Red Ribbon Army arc Part II
Chapters 55 – 112, Episodes 29 – 78
What are the similarities and differences between the anime and manga iterations of Dragon Ball? Renan dives deep to discover which format of Akira Toriyama’s masterpiece reigns supreme in ‘Adaptation Analysis’.
No portion of the Red Ribbon Army arc handles the balance between the Hunt for the Dragon Balls and the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai better than Goku’s assault on Muscle Tower. Upon losing Kinto’un, Goku steals a Red Ribbon airplane and flies it far enough north to Jingle Village, the only arctic environment the series would ever see. Goku’s plane freezes over, crashes, and Son is subsequently rescued by the appropriately named Snow, a young girl around Goku’s age whose father was rounded up by the Red Ribbon Army to help look for Jingle Village’s Dragon Ball.
Jingle Village is more than just a change of scenery for Goku’s adventure; it is a valuable piece of context to help express just how wide the Red Ribbon Army’s reach is. After dealing with a low scale confrontation through Silver, Goku is now fighting an entire militia that managed to overrun a village, going so far as to take Jingle’s mayor hostage. Where Pilaf was a villain, his villainy was rather thin in scope. He wanted world domination, and he genuinely sought to kill the main characters, but the execution of his role in the plot never allowed him to do more than just the basic antagonistic actions.
The Red Ribbon Army, on the other hand, is depicted as ruthless, violent, and competent in a way Pilaf never was. They are comfortable killing, and they do so without Pilaf’s shenanigans. They will take over entire villages if they need to. The organization’s motivation is implied to be world domination, but the rate they’re going at implies they might not even need a wish to accomplish their end goal. The Red Ribbon Army, as depicted by this point in the story, is a growing, looming threat that will actually challenge Goku.
In regards to the anime, it’s worth noting that filler’s structure takes a more integrated approach than in the Colonel Silver portion of the arc. Rather than dedicate entire episodes related to Muscle Tower without actually covering canonical information, filler scenes are simply spliced into the adapted material. On one hand, these additions are harmless and on the short side, lowering the risk of anime-exclusive plot inconsistencies. On the other hand, this style of filler severely breaks the pacing of the adapted material.
There is filler that legitimately does work to enhance Goku’s trek through Muscle Tower, but the majority of the anime only scenes simply involve cutaways to Snow wondering if Goku is alright. These scenes run out their welcome incredibly fast, nearly ruining what was non-stop action in the manga, though it is worth mentioning that they do serve to turn Snow into an actual character. In fact, Snow wasn’t even given a name in the manga, it was the anime staff who named her. The anime, likewise, does make good use out of the snowy setting, especially considering how Toriyama would never go on to revisit it. Shots of Jingle Village are genuinely pretty and only serve to enhance the setting.
Akira Toriyama has gone on record as saying that Muscle Tower was inspired, in part, by video games. In a more structured setting like Muscle Tower, a building divided into literal levels, Goku could rapidly fight new opponents in different settings while actively moving the plot forward. Conceptually, this is one of Toriyama’s more inspired ideas in the entire series. While this would not be the last time Dragon Ball would take inspiration from video games, it is certainly the most creative iteration of said influence. Muscle Tower genuinely does play out like a video game with Goku fighting a “boss” on each level and the layout changing from floor to floor. As a result, the structure is actually able to replicate that feeling of progression from the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai found in the shift from the quarter-finals, to the semi-finals, and finally the final.
Muscle Tower, in both the anime and the manga, is made up of six levels. Interestingly, however, in neither medium does Goku actually tackle all six levels. Upon beginning his assault on Muscle Tower, Goku immediately skips past the first level and jumps right through to the second. This makes sense coupled with the video game aesthetic Muscle Tower grounds itself in. At this point in the story, Goku not only participated in a tournament to decide the “Strongest Under the Heavens,” he made it all the way to the final round. Realistically, Goku is too strong to start at Level 1.
Even Level 2 provides little challenge for Goku, with Son effortlessly defeating the Red Ribbon infantryman stationed there. With Level 2 taking Level 1’s role as far as structure goes, it’s only natural that the first challenge in Goku’s path be one that he can overcome reliably. In regards to pacing, it is also more beneficial from a narrative perspective to gradually build up to an escalated conflict than to throw the protagonist, and by extension the audience, into an immediate do-or-die situation. By laying the groundwork, Dragon Ball can build momentum from floor-to-floor, giving Goku’s progression added impact from all angles.
