Revisiting: Dragon Ball

John Surico


In an era of endless screens—phone screens, computer screens, street screens, TV screens, this screen—patience is no longer a virtue. I don’t have to wait anymore to watch anything that already exists: I type a few keys, fill out a captcha or two, and it’s there for me, served on a screen. This sensation makes seasons, anthologies, and episodes of TV more fleeting. TV shows no longer come on. They’re put on.

When I was a kid, I had two options to watch Dragon Ball: I could either wait for it to play on Toonami, Cartoon Network’s afternoon anime program that we nerds rushed home after school to watch; or go out to Coconuts, the now-defunct music and movies store, and physically buy the season or set of episodes I wanted to watch with the little allowance I had. Following the  chronology of episodes was something I had to seek out. Because it didn’t matter if I was caught up with what Goku was doing, or not—unless I had a VHS to pop in, whatever was playing on TV that day was what I was watching. It wasn’t up to me.

And to all the purists out there, I’m talking about the original Dragon Ball; the story of a young boy with a monkey tail named Goku, who would later learn that he A) had superhuman strength; and B) wasn’t human at all. (But that’s revealed in Dragon Ball Z, which the show naturally transitions into). Designed in the beautifully sharp Japanese animation of the late 1980s, Dragon Ball follows the always virtuous Goku as he meets new friends, trains to fight a bunch of bad guys, and continuously tries to locate the seven Dragon Balls, which, if collected, spawn a dragon that grants one wish. (The bad guys, of course, want them, too.) He also has a cloud at his command that he, and anyone else pure of heart, can ride on.

Recently, I faced this sort of stupid, modern quandary: what should I watch?

I’ve never had any interest in rewatching shows of my youth—definitely not streaming CatDog anytime soon—but Dragon Ball, as someone entering their late twenties, stood out to me. It seemed like something fun to do: dive back into an adventure that was very much my own at one point in my life. And now it was widely accessible: all five “sagas,” all 153 20-minute-long episodes, all available to watch at my leisure. It was like having my inner child meet Netflix.

I could return to this universe I once loved, one filled with so many characters, it makes Game of Thrones look like a mini-series, episodes-long fight sequences that somehow feel shorter now, and a steady stream of more content to look forward to  in the form of Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT, the TV movies, and Dragon Ball Super, which is still on. I can watch it the way I always wanted to as a kid, but never could: endlessly and without pause.

And now, onto Cowboy Bebop.