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Why Is Dragon Ball So Popular in Latin America?

Fans all over the world paid tribute to the late "Dragon Ball" creator Akira Toriyama, but the outpouring was especially strong in Latin America.

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An Argentine Dragon Ball fan disguised as Goku takes a picture with supporters during a Dragon Ball fan reunion to bid a final farewell to Japanese manga comic creator Akira Toriyama, at the Obelisk in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 10, 2024. (©REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian)

The passing of manga artist Akira Toriyama on March 8 has triggered a wave of mourning worldwide. His seminal work, Dragon Ball, has enjoyed extraordinary popularity, particularly in Central and South American nations. Politicians and sports organizations from the region have expressed condolences for the great artist. Son Goku, the series' protagonist, has even been described as a "folk hero" in Latin America by The Washington Post. But what exactly fuels the fervor for Dragon Ball in Central and South America?

Thousands gathered at a memorial event in Buenos Aires on March 10, where fans shouted "Akira!" in unison. Reuters released photos of Argentinian fans cosplaying as Son Goku and other Dragon Ball characters.

Argentine Dragon Ball fans perform a Kamehameha as they bid a final farewell to Japanese manga comic creator Akira Toriyama, at the Obelisk in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 10, 2024. (©REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian)

Condolences poured in from politicians as well. While French President Emmanuel Macron's tribute on X (formerly Twitter) garnered attention, Central and South American leaders have also paid special homage. Brazilian Vice President Geraldo Alckmin posted in Japanese, "Thank you very much, Akira Toriyama!" Bolivian President Luis Arce shared a video on TikTok paying tribute. The El Salvadoran government also extended its sympathies.

In the sports realm, esteemed soccer clubs such as Brazil's CR Flamengo and the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) offered their condolences.

These responses from Central and South America underscore the wide-reaching impact of Dragon Ball.

Overwhelming Popularity

An article by pop culture news website CBR said, "Mexico and Latin America might be where its biggest fanbase resides." A 2018 Google Trends survey found that nine out of the top ten regions showing the most interest in the sequel Dragon Ball Super were in Central and South America, including Nicaragua and Peru. The final episode of the series aired in 2018.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported that Mexico experienced a surge in public screening events in 2018. However, many of these events lacked the necessary copyright permissions, prompting warnings from Japanese producers.

In response, an event held in Ciudad Juárez in northern Mexico obtained permission and attracted an estimated crowd of 15,000 attendees.

Even restaurants in Mexico have been named after Goku and his companions. CBR described the characters as "the true modern successors to the likes of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse."

Argentine Dragon Ball fans perform a Genkidama as they bid a final farewell to Japanese manga comic creator Akira Toriyama, at the Obelisk in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 10, 2024. (©REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian)

Macho Men

The anime adaptation of Dragon Ball aired in Central and South America during the 1990s. According to sources like CBR, its popularity can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, a key element was the economic advantage and convenience of importing foreign content, including from Japan.

Secondly, the series' numerous episodes and frequent reruns established a deep connection across multiple generations of viewers.

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Thirdly, the prevalence of machismo in Latin American cultures is said to have played a role. The enduring appeal of telenovelas, with macho male protagonists and glamorous female leads in melodramatic narratives, is said to have created an environment receptive to characters like the brawny Goku and his companions.

Argentine Dragon Ball fan Alexis Siri, 39, holds his son, Noah, 5, who is disguised as Vegeta, as they bid a final farewell to Japanese manga comic creator Akira Toriyama, at the Obelisk in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 10, 2024. (©REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian)

Fourthly, the family values of Catholicism, predominant in the region, are thought to be another factor. The Dragon Ball series, spanning three generations — Goku, his son Gohan and grandson Goten, and granddaughter Pan — explores themes of familial bonds and intergenerational cooperation. This is thought to have resonated thematically with the audience. A Los Angeles Times column wrote: "Goku is a buff man's man! He loves his family, returns from the land of the dead a few times, [and] adheres strongly to his sense of duty."

In the world of sports, many soccer players openly profess their admiration for Goku. Brazil's Neymar even sports a tattoo of the character on his back. The Washington Post observed that "Goku has long been considered a kind of folk hero." It further explored how Dragon Ball resonated with athletes due to its focus on training and self-improvement.

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(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Eiji Honma, The Sankei Shimbun