There are very few anime properties which have cemented themselves within the pop culture fabric as firmly as Dragon Ball. From Japan to the US and Europe to Australia, there exists a collective experience, a generation who grew up on the adventures of Goku, Vegeta and the Z-Fighters. Despite this, many still wonder what makes the series so special and even fans can find themselves puzzled about what endears them to the characters so much. Derek Padula’s Dragon Ball Z It’s Over 9000: When Worldviews Collides seeks to present the answers to the questions by analyzing the conflicting philosophies underpinning two of the franchise’s principal characters; Goku and Vegeta.
Padula begins by offering a history of the “Over 9000” meme, its popularity, and the important role the original scene plays within the series itself. He goes on to explain how it, shockingly, became a driving force behind the marketing of many Dragon Ball products, and led to a renewed relevance for the series. While analyzing what made this meme stick in the cultural hive-mind, the topic acts as a gateway to a much more interesting discussion. Using the now-infamous meme as a starting off point, Padula takes an in-depth look at what makes the rivalry between Goku and Vegeta interesting. Both are Full-Blooded Saiyans, so what is it that drives them towards conflict? Padula rejects the notion that the answer is as simple as a battle between good and evil. In this regard, he examines how classism, spirituality and morality inform the world of Dragon Ball and how they impact the characters. What follows is a profound academic analysis of a series most assume exists solely to provide well-choreographed, albeit drawn-out, fight scenes.
What becomes apparent throughout the book is that Goku and Vegeta cannot be categorised as merely amounting to the archetypical “good guy” and “bad guy” respectively. Instead, both are incredibly complex characters in their own right. Whether it’s the hierarchical, classist upbringing that defines much of Vegeta’s worldview or Goku’s ability to see the potential of others to become more than what they seem, it’s clear that there is a lot going on under the surface. Padula argues that their rivalry is symbolic of the wider clash of idea present in competing Eastern and Western philosophies. The book places what is arguably the most famous rivalry in Shonen entertainment into a mature light linking their struggles with those found within our world.
Padula’s writing style is quite accessible and overall the book reads very well. It’s Over 9000 offers clear, well-argued analysis that sets it apart from other books of a similar vein. It doesn’t talk down to its audience or over-simplify, but neither does it complicate the ideas it discusses beyond comprehension. Moreover, this is not a case of someone reading too much into something, as each argument presented by Padula is well-supported and recognizable on an intuitive level. The author simply provides us with full-implications of that which is already hinted at. Padula is quite economical as a writer, using exactly the amount of words necessary to convey his points succinctly. Structurally speaking, the book is laid out into distinctive segments which provide for ease of reference. It is, however, fair to say that those with a familiarity with the series will get much more out of this than non-fans. That being said, Padula does a fine job at providing the necessary context for his analysis ensuring that those who have never seen the show or are a little rusty on the finer details are not excluded from the conversation.
It’s Over 9000 is proof-positive the Dragon Ball is a franchise capable of being enjoyed on many levels and holds much more depth than many would argue. Both fans and non-fans alike will gain a new appreciation for and understanding of one of the stalwarts of anime. It’s a fascinating book and one that both challenges and inspires its readers to inspire to surpass their limits. If you find yourself asking how Dragon Ball is still going strong after 30 years, It’s Over 9000: When Worldviews Collide contains the answers you seek.
For those of you interesting in picking up the book, it is currently available in both paperback and ebook format from Amazon and a hardback edition is due out in the coming weeks. We also recommend checking out Derek’s other books; Dragon Soul: 30 Years of Dragon Ball Fandom and Dragon Ball Culture.