Analysed formats and programmes

>> Overview target group 6/7-13 years


Dragon Ball Z - the fascination of violence

Dragon Ball Z - between strong self-images and heightened readiness to resort to aggression

At the end of 1998, RTL2 launched an animation called Dragon Ball based on the successful manga. In addition, since August 2001 Dragon Ball Z is broadcast as part of a pre-primetime programme.

The narrative begins with the arrival on earth - from his mother planet Vegeta - of the main character, the boy Goku, who is sent to conquer the earth and sell it to the highest bidder. However, due to a head-injury he forgets his original assignment, takes a turn for the better and from then on saves the Earth from numerous alien invaders.
While in Dragon Ball the heroes are children, Dragon Ball Z is situated in a later timeframe.
Goku is married and the father of two children: Goten and Gohan, who both play a prominent part in Dragon Ball Z. Both formats are obviously fight-oriented.
While Dragon Ball partly centres around the quest for 7 magical balls (Dragon Balls) Dragon Ball Z is almost exclusively concerned with aggressive conflict. In long-drawn-out scenes brutal attacks between ludicrous heroes are presented, not excluding the depiction of hacked-off body parts and even death.
The programmes are a real success in ratings for children. Even if Dragon Ball Z is not officially broadcast for children, during the first 6 months of 2002 an average of 570.000 3-13-year-olds watched the series every night, three quarters of them being boys.
The IZI conducted qualitative interviews with 70 frequent viewers of Dragon Ball Z aged between 6 and 15 years old, about what is so fascinating in the series, what kind of fantasies the children have during their media reception, how these fantasies are connected to personality changes and how they fit into the everyday life of children and pre-teens. The evaluation of our data shows that the fighters and violent quarrels are a central attraction for Dragon Ball Z viewers. These are the reasons why they like the series, why they talk about it, copy the heroes in role-play and this is what they dream about. In particular, younger viewers cannot in any way, or only partly, understand the complex narrative structures and mystical elements, and a contextualisation into Japanese culture hardly takes place.
From a media educational point of view we have to make sure not to romanticise, but to take boys and girls seriously and deal with their fascination.

Dragon Ball Z is 'hip' in the peer-group, as a 9-year-old girls tells us. Sometimes she is frightened by the brutality, but she is somewhat proud that it no longer bothers her. For two other girls, the series opens scope for being influential and tough. For most of the interviewed boys enthusiasm for Dragon Ball (+Z) is connected to fantasies about the heroes. The boys envision themselves in the position of Goku i.e. Gohan and save the earth from a threat. They do not always have super-natural powers like the heroes, but they always have strong willpower and friendship for the other boys. The series therefore opens up scope for fantasy and a feeling of personal strength. For the appropriation of fights does not necessarily entail violent quarrels. Many school children talk enthusiastically about imitating the fights in the schoolyard: "We make our hair stand up with water and then fight for fun, without hitting each other properly!" (boy, 10 years old). In ritualised role-play, boys experience themselves being a boy in physical contact with others.
In response to the questions what can be learnt from the series, and if they recognise changes in themselves since they watch the series, a feeling of strength is reflected: "Yes, I feel stronger somehow. When someone hits me for example at school, then I really scream and hit back hard, like in Dragon Ball. Before, I never defended myself." Strength and the feeling of a new ability to put up with a fight are flanked by the potential readiness to fight back more easily and more successfully. It is well-known from research about boys' masculinity that boys feel threatened by other boys. With the inner images they gain from Dragon Ball Z they feel prepared against this threat. The feeling of strength is based on readiness for aggression; the means of settling a dispute is always a physical fight. They do not realise that in doing so they become a threat to others. To put this series in such a limited context does not reflect the whole diversity of its appropriation. So fandom is always partly putting oneself in the scene, e.g. as a tougher guy or a more influential girl. The self-image gained here can also have a different meaning. A 10-year-old boy for example explains: Dragon Ball Z is like a cushion - when I fall it doesn't hurt, because I imagine that I'm a fighter." His impression of the image of a Dragon Ball Z fighter suggests 'control of pain'. As in many cases, it is a complex interaction, on the one hand helping with accomplishment in life and fostering empathy, on the other hand problematic in its interpretation patterns and their significance for dealing with actual conflicts.