Although Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT all are only a few years old here, when Dragon Ball’s first 13 episodes were aired in syndication in 1995, Dragon Ball Z was already finishing up its anime in Japan. And even though Dragon Ball began in January 1984 in Japan, published in Shonen Jump, the roots of Dragon Ball go even further back than that...about 1400 years back. What was it that inspired Toriyama to create this story we know and love so well? He has said that a trip to Bali, along with his fascination of Hong Kong action films is what convinced him to base Dragon Ball work on a now ancient Chinese legend. This is the origin, of Dragon Ball.
At around 600 AD, a Chinese monk named Hsuan Tsang made a pilgrimage from his home in China, Chang’an, all the way to India. Hsuan’s purpose of undertaking this great task was to collect Buddhist scrolls and return with them to China in order to spread the teachings and to save lost souls.
The Emperor of China had undergone a rather unusual adventure that even took him into the afterlife. During his time in the afterlife he had to pass through a crowd of tortured lost souls. When he returned to life, he decided to carry out a ceremony to save the souls. However, the Bodhisattva Kyuanyin (Kannon in Japanese) came to him and told him that Mahayana Buddhism would not save their souls. Only Theravada Buddhist ceremonies could release them. Since none of these were in China, the Emperor wanted to send a holy priest to retrieve them. He selected Hsuan Tsang for the task and renamed him after that which he sought, The Three Baskets or "Tripitaka". So goes the story, whether you choose to believe the mystic ideas up to you, but Tripitaka did succeed and retrieved the scrolls. Tripitaka became sort of a hero, then was elevated to a Bodhisattva as "Buddha of Precocious Merit". As things like this usually go, people told stories about his journey. They told of Tripitaka’s encounters with monsters, demons and spirits. Eventually a monkey was added to the story. This monkey was an escort of Tripitaka’s on his journey. Wu Cheng’en compiled these stories into a written record, it was named Hsi Yu Chi (She Yu Jee) or quite simply, The Journey to the West.
In this record, there were several more escorts added to Tripitaka and the monkey’s party. There was Chu Pa Chieh, a spirit in the form of a pig, and Sha Monk, a demon with a necklace of skulls. The monkey was named Sun Wukong. Since the Japanese written language shares the original Chinese characters, but only with different pronunciations, in Japanese, Sun Wukong is spoken as Son Gokou.
Hsi Yu Chi can be appreciated on many levels. It is political, philosophical, funny, and of course a legend that can be enjoyed by anyone. The story begins with the birth of Sun Wukong from pure rock. Being born from stone, Wukong isn’t any normal monkey. He is a bit crazy and impolite, but he can do much more than any other monkey; he can think like a human. He becomes the king of the monkeys and lives in the Moutain of Flowers and Fruit. But after living for several decades, Sun Wukong begins to fear death and desires immortality. In order to attain this wish, he travels far to a temple where he meets a high-priest. After much training Sun Wukong learns magic, how to fight and the secret of long life. With his training, he learned how to jump very far, ride on clouds, and to make fake copies of himself (72 to be exact). Needing a weapon to defend himself, Sun Wukong travels to the home of the Dragon King in the sea. He steals a treasured weapon from the Dragon King, a rod that can extend to the heavens at his will. Having upset the Dragon King he is taken to Heaven so that the gods can keep their eye on him. But while there, Wukong eats sacred immortality peaches, (which he becomes drunk on). He returns to his Mountain of Flowers and Fruit and wages a war on Heaven. (He was pretty ticked off at them for keeping him there, just so he stayed out of trouble) His battle against Heaven was futile and after having survived bouts against the likes of the Ox Demon King, he and his army were defeated by the power of the Gods. At the end of the battle, Sun Wukong was to be executed, but because he had consumed the peaches of immortality, he could not be killed. Tathagata, (which means "thus gone" eg. having attained nirvana), who is Buddha, offered Sun Wukong a chance to go free if he could leap a great distance from him. Having learned the secret to jumping incredibly far, Sun Wukong jumps an incredible distance and lands near the base of a great mountain. To prove he was there, he pees on the mountain and jumps back to Buddha. As things turn out, Sun Wukong only jumped across Buddha’s palm! @_@ And that mountain was one of his fingers!!!!! @_@! Buddha decides Sun Wukong’s punishment and seals him under the Five-Fingered Mountain. After several hundred years, he is released from the mountain and as payment for being released, he escorts the monk Tripitaka on his journey. And so begins the journey west!
