How Goku Became My Homeboy

I recently had the pleasure of being part of Derek Padula’s book Dragon Soul: 30 Years of Dragon Ball Fandom. A new book revealing the personal stories about Dragon Ball from 108 fans and professionals from 25 countries around the world. Derek was kind enough to let me share with you one of the questions I answered in the book on this blog.  This is the story about how I first got into Dragon Ball Z. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t a fan in the beginning. Hell, I use to actively be against the series as you will read below.
If you enjoy this story and would like to read more from people like Mike McFarland, Christopher Sabat, or Sean Schemmel I recommend you picking up a copy today.
Q: When did you first experience Dragon Ball, and how has it changed your life?
I think how I first got into Dragon Ball Z will surprise most people.
I first collided with DBZ back in the late 90’s when it was getting its first run on US TV and I was still in college. I say ‘collided’ here since I heard about the show before I ever saw it. I was working at a local comic book retailer in Arlington, TX and would run into people regularly who would go on and on about DBZ all the time. I was the ‘anime guy’ at the store so naturally they all would be filtered my way. Which I wasn’t the happiest about. I disliked DBZ before I ever saw an episode.
A little backstory here. I have been into anime for as long as I can remember. Around this time I was getting a bit too high on the horse about anime being ‘art,’ and anything below that should be ignored. Not my proudest moment, and I’m so glad I got past this notion.  I kept this opinion on DBZ for a bit and wasn’t afraid to share it with my friends when outside of work. I railed on the series enough that I was even asked to sit on a few anime con panels to speak against the show. Over the next few years my negative opinion of the series lessened. Not because I finally sat down and watched it, but because I just stopped thinking about it and it wasn’t coming up as much as it used to.
It wasn’t until I got my first job out of college that I would collide again with DBZ. This was as the Hummer driver and Tour Manager for the DBZ Collectable Card Game. “You totally sold out!” one of my friends said. To which I replied, “Yes, but for a good price.” What I meant by that was that I was about to get paid to drive around the country in a Hummer playing card games and hanging out with voice actors. I would have done the same thing for Rainbow Brite if I were asked too.
I thought to myself I would just ‘deal with’ being surrounded by DBZ all the time. That it was all worth it. Little did I know that before the end of my first tour that I would forever have a strong bond to the series. My main job on the tour was going to a new city each week to promote a mall event that Saturday with voice actors, game demos, giveaways, and the Hummer right in the middle of the mall. The rest of the week was spent getting everything prepped for this and promoting the event that weekend. I would go to card shops and anime stores to make appearances with the Hummer, pass out free stuff, and talk to people there about the mall event. This is where things first began to click for me with DBZ.
It was an H1 military grade Hummer covered in Dragon Ball Z characters, so I totally understood their excitement. But they were also excited to see me as well, which was something I didn’t expect. I mean, I just drove the thing and talked about our upcoming promotions. I’ve always been good for pumping up a crowd, but this was still marketing 101 stuff I assure you. They were excited to see me even before I got a chance to talk with them about anything. This happened everywhere I went, no matter what part of the country I was in.
I soon discovered something about DBZ that had never crossed my mind before. That is, it has a sense of community. Being a fan of the show brought people closer together instead of driving them apart. This was unlike my snootier ‘anime is art and anything below that should be ignored’ days where things were more exclusive than inclusive. Seeing DBZ bring so many people together with such happiness was not only refreshing, it was exhilarating.
I’ll admit I was a little embarrassed that by this point in time I could count on one hand how many DBZ episodes I had actually watched. I was traveling 100% of the time and wasn’t going to be back home for 3 months, so there was no real chance to sit down and marathon the series. So I did something that’s popular now but was a new idea back in 2001. I crowd-sourced the information.
If you know DBZ fans, then you know they will be happy to tell you anything and everything about the series. The story, characters, what was the best fight, whose death made them cry, who they most idolized, or who was their secret crush. Everything poured out of them, no matter the age, with such passion and love. So what was a better source for information than the fans I was now surrounded with on a daily basis? Over the next few months I coyly asked questions about the series. I was afraid to straight up ask about the show and admit I didn’t know much about it. I didn’t want to make anyone feel bad that a representative of the show and card game they loved so much was a total phony. I was always waiting for a Holden Caulfield in a Goku shirt to call me out.Luckily if anyone did catch on they were kind enough not to say anything.
By the time the first tour ended I was well versed in the series. By no means an expert, but enough to know I was no longer talking out of my ass when asked how to do the fusion dance. I’ll leave you with the main thing I learned from this experience: Don’t be too quick to write off anything in your life until you have tried to experience it from as many sides as possible. You might find something unexpected and wonderful out there. Like I did, with Dragon Ball.