It’s more or less common knowledge that the original Dragonball manga was based on the Buddhist legend Journey to the West about the Monkey King who had a flying cloud and a size-changing staff asked a great dragon to grant his wish before going on a journey with a shape-shifting pig and a dessert nomad. The story is pretty popular worldwide, and is the basis of numerous movies and even a rock opera.
What strikes me though, is how much Dragonball Z seems reminiscent of another, much older tale: The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Take a look at the above clip, heavily edited and remixed though it is. You have a powerful, well-liked god-like being (Goku) who once fought epic multi-day battles with a hideous creature (Piccolo) feared by the populous, now fighting side-by-side with the monster-man, trusting him with his life.
Alternatively, you could see it as the story of a god-like but naïve innocent raised in a primitive land (Goku) facing a god-like but arrogant prince (Vegeta) who fight for days at a time, only to ultimately become trusted allies who would fight to the death against their foes, and fight to bring the other back from the afterlife.
Either way you look at it, that is the story of Gilgamesh.
Gish, as some call him, was an ass. Sure, he was strong enough to lift a mountain – after all, his mother and two grandparents were gods, making him two-thirds god – yeah, he was the rightful heir to the kingship of Uruk, and of course, he did build the great walls of the city creating a safe and prosperous community, but he was still an ass. He’d get drunk every chance he had, he always used his rights as a king with every young bride in town, and to be honest, he destroyed nearly as much as he built.
The people wanted him to be a good king, so the hoped and prayed for someone to straighten him out and show him right from wrong. Their prayers were answered when a young hunter found a wild man living among animals in the forest. He was also strong enough to lift a mountain, but innocent enough to drink side-by-side with deer. The hunter went to the king, hoping Gish would smite someone who deserved it for once. Gish, however, would have none of it. He knew the best way to deal with someone totally innocent was to get them laid – so he sent a prostitute to fight the monster for him. And fight him she did – for a week, non-stop.
With their, uh, we’ll call it “battle,” over, Enkidu realized the animals wanted nothing to do with him, so Shamhat – that was the priestess’s name – took Enkidu to the world of man. Where would a nice holy prostitute take a newly experienced guy for his first night on the town? They went drinking. Slightly inebriated at a wedding party, Enkidu began to complain about the animals abandoning him and about how everyone keeps talking about this king guy and about how the bride was pretty hot and then Gish showed up, as he was want to do, to have his way with the young maiden before her groom could. Enkidu would have none of that, so he jumped in, gave Gish a good punch in the face, and the fight was on – for a week, non-stop.
After knocking down a few buildings and recreating the local landscape, the two heroes began to tire and Gish finally got the upper hand. Rather than kill Enkidu, however, Gish had a change of heart. He stretched out his arm, lifted up his erstwhile enemy and from that moment on the two were inseparable comrades-in-arms.
Having someone nearly kill you and destroy your city may not seem like the best way to make friends, but hey, it’s a guy thing.
Well, that’s how I tell the story… read it for yourself and make your own conclusions.
Or have Picard tell it (starting at the 4:50 mark).
Update: For more on the DB background before seeing (or avoiding) Dragonball: Evolution, check out io9’s rundown.