Reina Tanaka is a popular Japanese singer and actress who has found herself obsessed with Dragon Ball ever since Japan entered the Reiwa era in 2019. After being invited by her Dragon Ball-loving family to go see one of the latest movies, she found herself inspired to go back and check out the previous animated works. In fact, she started sharing her thoughts on the anime via Twitter in a series of tweets she calls her "Dragon Ball Diary", which has generated a lot of buzz.
Ms. Tanaka's favorite character is Gohan. She says that watching Gohan during his childhood awakened her own maternal instincts and that she now understands how the fans who supported her back when she was a member of the band Morning Musume must have felt. Dragon Ball has helped her find a whole new side to herself that she didn't even realize she had.
Since Ms. Tanaka is a new fan of Dragon Ball, we took this opportunity to get her unique perspective on the series' appeal, how to best enjoy the franchise, and delve into her enthusiasm for Gohan.
(*Some images in this article contain spoilers for Dragon Ball Super: SUPER HERO)
——On the same morning that we're sitting down for this interview, you tweeted that you were in tears after watching the last episode of Dragon Ball GT.
Tanaka: My mom, who's a huge Dragon Ball fan, told me I should watch GT, saying, "The last episode is amazing! Just watch it!"
When someone tells you something like that, it's hard not to build it up in your head, right? Just how amazing can it be?
And when I finally saw that last episode, I was a wreck.
——Before you started getting into Dragon Ball in your 30s, would I be correct in assuming you weren't that immersed in anime or manga beforehand?
Tanaka: That's right. I barely touch manga, to the point that even now I'm not sure how it's supposed to be read. But my mother and brother are big fans of Dragon Ball, so sometimes I'd play the copy of Dragon Ball Z: Super Saiya Densetsu that we had for the Super Famicom. I can still hum the melody from it to this day.
——So you were aware of Dragon Ball thanks to that game, but you never sought out the anime or manga.
What got you so invested in the franchise all of a sudden?
Tanaka: It was when I went to see Dragon Ball Super: Broly in 2019. My mother and brother kept going on and on about how much they wanted to see it (laughs). I casually decided I'd go ahead and tag along, but it turned out to be way better than I was expecting. I loved it so much I saw it two more times. Before that, I couldn't even tell the difference between Goku, Gohan, and Goten. They all looked the same to me.
——So you were able to enjoy it even without any prior knowledge?
Tanaka: It was a lot of fun. The first act touched on Goku when he was just a baby, right? When his parents sent him off alone far away from Planet Vegeta. I didn't know much about Goku at the time, but I felt a lot of empathy for him. I felt the same way about all the hardship Broly went through, so I was happy that everything turned out okay in the end.
And the visuals were fantastic. I couldn't believe how good it looked. I only had vague memories of how the old anime looked, so the new movie left me stunned.
——And from there you decided to start watching the older anime series?
Tanaka: No, I just walked away thinking it was a good movie and that was it.
The thing that finally encouraged me to seek out the older series was watching Dragon Ball Super: SUPER HERO in 2022. Since I had such a good time with Broly, I figured Dragon Ball movies were a safe bet, so I went to see it by myself. It was so good that I went to see it a second time, and after that I became interested in Gohan, who was the main character of that movie.
But when it comes to the older anime, there's the original Dragon Ball, Z, Kai, GT, Super... It seemed like too much. I asked my mother which anime featured Gohan, and she said, "In your case, I'd recommend you try watching Kai," so that's what I did. After that I watched Super, followed by GT, and now I'm wondering if I want to watch Kai again or go all the way back to the beginning of Dragon Ball.
——What was it about Gohan that drew you to him in SUPER HERO?
Tanaka: Actually, the first time I saw it, my favorite character wasn't Gohan—it was Gamma 2.
——He's one of the brand-new characters that was made for the movie. I agree, he's really cool.
Tanaka: I thought his characterization and voice were great, so I went to watch it again for him, but then I noticed how politely Gohan spoke and all sorts of other little details that caught my attention. My mother told me that he's strong, but compared to Goku, who just trains all the time, Gohan was raised well by his mother, speaks politely, holds down a good job, and treasures his family. And those traits were definitely highlighted in the film, so I started to take a liking to him.
——Did you find other parts of Gohan that you liked while watching Kai?
Tanaka: For starters, he's such a cute kid. I almost couldn't focus on anything else in the story. The part that really got me is when he changes into the Saiyan battle jacket Vegeta gives him on Planet Namek. He was so adorable when he started taking off his little socks. I even made it my profile picture on LINE*.
*A popular app in Japan used for messages and calls.
——He just looks like a normal, adorable child during that scene of him changing. Especially with his bowl cut.
