Shoko Nakagawa is not only a multi-talented entertainment figure in Japan, but she's also known for being a massive Dragon Ball lover who's done more than her fair share of Dragon Ball-related work over the years, whether that be performing covers of the theme songs or voice acting as the Seer Fish in the feature film "Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods!"
Shoko tells of how when she first picked up the series as a young girl, she "knew in [her] bones [she] wanted more". And it would seem that the series has never strayed too far from her heart as, even now, she rereads the manga once a year!
We were curious to find out more about the Dragon Ball-centric life Shoko has led up until now.
For today's article, we invited Shoko for an interview and asked her all about what it's been like to live and work with Dragon Ball over the years. She held nothing back and told us all about her Dragon Ball memories, her favorite characters and scenes, and even the connection between Dragon Ball and her late father.
*Interview was conducted while maintaining strict coronavirus prevention protocols.
—First off, can you tell us about how you first came across Dragon Ball as a young girl?
Shoko Nakagawa: I think that even in my very first memories, I was already living and breathing Dragon Ball and engrossing myself in the "Dragon Ball Z" anime, which was on-air at the time. Dragon Ball anime from back then had a really long "Previously..." section at the start of each episode, so it felt like there wasn't too much new content each time. *laughs* I guess that's one reason it was such a struggle waiting a whole week for the next installment. I can still remember the Hagoromo Foods and Rohto Kodomo Soft commercials that used to play in the ad breaks. There was one really catchy line in the Kodomo Soft one that went like, "Be sure to put one in your Dragon Case!"
—Oh yeah! Now that's a blast from the past! So your gateway into the world of Dragon Ball was the anime!
Shoko: That's right. When I was young, my parents were often both out working, and so when I was home alone, I watched an absolute ton of Dragon Ball anime—but there's one episode that I'll never forget. When the episode showing the final battle between Goku and Cell was on, I remember being out with my grandma and she ended up taking a really long time at church. I bawled my eyes out and wailed on about how I wouldn't be able to watch the episode in real time. The priest must've seen how upset I was because he gave me his little portable TV so I could watch it. All of that made watching the father-son Kamehameha scene that much more emotional!
—That's such a touching story.
Shoko: Oh, and while we're talking about the anime, I also used to rent the Dragon Ball movies from the video rental shop and watch them at home. My favorite was the one with Broly, "Dragon Ball Z: Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan" (1993)!
I love how the stories in the Dragon Ball movies all progress in a similar way. It starts out with a peaceful scene showing our favorite characters going about their lives, but suddenly a super scary bad guy shows up. Then the good guys fight back, and things are looking good for a while, but they end up getting their butts kicked. After that, sprinkle in a touch of Vegeta's trademark pessimism, one instance of Piccolo coming to save the day, and of course, a triumphant finish thanks to a perfectly timed Genki-dama or something. Ah, that's the good stuff! That full course Dragon Ball-movie experience is all I need!
—Aside from the anime, in what other ways have you enjoyed Dragon Ball?
Shoko: Way back when, there was a cassette tape called "Koro-chan Pack" that came with a picture book and had a handful of Dragon Ball songs. I listened to that tape every night as I fell asleep. Thanks to Dragon Ball, I was always full of energy in my elementary-school days!
—Did your school friends share your enthusiasm for Dragon Ball?
Shoko: As far as memories of me and friends go, it's gotta be Carddass. I remember showing off to all the boys when I pulled a Kira (Note: "Kira" is a type of rare card officially named "Prism"), and also being given cards by the rich boys whenever they got a duplicate. Which reminds me, there was another set of cards called "AMADA PP Cards" that they used to sell at sweet shops. They came in this paper wrapper and had the characters' Power Levels written on them. Oh no! Talking about all this has made me wanna go out and buy them again!
Shoko: Oh yeah, and there was also the "Chara-can"! They were juice cans with a plastic lid on top, then inside the lid there was a little character figure that came free. There was a commercial playing at the time where Goku would shout, "Chara-can!". Actually, not too long ago I spotted (the bonus figure from) a Chara-can at a Mandarake (a used-goods store). Although, I'm pretty sure there aren't many people these days who still use the word "Chara-can"! *laughs*
—Let me ask you a bit about the original manga. I heard that you reread the whole manga once a year, but when did you first read it?
