Anime

Dragon Ball – Adaptation Analysis Part 10: Return to the Tournament

22nd Tenkaichi Budokai arc Part I

Chapters 113 – 134, Episodes 79 – 101

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’. 

Only four arcs into its run, Dragon Ball has already established the Tenkaichi Budokai as a genuine spectacle: an event all characters can look forward to under the unified desire to crown themselves “Strongest Under the Heavens.” Through the tournament format, the series is able to quickly develop characters, produce meaningful action, and expand upon the story’s themes. It is a proven structure that works both as a status quo changing event for the audience and the main characters. That said, Toriyama does not tread old ground by any means in reusing the tournament format so soon after its inception. While the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai very deliberately built up to Goku’s inevitable loss at the hands of Jackie Chun, the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai runs on no such preconceived notions, narratively or thematically.

The last story arc ended with Son Goku stronger than ever, so naturally he should come back to win the championship; at the same time, Muten Roshi is disguising himself as Jackie Chun, implying his students still need humbling, especially in light of Goku’s rapid growth; and to top it all off, the series introduces the Crane School, a group of antagonists, serving as direct rivals for the main characters, who clearly need to drive the plot of the arc for their inclusion to be justified. The concept of the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai arc is similar to that of the 21st, but its subject matter and how Toriyama approaches the plot could not be more worlds apart. Where the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai was structured on a clear foundation, the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai embraces unpredictability as a means of reconfiguring Dragon Ball.

Dragon Ball’s first three story arcs more or less saw the story continuously move from beat to beat. The Hunt for the Dragon Balls immediately transitioned into Goku training with Kame Sen’nin, which built up to the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai, which led into the Red Ribbon Army arc. While the series made use of minor time jumps prior, the shift from the end of Uranai Baba’s tournament to the start of the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai sees a three year gap, narratively distancing the new tournament from the story arcs which preceded it. Although initially jarring to skip past so much training and build up, the series’ major timeskip allows Dragon Ball to better adapt to its new tone.

Roughly halfway through the Red Ribbon Army arc, Akira Toriyama introduced Taopaipai, an assassin working on behalf of the army who kills the series’ first named character and nearly kills Goku in the process. Taopaipai’s introduction marked the first instance of genuine life or death tension for the series and, while Uranai Baba’s tournament ended the Red Ribbon Army arc on a lighthearted note, Dragon Ball had undergone a legitimate tonal shift. The series was ready to embrace darker subject matter with higher stakes, and jumping right to the 22nd Budokai keeps the story’s flow steady, skipping past ancillary details and jumping right to the heart of the action.

In skipping three years, it is not as if Dragon Ball abandons its pre-established story either. Although the narrative is no longer following one singular thread that moves from beat to beat, the plot of the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai is directly tied to that of the previous two story arcs. A former rival of Kame Sen’nin, Tsuru Sen’nin enters his two students, Tenshinhan and Chaozu, into the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai in order to assert the Crane School’s dominance over the Turtle School in light of Goku and Kuririn representing Kame Sen’nin in the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai. Not only that, Kuririn’s matchup against Chaozu in the preliminaries sees the latter using Taopaipai’s Dodonpa, connecting the assassin to Tsuru Sen’nin while giving the Crane students a reason to see Goku, Taopaipai’s murderer, killed.

The Crane School makes their first appearance in the manga, Viz translation

A considerable amount of tension looms over the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai from as early as the first match. Despite defeating Yamcha in every sense, Tenshinhan chooses to end their bout by breaking Yamcha’s leg, leaving him crippled for the remainder of the arc. The 21st Tenkaichi Budokai had a sense of drama in Muten Roshi actively trying to keep Goku and Kuririn from winning, but the sheer brutality shown by Tenshinhan in the opening match recontextualizes the tournament from a test of a martial artist’s skill to a war of attrition between the Turtle School and Crane School. Goku wants revenge on Yamcha’s behalf; Tsuru Sen’nin wants Muten Roshi’s students killed in honor of Taopaipai; and Kame Sen’nin seeks the dissolution of Tsuru Sen’nin’s school of thought by choosing to see the good in Tenshinhan.

