LOS ANGELES — “Dragon Ball” may be a Japanese-born anime, but the series has become a major pop culture influencer for years. Rappers sprinkle references in their rhymes, athletes channel the character’s super powers when making big plays and the franchise’s star even made a towering appearance at November’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
That influence stateside is likely to grow Wednesday with the theatrical release of “Dragon Ball Super: Broly,” the 20th film in the “Dragon Ball” franchise that spans video games, six animated spinoffs and more than 500 television episodes. It all started in 1984 when Akira Toriyama created the best-selling comic book series, known as a manga in Japan.
“‘I’ve been a fan for so long, and I know a lot of others are too. It’s like a cult following,” said De’Aaron Fox, the 21-year-old Sacramento Kings guard who owns a pair of Dragon Ball Z-themed basketball shoes. Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen and Golden State Warriors player Jordan Bell are also fans of the anime who have worn custom Dragon Ball-themed shoes in games.
The franchise stars Goku, an alien who lands on Earth as a child and trains in martial arts through his adulthood, venturing across the globe to find seven orbs, known as Dragon Balls. He and other human-looking aliens, known as Saiyans, occasionally transform into Super Saiyans with enormous power that unleashes a glowing aura and random arcs of electricity around them. The transformation turns their black SPIKEY hair blonde.
“‘Dragon Ball’ really made an imprint on the world, particularly in entertainment,” Fox said. “You hear so many references in songs, mostly from hip-hop and rap. Athletes are coming out as fans as well. Like People are saying they want to become like Goku. It’s a big deal.”
Its crossover appeal was evident during the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade , when a 56-foot-tall, 70-foot-long Goku balloon floated above Manhattan, making the front page of The New York Times.
Many have followed “Dragon Ball” since they were kids, and the more famous fans incorporated it into their work, too.
Chris Brown posted an image on social media of a Dragon Ball tattooed on his leg and Goku’s face painted on a red Lamborghini. Chance the Rapper has mentioned the anime in two songs. Before a wrestling match, Ronda Rousey wore a shirt with her favorite character and “cartoon crush” Vegeta, the prince of the Saiyans who is an ally of Goku.
The Super Saiyan form is popular in the hip-hop community. Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball along with Big Sean, Lil Uzi Vert, The Weeknd and Childish Gambino has rapped about achieving Super Saiyan status in their songs.
After Cleveland Browns tight end Darren Fells scored a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders this season, he and David Njoku performed the fusion dance . In the anime, the fusion dance merges two or more bodies together to form a powerful entity.
The self-professed “Dragon Ball” experts practiced the dance during training camp on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”
“We worked on it in camp and we do it here and there in practice,” Njoku said. “If I score or he scores, we’ll do it. We put it all together in the Raiders game.”
When Fox reaches a higher level on the basketball court, he uses the phrase to compliment himself.
“When I’m ballin’ like crazy on the court, they say I’m going Super Saiyan,” he said.
Artist Jake Merten has created several murals dedicated to “Dragon Ball” characters in several cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Kansas City and Denver and plans to create a new one to celebrate “Dragon Ball: Broly” this week in LA.
“As a kid, I liked the good-versus-evil story, but I was drawn in through the different aesthetics that were used,” said Merten, 30. “It was completely different than American cartoons. Even as a child, I appreciated the art direction and the way the TV show took on a different form than other cartoons, animes or movies.”
The “Dragon Ball” franchise has been criticized for sometimes having flawed animations and story inconsistencies between its anime and manga.
But Sean Schemmel, who has voiced Goku in the English version since 1999, said “Dragon Ball” will stack up better than other anime. Other popular ones include “One Piece,” ”Naruto,” ”Case Closed” and “Golgo 13.”
“I believe a hundred years from now, there will be no anime bigger than ‘Dragon Ball,'” Schemmel said. “There’s a bunch of anime coming out of Japan, and we work on a lot of them. But in terms of the epic scope, and the crossover mass appeal, it’s going to be hard to beat ‘Dragon Ball.’ It’s a special show that inspires those who don’t have a voice.”
Story: Jonathan Landrum Jr.