Shoko: It was after I'd become obsessed with the anime. I started reading sometime after the Planet Namek arc had gotten underway, and I remember being a bit thrown off by the fear I felt reading a series where you had no idea which character would be killed off next. But that fear was exhilarating in its own right, and I knew in my bones I wanted more!
On top of that, I really liked the no-nonsense way the romances played out. I was reading a lot of manga aimed at young girls at the time too, but I often thought to myself, "Less love scenes, more fighting!" *laughs*
—Can you share with us some of your favorite characters, lines, and scenes from the series?
Shoko: My favorite character is, and always has been, Trunks! He's just so cool right from when he first appears in the series. A lot of the characters wear training uniforms, so it was super refreshing seeing Trunks looking slick in his denim jacket. I guess it wouldn't be an over exaggeration to say that Trunks defined my type—I can't get enough of silver-haired boys with good manners!
My absolute favorite Trunks look is when he comes out of the Room of Spirit and Time with long hair during the Cell arc. I can't handle that level of cuteness! I just wanna buy him dinner!
—*laughs* Future Trunks certainly has a lot of female fans.
Shoko: I also really like Vegeta. He's got so many great lines like, "Good luck, Kakarot... You are the champion!!" and "Trunks... Take care of Mom..." I can't get enough of how when he first meets Goku, they're mortal enemies, but before they know it, they're fighting alongside each other, and then little-by-little, Vegeta comes to respect Goku and begins showing kindness to others!
—You once tweeted, "I always well up thinking about parents passing things on to the next generation in Dragon Ball." You can really feel that with Vegeta and Trunks' relationship.
Shoko: The relationship between Vegeta and Trunks is so wonderful. In the Cell arc, Vegeta didn't really seem to care too much about Trunks, only occasionally treating him like a typical parent would. He didn't speak much, but he taught Trunks a lot just through his actions, which I think is just so cool. I especially like the scene where Trunks is getting set to return to the future, and Vegeta throws up his index and middle fingers towards Trunks without saying a word! I love that two-finger gesture and always think about how much Vegeta grew and changed since the days when he'd mercilessly kill an enemy and say something like, "Dirty fireworks"! And then Trunks' subdued grin in reaction to his father... Trunks is such a great kid!
—When you put it that way, you could even say that Dragon Ball is a story about parents and children.
Shoko: I definitely think so. I mentioned it earlier, but one family scene that I hold close to my heart is the father-son Kamehameha scene from the Cell arc. Even though he's already dead with no way to come back to life, seeing Goku watching over his son and supporting him until the end gets me every time.
Whenever I watch that scene, I always think of my father, who I lost at a young age. Sadly, I never got the chance to get close to him before he passed away, but I'm working in the entertainment industry just like he did, and I do a variety of work like singing and performing, which again, is just like him. I sometimes find myself thinking that there must really be something in my blood. Then when I'm singing, I get the feeling that my father is right there singing with me, in the same way Goku was there for Gohan for the father-son Kamehameha.
I think Dragon Ball is also a story about ancestry. After all, the strength of Goku, Gohan, and Vegeta stems from the fact that they're Saiyans.
—You talk about your own ancestry in your book "Neko no Ashiato" (published by Magazine House), don't you?
Shoko: I previously took part in a program called "Family History" (NHK) and got the chance to take a look at my family tree. Thanks to that, I found out that I have plenty of ancestors on my mother's side who, just like me and my father, were artists or loved cats, and it hit home again that it's all in my blood. Recently I've been thinking more and more about my ancestry, just like Saiyans do.
But as well as all that, Dragon Ball also teaches us about love that goes beyond blood. Even though Goku himself is a Saiyan and his Grampa Gohan was an Earthling, he loves him all the same, which really shows when he names his own son after him. It's like all that love was passed down to the next generation.
