Goku Day: Celebrating nearly 40 years of Dragon Ball (2024)

Goku Day: Celebrating nearly 40 years of Dragon Ball (1)

Ang Qing and Bryandt Lyn

Updated

May 09, 2024, 11:28 AM

Published

May 09, 2024, 05:00 AM

SINGAPORE – May 9 marks the first time Goku Day, named after the hero of Japanese action-adventure comic Dragon Ball, is celebrated without the franchise’s creator Akira Toriyama. The Japanese artist died two months ago at the age of 68.

In honour of his legacy, here’s a look at the meteoric impact of Dragon Ball for its 40th anniversary.

Dragon Ball hit Japan’s shelves in manga anthology Weekly Shonen Jump in 1984, and captured the imaginations of thousands who still harbour fond memories of the comics decades later.

The serial comic followed the adventures of hero Son Goku, who was trained by his grandfather to fight.

He joined city girl Bulma on her quest to find seven orbs known as the Dragon Balls, which could grant a wish once they were united. Along the way, they encountered other characters also seeking the spheres.

Across 519 chapters, Goku triumphed over many obstacles and faced ever-stronger adversaries.

Goku Day: Celebrating nearly 40 years of Dragon Ball (2)

When Dragon Ball concluded after more than a decade, Goku had mastered various martial arts, defended Earth against villains, befriended many and became a father.

Fans of the series celebrate the protagonist on May 9, which has been certified as an anniversary and registered with the Japanese Anniversary Association, according to the official Dragon Ball website.

It is celebrated as Goku Day, as the “5” and “9” in the written date can be read as “Go” and “Ku” in Japanese.

Origins

The series was conceptualised by Toriyama, who quit his job as a graphic designer and stumbled onto the career of a manga artist at the age of 23 after entering a comic contest for the prize money.

Two years after debuting in 1978, the artist found success with his first hit comic Dr Slump.

As Dr Slump ended, Toriyama was advised by his editor to create a gongfu-themed comic for boys, based on the artist’s love of action movies starring Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan.

Dragon Ball’s biggest inspiration was the Chinese classic Journey To The West, featuring the monkey god Sun Wukong that the monkey-tailed Goku is modelled after.

Toriyama had initially planned for Dragon Ball to be a closer adaptation of the novel, but revised the characters after receiving a lacklustre response from his wife and others.

What emerged was an epic that incorporated his speciality of combining elements from different genres, such as science fiction and comedy.

Success at home and beyond

By the end of the comic’s run in 1995, Toriyama had released 42 volumes of Dragon Ball and two anime television series.

In the late 1990s, Dragon Ball Z, which followed an adult Goku, found commercial success in America.

The show and its spin-offs have mostly remained on air there ever since.

In 2018, several cities across Latin America held watch parties for the last few episodes of the first season of Dragon Ball Super.

In the Mexican city of Juarez, town mayor Armando Cabada had to negotiate with the franchise’s distributor to allow a public screening of the season’s penultimate episode, which attracted an estimated 15,000 people.

Nearly 40 years since the media franchise kicked off, it has grown into an empire comprising five television series, 21 animated films, over 150 games and more.

More than 260 million copies of the manga have been sold worldwide, according topublisher Shueisha.

Tributes worldwide

Toriyama’s death on March 1 – from an acute subdural hematoma, a type of bleeding near the brain – triggered shock and sadness from fans worldwide.

Among those who penned tributes were French President Emmanuel Macron, Brazilian Vice-President Geraldo Alckmin, and the foreign ministries of China and El Salvador.

Enduring legacy

Dragon Ball has inspired many to become authors of their own comics, including the creators of the three most popular Shonen Jump manga of the 2000s: One Piece, Naruto and Bleach.

The series has also influenced a generation of hip-hop artistes, including American stars Childish Gambino and Chance the Rapper, whose lyrics are sprinkled with references to Dragon Ball’s characters and their signature moves.

Also among its fans are athletes like American football and basketball players, who have drawn parallels between their sports and the work’s themes of resilience and self-improvement.

Internet culture

Toriyama’s tropes have left their mark on the internet through memes and lingo immortalising quotes such as “Over 9,000!”, which describes a stupendous quantity.

Another phrase, “going Super Saiyan”, which has been referenced in several raps, means something overwhelming.

Theme park

In March, Saudi Arabia announced plans to build the world’s only Dragon Ball theme park. The attraction will span more than 500,000 sq m, and will feature rides and areas that recreate locales from the series.

No completion date has been given yet.

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Successor

Dragon Ball Super illustrator Toyotarou, who goes by one name, has been chosen by Toriyama to take up his mantle of drawing Dragon Ball.

The former television director is a self-taught artist who started drawing Dragon Ball-related comics by creating his spin-off based on one of the franchise’s video games.

New series

Fans can look forward to the next entry of the Dragon Ball series, Dragon Ball Daima, later in 2024.

Daima is the last Dragon Ball anime series in which Toriyama had a direct hand.

Iconic moves

Kamehameha

Goku Day: Celebrating nearly 40 years of Dragon Ball (3)

Translated as “Turtle Destruction Wave”, this technique involves concentrating ki energy into cupped hands and releasing it as a powerful beam.

Spirit bomb

Goku Day: Celebrating nearly 40 years of Dragon Ball (4)

This stance, most famously tied to Goku, gathers energy from the universe to unleash a devastating attack.

In Mexico and Argentina, hundreds gathered at a fan event to mourn Toriyama by making “spirit bomb” gestures.

Fusion dance

Goku Day: Celebrating nearly 40 years of Dragon Ball (5)

The fusion dance is a short series of poses performed by two individuals to create a single superior entity.

Many personalities, both fictional and real, have imitated the dance, including characters in popular American cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005 to 2008).

Dragon Ball fans can cut out a poster of this article celebrating the franchise in the May 9 edition of Life in The Straits Times. Fly high, Toriyama-sensei.

Correction note: This story has been amended for clarity.

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