Yuki Iwai is half of "Haraichi", a Japanese comedy duo who are well known for their love of anime and manga.
Mr. Iwai is a fan of a wide range of manga, be it those intended for boys, young men, and even manga for girls. But what does he like about Dragon Ball?
Since Mr. Iwai is a comedian himself, we asked him all about what he thinks of the jokes and gags that appear throughout the Dragon Ball series.
——Please tell us how you first got into Dragon Ball.
Yuki Iwai (henceforth "Iwai"): My father always bought Weekly Shonen Jump. He also got us tons of other weekly manga magazines, so our house was overflowing with manga aimed at boys and even young men.
——It sounds like reading manga was a big part of your childhood.
Iwai: Yes, it was. We were living in an apartment complex at the time, and there was a kid around three years older than me who used to let me read the Dragon Ball chapters after he was done with them. Then, I would pass the magazine off to yet another kid when I was finished reading it. We were all in elementary school and had no spending money, so taking turns reading manga was how we kept up to date on things.
Then one day this one boy who was moving away gave me the Dragon Ball comic volumes all the way up to Volume 34. I was in third grade at the time. Up until that point in my life, I hadn't had the chance to read the very first volume, so when I got them, I read them all from there.
Iwai brought both Volume 1 and Volume 23 with him to our interview—23 being the volume in which the Ginyu Force make their debut.
——You were born in 1986, so the Dragon Ball anime must have been playing on TV when you were a child. Did you ever watch it?
Iwai: Now that you mentioned it, I might have been exposed to the anime first. I remember imitating scenes from the battle against the Ginyu Force when I was in kindergarten. We'd get five of us together and check each other's special fighting poses against the manga.
——The battles start to get really intense in the Frieza arc after the Ginyu Force make their appearance.
Wasn't it scary for you as a kid?
Iwai: I remember thinking that Recoome was the scariest of them all. In particular, this scene right here.
Iwai: Recoome just got hit head on by Vegeta's full-power attack and his clothes are in tatters, but he's not concerned in the slightest... It made it seem like things were really hopeless for our heroes. Once the story progresses to the fight with Ginyu, things are different since Goku's back with them at that point, but during the showdown with Recoome, I was sure Krillin, Gohan, and Vegeta were goners.
——So you watched the anime, read the ongoing series as it was published in Weekly Shonen Jump, and also read the comic volumes. At what point would you say that you really got hooked on Dragon Ball?
Iwai: I was hooked from the time I started to read the new chapters in Shonen Jump. I even cut out the title pages from each magazine and collected them. I really liked the ones that showed Goku and Gohan's everyday lives, or the ones where Goku appeared wearing a snazzy outfit.
Iwai: I also really appreciated how fashionable Bulma was. Her clothes even feature her name in all caps most of the time, so "BULMA" almost seems like a brand. With all the money that Capsule Corporation has, it seemed like they could pull it off.
——Wow, I've never imagined that scenario before! (laughs) I could totally see Bulma with her own brand, though. By the way, who was your favorite character when you were a child?
Iwai: I liked Bulma because she was so cute. But if we're talking about a character who can fight, then it has to be Vegeta.
I got started on Dragon Ball around when the Ginyu Force was introduced, so I was used to Vegeta being one of the good guys. I didn't get to know about his villainous origins until I read through the whole story in third grade.
——What did you think when you read about Vegeta's past? Goku and the others really went through a lot during their initial battle with him on Earth, so did you think to yourself, "That's unforgivable!" or feel betrayed at all?
Iwai: More than thinking that Vegeta had done something unforgivable, he seemed more... immature, I guess? His single-minded obsession with fighting is kind of appealing to me. I bet that Bulma feels the same way. She must think of Vegeta as being someone who grew up physically while still remaining very childish on the inside.
One of my favorite scenes is when Vegeta fights Second Form Cell, who's so shocked by Vegeta's sudden power-up that he blurts out, "You’re not Vegeta, are you?!". Then Vegeta replies, "Not quite... I...am SUPER Vegeta!!", which confuses Cell so much that he says, "What are you saying?!" (laughs)
Vegeta is so obsessed with himself in this scene. I mean, he gets asked why he became so powerful and still finds a way to force his name into his answer. I really enjoy that part of his character—I almost feel like I'm Vegeta's mother sometimes.
——When you put it that way, I can see the humor in Cell's confused reaction to the "I... am SUPER Vegeta!!" line.
Iwai: That kind of thing is what I really enjoy about Dragon Ball. When you look closely, you can find humorous parts in even the serious scenes, almost like some of the characters are doing the "funny man" part of a comedy duo routine, only without the "straight man" being present.
For example, there's a scene where Yajirobe refuses to go and fight around the time when Dr. Gero and Android 19 appear in the story. When Bulma pushes him to explain why he won't fight to protect the planet, Yajirobe finally admits that it's because he can't fly. That's right, he can't use the Buku-jutsu (Levitation Technique) that the other fighters mastered long ago. Even Bulma gets stunned into silence when she hears that.
Toriyama is a master of making you laugh at the awkward situations he works into the story. It's easy to forget that he got his start doing gag manga, but those kinds of scenes really make it clear that he never lost his comedic edge.
