The Shonen Jump Revolution of 1986

A couple years ago I gave a panel with this very title, and I am trademarking it (LOL). I thought to myself why not include a paired down version here at CAM. 1986 was a landmark year for the shonen fighting genre and while it was not invented in that particular year, it without question rose to an elite status that garners even today a place at the top of the popularity polls in terms of genre. Three titles would cement this stature and rocket Shonen Jump from one of Japan’s top manga publishers into a brand that for many define what anime means for them.

The original panel covered a cross section of Shonen Jump material from the 1980s as padding to surround the eclipse point of 1986. I had to fill an hour and this also showed that Shonen Jump is far more than fighting anime alone. Titles as diverse as Baoh, Captain Tsubasa, Cat’s Eye, Dr. Slump, Kimagure Orange Road and more would be included bringing curiosity, laughter and smiles to the approximate crowd of 25 in the room. But the main focus of anticipation would be the holy trinity of 1986 and when I got to that particular year all ear perked up. Luckily for your I left hints in the header image… spoiler alert!

First on our list is a film… an adaptation of a 1984 TV series that is often considered the “Father of the Shonen Fighter.” Who’s your daddy? … Kenshiro … Good answer! Fist of the North StarHokuto no Ken… the ultimate struggle of good vs. evil, power vs. restraint and ying and yang with enough muscle and martial arts to satisfy a healthy diet of action. (For more indepth analysis click here.)

Next comes my unabashed favorite… very heavy bias, but I will spare the details on that. Any other Saint Seiya fans out there? A show based loosely on Greek Mythological themes with aspects of astrological significations, no wonder I am in love with this show. I was heard a description of Saint Seiya that went like this… “It’s like pretty boys in armor fighting while galaxies explode in the background.” Yeah, I can vouch for that. (For more indepth analysis click here.)

And the finale, one of the most popular anime titles of all time that still continues today. The original Dragon Ball, long before Z, is perhaps the prototypical, most influential Shonen Jump fighting series of all time. As a loose adaptation of the traditional Chinese story of The Journey to the West, Dragon Ball would add Akira Toriyama’s humor to create an unexpected ‘Heroes Journey’ narrative that stretched the bounds of adventure, comedy and one’s imagination. (For more indepth analysis click here.)

This of course is a theory, my own personal opinion, and if your view varies that is ok, but one cannot deny that 1986 can be considered an important step in the evolution of the shonen fighting genre’s popularity. For many years mecha was the king of hill in terms of shonen adventures, unchallenged and towering in strength. Then came 1986. Ask a majority of casual, hardcore, or even non-fans of anime about our love of Japanese cartoons and Shonen Jump anime adaptations often comes up in conversation. Shonen Jump anime is as much part of the zeitgeist of the landscape as much as Studio Ghibli, Pokemon, or whatever else is in fashion at the time. And it is to Fist of the North Star, Saint Seiya and Dragon Ball that we have to thank for not so much laying the ground work, but solidifying the foundation.

#42 : Dragon Ball

Besides Pokemon and Studio Ghibli, Dragon Ball could be considered the ‘franchise’ in anime that equates a license to print money. Even me mentioning it here made Dragon Ball another $25… just because. Dragon Ball Z in particular cannot die if it tried and there were moments that Akira Toriyama tried to make it happen and FAILED! But I never got into all the testosterone over the top fighting of that series, which made me look at the original Dragon Ball for years as a passover. But, in due time I thought to myself, give that original a chance. Many folks say it is a gem of comedic action. So I purchased those blue Funimation boxes… and I must say I really… liked it. Who would have thought it.

DB1Seriously as repetitive and repetitive and repetitive it was, it was a good show. Did I mention it was repetitive because I will mention it again so watch out! Hot off the success of Dr. Slump and Arale-chan, Akira Toriyama thought he should make a rendition of the traditional tale of The Journey to the West mixed with his humor and splashes of 80s sci-fi. And it paid off… BIG TIME! Although to me the show goes something like this… our heroes go and look for the dragon balls, they collect them and make a wish and then we have a martial arts tournament and then we look for dragon balls again, collect them all and make a wish and then have another martial arts tournament. Over and over again with the final tournament taking place a few years later. Repetitive indeed, but entertaining even more so.

DB2A classmate of the 1986 season that along with it’s Shonen Jump brother Saint Seiya would bring about the revolution of what shonen, or more precisely fighting, anime would become. Heavy sci-fi and mecha began to wane and the super hero in the making journey of a hero who would have a number of adversaries became the new standard. The fighting genre though not born in 1986 became the defacto standard and it is because of Dragon Ball that the damn broke open wide to flood us with a multitude of popular series. Rurouni Kenshin, Naruto, One Piece, etc. all owe a debt to Dragon Ball. But, don’t forget ‘uncle’ Fist of the North Star as well and brother Saint Seiya (because I love Saint Seiya so I have to mention it again). But in terms of influence and staying power, Dragon Ball takes the cake.

DB3And what of our hero? Little Son Goku, the ever innocent feral child who is well… kind of adorable. I mean this kid is like the goofy clueless little brother I wish I had. And it is from Goku’s naivety that we get some of the best humor. The first arc of the series, which introduces a majority of the main cast family is a much watch. If you can’t commit to the whole series, give the first 13 episodes a go if you have yet to see Dragon Ball. If this would have been the series in and of itself it would be perfect. Kind of like an OVA, but as this was a TV series and a popular one at that it would keep going and going and again we get back to that old word… repetition. Make the formula and tweak it ever so slightly each time you have to repeat and you get a journey that could possibly never end.

DB4And eventually this original series did end, albeit  a few years later with the cast all grown up. Oh the end of childhood. After all we had to make way for the further adventures of Dragon Ball Z. So then I look back and think what were my favorite moments? Many abound such as Goku climbing to the sky to train with Korin, watching Emporer Pilaf bumble up again and again a lot like G.I. Joe’s Cobra Commander, the world’s most comfortable pair of underwear, watching Tien Shinhan turn from hard corp baddie into one of the most honorable characters, or Goku wondering why Bulma does not have a tail or ‘balls’. But then there was that visit to the Penguin Village where Arale-Chan lives. I may not want to dive into Dragon Ball Z, but Dr. Slump (which I mentioned earlier) is extremely tempting.

I must say, yes, I am a convert. Even that theme song is so catchy. And like in any proper fighting anime I have to get back to training, which for me is watching more stuff, or pulling what I can from memory. So the big question I have for all you… if you had all seven dragon balls, what would you wish for?