Why is Dragon Ball so beautiful? There are a lot of reasons. Read and find out!
This is the first guest post published on The Dao of Dragon Ball.
It is written by Tillamizu (Davide della Via). He is an Italian professional freelance comic and book editor, and fellow Dragon Ball expert.
His articles and videos about Dragon Ball focus on its curiosities, Japanese linguistics, and graphic novel semiotics and syntax.
What follows is an English translation and summary of the first part of Tillamizu’s presentation delivered in 2017 during a Dragon Ball panel at the Lucca Comics & Games convention in Italy, later posted on his blog as an article.
– If you’d like to write an article for my site, please contact me with your idea.
Derek has often told us about Dragon Ball’s positive messages, the value of working hard, friendship, and its many cultural connections.
But Dragon Ball’s visual beauty is another big reason.
In fact, this might be the first reason you became a fan. The first time you saw the Dragon Ball manga or anime, you were immediately fascinated by its appearance.
In this article we will explore the reasons behind Dragon Ball’s beauty.
What you’ll learn will enrich your appreciation of Dragon Ball.
Akira Toriyama’s Art Style in Dragon Ball
First of all, Akira Toriyama’s art style is personal, original, and recognizable.
Toriyama’s drawing style was influenced by the manga author Osamu Tezuka’s, and several of Disney’s films, such as 101 Dalmatians.
But even though these famous works influenced his style, it remains easy for you to distinguish Goku and other Dragon Ball characters from countless other comic book characters.
Toriyama is unique.
His distinctive style is often seen as a quality, as something “beautiful.”
Secondly, to draw Dragon Ball, Toriyama used a synthetic type of ligne claire art style.
Ligne claire is a French term for an art style that emphasizes strong and divisive lines, minimal blending, and simple shading.
This gives Toriyama’s drawings a clean and clear appearance, which are two characteristics that fans love.
Indeed, what do we see in Dragon Ball? We see there are no spots, heavy hatch marks, or complicated gradations.
This clean and clear appearance is also possible thanks to Dragon Ball being drawn in black and white.
The absence of other colors makes our eyes focus on the characters, who, with their black-tinted elements, detach themselves from the predominantly white backgrounds.
This simplicity and focus makes the narrative easier to understand.
Light Art Style
Toriyama’s art style has another quality: a light ‘visual weight.’
When our mind sees drawings in Dragon Ball, it has less difficulty interpreting them.
Drawings are signs to which we give a meaning.
The fewer superfluous details there are, the less we struggle to interpret them.
Look at the following comparison:
On the left is an uncolored page of Ténèbres (2009, Soleil Productions); on the right a page from Dragon Ball.
As you can see, Ténèbres’ page is visually heavy. There are more lines and details that our mind has to interpret.
At a small image size it becomes difficult to interpret what is going on, while Dragon Ball remains easy to interpret.
Moreover, in Dragon Ball, the scarcity of screentones (the grey pattern sections), and a sparing use of black contributes to making Toriyama’s drawing feel light.
In fact, black and grey are two colors that our eyes feel as heavier than white, and they are less predominant in Dragon Ball’s pages.
Faces and Expressions
An additional “beautiful” feature of Toriyama’s art style is its great communicability.
This is revealed in the intuitiveness of the characters’ faces and their expressiveness.
Notice the difference in the shape of Goku and Vegeta’s eyes? The simple geometric shapes give us an intuitive understanding of how these characters view the world.
How can a shape tell us anything?
Because each shape can have a meaning associated with it.
Squares and straight lines are rigid and hard, and associated with mean guys.
Circles are soft and flowing, and associated with nice guys.
So it should not be surprising when you look at Vegeta’s sharp eyes that Toriyama also gave Vegeta a closed-off personality compared to Goku’s, whose eyes are round and open.
Expression and Meaning
Toriyama’s drawings are so expressive because they are close to, “the area of meaning on the Picture Plane.”
In the Picture Plane, “Reality” is on the left (with detailed realism in drawings), and “Meaning” is on the right (with a cartoon style).
