Dragon Ball: When Added Context Makes A Story Better?

I know that I’ve mentioned in a post or two in the past that I’ve been reading the original Dragon Ball manga on SJ+. It was either in my Dr. Slump post here or when I compared Dragon Ball with Hunter X Hunter here. So yes, I’ve been reading it on and off and have jumped into the realm of Z in manga form for the first time as well. In these readings, it constantly shocked me how much of the original Dragon Ball anime I’ve remembered from watching it years and year ago. Yes, I remembered pretty much all of it. All of which was in the manga itself and what was not in the manga because it was anime original. I haven’t seen the series in years and I was in shock.

For the small amount of the population of anime fans who have never seen or watched Dragon Ball before, Dragon Ball is a tale about a mysterious kid/person named Goku. Being a strong kid of questionable origins with a tail, he travels with his friends in search of the mystical wish granting balls called the Dragon Balls. We see the world of Dragon Ball through his eyes as he travels with those who do know it and as he fights opponents on the roads and world tournaments to get stronger or possibly save the world. It’s very focused on representing the tale: Journey through the west in a unique way. Akira Toriyama was onto something here.

Goku and his friends!

The story starts with a very comedic tone and slowly gets more and more dramatic as time goes on. The first arc centers on Goku and friends vs Pilaf for the dragon balls. That’s a lot of fun despite the situation at hand because Pilaf and his servants are very goofy and completely loveable villains. The tournament after has some seriousness but is generally goofy too. Then it keeps getting darker as more character enter the conflict, empires like the Red Ribbon Army search the world in very totalitarian ways for the Dragon Balls, and the Piccolo with his control of the world campaign where lots of people die. The ride itself goes along with Goku’s age and growing maturity.

If that sounds interesting to you and possibly a lot of fun, it is. That being said, a few things here and there that you can tell were of that era of thinking and not now. We could talk about Master Roshi and how very perverted he is and how far he will go to see woman in a certain state of undresss. That hasn’t completely left shonen battle series unfortunately so it’s stuck sadly. Sigh. However, there is General Black who is a part of the evil Red Ribbon Army and looks like a bit of a caricature. He’s awesome, but he still does. Alongside the Red Ribbon Army arc is Bulma calling herself a man to confuse a very gay villain General Blue who he immediately calls her disgusting. Read into that what you will. We could talk about Popo as well in this regard too. He’s based off a djinn so that adds some complications.

In this post, I question what it means to have filler in a series and whether or not it’s actually bad. Took me long enough, right? If you want to look at adding content to an original series or manga in its execution, then it might be considered filler. Here is the thing though. Dragon Ball is a manga that runs for 194 chapters witch each lasting 15 pages each which means it’s very streamlined and hyper focused on what it wants to execute. There is an amount of space and time that gets cut out and the experience isn’t as raw or visceral in execution. That sounds like a lot at first to be sure. But, when you consider how each arc in the original show is 13 episodes in length it’s really not. The show is surprisingly fast and snappy as well.

My question is, is a show that adds extra context to the anime from the manga filler? When we look at anime from manga with a modern looks and lenses, we as an anime culture know what filler looks like. The large amount of filler adding padding of large amounts of episodes between arcs or even right in the middle of arcs when a story has caught up with the manga earlier then expected is regarded as filler. What if a story adds a lot more context to the world and fleshes out characters we’ve only seen once by putting them in the story more without putting them into it too much? What if we know more about the world then was presented in the manga? Is that really filler and if that is filler, does that make it’s bad? In my opinion, not in Dragon Ball. You know, if it’s filler. Spoiler alert from this point onward.

Cowboy Giran

Dragon Ball’s anime helps put us more into the world then one would expect or even add some more conflict between characters during a tournament arc. One moment I loved during the first tournament in the series we saw was when a match was rained out and in the down time, we had this classic cowboy scenario when monster Giran shows up in a “bar” like place our characters are and demands milk. It’s such a moment that adds some comedic moments and drama between Goku and Giran before they fight and it works so well because that’s dragon ball humor. The fight between the two has more weight now then in the manga where they just fight each other.

I could also talk about the one singular arc at the right moment where he went to train after a goofy and heart felt tournament at Baba’s place. This is the arc where Goku meets Tien and Chaotsu on the road and we see how bad they are. The manga only cuts to the tournament right before it happens so that whole villainy thing only comes out of nowhere as far as we know. Seeing the two do questionable things in context adds to the conflict and rivalry between Goku and Tien before the tournament even happens. I appreciate the show doing the work in making the conflict feel real and have some thematic weight behind it. All of it is absolutely worth it in the end.

They made Colonel Violet pretty complex too.

The last part I have to add is Colonel Violet who only shows up in the manga for two panels. We know how horrible the Red Ribbon Army is by seeing how they treat the people in the land they occupy from Goku’s adventures, but in the anime Colonel Violet adds to that experience to the nth degree. She’s ruthless like everyone else, doesn’t care when her men die, pushes the boundaries of the Red Ribbon Army rules, and even steals from the Red Ribbon army when Goku was destroying the base by himself with their riches in her hands. The best part? She even survives her escape though she never appears anywhere else. That adds to the experience so much.