Tanaka: Yes! And despite that, he has to fight these dangerous battles. He got so angry and powerful when Raditz came to Earth, even though he only had a base Power Level of 1. That's charming in its own right, but a big part of me doesn't want to see him fight at all. Any time an enemy hit him, I wanted to yell, "Stop it!" then step in and take his place. I think this series has brought out my own powerful maternal instincts for the first time in my life.
An appreciation for maternity is the main thing I gained from Dragon Ball. Having a child like Gohan and raising him is one of my main goals in life now.
——What sort of parenting do you think is necessary for a child to become like Gohan?
Tanaka: First of all, I think they'd need to see me and my future husband being close and honest with each other. If the parents aren't happy, there's no way a child will become someone down to earth with a pure heart. And while it's important to give children a certain amount of freedom, it's also important to correct them sternly whenever they display any bad manners and the like.
...Wait, what kind of interview was this meant to be again? (laughs)
——You've really thought this through. I would have thought you'd already raised children.
Tanaka: I think an ideal father figure is someone with a laissez-faire approach to life like Goku. I can step in when it comes to teaching about respect or correcting bad behavior. That's basically the arrangement Goku and Chichi have.
——On that subject, what are you looking for in a partner or spouse? Is it someone like Gohan?
Tanaka: I can think of four people off the top of my head. Goku and Vegeta, and Trunks and Gohan. Of those four, Goku or Vegeta might be a little difficult, since they're always raring for a fight and constantly off training somewhere.
Little Trunks in Kai is such a cutie that I was thinking he might be my favorite at one point. In GT, he's the president of a huge corporation, rich, good-looking, not to mention strong and kind. He seems ideal. But his endearingly mischievous nature in Kai completely disappeared in GT, so I decided he wasn't going to be my favorite after all. Even someone as rascally as Trunks will get kind of uptight when they become a company president, and to me that's kind of a shame. Even though I like that job title (laughs).
So that just leaves Gohan. He's normally very carefree, and everyone around him sees him as a very kind person, but he's scary when he gets mad. He doesn't want to fight, but I'm sure if something happened to me or our kid, he'd be filled with rage and stand up to the bad guy for me. Someone like that is very appealing.
——Just now you said, "If something happened to me," but do you ever imagine yourself as a Dragon Ball character?
Tanaka: I once tweeted that I'd like to sit in the audience of the Tenkaichi Budokai with Gohan, eating a lollipop and watching the action...and now I think that was a creepy thing to say. I don't really daydream that much, so I was worried a post like that would get some negative attention from fans, but it's what I was thinking at the time, so there you go.
——That's true. Even during your time as a member of Morning Musume, you never really came across as nerdy.
Tanaka: That might be the first time I've shown that side of myself. But that might have been how my fans felt when I was in Morning Musume, and they'd always support me, tell me I'm pretty, and cheer me up when I was feeling down. They were so positive. I guess when you find someone who's your favorite, you accept everything about them.
——You could say Dragon Ball and Gohan helped you realize what it's like to be a fan of someone.
Tanaka: Yes. I was actually surprised. After I came to like Gohan, I realized how fun it is to root for someone who's your favorite.
――If there are any other scenes in Dragon Ball that you like, please let us know.
Tanaka: I actually wrote down my favorite scenes and thoughts on Kai and Super so I could answer that sort of question. Can I just read what I have here?
▲Reina Tanaka brought these notes with her on the day of this interview, filled with her thoughts on her favorite scenes.
・I couldn't concentrate on the show because Gohan was so cute.
・The various ways to become a Super Saiyan, the way in which Vegeta became an ally of sorts and so on were valuable learning experiences.
・I was so shocked at the scene when Raditz is defeated by Goku holding him in place as Piccolo fires his Makankosappo: Special Beam Cannon through both of them. It made me cry.
・Since I first saw the new movies after Piccolo and Vegeta turned good, seeing them as bad guys was a fresh experience.
・The scenes of Piccolo training Gohan are my favorite. Gohan eating the apple Piccolo leaves for him and calling it sour was too cute.
・I cried when Piccolo protected Gohan for the first time from Nappa.
・The scene where Gohan shows up to the ship heading for Namek with a bowl cut and Krillin says his outfit looks like Sunday school clothes. Also, the scene where he takes off his socks to change into his battle armor. Soooo cute!
・Come to think of it, I love all the parts with Gohan as a child.
・I like Gotenks from the Majin Buu arc. The scenes where he fights are really serious, but he cuts the tension a little.
・In episode 120 of Kai when Vegeta hugged Trunks for the first time and told him to take care, then knocked him out. He was the epitome of a noble sacrifice.
・The scene in Super when Vegeta was all nervous and made takoyaki for Beerus. I heard a lot of fans don't like that part, but I do.
