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Is the landmark manga and starting point of the smash-hit anime losing its cultural relevancy?

With Dragon Ball’s status as one of Japan’s most successful and long-lived anime, manga, and video game series, you’d think just about everyone in the country would have read and enjoyed the Akira Toriyama comic that was the beginning of the multi-media franchise. But a recent poll shows that, at least in manga form, Dragon Ball isn’t attracting nearly as many young fans as it did in its heyday.

The Dragon Ball manga ran from 1984 to 1995, meaning that it ended before roughly half of Japan’s current college students were even born. To see what kind of cultural impact, if any, the manga has on them, Internet portal My Navi no Madoguchi conducted a survey of 403 college students, both male and female, asking them “Have you read Dragon Ball?”

Unfortunately, the vague wording of the question somewhat muddies the results, as it doesn’t specify if the subjects should respond with “yes” or “no” if you’ve read some, but not all, of the manga’s 519 chapters. Still, when left to their own judgement as to whether or not they’ve “read Dragon Ball,” only 64 respondents, or 15.9 percent of the pool, said that they had.

Among the remaining 84.1 percent who said they haven’t, explanations included:

“I don’t feel like getting into such a long series.”

“I read up until the middle of the story, but then I stopped buying the collected volumes.”

“I’m not interested in it because it’s old.”

“I’ve already seen the anime, so I’ve never read the manga.”

These are all valid complaints. Especially for modern otaku who are used to compact, 13-episode anime TV series, the commitment required by a story with hundreds of chapters can be intimidating and unappealing.

▼ The complete collection of Dragon Ball manga

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And while Toriyama’s art is instantly recognizable and was hugely influential during Dragon Ball’s manga serialization, its thick lines and bulkily built heroes are definitely part of an aesthetic that manga and anime have largely moved on from.

The fact that Dragon Ball is both an anime and a manga, though, cuts both ways. Among those who have read the manga, many said they got into it after enjoying the series’ animated installments and licensed video games. Other reasons included:

“I wanted to check it out because it’s a famous series.”

“When I was a kid, my older brother was into it and we read it together.”

“They have the whole series at the barber shop I go to, so I read it when I went in for haircuts.”

Moreover, those who replied that they have read the manga gave it glowing reviews. So while Dragon Ball may not be the sort of society-wide shared pop cultural experience it was in the early ‘90s, with the potential synergy of new anime TV episodes and games being produced to this day, its manga might be poised for a comeback in popularity.

Source: My Navi Gakusei no Madoguchi/Yahoo! Japan via Hachima Kiko
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