Without Level 2, the proper context is left unestablished for Goku’s fight against Sergeant Metallic on Level 3. Level 1 was skippable, Level 2 failed to pose a challenge, and Level 3 comes out of nowhere to stop Goku in his tracks. While the fight itself is over and done with relatively quickly, Goku’s fight with Sergeant Metallic serves two key purposes: giving the audience a glimpse at the difficulties Goku will face in his war against the Red Ribbon Army and establishing the Red Ribbon Army’s extensive use of robots, cyborgs, and Artificial Humans.
As Metallic is a metallic lifeform, Goku cannot damage him in the way he would a human opponent like Colonel Silver or the Red Ribbon grunts he’s faced thus far. The technological sophistication under which the Red Ribbon Army operates likewise adds a dose of retro-futurism back into Dragon Ball’s aesthetic after the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai more or less put it aside in favor of a more traditional martial arts approach. Not only that, Sergeant Metallic’s nature as an Artificial Human requires Goku to use his Kamehameha as a natural part of his skill set rather than a special move tucked away for special moments, escalating the action’s scale even further.
In the manga, the fight ends shortly after Goku fires his Kamehameha at Metallic, though not on account of the technique finishing him off. Rather, Metallic pushes Goku back quite considerably before his battery depowers and Goku is given a chance to dash off to Level 4. The moment itself mostly serves as a gag, but it does show the lengths at which the Red Ribbon Army can challenge Goku. After his brief, and uneventful, fight with Colonel Silver, Metallic raises the stakes an appropriate degree, inflicting a series of heavy blows on Goku, scaling back on the clean victories the series has been comfortably giving Son up to this point.
While the broad strokes are the same, the anime takes a slightly different approach in regards to the fight’s conclusion. Rather than ending a few beats after Goku blows Metallic’s head off with the Kamehameha, he finds himself still struggling to keep up with the decaying Metallic. Although the fight is extended primarily for padding purposes, Metallic’s added screen time only reinforces how formidable the Red Ribbon Army can be along with providing Goku a chance to use his Nyoibo again, his signature weapon which received no use in the previous arc and would begin to be phased out over the course of the next few arcs.
Metallic’s defeat immediately transitions into Goku squaring off against Murasaki on Level 4. Where the fight against Metallic showed the brute force the Red Ribbon Army was capable of, Goku’s fight with Murasaki begins to establish the eccentricities within the Red Ribbon Army. This demonstrates that while Dragon Ball is gearing itself up for more dramatic storytelling, the series is still rooted in a comedic background. The story is capable of taking itself seriously, but Toriyama is clearly not ready to abandon gags altogether quite yet.
As a result, Goku’s fight with Murasaki is nowhere near as dire as his fight with Metallic was. That said, Murasaki provides a challenge in a much different way: through skill. Of course, must of the humor in the fight is the sheer ineptitude at which Murasaki fails to kill Goku, but it is clear, outside the context of Goku, that Murasaki would prove to be a challenge to just about anyone else. Goku is simply so obtuse and naive that Murasaki’s deceptions never pay off in the right way. Going off Toriyama’s video game structure for Muscle Tower, it does make sense to de-escalate from a difficult “boss.”
With this in mind, however, Goku’s fight against Murasaki perhaps leans too heavily into the series’ humor a bit too soon after establishing the Red Ribbon Army as a legitimate threat. Murasaki, contextually, is counterproductive to the image Toriyama is painting of the Red Ribbon Army. There was humor in Goku’s fight with Metallic, but not to the point where the latter never felt like a threat. Murasaki, on the other hand, is not a threat as the tone of his fight relies too heavily on the series’ penchant for comedy.
Where Goku was at the mercy of Sergeant Metallic, Murasaki is at the mercy of Son Goku. Despite there being nothing inherently wrong in regards to depicting Goku in a position of power, this has been his natural depiction for the majority of the series. Outside of the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai, Goku’s struggles lacked a considerable amount of weight, and, even then, only Jackie Chun really pushed Goku to his limits. Murasaki makes for a nice bit of levity after Metallic, but levity is not what Muscle Tower, or Dragon Ball, needed at this point in the story.
Fortunately, Murasaki’s low point does not last particularly long as Goku is introduced to Artificial Human No. 8 almost immediately. Deemed a failure by the Red Ribbon Army due to his gentle nature, Goku nicknames No. 8 “Hatchan,” and the two form an immediate friendship. A character like Hatchan is important not only because he gives someone for Goku to play off of, thus further characterizing him, but because the audience is given a face to associate with the victims of the Red Ribbon Army.
