Sunday, 28 August 2016

Dragonball Book 4: Strongest Under The Heavens

" matter how great you are, there is always someone even better" - Kamesen'in

This is my cut n'paste intro for my end of month indulgence (if I feel like it) as I make my way through all forty-two collected volumes of the enduringly popular and influential manga Dragonball. The series used to be split into the fantasy and whimsy filled Dragonball and the more serious, sci-fi orientated strip it became after sixteen volumes known as Dragonball Z, but now the series is being released under the one "Dragonball" title again; uncut and with a spiffy new translation.  The series first ran in the famous anthology magazine "Shonen Jump" from 1984 to 1995 and was written and drawn by Akira Toriyama (It has been translated here by Mari Morimoto and adapted into English by Gerard Jones, the western publisher is Viz Media) and pretty much set the standard for the similar shonen manga and anime that came after like Bleach and Naruto.  It follows the adventures of the kindly if somewhat sheltered and simple "Son Goku" as he trains, goes on adventures and enters competitions all with the aim of making himself a stronger and better fighter.  Along the way he accrues a colourful cast of friends and rivals in a world where humans live alongside anthropomorphised animals, dinosaurs never died out and tiny capsules can contain vehicles and houses to be easily carried around.

[Note:  This manga is "unflipped" so must be read from right to left]

Previously On Dragonball:  After the hunt for the dragonballs was over, Goku parted from his new friends to go and train to become a better martial artist under the tutelage of the perverted old Kamesen'in (Kame for short).  Joining him was a young buddist monk called Kururin and they initially had an antagonistic relationship before bonding through nearly a years worth of training.  Kame entered them in the Tenka'ichi Budokai or Strongest Under the Heavens tournament to finish their training on a high note and they easily fought their way through the qualifiers to the final eight and are now fighting in front of the crowd which includes their friends Bulma, Puar and Oolong who are also there supporting Yamcha who has made the final eight as well.  Kame himself has also entered in disguise as "Jackie Chun" because he doesn't actually want his students to win in case it stops them wanting to improve their skills.  Book three ended with Kururin winning his first fight and going through to the semi-finals.  And now the continuation.
Kuririn and Goku.
As this whole volume is just one long series of fights it'll probably be pretty short.  I find the tournament arcs work better on TV than on the page but they're still fun to read.  Anyway, Goku congratulates Kururin on winning his fight.  They wonder if Kame saw it, and Goku says he swore he could smell him around somewhere close.

Match No. 2 is Yamcha versus the disguised Kame. The fight begins and Yamcha goes into a stance but Kame just stands there relaxed. He rushes in and attacks but Kame dodges every one of his attacks easily.

Kame: "You look like you've been forged by some real battles.  But you still waste so much excess movement. Tsk tsk."

Yamcha's Wolf Fang Fist.

Yamcha realises he'll have to unleash his secret weapon, the Wolf Fang Fist.  He attacks with it, but Kame jumps over his head.  Then using just the breeze made by his punch sends Yamcha flying off the stage resulting in a ring out victory for Kame.  Kururin realises he'll be fighing Kame next and doesn't feel good.

The next bout is between Namu and the only female contestant Ran Faun.  Curious, Kame reads Namu's mind and finds he is from a desert village who is starving to death due to lack of water for the crops.  The band together and give him the money to enter the tournament and win the money to buy water for them. "Something tells me... we aren't getting many gags out of this one" says Kame to the foruth wall.

The match begins and Ran Faun attacks Namu.  But when he attacks her she bursts into tears much to Namu's chagrin.  He holds off attacking her and when his guard is down she attacks him again.   So Namu decides:

Namu: "I will imagine that you are a man and my arch enemy. And I will battle you to my final breath... your city girl wiles are useless now!!!"

So Ran Fau responds by stripping down to her undies.  The way "Jackie Chun" letches over her makes Yamcha think he must be Kame in disguise.  Ran Faun backs the hugely embarrassed Namu to the edge of the ring, but he manages to rally and knocks her out with a blow to the neck, winning his round.
Ran Faun plays dirty against Namu.
Goku versus Giran is next.  Giran is a dinosaur with wings and a tail.  He arrives on stage but Goku doesn't.  Turns out Goku was taking a nap and Kururin drags him to the ring. The fight begins and Goku starts to get the upper hand when Giran spits a liquid at him that hardens into unbreakable bonds.