Iwai: Then there's the scene where Kaio North challenges Goku to make him laugh, and Goku responds, "I don't even know what comedians read!! Comic books?!" Busting out that kind of corny joke would normally be a huge blunder in the comedy world.
But then Kaio North starts laughing uncontrollably, and you realize that all the characters are actually the "funny man". That leaves readers to become the "straight man" themselves, and that kind of thing is normally pretty difficult to pull off in a manga. Normally, the creator would have a character specifically for that purpose to make things safer and to point out which parts are meant to make you laugh, but Dragon Ball cuts that part out and focuses only on the "funny man" bit, and I find that hilarious.
Iwai: There's another scene like that during the Cell Games too. The tournament that will decide the fate of the planet starts in ten days, and Goku and all the other fighters are busy training. But then it cuts to Cell, who's waiting at the tournament ring, and makes some offhand remark like "Ten days was much too long" while he's standing there all alone. You'd usually never see a "final boss" character like Cell in an uncool scene like that.
——Cell kind of looks cute as he stands there waiting so seriously for ten days to pass. But there's no "straight man" to jump in and say, "Why are you just standing there then?!" right?
Iwai: That's right. I'm sure that Toriyama must have been convinced that the scene was so inherently funny that adding a character to say something like that was unnecessary.
——You're a fan of many different anime and manga, so I'm curious: what do you find appealing about Dragon Ball?
Iwai: Part of the appeal for me is definitely the funny gags.
People normally don't have the luxury of playing the "straight man" and shouting out, "What are you talking about?!" in their everyday lives. These roles only exist in the world of comedy, and that's what makes them seem so odd to me when they're used in manga.
—— In the same way that you see characters differently now as a comedian, are there any characters who you started to look at differently once you became an adult?
Iwai: You're right, it might be hard to notice it. I certainly didn't when I was a child.
But you'll actually find that many manga feature full-on "straight man" characters. The clearest example of this is when characters will actually whack each other on the chest with the back of their hand, just like real comedians do in Manzai (a type of Japanese comedy where two people perform on stage). You'd normally only be able to pull that move off when you have a partner next to you on stage.
In Dragon Ball's case, there are many scenes where you might think that Bulma is playing the "straight man" when she gets angry and yells at someone, but it only looks that way because she’s saying things that someone who's angry would say. I doubt that there are any cases where Bulma's only pretending to be mad so that she can say stuff like that on purpose to make a comedic scene or anything.
——In the same way that you see characters differently now as a comedian, are there any characters who you started to look at differently once you became an adult?
Iwai: For me, it's Gohan. I thought he was really cool when I was a kid. For example, it's super cool when he awakens his true power and transforms at the end of the Cell Games, right?
But when I reread the manga as an adult, I really felt like he's a bit too fond of Piccolo. Like before the Cell Games when he emerges from the Room of Spirit and Time after training there with his dad. Goku and Gohan change their clothes, right? Goku changes into his usual martial arts uniform, but Gohan says that he wants clothes like Piccolo's.
Gohan is at fault too, but I really thought that Piccolo should have just refused and said something like, "Goku's your father, you just finished training with him, didn't you?!" Instead, it seems like he suddenly develops some paternal instincts and ends up making clothes identical to his own for Gohan. That really struck me as odd, and I thought, "Hold up, you're not supposed to be like that! You tried to take over the world, didn't you?!" (laughs)
——Is there a character that you can identify with and relate to?
Iwai: Hmm, who could it be... There might not be one in Dragon Ball.
——How about one that's a different type of character, but that you admire or that you'd want to become like if you could?
Iwai: In that case, Bardock. I've memorized all of his lines, and I used to imitate his battle with Frieza all the time when I was in elementary school.
I think that Bardock is a very manly character. There's no way that he can win against Frieza, but when his teammates are killed, he goes out on his own and tries anyway. It's so cool.
——What part of Bardock's character do you admire? Is it how he makes a stand no matter how bad the situation is?
Iwai: That's it, yes. He refuses to play along and be a cog in the system, and he isn't afraid to tell anyone off when he disagrees with them. Bardock also isn't afraid to say what he's thinking, no matter how other people might react. That's what I think is amazing about him.
——Here's our final question for today. If you had all seven Dragon Balls, what would you wish for?
Iwai: I'd wish for immortality. I mean, I don't want to die. Plus, I'd really like to see what's going to happen and change in the future.
Born in Saitama Prefecture, Japan, in 1986. Formed the comedy duo "Haraichi" with his childhood friend from kindergarten, Yu Sawabe, and debuted in 2006. Has appeared on TV, radio programs, and many other platforms. Known for his creativity in comedy, Iwai wrote the original story and produced the visual novel game Kimi ha Yukima ni Koinegau ("Winter’s Wish: Spirits of Edo", published by Idea Factory), writes the original Mumurin manga in Young Magazine (published by Kodansha), and released the essay collections Boku no Jinsei ha Jiken ga Okinai (roughly "An Eventless Life") and Douyara Boku no Nichijouseikatsu ha Machigatteiru (roughly "My Lifestyle Has to be Wrong", both published by SHINCHOSHA), which went on to become bestsellers.
Interview & Article: Saori Oyoshi
Photography: Ayaka Shida
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