Although Snow serves this purpose to some extent, she isn’t even a named character in the manga. Hatchan has a name, a clear cut personality, and a defined relationship with Goku that gradually builds via the time they spend together. Hatchan is also working directly under the Red Ribbon Army, even though he does not want to, giving him an emotional conflict within the story. Hatchan as a victim of the Red Ribbon Army likewise gives Goku a personal investment in the events of Muscle Tower. As Hatchan is now his friend, Goku’s motivation shifts from simply helping Jingle Village to wanting to help free his new companion from the Red Ribbon Army’s grasps.
Of note, the anime takes a vastly different approach to the time Goku spends with Hatchan. In the manga, Goku and Hatchan immediately skip to Level 6 with Level 5 being inaccessible. They are momentarily blocked by the prospect of the maze, but, as Hatchan is already familiar with the layout, the two breeze through the challenge off-page. The anime, on the other hand, uses this opportunity to expand Goku and Hatchan’s dynamic, specifically by having the duo work together in order to solve the maze.
Cleverly, the maze filler also works as a way of getting General White involved in the Muscle Tower directly a bit earlier than he would have otherwise. In the manga, White doesn’t attempt to intercept Goku until the latter reaches the final floor. The anime has White controlling the maze’s walls, acting in direct opposition to Goku’s progression. Structurally, the maze acts as a change of pace from two straight fights. Although Metallic’s and Murasaki’s fights vary so significantly in tone and execution, they are still, at their core, action scenes. The anime’s maze adds an element of variety to Muscle Tower, serving as a brief respite before Goku’s confrontation with General White.
Apart from the maze, the greatest strength the anime version of Muscle Tower has over the manga is the mere progression of time. In the manga, Goku enters and exists Muscle Tower before the sun ever sets. The anime modifies this by slowly transitioning to nightfall. By the time Goku has defeated Buyon, rescued the mayor, and received the Dragon Ball from Hatchan, enough time has passed for the night to settle. For as simple as it is, the passage of time goes hand in hand with the feeling of constant progression within Muscle Tower, giving a visual indicator for how much time has passed alongside Goku scaling the tower.
Rather than capping off the events of Muscle Tower with a fight against General White, Goku is hastily dropped into the previously inaccessible Level 5 via a trapdoor where he faces off against the gelatinous Buyon. In a sense, the fight against Buyon mixes the best qualities of Goku’s previous match-ups in Muscle Tower. He finds himself struggling to keep up, as was the case in his fight against Metallic, and the solution to the battle necessitates a more creative approach, harking back to his fight with Murasaki.
Since Goku can not damage Buyon by conventional means, either with melee attacks or his Kamehameha, he simply breaks the fifth floor’s wall with a punch, sending ice cold air into the room and freezing Buyon. Of note, at this point in the series, Goku is incapable of firing off the Kamehameha multiple times without tiring himself out. Ki is becoming commonplace in the context of Dragon Ball, but the Red Ribbon Army still keeps it in reserve, consistently demonstrating that it cannot be used without consequence. At least for now.
In the manga, Goku’s adventure in Muscle Tower more or less ends after defeating Buyon. Upon returning to the sixth floor, General White holds the mayor hostage and is subsequently attacked by Hatchan. Throughout his few moments with Goku, Hatchan solidified himself as someone who detests violence, but, upon seeing the mayor endangered, he chooses to fight. While hardly the most complex character arc in the series, Dragon Ball’s insistence on developing even the most minor of supporting characters is one of its key strengths. Hatchan is still fundamentally a pacifist, but he will not simply allow others to be hurt if he has the means to protect them.
It is also worth noting that this in itself is a strength of the Red Ribbon Army arc. With Goku as the sole lead, Toriyama pairs him off with supporting characters for short bursts where they’re able to shine. Hatchan’s role is a minor one even in the context of the arc as a whole, but he leaves an impact on the events of Muscle Tower along with allowing this portion of the arc to gain a brief, emotional center.
The anime extends the events surrounding Muscle Tower via a filler episode involving Hatchan’s creator: Dr. Frappe. While the episode is not particularly exciting in a bubble, it does serve as a nice way to get more mileage out of Jingle Village while also expanding on Hatchan’s character. Unfortunately, the inclusion of Dr. Frappe as Hatchan’s explicit creator directly contradicts the much later reveal of Hatchan being an invention of the Cell arc’s preliminary villain, Dr. Gero.
Realistically, there was simply no way the anime staff could have predicted that Toriyama would not only follow up on Hatchan in any manner, but also expand the Red Ribbon Army’s role in the overarching narrative. At the same time, this doesn’t make the filler reveal any less careless. It is not Toei’s place to add information where Toriyama had none. As a result, and in hindsight, the anime’s version of Muscle Tower ends on a rather strange and sour note despite making valuable contributions all the way to Level 6.