Study #2 – Dragon Power/Dragon Ball: Shen Long no Nazo (Bandai, NES/Famicom)
Mangaka Akira Toriyama’s original Dragon Ball manga is one of the most popular ever created. The initial series, which highlights the adventures of an alien boy named Son Goku, has spun off into Dragon Ball Z and GT in more recent years, which became huge in America in the late 1990′s. When the manga was originally published in Japan, Bandai, a Japanese toy and video game manufacturer, decided to capitalize on the popularity of the license and make a NES game based on the series. The game did well enough in Japan for Bandai to consider bringing it overseas in 1988. However, America would be completely in the dark about this whole "Dragon Ball" thing. Beyond the very (very) early adopters of anime and manga in the States, the license simply could not be a selling point.
That didn't deter Bandai at all. The localization department decided to simply excise any significant trace of the license, instead catering to the martial arts market that did exist in North America with its localization with the rebranded Dragon Power. Their ultimate success wasn't all that hot, mind, which we'll get to momentarily. First, let's take a look at the boxes.
The Famicom original puts Toriyama's artwork front and center. It's a pretty showy box for the early days of the console.
Dragons and balls still appear on the NA cover, but the license itself is no longer present. It is trying really hard to appeal to the aforementioned martial arts crowd, or perhaps those interested in kung-fu flicks. Bandai was also notable for putting screen grabs on the front of the box, a somewhat rare practice.
A comparison between the Dragon Ball (left) and Dragon Power (right) protagonists can be seen above. Son Goku (on the left) lost his pointed hair and open mouth during localization, gaining a far more generic martial arts stereotype makeover complete with headband and a constant, giant grin. His gi has also lost its orange flair for a more subdued pink color. The enemies appear to be unchanged. I suppose that these goons were original foes built for this game alone, otherwise we’d be seeing some sort of modification to them.
Other Dragon Ball characters who appeared in the original game were also altered to fit in with the new motif. Master Roshi, one of the progenitors of the perverted guru trope in anime, has been modified into a wizard-esque appearance:
As you may also suspect, the whole "panty" element is eliminated from Dragon Power; sandwiches were instead substituted. Also, the dialogue is brutally maligned, as you can gather here. Bulma managed to make it into Dragon Power pretty much unaltered outside of name; she is called Nora in America:
The Dragon Balls became Crystal Balls, and there's plenty of other "cameos" from DB characters in Dragon Power; even the programming was shoddy enough that occasionally the game reverts to the original Japanese sprites!
The most curious thing to me about Dragon Power is that Bandai took such pains to remove the Dragonball essence from the NA release, but then decided to make the game's narrative all about The Journey to the West, which is one of the four great novels of Chinese literature (and the inspiration for Dragon Ball, for that matter). While that book has been translated and has seen success abroad, I find it a little odd that Bandai would resort to using a Chinese myth to drive their game's marketing over creating some other plot that may have better suited their desired American customers. And, while they did strip out a lot of the Dragon Ball elements, it still retains a flair of the Toriyama style in its final form. Such pains to remove the anime from the game, yet it didn't really accomplish that goal at all.