Hsi Yu Chi Meets DB
So where do the relationships really begin? In the start of Dragon Ball, the story follows His Yu Chi’s character formula, but takes the story in a completely different direction. The character Son Gokou is obviously directly based on Sun Wukong. [NOTE*Sun Wukong was the religious name he took. It was translated by Arthur Waley to be "Aware of the Vacuity"] His monkey tail and extending Nyoi Bo are staples of the Sun Wukong character. In the original story the Nyoi Bo was a relic that Gokou rudely took from the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea. It was a black iron staff with gold clasps at both ends that was used by Great Yu to change the depth of oceans in order to stop a great flood. It supposedly weighed 13,500 pounds.
Buruma is based on Tripitaka. This may be a bit of a joke making a male priest into a whiny teenage girl. Tripitaka himself, although male, is very feminine and naïve at times because of his sheltered life.
Oolong is certainly based Chu Pa Chieh, the spirit who was transformed into pig form. In the original story, this former marshall from heaven was banished to Earth as a pig demon as punishment for getting drunk at a party and "misbehaving" with the Moon Goddess. In the story, he is found much like Oolong is in Dragon Ball. He took on the form of a handsome worker and helped out on the farm of a Mr. Kao. But slowly he changed back into a demon and stole away Mr. Kao's daughter, locking her in a back building of the farm. Sounds familiar right?
Although not really clear, Yamucha is probably based on Sha Monk, the water demon, however, in sketches Toriyama made from the time of early Dragon Ball Z of characters dressed as Hsi Yu Chi characters, Piccolo is always Sha Monk. It is worth mentioning though, Sha Monk was encounter while crossing a river and was at first an enemy, likewise Yamucha was while crossing a desert and was at first a villain.
So what else does Dragon Ball borrow from The Journey to the West? The Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z anime contain many references, which thin out as the series progresses. And now for your reading pleasure, here are some of the best nods to Hsi Yu Chi in Dragon Ball. See if you can spot them or already know them! Perhaps not all of these were intended similarities, but regardless, they exist.
- Gokou can perform an attack where he makes fake copies of him by moving extremely fast. Sun Wukong can perform 72 transformations in order to avoid death. By taking a hair off of his body, he can change it into anything and change it back at will, even copies of others or himself. When he's done, he can change the hair back and then put it back on his body. And since he's a monkey, that is a LOT of hairs and a LOT of transformations.
- Sun Wukong can tear off parts of his body and either call them back or grow a new appendage. Although Gokou cannot do this, characters like Piccolo and Cell certainly can.
- Sun Wukong can fly on clouds. Gokou can fly on the Kintoun because he has a pure heart.
- Sun Wukong can leap head-over-heels and travel 8,000 leagues. Gokou can use Shunkan Idou to travel far distances instantly.
- In the second Dragon Ball movie, Gokou battles Lucifer in a Five-Fingered mountain. This is the mountain Sun Wukong was trapped under for 500 years.
- Also in the second Dragon Ball movie, Gokou fights the demon Ghastel, a red beast who floats on eerie orbs of light and fights with sharp ribbon. Although the characters have different names, Sun Wukong fights an evil prince just like this who floats on orbs and attacks with ribbon.
- In Dragon Ball, when Gokou is training by running around the world, he meets a village terrorized by two villains, Ginkaku and Kinkaku. These exact same villains are in The Journey to the West. They can trap you in a gourd that will turn your body into sake (Japanese rice wine).
- During Dragon Ball Z, while in Hell, Gokou eats Enma Daiou's fruit. Although the peach he consumes does not make him immortal, it fills his stomach up so that he’s energized for a long period. This is like when Sun Wukong eats the peaches of immortality in the heavens.
- Another nod to the gods’ fruit appears in Dragon Ball Z Movie 1. Gohan eats a special apple that is alcoholic. The gods’ fruit, while it makes you immortal, also tended to make one rather tipsy, just like Gohan.