Paraphrasing the illustrious cartoonist Scott McCloud, ‘the more the drawing of a character is in a cartoon style, the easier it is for them to be communicative,’ in other words, to communicate an emotion or meaning.
To clarify, a cartoon style is a style that is synthetic, caricatural, and grotesque. It does not only mean Western cartoons such as The Jetsons (1962) or Johnny Bravo (1995).
Dragon Ball is illustrated in a cartoon style.
To understand this concept of communicability, look at the following image:
We see the drawings of two smiling faces.
On the left is a realistic drawing by (Charcoal Pencil Art). On the right is a drawing in a cartoon style of the character Luffy, from the popular anime and manga One Piece (1997).
Remember that in reality these drawings are not faces, they are only “symbols” to which we give a meaning.
What is their meaning? Their meaning is that of two human faces that express the emotion of happiness with a smile.
Both images convey the same meaning, but the cartoon one is able to communicate it better, or at least more easily.
When a drawing lacks details attributable to reality—such as a nose that looks real—our mind can instead focus on its eyes and mouth.
These are the two elements that make us understand in a split-second that we are looking at a smiling human face.
We only need to see two dots for the eyes and a curved line for the mouth for our brains to say that ‘this is a smiling human face,’ because those are the basic elements.
You don’t even need the circle they are contained in. A colon and parenthesis will suffice, such as when writing a smiley face emoji:
This simplicity and focus on the most important elements allows the meaning of ‘smiling face’ to be emphasized and made more evident to the viewer.
Exaggeration and Meaning
Another factor that aids emotion and understanding is the exaggeration of a cartoon character’s anatomy.
We see it in the above image of Luffy with his wide-open eyes and huge smile.
How does this happen?
Since the eyes and mouth are closely connected to the emotions that the human face can express, the exaggeration of their form corresponds to an exaggeration of its meaning and to the overall image.
This is one of the primary strengths of a cartoon style compared to a more realistic style.
Identification and Self
A further wonderful characteristic of a cartoon style is its identification and universality with every human being.
To paraphrase McCloud again, ‘a cartoon character works as if it were an avatar that we readers can identify with.’
We are able to identify ourselves better with a cartoon character than with a realistic character because we do not see the face of another person in the image.
In the more cartoony style on the right, instead of seeing a ‘different human being,’ we see a ‘person,’ and that person is more relatable to us.
Speaking about Dragon Ball in general, its cartoon style is neither Chinese, nor European, nor African.
Goku does not appear to be a Japanese man with stereotypical almond-shaped eyes, nor a caucasian European with a stereotypical large nose.
Goku being drawn in a cartoon style facilitates this process of identification on a global level.
An American can feel like they relate to Goku, and an African, Chinese, and Brazilian person can do the same.
And this is (too) beautiful.
Dragon Ball’s content is important, but so is its appearance.
It is also thanks to these visual characteristics that Dragon Ball has been successful across the world.
Dragon Ball is fun, exciting, and interesting, but it is beautiful to look at as well.
This is why it is a work of love at first sight!
I want to thank Derek for publishing my guest post on his blog.
Excuse me, his BEAUTIFUL Blog!
The Dao of Dragon Ball is an impressive and singular resource, a must-follow site for anyone in any nation that calls themselves ‘a True Dragon Ball Fan.’
And that’s because Derek is a True Dragon Ball Fan. He always provides us with such jaw-dropping cultural and editorial information!
That’s why it’s an honor for me to be featured here.
I hope the article was interesting for you.
As Goku often says, “Sankyū, mata na!” (サンキュー、 またな, “Thank you, and see ya’!”)
– Original Italian article (sources at the bottom).
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Legal Disclaimer: The Dragon Ball content used in this article belongs to its respective owners: Akira Toriyama, Toyotarō, Shueisha, and Toei Animation. No parts of this article can be reposted in any form or media without a written authorization. Small quotes are allowed, in accordance with the law.