With Goku trussed up, Giran picks him up and hurls him into the air for a ring out, but Goku calls his flying cloud Kinto'un to catch him and drops back down on the stage. Giran says that's cheating, the judges confer and decide to allow it this once, but not again.  Goku is still bound up though and Giran goes to throw him again.

Giran starts beating on him but this causes Goku's tail to spontaneously grow back much to the fear of Bulma, Yamcha, Puar and Oolong.  This increases Goku's strength and he bursts his way out of the spit ropes and smashes the green room wall to test his new strength.  At this, Giran waves the white flag and Goku wins the match.
Giran gobs on Goku.
The commentator interviews Goku and asks how old he is, Goku says he is twelve.  He got his age wrong before because he didn't know how to count properly. The commentator asks if his tail is real and Goku pulls down his trousers to show it off.  Kururin tells the comentator they trained under the same master Muten Roshi which shocks the comentator as no one thought the "invincible old master" took students anymore.

Inside the green room, Yamcha confronts Kame saying he knows he is pretending to be Jackie Chun. Kame just brushes off his suspicions and goes out to fight his match with Kuririn.  He grabs the comentator's microphone and performs a song for the audience that doesn't translate very well.  Then takes his place for the fight.
Kuririn Versus "Jackie Chun".
The fight begins and Kuririn goes in hard, "Not bad. Actually making me work" says Kame.  Then he does a quick jab that sends Kuririn flying into the green room wall. Goku leans over the wall as says he saw the punch, Kuririn just needs to look harder.

Kame: "Ho!  Won't give up eh?  This time I won't take it so easy on you!"

They clash again over and over, with Kame noting it's the first time anyone has kept up with his speed. They smash into each other and end up the other side of each other.  Kuririn falls face down and looks like he might be out of it.  The count starts...

But Kuririn gets back on his feet shakily. The comentator asks what happened in that last attack as it was too fast for anyone to see.  So Jackie and Kururin act out a lengthy series of movements they had carried out in a split second.

Commentator: "You expect me to believe that in a fraction of a second...?"
Kuririn and Jackie do an action replay for the crowd.
Kuririn and Kame nod. Then they get back to fighting and Kuririn uses a secret weapon he'd been hiding after noting what a perve "Jackie Chun" was. He tosses some woman's panties onto the ground and this distracts Kame long enough for Kuririn to kick him very hard and knocks him flying out of the ring.

Left with no choice, Kame has to perform his ultimate attack the Kamehame'ha, which blasts him backwards and he lands back in the ring. Everyone is amazed that "Jackie Chun" knows The Invincible Old Master's secret attack.
Forced into a Kamehame'ha!
Yamcha thinks this is proof Jackie Chun is Kame.  Flustered Kuririn decides to go for an all out attack.  He charges Kame, hits the wall then when he gets up, Kame gets behind him  with a teleport move and chops him either side of his neck, this time Kuririn is rendered fully unconcious and Kame wins the match and advances to the final.

Inside the green room, Kuririn comes round.  "You need more training" says Kame.  Yamcha tells the others that Jackie Chun is Kame.  Goku says he can't be, the master is bald.  Yamcha says it must be a wig and tries to pull it off but can't. Yamcha asks if Goku can smell him as being Kame, but Goku says Jackie Chun smells weird.  He is wearing cologne.  "I'm quite the dandy" says Kame.

Goku is called out to his match with Namu. Goku copies Kame's teleport move but Namu manages to dodge him. Their battle is fierce as they exchange blows. Goku uses his tail to trip Namu up, who is surprised to see he has one. Goku then says he has thought of a new move and starts whirling like a spinning top.
Goku loves pulling new moves out of his ass.
He pushes Namu towards the edge of the ring but before he can knock him off he collapses on the ground dizzy.  Namu decides to finish him off from the air. He leaps up incredibly high in the air then rockets down on Goku and delivers a double chop to the neck of the prone young boy. Namu tells them to start the count but that Goku will not recover in time.