Piccolo and Gohan's relationship is also reminiscent of a parent-child relationship. When he's training Gohan, Piccolo pushes Gohan to his limits, but when it looks like Gohan is about to break, Piccolo gives him just a hint of support to make sure he pulls through. I also think that Gohan's deep respect for Piccolo originates from that period of intense training.
—I want to dig a bit deeper into how Dragon Ball has affected your life. In 2014, you tweeted, "When I made Goku's 'Oh well!' catchphrase my own, my tendency to think negatively vanished".
Shoko: Goku's a master of positive thinking, like when he agrees to marry Chichi, thinking to himself, "Well, I guess that's it... I did promise!" I really respect that about him. I guess the only exception would be when he tries to slack off work*! *laughs* I have a bad habit of stressing out about insignificant things and getting down, but at times like that I say to myself, "Oh well!" and try to bounce back.
*In the Dragon Ball Super anime, Goku is shown working as a vegetable delivery man and a guard.
—Have there been any other times where you felt the world of Dragon Ball or its characters influenced you or aided you in some way?
Shoko: When there's something that I have to get done but I keep running into problems, I try and remind myself about the Room of Spirit and Time. If I think to myself just once, "Ahh, I wish I could get this all done in the Room of Spirit and Time, but that room doesn't exist!", then I find I'm able to realize that I've got no choice but to power on through!
Dragon Ball's also helped me out in my professional life. Back when I'd not appeared on TV too many times, I got to work with Akiko Wada on a program we were making. When Akiko took interest in the fact that I was a pretty major manga and anime geek, I recommended Dragon Ball to her. She ended up buying a full set of the manga and reading it all! Later on, she told me, "I'm so glad that you got me into Dragon Ball! It was really good once I started reading it, and Goku is super cute!"
—Dragon Ball can really bring people together.
Shoko: Dragon Ball has helped me connect with people so many times. It's like a magic passport that gives you something to get excited about with people you've just met or who you otherwise wouldn't have too much in common with. It's like, you ask someone, "What's the chant to summon Planet Namek's Porunga?", and then they reply, "It's 'Takkaraputo-poporunga-pupiritto-paro', right?!"
—Woah! That was a pretty smooth recital of the chant!
Shoko: If aliens attacked Earth and demanded we show them something interesting or they'll destroy the planet, I'm pretty sure showing them Dragon Ball would be all we needed to do to save the world—the series is just that good!
Plus, with the "Dragon Ball" magic passport, you can have a blast with people from other countries too. When I took part in a cosplay event in France, I told a local boy who was dressed up as a Super Saiyan that I was a voice actress in Dragon Ball. He was thrilled and started asking me who I played. Maybe it's because the movie wasn't out at the time yet, but when I told him I was the Seer Fish*, he wasn't the least bit impressed! *laughs*
*Shoko was the voice actress for the Seer Fish in the 2013 movie "Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods".
—*laughs* But that just goes to show how Dragon Ball connects different generations and people from different countries, and how it's still such a beloved series around the world today.
What lies in store in the years to come for you and Dragon Ball?
Shoko: I think I'll take it upon myself to teach the younger generations about the wonder of Dragon Ball as a form of mandatory education! But I won't be forcing the series upon anyone, I'll simply continue to let everyone know that Dragon Ball is the best!
Shoko Nakagawa was born in Tokyo in 1985. In 2002 she was crowned "Miss Weekly Shonen Jump" and made her debut in the entertainment industry. In 2006 she debuted as a singer with the CD "Brilliant Dream". In 2007 she made her first appearance on NHK's "Kōhaku Song Contest" with the song "Sorairo Days". In her career thus far, Shoko has worked as a singer, a TV show host, a voice actress, an actress, a writer, an illustrator, and more. She authored the book "'Shinun janēzo!!' Ijimerareteiru Kimi wa Zettai Warukunai" ("'Don't Go Dying on Me!!' Dear Victims of Bullying: It's Not Your Fault") (Bungei Shunjū) and also runs her own YouTube channel, "Nakagawa Shoko no 'Wo'".
Interview & Article: Yuki Yamadai
Photography: Kayo Sekiguchi
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