Seiji’s warm and fuzzy childhood memories are dampened by the sudden realization that Bulma’s actually more than a little bit crazy.
For those readers who haven’t yet met our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa through his epic saga to find a girlfriend, please make your acquaintance now. Seiji also happens to be a lover of anime, and when he recently decided to rewatch one of his favorite childhood series as a 36-year-old, his newfound interpretation of the events didn’t quite jibe with his wholesome memories. Take it away, Seiji.
There may never be another work that surpasses Dragon Ball. On top of its great sense of adventure, rivalries, battles, and dozens of special techniques that are just itching to be copied, it’s packed with dreams that make children’s hearts race in excitement. I’d even felt some pangs of romance towards female protagonist Bulma back in the day.
In my memories, I always thought that Bulma was an ideal heroine since the story’s beginning. However, upon recently rewatching episode 1 of Dragon Ball as a 36-year-old adult, it’s now dawned on me that Bulma was actually a full-fledged jerk.
▼ The romanticized (and decidedly less crazy) version of Bulma as seen in Dragon Ball‘s first ending theme
On September 9, Weekly Shonen Jump’s 50th Anniversary Official YouTube Channel posted the first episode of Dragon Ball for free. The channel is in the midst of posting episodes from around 80 classic Shonen Jump titles ranging from old-school series to modern masterpieces with limited time availability, renewing the video lineup on weekday mornings. Up until now, they had posted episodes from hits such as High School! Kimengumi, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Kinnikuman among others, and now it was finally Dragon Ball‘s turn. I eagerly tuned in.
If it’s been some time for you as well, recall that young Goku is introduced as living by himself in the mountainous wilderness. Bulma, chasing the signal of a dragon ball on her radar, next appears racing in her car. The two meet when she promptly runs him over. On the one hand I thought “How nostalgic,” but on the other hand, seeing it again as a 36-year-old, I realized that Bulma’s actually a big jerk in this moment of encounter.
OK, let’s break the scene down. First of all, Goku was just minding his own business and walking down the road. Bulma is driving at a reckless speed where she couldn’t even avoid hitting him if she tried–and in the middle of the mountains to top it off. The car drifts when she slams on the brakes, which sends Goku flying several meters. It’s a completely dangerous and irresponsible sequence of events. Then, after Goku stands up seemingly uninjured, she blurts out in surprise, “He’s alive!” in a voice totally unbecoming of someone who just ran another person over.
When Goku starts prodding the car angrily, she whips out and fires a gun at him with no hesitation. Even in America, they’d probably wait a moment before firing, right? After shooting she remarks, “Why won’t he die!?”, which makes me wonder–was she seriously OK with trying to kill a young boy?
▼ “Why won’t he die!?” in the original manga panels
To an impartial observer, Bulma is a young woman who just ran over a kid, shot at him, and is acting like it’s not a big deal at all. That’s definitely psychopathic behavior. Even after that whole scene is over, the story continues with her effectively using him to find the dragon balls. What a trashy attitude.
By the way, on a personal level, I was also consciously bothered by her strange name. Why the heck did she go on to name her daughter “Bra” (sometimes romanized as “Bulla”) (note: all blood relatives of Bulma’s family are named after undergarments, herself included–“Bulma,” or “Buruma” in Japanese is derived from “bloomers”)? Why would she want to burden her daughter with the same strange problem?
On a separate note, she also pees in her pants at the end of the first episode. That’s the kind of vulgar/unladylike behavior you might expect from Kagura in Gintama.
Even so, it’s all the more strange that Bulma’s the unquestionable first one who comes to mind when you think of heroines in Dragon Ball. Goku and Bulma are inseparable buddies and rely on each other to pull through each new challenge they face, and it’s because of that bond that you can be moved to tears at times.
Those were the early mystical days of Dragon Ball. Why don’t you try watching it again and see what you think?
The Dragon Ball video has already been removed from the Weekly Shonen Jump 50th Anniversary Official YouTube channel but stay tuned to the linked Twitter account for upcoming details about which series’ episodes will be released and when (Japanese only).