With the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai, Dragon Ball finally begins to embrace its dramatic qualities to their fullest. Gags are still present, but nowhere near as prevalent as they once were. Humor is used as a means of levity rather than a focus of the narrative’s core writing. The heart of the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai is the redemption of Tenshinhan, the merits of Kame Sen’nin’s teachings, and the full acceptance of the next generation’s prowess. It is a story arc that ties into the series’ core themes while moving the characters forward. In terms of sheer quality, the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai sees Dragon Ball enter its prime.

In typical anime fashion, five episodes are dedicated to transitioning out of the Red Ribbon Army arc and into the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai rather than jumping straight to the tournament. Instead of creating a singular arc out of Goku’s solo training, each episode more or less serves as its own side-story to fill in the three year gap between the Red Ribbon Army arc and the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai. Structurally, Goku’s solo training adventure feels more in line with the former arc than it does the latter.

Specifically, the five episodes revolving around Goku in the three year gap see him visiting vastly different locations and meeting new people, an extension of one of the core tenets of the Red Ribbon Army arc. Aesthetically, this batch of filler does help widen the scope of Dragon Ball’s world on the anime side. Martial arts villages, a Chinese inspired dojo, a new metropolis, and even the gates of the Demon Realm serve as set pieces for Goku’s adventure. For as much good as the Red Ribbon Army arc did by showing off the diversity of Dragon Ball’s world, the manga’s worldbuilding would never see that same amount of care again. The anime expanding Dragon Ball’s geography, even just for five more episodes, is a net positive for the adaptation as a whole.

Of note, Goku’s solo training filler is used to introduce both Tenshinhan and Chaozu earlier than they otherwise would be. In the penultimate episode of the filler batch, Goku has a run in with Tenshinhan and Chaozu as they essentially swindle a village out of their money by unleashing their own monster on them, only to ask for compensation to subdue the beast. Narratively, introducing Tenshinhan early allows Goku to form an antagonistic relationship with him, giving the two history when the time comes for them to fight during the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai.

Tenshinhan tries to kill Son Goku three years ahead of schedule, Steve Simmons translation

Conceptually, this is a fine enough idea. Goku and Tenshinhan lack a defined bond up until their final match in the tournament. In recontextualizing how the two meet, there is a personal disdain from both sides leading up to 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai’s final round. Such a detail is unnecessary to the dynamic between Goku and Tenshinhan, however. What makes their final match so compelling isn’t a shared history, but how they push one another as martial artists and as people. Goku represents the fruit of Kame Sen’nin’s teaching, and Tenshinhan slowly grows to recognize that as Goku recognizes the inner good in Ten. Giving the two a personal connection is an interesting idea, but it is ultimately a contrivance which adds nothing to the actual purpose of the tournament’s final fight.

On a whole, while Goku’s solo training is mostly harmless- save for Tenshinhan’s early introduction- the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai handles filler rather poorly. In the manga, the tournament moves at an incredibly brisk pace in large part due to the supporting cast leaving after the match. Bulma, Pu’er, and Lunch all head to the hospital with Yamcha after his leg is broken. As a result, the supporting cast cannot comment on the action as they once did in the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai. Characters do still react to battles, but said commentary is mostly reserved for participants of the tournament, ensuring that each cutaway benefits the flow of the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai while keeping the focus on the arc’s main characters.

While commentary from someone like Bulma has its own merits and serves to keep her relevant in the context of Dragon Ball’s greater narrative, the structure of the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai is so intimate in nature that it only makes sense to trim the fat. At the core of the arc is a story about the Turtle School and the Crane School. There is no need to keep the supporting cast present, and having them all leave with Yamcha adds further weight to Tenshinhan breaking his leg. There are real consequences to Ten’s actions, conveying to the audience that Goku, Kuririn, and even Muten Roshi are in legitimate danger.