Namu: "I am a peaceful man, I would not kill...but no one who receives that blow can awaken in less than ten days."

But awaken Goku does.  Namu is shocked and thinks he must have missed a pressure point. He decides to try again and jumps up high, but Goku jumps up with him and goes even higher.As they fall they fight and Goku unleashes a mighty kick which sends Namu hurtling out of the ring as they hit the ground.  Goku wins.

Namu congratulates Goku and starts to pack up to leave to go back home and report his failure.  Kame finds him, reveals he really is Kame and offers him an empty hoi-poi capsule he could use to take some water home with him.  Namu says he has no money to buy water, but Kame points at a nearby well and says it's free here in the city, take as much as he can carry.
Kame'senin gives his reasons for competing to Namu.
Namu is full of gratitude and Kame asks him if he can do him a favour before he goes.  Namu puts on dark glasses and a false beard and when Yamcha spots him in the audience he realises Jackie Chun can't be Kame.  Namu smiles and leaves the tournament behind.

Now it's the final, Kame/Jackie Chun versus his student Goku. "No holds barred lad" says Kame.  "You said it" responds Goku.  They exchange blows in a flurry and Kame kicks Goku out of the ring.  Unable to use his cloud, it looks like the fight will be over before it's begun, then Goku has an idea and uses his tail like a helicopter and flies back into the ring.
Goku meets Kame's Kamehame'ha with one of his own.
Kame decides to unleash his Kamehame-ha upon Goku, who decides to retaliate with the same move.  Their Kamehame-ha's make contact and neither of the two of them end up getting hit by them. The crowd goes wild at the revelation another person knows the legendary kamehame-ha attack. Kame thinks to himself:

Kame: "He's even better than I dreamed. Not only can I not relent against him... but I need a strategy..."

So he uses his teleportation attack and generates false images of himself surrounding Goku. He kicks Goku into the green room wall which smashes to bits and covers Goku in rubble.  Kame thinks he's won, but Goku picks himself up and dusts himself off.  "My turn!" he says gleefully.

And Goku imitates the attack only this time he generates more false images and hits Kame hard on the head.  "Little ingrate.  Clobberin' your own master's head" grumbles Kame.  But this confuses Goku and flustered Kame says Goku must have hit him harder than he thought.

Kame starts a new strategy, durnken boxing.  And manages to lay some hard hits on Goku.  So Goku makes up his own style of fighting.  He growls and snarls and attacks on all fours and Kame takes several hits from him too.  Goku says his new style is "'Mad Fury' attack".

Commentator: "What a move!!  What a counter attack!!  What a comeback!!  And what a victory this will be for Son Gokuuuuuu!!"
Goku gets the upperhand for now.
And that brings this volume to a close.  As I said it's mostly fighting, which is beautifully coreographed by Toriyama but makes for a pretty quick read.  It is the first time Goku's fighting skills have been put to a real test.  It shows all the hallmarks of how fights would got for him in the future, his ability to copy and improve opponents moves, his sheer joy at being in battle and his refusal to ever give up and the fact while somewhat dim outside of combat he is actually an intelligent fighter able to plan on the fly when things don't go his way.  Tournaments play a big part in Dragonball, each one showcasing how much the main characters have grown in strength and ability.  The battle with Kame will be resolved in the next volume which will then return to the other main plotline of early Dragonball, the actual quest for the titular balls.  But for now, this is a cool example of well drawn shonen fighting manga, yes it's aimed mostly at ten year old boys, but I find it fun and charming to read.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


  1. Dragonball is fun! I haven't read the manga but I bought the dvds. be interested in finding out what is anime-only filler now :)

  2. It's been a while since I watched the my box sets, but IIRC they integrated the filler into the show a bit more gracefully than in DBZ.

  3. Well, now there's a debate. The Japanese have different standards of what's appropriate for kids, so saucy humour and fantasy violence is par for the course in "Shonen" manga and anime which are aimed at older boys and teens. This has lead to a lot of censorship when the series were bought over to the West and aimed at the same age group, it's only recently that manga and anime has been released unedited and uncut.