The Show that Started it All
It’s a hardline fact that it was damn near impossible to ignore the iconic Dragonball-Z if you grew up in the late 90s/early 2000s. The show was arguably one of the most iconic animes to ever air in both the East and Western hemispheres. What started out as a manga loosely based off a Chinese novel became one of the most popular animes worldwide. It left behind a legacy that has inspired countless anime series after it. The original anime adaptation of the Dragonball manga was supposed to meet its end in 1989, but the sheer popularity of the franchise had Toriyama’s fans and editors demanding more. Fans wanted more of Son Goku and the crazy dinosaur, furry-humanoid & tyrant space alien-inhabited world he lived in. This prompted Toriyama to create a continuation of the manga with a new 17th volume. The new 17th volume had its title redone, with a ‘Z’ added at the end of it. The new ‘Z’ rendition showed the lovable Son Goku and his friends and family in a new, more dramatic and adult light. The ‘Z’ at the end of the title implied that Toriyama had short-lived intentions for the new continuation. But as luck might have it, the ‘Z’ continuation increased the show’s popularity even further. Toriyama developed the original Dragonball story into 26 additional volumes for the manga. This resulted in a staggering 291 episodes which made up the Dragonball-Z anime – a show that created waves within Western society during its heyday.
[DBZ Manga Volume 1]
It Won the Hearts of Many
Dragonball-Z exploded with popularity in the final years of the 20th century and the first few of the 21st. The peak of its popularity was between 1999 and 2001: “Dragonball-Z” was the fourth most searched query on the Lycos search engine in 1999, and the 2nd most searched in 1999. In 2001, The official Dragonball-Z website recorded approximately 4.7 million hits per day and had over 500,000 members. By this year, ‘Dragonball’ was the most searched keyword on the then Lycos search engine. By September 2002, Dragonball-Z had become the most popular program of the US weekly TV schedule for young males aged 12-24. The show was everywhere in the early 2000s and played an undeniable role in a plethora of childhoods. The franchise was popping up everywhere – collectible tazos, action figures, commercials, kids magazines, and even news headlines featured highlights of its spiky-haired protagonist. Dragonball-Z was the ultimate ‘gateway drug’, without it many seasoned anime fans wouldn’t even venture into the world of Japanese animation.
[DBZ Intro Screen]
How it Merged East and West
This show was at the forefront of breaking away the then-hardened racial & cultural barrier between West and East cultures. The stereotypical negative stigma surrounding Japanese shows & culture slowly faded away due to DBZ’s immense popularity. DBZ was the perfect bridge between the wide gap that separated East Asian and Western culture during that time. Many fans were mesmerized by its art style and themes, which helped set aside their unfamiliarity with Japanese animation. Groups of US fans even went so far as to learn basic Japanese in order to understand the dialogue in the episodes which were yet to be dubbed. During the peak of this wave, Goku was the mascot of the East/West cultural intersection. The franchise slowly waned down in popularity after the English dub finished in 2003. However, it still remained an iconic and timeless force and is incredibly popular even today. Many of the show’s characters continued to appear in a myriad of merchandise, video games, and general pop culture. DBZ received a considerable amount of reboots and remasters such as 2009’s Dragonball Kai. Moreover, in 2015 Toriyama even resurrected the show by developing a new continuation of the plotline with ‘Dragon Ball Super‘. DBZ’s sheer popularity has even earned it collaborative appearances with iconic streetwear and sportswear brands, most notably Bape & Adidas.
[DBZ Fans showing off their Cosplay]
DBZ in the Fashion World
In 2017 Bape released a collection featuring the show’s characters illustrated in its iconic ‘baby milo’ style. The collection mostly features hoodies, sweaters, t-shirts, and crewnecks, as well as accessories such as keychains, mugs, and pins. In addition, the sportswear magnate Adidas has recently partnered up with the franchise for a one-of-a-kind sneaker collaboration. Adidas have announced an upcoming sneaker collection set to be released starting from August 2018. The collection features colorways from the show’s most popular characters such as Goku, Vegeta, Frieza, and Gohan.
DBZ x Adidas Sneakers
The collection will be released in pairs, highlighting the show’s most fierce adversaries and sagas. The ‘Frieza Saga’ August release features the ‘ZX 500 RM’ and ‘Yung 1’ models, starting off the release with the most iconic part of the show. The September release will feature Gohan and Cell-inspired sneakers, respectively the ‘Deerupt’ and ‘Prosphere’ models. The following Majin Buu arc features a Vegeta and Majin Buu-inspired colorway for Adidas’ Oregon Ultra Tech and Kamanda models. The final release will feature a Shenron/Super Shenron-inspired set of sneakers, paying homage to the dragon that arises from the Dragon Balls, the show’s namesake. The collaboration introduces one of the most iconic anime franchises to the world of sport/streetwear. Never before has an anime or cartoon’s aesthetics been featured on sneakers developed by Adidas or any other large sportswear brand. The upcoming release even inspired many sneakerheads and designers to create their own unique DBZ-inspired colorways.
Dragon Ball-Z is slowly regaining its immense popularity within the world of pop culture in the last few years. Its even begun appearing in the fashion world, opening up new pathways for other future collaborations and possibly even partnerships. This just goes to show how powerful a dedicated fanbase can be, and is a prime example of the cultural intersection between Western and East Asian society.