Cinderella!
— ディズニー公式 (@disneyjp) October 19, 2016
Dragon Ball is inspired by a lot of works. Maybe you’ll gain a better understanding and a deeper appreciation for the series if you read and see the works that inspired this anime classic. Let me know in the comments below of any influences I might have missed!