Not wanting to commit to a smaller cast, the anime breaks up the structure of the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai in order to keep the supporting characters as involved as possible. Rather than taking place over the course of a single day, the tournament is stretched out over the course of four days. In theory alone, this is enough to throw off the pacing of the arc entirely. Instead of fights weaving in and out of each other, the tournament takes frequent breaks to allow the cast to decompress and converse with one another. This is not an arc that needs decompression or frequent levity, however.

In splitting up the action so haphazardly, the anime’s adaptation of the arc lacks a clear flow or structure. Tournament days are split up seemingly at random, and the non-battle interactions only serve to detract from the arc’s overall quality. Their only benefit is to show just how much of a spectacle even the Tenkaichi Budokai is in the context of Dragon Ball, but even that is too unimportant to actually justify the frequency at which filler material litters the story arc. What makes the source material work so well is just how little time Toriyama wastes. Every line has context; every panel has purpose; and every fight has meaning. The same cannot be said for the anime.

Tenshinhan and Yamcha build up to their match, Viz translation

Take the first match of the tournament for instance. Through the preliminaries, the manga actively builds the idea of a rivalry between Tenshinhan and Yamcha, with the former specifically believing the latter to be Kame Sen’nin’s star pupil. When it comes time for the two to fight, Yamcha even manages to impress Ten with an improved version of the Rogafufu-Ken. Yamcha even becomes the third character to use the Kamehameha, but the the fight quickly sees Tenshinhan deflecting the blast and beating Yamcha into submission. When Ten breaks Yamcha’s leg, there’s an impact to Goku rushing over to his unconscious body and the supporting cast in turn leaving. As big of a moment this is, though, the tournament does not stop on Yamcha’s behalf. This was only the first fight of the tournament and, although Tenshinhan was far more violent than he needed to be, the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai progresses as intended.

Yamcha’s defeat in the anime serves as a stopping point for filler. In a sense, this does allow Yamcha’s defeat to simmer as its own moment, but it is at the expense of the pacing of the arc. What gives his defeat impact is the urgency at which Goku rushes over and the supporting cast abandons the tournament. There is no need for deeper reflection as the direct aftermath says everything that needs to be said in one succinct beat while immediately transitioning into the next match of the tournament. Stopping the tournament after Yamcha breaks his leg actually detracts from the moment’s weight as Tenshinhan’s brutality is no longer depicted as so morbidly casual.

This is not to say the anime does an entirely poor job at adapting the tournament, however. Yamcha and Ten’s fight is actually handled exceptionally well, particularly through the use of Wolf Hurricane, an insert song all about Yamcha which plays over the first minute and a half of the match. Wolf Hurricane actually gives the impression that Yamcha can win regardless of how narratively out of place a victory over Tenshinhan this early would be. What best defines the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai from other tournaments in the series is just how equal the main characters seem in power. Each match gives the impression that anyone could logically win, and Wolf Hurricane scoring the first fight brings that concept to life so fully that it’s easy to forget that Dragon Ball is first and foremost telling a story.

As far as adapted material goes, the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai does great justice to the source material. The pacing is hurt considerably due to all the filler, but the actual matches come to life terrifically. Yamcha versus Tenshinhan is inarguably better in the anime than in the manga due to just how much Wolf Hurricane ends up benefiting the fight. With that in mind, all the filler is actually quite sad as the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai could very easily have ended up the best adapted arc in the series had the anime simply not chose to divert from the manga’s structure so radically.

Following Tenshinhan’s complete domination of Yamcha is a gag fight between Jackie Chun and Man-Wolf. Angry at Chun for destroying the moon in the last tournament, Man-Wolf wants revenge as he can no longer turn into a man during the full moon which means he can no longer go out on dates. As Jackie Chun participated in three rather serious fights in the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai, it does make sense to pair him off with a gag character, especially since he is no longer serving as a totem pole for how strong each character is. Placing Chun and Man-Wolf in the second fight likewise allows for a brief moment of humor after Yamcha’s defeat at the hands of Tenshinhan and before Kuririn’s fight with Chaozu, at least in regards to the manga which takes no breaks during the course of the tournament.

