Yep, I’m talking about Dragon Ball again! This is series that I really can’t get enough of, though I’m not as big into it was I was in the 90s. The 90s was definitely the height of Dragon Ball’s popularity in the West. Sure, it’s still popular in North America today, but nowhere as much as it was back then. In the 90s, Dragon Ball was a powerhouse. It made millions of dollars for Funimation, and was one of Toonami’s breakout hits. We’re talking about a series that really changed how westerners viewed anime.
For those who don’t know what Dragon Ball is, I’ll give you a brief synopsis of the series: An alien warrior named Goku fights against powerful beings for the sheer thrill of it, while having the occasional adventure and saving the planet. This simple premise alone was enough to sell people on this show. Dragon Ball was one of those rare anime series that managed to get 95% of its content localized.
So much Dragon Ball stuff that was originally only Japanese exclusive was brought over here. Just think about that for a second, think of how many long-running anime have had almost all their content translated and brought over. I’m talking ALLLLL the content, not just the shows. We’ve only had a few One Piece movies dubbed, when there’s actually a ton of them only available in Japan. Likewise, OVAs of shows like One Piece and Bleach never made their way over here.
Dragon Ball has received so many games, shows, and movies that have all made their way over here to America. Sure, there are several things we didn’t get, but the amount of comment we did get was staggering. Now, back to the 90s for a second, how much content did the average cartoon at the time have? Most seasons were about 13-26 episodes long. That’s when the Dragon Ball series came along, with almost FIVE-HUNDRED episodes split between three different shows.
That’s not even including all the films, specials, and OVAs that came along too! One of the reasons I believe Dragon Ball was such a hit in the 90s, was due to just how much content was available. With all the various iterations of the franchise making their way to America around the same time, there was enough content to keep a person busy for years.
Not only that, but Dragon Ball’s focus on action and comedy also made it popular with kids and adults alike. Things like this really lead to Dragon Ball’s success! You had those cheesy toy commercials, ads for the games, and also those sweet DBZ bumpers on Toonami. Dragon Ball wasn’t as big of a craze as something like Pokemon or Tomagatchi was, but was definitely popular.
At one point, Dragon Ball even had a couple of magazines! Yes, I’m serious. There were two different Dragon Ball magazines, at least from what I can recall. They had all these promos and contests in said magazine, along with adverts for the trading card game. Surprisingly enough, Dragon Ball never really seemed to be polarizing with parents. This was surprising, as other anime at the time like Pokemon and Digimon were considered “satanic”.
Dragon Ball never got too much flack from parents (outside of it being too violent, which was a commonality at the time) and was also rarely featured on the news. I think this lack of infamy really stopped the show from progressing into an even bigger phenomenon. You see, when something like Pokemon is getting flack on the news, it’s getting advertised in some way. So, even if the newscaster is decrying it, people are gonna get interested in it regardless.
I never really saw Dragon Ball that much on the news, probably because it came out later on in the 90s. The early-to-mid 90s was more obsessed with controversy, and Dragon Ball didn’t really gain a lot of popularity until about 1998-1999. So around that time, anime such as Dragon Ball wasn’t seen as being all that bad in terms of content. So, how come Dragon Ball isn’t as popular today?
Unfortunately, like a lot of cool things to come out of the 90s, Dragon Ball was just a fad. It’s popularity died down after a while, especially after Funimation ran out of content to bring over here. For a long time, the only thing keeping the Dragon Ball name relevant in the West was the video-games. Thankfully, DB has seen a resurgence in recent years and is starting to become a fad once more.
Still, I’ll never forget the height of its popularity back in the day. I remember having the toys, posters, various episodes on VHS, as well as Legacy of Goku for the Game Boy Advance. I kind of wish Dragon Ball was bit like that again, but who knows? Maybe Dragon Ball Super and the constant flow of DB games will bring an even larger fan-base to it. The 90s was amazing for Dragon Ball and its fan-base, but I’m totally looking forward to what the future holds!