Friday, January 06, 2017

The Titanic Tournament (Rivals Standing Their Ground!) (Viz/Shueisha)
Dragon Ball Vol. 15 When: May 2004

Why: Akira Toriyama How: Akira Toriyama

The Story So Far...
The time has come for the latest Strongest Under the Heavens world martial arts tournament - the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai!

Goku and his friends converge on the tournament for a reunion, where Chaozu manipulates the bracket to ensure they don't meet in competition until the final. Little does the diminutive fighter realizes he's sealing his own fate as dark forces conspire within the tournament!

Chaozu is the only hero who doesn't breeze through the preliminary rounds. Instead he suffers a brutal beating at the hands of the thought-dead mercenary Taopaipai! Now a cyborg, he is deadlier than ever before and intent on taking revenge against Goku! To get to him he'll have to go through Chaozu's best friend, Taopaipai's former student and defending champion: Tenshinhan!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Tenshinhan 5 (Super-Human)
Intelligence: Taopaipai 3 (Straight A)
Speed: Tenshinhan 5 (Super-Human)
Stamina: Tenshinhan 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Draw 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Tenshinhan 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Tenshinhan 5 (Lasers)

A new year brings new territory to The Comic Book Fight Club! We've entered the world of martial arts many times before, but never have we ventured into the high-energy universe of Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball!

Long have fans wondered how Son Goku would fare against a superhero counterpart like Superman. We begin our journey left of the middle, with a tournament battle pitting master against apprentice in a bitter grudge match!

Taopaipai is a deadly martial artist spurred to mastery by innate talent, and the rivalry of his elder brother: Tsurusen'in - The Crane Hermit. Soon surpassing his sibling; Taopaipai instructed at his brother's Crane School, but ultimately chose to apply his skills to the trade of killing for money.

Mercenary Tao was employed by the Red Ribbon Army to defeat young adventurer Son Goku, who'd stolen four dragon balls from the army. Taopaipai almost succeeded in killing Goku in their first encounter, but was defeated when the pair met again.

He was thought dead when his own sneaky grenade was deflected back at him by Goku, but the mercenary survived the explosion, and used his career fortune to have himself rebuilt as a cyborg! With his mechanical enhancements, Tao's deadly Dodon-pa ki attack, and other abilities, are enhanced. Just in time for a return to the 23rd Strongest Under the Heavens Martial Arts Tournament!

Tenshinhan was a promising student of the Crane School who trained under Taopaipai with aspirations of becoming a great assassin. The three-eyed fighter excelled in the school's techniques, surviving their brutal training regime to master the Dodon-pa, as well as many other signature attacks. These impressive skills led Crane Hermit to enter Tenshinhan into the 22nd Strongest Under the Heavens Martial Arts Tournament, where he claimed victory!

During the tournament Tenshinhan matched disguised former champion Master Muten Roshi (of Turtle School), viciously broke the leg of his student Yamcha, and narrowly defeated Son Goku in the final, via ring-out.

Though he had shown brutality in the earlier rounds, Tenshinhan found honor in the tournament final, inspired in part by the words of Turtle Hermit. He rejected Crane Hermit's order to kill Goku, beginning a new path as a great and virtuous martial artist. He left Crane School with his dear friend Chaozu.

Ten's signature techniques include: Flight, the Shiyoken four fist that spawns two extra arms from his back, Shishin no Ken splitting him into four versions of himself, blinding Taiyoken solar flare, and the deadly Kikoho tri-beam cannon. He was also seen to imitate the Kamehameha ki blast mastered by students of the Turtle Hermit!

Fans of the later "Dragon Ball Z" cartoon may not regard Tenshinhan as equal to Goku and the popular alien Saiya-jin fighters, but here we find him reaching the peak of his powers. Are they enough to withstand the vengeful onslaught of the man who trained him -- now a super-human cyborg?!

Tenshinhan must also grapple with worry for his best friend Chaozu, who was brutally beaten by Cyborg Taopaipai during the tournament preliminaries! While his dear friend fights for life in a hospital, Tenshinhan must confront this half-man, half-machine monster who aims to kill him too!

The Tape: Tenshinhan Ranking: Draw (Not Ranked)

What Went Down...
Even before the match officially begins, Cyborg Taopaipai begins his attack! As the two warriors make their way into the fighting arena, the spiteful master spits wicked threats at his former student. Tenshinhan resists the psychological tactic, accepting he has prepared himself for death if it truly comes to that!

When the fight officially begins, Taopaipai makes the first move -- charging toward his former student! Tenshinhan calmly anticipates the attack and side-steps it - driving his elbow into the mechanical skull of his one-time teacher!

Taopaipai spills across the battlefield to the shock of his watching brother, Crane Hermit. He rises with a sense of realization, that Tenshinhan has advanced considerably since they last met! The former student extends a merciful offer of forgiveness if the assassin will yield. He demonstrates his power -- moving faster than the eye can see to appear behind Taopaipai!

The cyborg admonishes his opponent for showing insolence, but Tenshinhan remains cool. He easily avoids a lunging strike, a dashing kick, and catches a robotic claw before it can connect with his face! Amazing feats of speed, precision and control!

Again, Tenshinhan compels his former master to avoid embarrassment and withdraw. He still has a few tricks up his sleeve, though. His captured hand detaches - revealing a large protruding blade from his cyborg wrist!

With a swing of his sword, Taopaipai slashes across the chest of a surprised Tenshinhan! The use of the weapon immediately results in disqualification -- but the murderous assassin no longer cares about winning the tournament! His only purpose now is killing his upstart former pupil!