- While traveling on Serpent Path, Gokou is deceived by the Snake Princess. If she can’t have his love, she’ll eat him. This kind of thing is ALWAYS happening to Tripitaka during the journey. It’s usually up to Gokou to save his butt.
- While training in Kami’s special time room, in the Dragon Ball anime, during one task Gokou must wear a special crown that electrocutes him at certain times. In order to keep Sun Wukong obedient to Tripitaka, a golden crown was placed on his head. If Tripitaka simply uttered a special phrase, Sun Wukong would receive a terrifying shock!
- There is a Kame House! It was a great white turtle's house that was stolen from him by spirits.
- The Basho Sen (Fan) is a relic that, depending on how many swings you make with it, delivers several varying degrees of rain. This is an object Gokou tries to obtain to put out the fire on Frypan Mountain in early Dragon Ball. Much much MUCH later in Dragon Ball, Gokou actually finds the Basho Sen! This relic is from Hsi Yu Chi, and had the same use and purpose.
- Gyu Maou was a villain turned friend of Sun Wukong in Hsi Yu Chi. In DB, Gyu Maou is Chichi’s father.
- The Furnace of Eight Divinations is a furnace on the edge of the spirit world in Dragon Ball. Gokou must travel to the bottom of this vat of white-hot fire to patch a leak in it. Sun Wukong is trapped in this furnace for an extended period of time and this causes his eyes to glow golden.
It is important to note that energy attacks did not play a role in The Journey to the West. The Kame Hame Ha, Genki Dama and so on, are things made entirely up by Toriyama. The Journey to the West does have its fair share of battling though! Most attacks are magical or mystical based, not energy.
Hsi Yu Chi Around the World
Dragon Ball certainly isn’t the only popular modern adaptation of the original novel. This fable has transcended many cultures and mediums! Some examples are as follows:
- Monkey Magic- A semi-popular animated series that was aired in syndication in America a few years ago. This managed to get its own video game for the Playstation. It loosely follows the original story, but the only major relation kept intact is the monkey’s appearance.
- Love Hina- In one episode of this popular Drama/Comedy anime, Keitaro Urashima and Naru Narusegawa, along with the other members of the must perform a scene from Hsi Yu Chi at a beach theater. The scene they portray is the battle against Ginkaku and Kinkaku, (also seen in Dragon Ball).
- Lost Empire- A television movie produced by NBC and aired in March 2001. It connects His Yu Chi to modern times and argues over the importance of the story, and the influence it has had on people over time. Certainly can’t argue with that! However, the story is really an "Americanization" of the series. Real names of characters are rarely used, and the story is, well, a bit lacking. Regardless it is interesting to see the story used in American culture.
- Monkey- A live-action Japanese TV show made in the 1970’s. Although not popular, (or readily available), in America, it is very popular in England. It takes some interesting spins on the tale like Dragon Ball. For example, Tripitaka is played by a woman actress!
- Capcom VS Street Fighter 2- The character Sonson is based on Sun Wukong. Her attacks are all standard Sun Wukong moves. She even bestows peaches on you that refill your life when she is a support character. Interestingly enough, one of Sonson’s super moves is transforming into a GIANT monkey and shooting energy out of her mouth. This seems like it is from Dragon Ball actually since this type of thing never happened in Hsi Yu Chi.
- Pocket Fighter- Characters from Hsi Yu Chi zoom by the top of the screen sometimes and drop support items in this video game.
- Gensomaden Saiyuuki- A relatively new anime and manga series in Japan. Saiyuuki is the Japanese name for Record of the Journey West. This series is really really popular among girls and boys at the moment as the main characters are all gorgeous guys, but it’s essentially action anime. It borrows characters from Hsi Yu Chi, but makes all the good guys handsome humans regardless of whether they’re a monkey or a pig. It also takes the series in a new direction. While the surroundings seem to be old, travel is done by car and Sha Monk is a chain-smoker.
So now that you know where Dragon Ball came from, we hope you can appreciate it even more! If you’d like to read the original novel it has been translated into English several times. A highly recommended version is:
The Journey To The West Translated by Anthony C Yu; University of Chicago Press
Check your local bookstore to see if they have it or if you can order it!
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