Many fans rejoiced when it was announced that Dragon Ball will have another series in 2015. This was after the successful run of the movie Dragon Ball: Battle of the Gods. Dragon Ball Super is essentially a re-telling of the movie giving more space for longer story telling due to it being an episodic series. The story fills a gap in the anime and manga timeline which is the period after the defeat of Majin Buu. The latest series is probably a great reminder of how Dragon Ball once was with some of the most popular characters, humorous scenes and over-the-top action coming back to our screens one more time. Of course, it wouldn't be Dragon Ball without the actual dragons and dragon balls. For longtime fans and those new to the series alike, one can't help but wonder what is the big deal about dragons? What makes them special? What about the dragon balls?
Mythology and Culture of the Dragon
All around the world, the dragon has been revered as one of the fiercest and deadliest creatures in mythology. It's interesting how almost every culture has their references towards dragons despite not necessarily being connected like we are today in the modern world. It makes you think about the possibility of dragons actually existing in the past. There is a stark difference however between the image of dragons in Western and Eastern cultures. Dragons in European myths often have large bodies with arms, legs and wings. These dragons can breathe fire and dwell in caves or castles consumed by their greed for treasure. They are also often associated with medieval times which are the reason why a lot of medieval fantasy stories have dragons in them. It is a different story for the orient as dragons there are often depicted as more serpent-like beings. They are mainly described as wingless, snake-like creatures that fly or dwell in waters. Asian dragons share many common features, such as clawed feet, antler-like horns and long catfish-like barbs. Dragons in eastern culture are often seen as deities, beings of power, and omens of good or evil. Dragons of the latter category fit in to how dragons are represented in Dragon Ball.
Dragons in Japan were heavily influenced by the Chinese dragon whose image also spread in countries like Korea and India. A lot of stories and historical texts in Japan talk about leaders and emperors encountering dragons or being descendants of dragons. They are often seen as water deities, and images and statues of dragons are often found in temples around the country.
Significance of the Dragon Balls
The dragon balls are small circular crystalline orange spheres that summon the great eternal dragon Shenron when gathered together. The dragon balls are significantly difficult to find even with technology. Each sphere is marked by a varying number of stars, between one and seven, and there are seven total that need to be gathered. The dragon balls become a central recurring theme of each arc in the series as the dragon Shenron has the capability to grant the summoner's wish. This makes them a good motivator for both the protagonists and antagonists of the series. This is especially true because Shenron, despite his sentience, grants wishes based on how the user sees the image of his/her wish. This is in contrast to the common theme of deities being fickle and giving wishes with drawbacks. The dragon balls are often used as a reset button and the most common wishes used in the series are the restoration of youth and the revival of people who are dead. After granting the wish, Shenron disappears and the dragon balls are scattered once again around Earth.
The shorter length of Dragon Ball Super meant that there would be no part in the story where the protagonists have to find the dragon balls. This is a departure from the normal formula of past story arcs. There are some other sets of dragon balls in the universe, and they are considered Namekian (from the planet/race Namek) in origin. Other dragon balls summon other dragons, and earth's dragon balls are significantly smaller than others.
Like most of the Dragon Ball series we've had over the years, the appearance of the dragon balls and the dragon Shenron is short but very significant. In Dragon Ball Super, Shenron gives Son Gokuu and his friends the advice needed to unlock an amazing power. It was interesting and humorous however as it was probably the first time that the mighty dragon Shenron was seen afraid and sweating.
Other Draconian References
In other series, other dragons appear before the protagonists. There is even an arc in the story where they actually have to fight a dragon turned evil. In Dragon Ball Super, divine power was actually marked by an image of a dragon, signifying how revered the image is in the series and in the actual mindset of the creators as well.
If you are a fan of not only Dragon Ball but dragons as well, then you're not alone. Dragons have been depicted in a lot of mainstream media like movies, TV shows, anime series, manga, video games etc. It's great that Dragon Ball Super gives us a chance to look back at the series that probably influenced a lot of popular anime shows we have today. You never know, there might be a new dragon-themed story around the corner just waiting to happen.