Tenshinhan tears away his sliced tunic. He questions whether the cyborg still has pride as a martial artist. The mercenary scoffs and discards the other hand, bracing to reveal another mechanized secret weapon: The Super Dodon-pa!

The cyborg fiend charges his attack and uses weapons guiding systems to lock on to his target. Now no matter how fast Tenshinhan moves - he won't be able to avoid the super attack! A fate Tenshinhan stares down head-on, refusing offers of help from his disgusted Turtle House friends.

Upon request, Taopaipai unleashes the awesome energy of the Super Dodon-pa! He tells his former student to "nurse his regrets in Hell", but Tenshinhan is stoic in his determination.
Right as the beam is about to reach him he lets out an all mighty cry! "KAH!!!"

The Kiai Shout technique neutralizes the blast before it can even harm him!

Cyborg Taopaipai staggers back in disbelief to see such a display of power from his former student. Tenshinhan dashes at high speed to follow the shock with a devastating, deep gut punch!

The cyborg's mechanical eyes bulge, his mouth agape, uttering vague guttural gasps. His final acts before he topples over - defeated!

Tenshinhan effortlessly hoists his former trainer's limp body over one shoulder, carrying it to a stunned Crane Hermit. He tells his former master that the cyborg will awake in three days, and asks they never show themselves again.

The Hammer...
It's a stunning, comprehensive display of martial arts mastery! A changing of the guard, as teacher is surpassed by a new generation of combat skill: Tenshinhan!

Being that this is our first foray into the classic works of Akira Toriyama, some fans may consider this a curious place to start. Two volumes after this edition, the series is re-titled Dragon Ball Z: a popular delineation invented for the West that signals a turning point in the series mythology.

Dragon Ball Volume 17, or DBZ Volume 1, introduces the concept of an alien warrior race called Saiya-jins (or Saiyans). It's quickly revealed that series hero Son Goku was one of these aliens all along, beginning a transition away from classical Eastern martial arts myth, to spacefaring super-heroics more in keeping with Superman than Journey to the West.

As I'm a fan of the DBZ era, it certainly would've been a natural starting point. That said, I also really love some of the traditional characters who get relegated by the rise of the Saiya-jins. Most of my favourite characters fall away during that time, sacrificing themselves early in the initial arc. Starting with the final rounds of the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai (tournament) means we get to see some of these characters in their best light, before Toriyama clears house.

Of course, the mortality of the heroes is actually something that first attracted me to the series. It was a shock to meet these interesting new characters, only to watch them die in serialized succession over morning breakfast. I speak, of course, of discovering the animated version in the late nineties, which was largely responsible for launching the phenomenon in America and The West.

I'd ignored or missed the preceding DB flavoured adventures of Goku's kid son, Gohan. They have their moments, but it comes as no shock that they aren't a part of the original manga (comics). Instead, I dropped blindly into the middle of a battle between colourful martial artists, and Earth threatening aliens.

Complete understanding of what I'd watched would come later, but the basics were a thrilling bolt from the blue. It had been several years since Robotech had traumatized a generation of kids with its teeth gnashing, breakfast TV dead pool. DBZ was bringing deadly back, uniting its heroes around the cause of a common enemy -- one they were hopelessly out-gunned by!

Once you get know the lay of the land, it's much less impressive. After all, even at that point, two of the characters had already been magically wished back to life! The danger of death never fully leaves DBZ, but the sting goes out of it. It's never to soon to make a joke about Yamcha dying, once it has.

Obsolescence becomes the far greater threat as the series goes on. Particularly in the animated version, where the adventures of young characters run longer than their manga counterparts. One of the interesting factors in Dragon Ball is the passage of time, which sees various eras come and go.

Just as Tenshinhan surpassed Taopaipai in today's feature fight, eventually the proliferation of the Saiya-jins renders him obselete, as well. Respected as one of the greatest fighters of Earth, but outclassed by friend and foe alike.

A disappointing fall, if, like me, you enjoy the character's textured journey from arch-villain to noble hero. It's a redemption theme that plays out multiple times in Dragon Ball, turning thwarted foes into friends and allies. Yamcha, Piccolo, Vegeta, and even Goku's best pal Kuririn all started out in adversarial roles.

Tenshinhan's path stays distinctly rooted in the martial arts, which sets him apart from the more drastic changes in Piccolo and Vegeta. They were lured to the side of good by circumstances, maintaining a certain amount of antagonism  during their change. Tenshinhan had a philosophical change of heart, striving to better himself as a man and fighter. He continues to train for the rest of the series.

I'm sure I could find new ways to gush about my appreciation for the purity of these simple tales, but there'll be plenty more time for that when we return to the tournament some time in the future. I'm sure we'll find time to talk more about the trademark style of Akira Toriyama's drawing, as well.

As a matter of formality I should note the English localization of the Viz release is by Gerard Jones and Mari Morimoto. I thought about crediting them in our "Why" writer spot, but it didn't seem to ring true with the format we've chosen. I favour some of these manga translations of names and such. If you're seeing terms or names you don't recognize -- that's why.

Dragon Ball Vol. 15 was originally published by Shueisha in December, 1988. It collects chapters 169 through 180, which were originally serialized in Weekly Sh┼Źnen Jump. The Viz reprint was published May, 2004.

If you'd like to get a look at all the original action as it existed on the page - take advantage of the Amazon link provided! If you do, it helps keep the wars infinite! Hit up the Issue Index for a complete reference of featured battles.

Winner: Tenshinhan
#301 (new) Tenshinhan
#817 (new) Taopaipai

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