Those are three examples out of who knows how many I want to bring up, but the anime elevates so many moments in the manga through context and expansion in some very interesting ways. That doesn’t mean the manga is bad. To the contrary, the manga is pretty good and I’ve seen myself lost in so many chapters of the story because of the intensity of what is going on and seeing Goku grow up a bit over an expanded amount of time. It’s a very well written manga, but the anime is always going to be where my heart and soul goes to when I think about Dragon Ball before Z at least. I do have some favoritism though. I think a similar thing happened with Angelic Layer where the anime added more depth to the story but I haven’t read the manga. Only the anime, which is great!.


  1. Perhaps shockingly for an anime fan in my age bracket (early 40s), I’ve never watched a minute of Dragon Ball/DBZ. Lots of my friends were watching it on TV in the early 90s, and I even got to play one of the DBZ fighting games for SNES because a friend of mine bought the Japanese cartridge from an import shop, but I just wasn’t into anime yet back then. I’m quite familiar with the characters and the basic story, though, especially since I have watched other JttW-inspired anime like Saiyuki.

    To your point, though, the series I always think of first when it comes to “not all filler is bad” is Cardcaptor Sakura, which added many more cards to be captured compared to the manga (52 vs 19) and an entirely anime-original character (Meiling) who ended up being one of my favorites in the series. A lot of times I can kind of instinctively tell when an anime episode is filler even when I haven’t read the source, the telltale signs being when it doesn’t add any significant story or character development and when the writing feels…off…compared to canon arcs, but except for a few episodes towards the very end I never really felt that with CCS. Almost every episode contributed something to the story, and some of the filler episodes were among my favorites in the series. Especially when I compare it to something like Rurouni Kenshin, where half the series was filler and most of them were so dull and pointless that it eventually put me off the whole anime. It is worth noting, though, that like you with DB I didn’t start reading the CCS manga until long after I’d already seen the anime. I don’t know if my opinion would be different if the manga had been my first exposure to the story instead.

    What’s actually impressive to me about Angelic Layer isn’t so much that the filler is good, it’s that the anime also made significant changes to canon plot elements from the manga (especially to the subplot with Misaki’s mother) that actually ended up making the story better instead of worse, which might be even rarer.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It happens. I didn’t expect everyone to watch it, but I feel like one can get a lot about it through anime osmosis.

      It feels like a lot of magical girl shows had expanded from the manga. Like, I know Sailor Moon is a lot of them. It goes to show you that adding material can sometimes be a good thing.

      Oh jeez, Rurouni Kenshin filler. I liked the filler things in seasons 1 and 2 because it did a lot of good towards making the side characters more interesting and endearing. Season 3 really is trash though.

      Ah, that’s interesting.


  2. I think another important element when it comes to the DB filler was that Akira Toriyama was involved with how the filler was created. I don’t believe he specifically directed it, but I do believe he oversaw the original anime and the Dragonball Z animation. Having the creators being able to offer their insight in how they want a character to develop from manga into the anime is critical.

    Which might explain why the latter Dragonball series (I believe GT and after) is different in terms of comedy and delivery. (Also where the fanbase divides) To my understanding he’s contributed designs to the various continuations, but isn’t directly involved in any story writing or world building. He’s given his blessing on the franchise, but it’s a bit of a shame he isn’t overseeing it the way he use to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That would make a lot it sense considering everything that happened going on in the series to give each character a personality.

      Yeah, I think that Toei had a few writers putting together Super. Some that understand the spirit and goofiness of the series and other people that don’t. It’s rather strange.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good post. I’ve seen a few episodes of Dragon Ball, but nowhere near as much as DBZ. Even back then, it was a bit of a shocker with how much different it was despite having most of the same characters.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah. I first heard about the original when I was a kid, but it would come on at 6 AM on weekdays which I didn’t want to wake up that early for when I was a kid. When DBZ first came out, it was on Saturday mornings on UPN and eventually after Fox Kids, so I was able to see it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think that was also the first time when I even saw anything related to the original series. Granted, I didn’t have cable at the time, so I would watch at a friend or relative’s house.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree that filler can sometimes add depth to a story, when it’s done well. The Angelic Layer anime is a good example, though that one also made some interesting story changes and is very tonely different from the manga, which is more comedy focused.

    Back to the Dragon Ball anime, some of the sillier bits of filler are also great. Like the episode in Dragon Ball Z where Goku and Picolo have to learn to drive! It might not add anything to the story, but it’s priceless! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it’s that done well part which could be troubling. Instead of being a waste of time..

      Oh yes, that episode is just the perfect episode! 😁. There are memorable moments, but I can’t help smiling at that fact.

      Liked by 1 person

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