I've been wanting to get to this for a while now. With Attack on Titan now on the airwaves, Bleach finished, Naruto finishing and One Piece never finishing now is the time for this. I've been watching Japanese anime since the days of StarBlazers, the first Gundam series and Macross. In that time I've seen only two series change everything that was understood at that time about anime the first is the DragonBall series. There's DragonBall, DragonBall Z, and DragonBall GT (Grand Tour) and many mini movies in between. The other is Neon Genesis Evangelion, that one Melchior will cover in another article. Today I'm going off on Akira Toriyama cash cow DragonBall.
DragonBall is based on the Chinese tale called Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en. In that story Sun Wukong the magical Monkey King travels with a Buddhist monk to India. For Toriyamas story the main character is named Son Goku. Goku is whats he's called for the rest of the series. The series started out as a Manga, Japanese comic in 1984 called Dragon Boy. Toriyama changed the story from saving a princess to look for Dragonballs, thus Dragon Ball was born. The manga became so popular that an animated series was created. And when that became popular Akira Toriyama became one of the highest selling manga creators in Japan. Having his previous work Dr. Slump do well was great but DragonBall was an entirely different beast all together.
The story of DragonBall was 153 episodes from 1986-1989 and 4 movies. With 16 Volumes of manga and 5 seasons of anime that would be enough for most audiences. Toriyama took things to another level with the adult adventures of Goku with DragonBall Z. This where Toriyama and his series cement themselves into pop culture legends status. The original DragonBall manga has 42 volumes the last 26 volumes are what compose much of DragonBall Z. This was adapted into an anime and aired in 1989 to 1995. The anime was so popular that the production caught up to the manga, still in production by Toriyama, so filler episodes had to be created. This did not lessen its popularity but created more material in the anime than was in the manga. Through four sagas, yes, sagas not seasons DragonBall Z became the highest rated anime in Japan.
The main characters from DragonBall were still there but the additional characters added to the series were what people remember. Along with Goku in the frist DragonBall series there was Master Roshi, Krillin, and Piccolo. Adding to this cast was Vegeta, Gokus cousin, Gokus son Gohan, and a continually growing cast of powerful villains. The breakout character was Vegeta who starts off as a villain but became the tough guy anti-hero who could just as quickly team-up with Goku as fight against him. Through the series his arrogant bastard sensibilities gave the show the edge the first series didn't have. The contrast to Gokus heroism needed someone who could do the dirty work butcould just as easily be the star of the show if not for his massive ego.
The series latest for 291 episodes with a combined 14 movies and mini series. There were toys, video games, video compilations. When DVD arrived so did boxsets, than Blu-Ray boxsets than remasters, re-edits, special editions, soundtracks and on and on. There was so much merchandising behind DragonBall Z that the network it was on Toei spun off another DragonBall series on its own with help from Toriyama called DragonBall GT. This started after the end of DragonBall Z and lasted 64 episodes. With little involvement at the start of the series it lost some of the action of DBZ. Toriyama came back in the middle of the show and things picked up again. By the end of the series Toriyama had wrapped up a story that was over ten years old but it's legacy would last much longer.
All of that was just in Japan. In 1998 DragonBall Z came to Cartoon Network after failing to get attention in syndication. Overnight the show became a hit and carried the Toonami block for Cartoon Network for ten years. The brand DragonBall led to different subtitling and dubbing from not only the American audience but Spanish, French, and is still growing. The number of countries that DragonBall Z is shown in is at least 24 but thats still growing. The amount of money generated by the series is already over $1 Billion. That doesn't look to end any time soon.
The most popular of the DragonBall series is DragonBall Z but the other two series still bring in money. There is an entire generation that grew up on DragonBall Z. As they get older and have children of their own they will still have the DragonBall series around for their children to watch. Either DragonBall, DragonBall Z, or DragonBall GT will be seen on television or over the internet for the rest of Akira Toriyamas life and beyond that. The companies that are involved with DragonBall will keep selling its merchandise but it keeps making money.
The only brand that has this kind of staying power is Star Wars, thats great company to be in if your Akira Toriyama. Next year will mark the 30th Anniversary of the debut of the DragonBall manga. I'm sure a digital special edition will be made. Along with a reprint that can be put together to form an image, all with a hardcover book cover. Or maybe seven oversized hardcovers each with a DragonBall on the cover. I don't know but I know it'll make money. Than when DragonBall Z has its Anniversary the money comes in again. This will be repeated for so many years that by the time Toriyama is 78 years old the 50th Anniversary will just make more money. This and all the years after means the series will not ever truly be over.