Why does Dragon Ball’s Goku look so freaky when drawn by One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda?

Special cover illustration for 50th anniversary issue of Weekly Shonen Jump terrifies fans of anime/manga martial arts saga.

This week, Weekly Shonen Jump, Japan’s biggest manga anthology, is putting out a very special issue. Volume 33, which hits stores on July 14, has been designated as the commemorative 50th anniversary edition of the magazine (which actually made its debut on August 1, 1968), and so publisher Shueisha wants to celebrate in style.

To that end, Volume 33 contains some noteworthy content, such as a new chapter of police gag comedy Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Koen Mae Hashutsujo (a.k.a. Kochikame) and Burn the Witch, an original one-shot manga from Tite Kubo, his first work since ending Bleach. But even before you get to what’s inside, Weekly Shonen Jump has a treat for fans, as the cover features Son Goku, hero of Dragon Ball, drawn by Eiichiro Oda, creator of One Piece.

▼ Son Goku and One Piece leading man Luffy exchange a bro hug at the bottom of the cover.

The crossover salute makes sense, seeing as how One Piece and Dragon Ball are Weekly Shonen Jump’s all-time number-one and number-two best sellers. However, some fans are arguing the combination is ill-advised…because Oda’s take on Son Goku is freaking them out. Reactions online so far have included:

“Look at those eyes and the shape of his mouth, Oda’s Goku is a straight-up psycho.”
“Oda’s Goku is insane. He looks like he’s going to keep that creepy smile on his face all the while as he tears your arm off.”
“Goku looks like he’d slug you as soon as you made eye contact.”
“I could see him gleefully murdering a group of small children.”
“I’ll be seeing that version of Goku in my nightmares.”
“I think if you stare at Oda’s Goku for too long, you’ll start losing your grip on your sanity.”

The Goku illustration has a strange duality to it. On the one hand, the art style is clearly Oda’s, and since One Piece is the best-selling manga of all time, simple logic suggests that anime/manga fans are definitely  used to, and for the most part agreeable to, Oda’s aesthetics. At the same time, there’s certainly something unsettling about his version of Goku.

Maybe the reason lies with the differing places in history Dragon Ball and One Piece occupy. While both are huge successes, Dragon Ball’s artwork, crafted by creator Akira Toriyama, has had the bigger influence on the industry as a whole. Goku’s sharp chin, angular eyes, and spiky hair went on to become common physical traits of anime protagonists throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and are so iconic that even when the Dragon Ball anime franchise rose from its decade-plus slumber with the recently started Dragon Ball Super arc, Goku’s character design was left practically unchanged. He’s essentially the subconscious mental image many people form when they think of “anime/manga action hero.”

On the other hand, Oda’s goal, from the start, was to make One Piece look weird. Sure, after more than 20 years of continuous serialization, everyone’s grown accustomed to Luffy’s looks, but perhaps the better term would be “desensitized,” since when the One Piece manga debuted, its character designs were definitely on the startling side. While many other manga have tried to duplicate One Piece’s success with stories about traveling heroes who keep picking up new adventure buddies as they defeat their opponents through the power of friendship, most of them stop short of aping Oda’s artwork, meaning that One Piece’s artistic style is still pretty singular, and thus jarring when applied to characters outside the series.

There’s also the fact that while they’re both muscular, Luffy and Goku have very different builds. Goku is beefy where Luffy is wiry (just check out the difference in their necks in Oda’s illustrations). Luffy’s beady eyes and pronounced fang-like teeth give his appearance a bit of a feral edge, but he’s also a skinny, excitable kid setting out for adventure on the high seas, so having him be a bit rough around the edges is keeping with his aura of youthful, maybe even reckless energy. Goku, though, is a full-grown adult here, and arguably the strongest fighter in the universe. Seeing someone with that much destructive capability drawn with Luffy’s wild smile and eyes instead makes Goku come off as unhinged, and about to unleash tremendous violence without remorse.

Still, being as successful and famous as Oda means being able to draw however you want, and considering how late Shueisha’s staff is already working, there’s really no point in clamoring for a redo of the illustration. Besides, if Oda’s Goku scares you that badly, at least you can take solace in knowing that when you’re actually reading the new Weekly Shonen Jump issue, you won’t be looking at the cover.

Sources: Hachima Kiko, Mantan Web
Featured image: Twitter/@mtmtSF

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