Man-Wolf yells at Jackie Chun, Steve Simmons translation

Where the first fight sets a tone for the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai, and the second acts as a decompressor following Ten’s brutality, the third and fourth matches of the quarter-finals serve to circle back to the theme of the next generation. Although Muten Roshi initially entered the tournament so not to lose to his pupils, he quickly comes to see and accept just how much Goku and Kuririn have grown as martial artists. Likewise, Kame Sen’nin sees potential in Tenshinhan, recognizing not only the Turtle School as pioneers for the next generation of martial arts, but the Crane School as well.

Kuririn’s match against Chaozu has one particular moment where Kame Sen’nin fears for his student’s life as he plans to fire an improvised Kamehameha at his opponent. To his surprise, Kuririn pulls the attack off while also nearly knocking Chaozu out of bounds, demonstrating just how much Kuririn has progressed as a martial artist. The fight itself adds a layer of urgency back to the tournament as Goku reveals himself as Taopaipai’s killer, prompting Tsuru Sen’nin to command Chaozu to murder Kuririn. Although the second half of the fight does have a comical edge, with Kuririn outsmarting Chaozu with basic math problems, it does work to show off Kuririn’s resourcefulness.

Despite losing his only match in Uranai Baba’s tournament, Kuririn devises an elaborate plan in order to allow Yamcha to win his fight against Suke-san. This level of on the fly critical thinking comes back in his match against Chaozu when he realizes that he needs to lower his opponent’s hands somehow in order to break free from his paralysis. Kuririn is placed into an absurd situation, but it’s one that feels properly Dragon Ball while also giving the character a chance to shine intellectually. The first half of the battle showed how strong Kuririn had become, and the second showed how quick witted he had become. Considering how versatile Kame Sen’nin’s training was, it is only natural that his pupils demonstrate an equal mix of strength and ingenuity. Muten Roshi even specifically comments on Kuririn’s growth after he knocks Chaozu out through strategy, and not raw power.

Goku’s match against Panpoot follows a similar trajectory, with a demonstration of strength and skill. Interestingly, the anime plays around with the context of the match by greatly expanding Panpoot’s character and status as a celebrity martial artist. The filler ultimately amounts to very little as the end result is more or less the same, but this does allow the anime to mask just how similar Panpoot’s role in the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai is compared to Chappa-o’s prior to the tournament’s actual start.

In the preliminaries, Goku faces off against Chappa-o, a legendary martial artist said to have won his fair share of non Tenkaichi Budokai competitions. Goku makes quick work of his opponent, however, showing off just how powerful he’s become. When Goku faces off against Panpoot, he takes out his fellow combatant in a single panel, seemingly once again showing just how strong Goku has become. While these two events are undeniably comparable in every sense, they do actually serve two different purposes regardless of medium.

Goku’s victory over Chappa-o is legitimately a show of his growth. Goku is so powerful that he can take out a renowned martial artists even when admittedly holding back. Goku’s victory over Panpoot has explicit thematic context, however, while also sharing similarities to Kuririn’s defeat of Chaozu. Although it appears that Goku takes out Panpoot with one single blow, Tenshinhan quickly notes how Goku parried his opponent’s attack with his right hand in order to rapidly elbow him with his left. It is a mix of skill and strength which allows Goku to earn such a clean win over Panpoot. The two victories are undeniably comparable, but the latter has thematic weight that goes on to infer the next match.

As Jackie Chun steps up to face Tenshinhan in the semi-finals, he recognizes the dawn of a new era. Goku and Kuririn have progressed considerably as martial artists, relying not just on power alone. The two pupils demonstrate their skills in little, yet meaningful, ways. Even Yamcha, who suffered a brutal defeat at the hands of Tenshinhan, managed to refine his Rogafufu-Ken and fire a Kamehameha at Ten. Tenshinhan and Chaozu act as antitheses to the Turtle School’s philosophy, but are members of the next generation nonetheless. One thing is clear as Jackie Chun steps up to fight Tenshinhan: Dragon Ball is on the cusp of the next generation of martial arts.

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