・I had a crush on Android 17.
・Frieza and Goku locked in combat had me on the edge of my seat.
——Wow! You clearly have a passion for Dragon Ball.
Tanaka: I regularly jot down my thoughts on scenes that had an impact on me and tweet them as part of my Dragon Ball Diary. The reason is because I'm so forgetful and I also tend to be really excitable, only to cool off soon after. That means my passion for Dragon Ball may start to wane eventually, but even if that happens, I don't want to forget how I felt in the moment, so I decided to write down my thoughts and feelings about the anime as I watched it. Then, if I read them again later, I can remember those scenes and how they made me feel. It's nostalgic, you know?
At first I was worried that my fans who follow me would get annoyed and tell me to tweet more about my work or post selfies.
——Oh, but I'm sure a lot of your fans like Dragon Ball too. Plus, there's something nice and simple about being about to share your interests with people. Not to mention, people who like Dragon Ball may find your diary and end up wanting to learn more about you too.
Tanaka: I've actually gained more follows from people who like Dragon Ball ever since I started posting my diary. Now I understand how you can grow connections with people through similar interests.
——You said you came into Dragon Ball through the two most recent movies, then watched Kai, Super, and GT in that order. That's kind of a unique way to become a fan. You could say one of the appealing parts of Dragon Ball is how you can enjoy it no matter where you start.
Tanaka: Yes. In my case, I got invested in the characters and became especially taken with Gohan. In order to learn more about him, I skipped the original Dragon Ball and went straight into Kai. Despite taking that path, I'm totally obsessed.
But of course, I'm sure watching everything in order is a lot of fun too and makes certain parts even more enjoyable. I started with the new movies with no background on the series, so I didn't know anything about Gohan's personality or his master-student relationship with Piccolo when I watched SUPER HERO for the first time. That meant that there were a lot of parts I couldn't really empathize with, like the part where Gohan does the Beast transformation after Piccolo is beaten by the bad guy. When I saw it the first time, I didn't understand why he was holding back all that time. I thought, "If only he had awakened that transformation earlier, no one would have had to get hurt."
——That's true, if you don't understand that Gohan doesn't like to fight or the bond he has with Piccolo, that scene might be hard to appreciate.
Tanaka: Yeah. But now that I've watched Kai, I've been able to piece a lot of things together. Now I know that Piccolo was a bad guy who started to change through his connection to Gohan, to the point that he even gave his own life to protect him. Once I knew all that, I understood why Piccolo fought so hard to protect Gohan in the movie.
I also understood that since Gohan has always been such a kind and gentle person, he won't awaken a new power within himself unless he's really driven to the brink.
——I think starting with one of the new works and then going back and piecing the puzzle together is one way to enjoy the series, but seeing it in order definitely makes it easier to relate to the characters.
Tanaka: That's why I want to watch SUPER HERO again now that I understand everything Piccolo and Gohan went through together. I imagine I'll cry even harder.
——On that note, is there any type of Dragon Ball story you'd like to see?
Tanaka: Is it okay if it's something only I would want?
——That's totally fine.
Tanaka: I want a movie that follows all the ins and outs of Gohan's life. The series and movies so far give bits and pieces of his life as he grows from boy to an adult, but I want to know all the little details. Not just the fighting but something that focuses on his day-to-day life. Like what he likes to eat, what he looks like as he gets himself ready for a date with Videl, how much does he plan it out, and so on.
And I'd also like to see what his morning routine is like. When I mentioned this to my mom, she immediately slapped it down, saying no one would want to watch that.
——I wouldn't mind seeing what his morning routine is like.
Tanaka: Most movies are about two hours long, so putting his morning routine on the big screen might be hard (laughs). But I'd really like to see his more human side.
——Lastly, can you tell us if there's anything related to Dragon Ball you wish you could do?
Tanaka: This might sound conceited, but I'd love to sing the theme song to a Dragon Ball movie. I love the Limit-Break x Survivor theme song from Super so much that I want to sing it at one of my concerts. If one of my songs played during a Dragon Ball movie, I'd be on cloud nine. I know it sounds egotistical, but I think that makes sense for me to say since I'm a professional singer.
If that ever happened, I could retire without regret (laughs). That's how much that dream means to me.
Reina Tanaka: Born in Fukuoka Prefecture in 1989. Joined the six-member group Morning Musume in January of 2003. In the same year, she made her CD debut with the single "Shabondama". Following her departure from Morning Musume in 2013, she remained active in the music industry with her all-female band LoVendoЯ before pursuing a solo career starting in 2018.
Interviewer: Noriyuki Enami (Yajirobe)
Photographer: Kayo Sekiguchi
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