That has got to be the single funniest lyric in all of Television Theme Song history. It makes me laugh every time.
Anywho, as many nerds who’ve emerged from the ’90s, I’m a huge fan of the Dragon Ball franchise. And like 99.98% of Dragon Ball fans, I was hugely disappointed with Dragon Ball Evolutions without ever having to see it. I saw the Honest Trailer on YouTube and that was enough. To be totally honest, I saw the cast and knew then and there that I’d never need to see it at all. But lately, I have given some thought to a Dragon Ball movie – mostly lamenting that a good American version will probably never be (because let’s face it: American live-action anime movies suck without fail. Although that’s pretty unfair, considering that Evolutions is literally the only one I can think of, and Initial D was a Hong Kong film). With the recent improvement in superhero movies – which the 80s never thought would be a success – though, I’m willing to entertain the idea (I was super excited to see a Robotech movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, but alas!). The problem with Dragon Ball Z? Man of Steel stole its thunder. Really.
If we think about the most compelling Dragon Ball Z story arc, it’s gotta be the coming of Vegeta – a militant hard-ass from a destroyed planet of super-powered aliens – who reveals Goku’s true origins as a member of that race, sent as a babyto basically conquer Earth. Sound a little familiar?
Granted, Clark Kent, even in the new version, was never sent to conquer Earth (although his father did say he’d be a god) – but the rest? I won’t go so far as to say that Zod has taken a page out of Vegeta’s book, since he’s always been after conquest of Earth in just about every incarnation – but the characters are indeed from a similar vein at the outset.
So, in summation, I would not start off a Dragon Ball franchise with Z as the basis. Rather, I would probably actually start with Dragon Ball – a compelling story that I feel is a healthy departure from any American superhero stories to date. Why?
For one, I really appreciate that while, yes, Goku has the genetic edge in being Saiyan, he does work his butt off in martial arts training from the time he was a young boy. We don’t have American superheroes like that; certainly none in the current mass media. I’d say that the closest is Captain America, who was a soldier and has that genetic superiority due to government experiments. Batman also worked for every skill he has, without alien powers of governmental intervention – though he was heir to a billion-dollar fortune that he didn’t work for. One that would fit the bill pretty well, if we ever see her origins, is Wonder Woman – trained as a warrior from a young age and a member of a super-strong race. Still, look at the movies we have: Spider-Man, Superman, the Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man. All of them pretty miraculously attain their abilities without grueling work – and if grueling work is involved (again, Wonder Woman), we don’t tend to see it; it’s only implied.
If, then, I were to write a Dragon Ball movie – a good one, mind you – I would start with Goku as a child, training under his grandfather, and maybe Master Roshi, in Martial Arts. We would see his transformation into a hero who will work hard to save the world because he was raised to do what’s right. What would be difficult to portray on the big-screen, live-action and starting in this period of Goku’s life is… well… him becoming a giant monkey and crushing his grandfather. I think the monkey bit is a fairly important arc in the overall story; it’s one of the largest threats Vegeta offers when he arrives, it helps explain how the Saiyans thought a baby could destroy earth on his own, and killing the man who raised him is definitely a defining moment in Goku’s life (well, the realization that it was him), but it is very goofy to include in a live-action movie to appeal to Americans at large (unless it’s primarily a children’s movie… which would actually be very fitting, although stepping on your grandfather is not an image most parents want in their children’s minds).
I would definitely set the story in its native Japan. I would cast mostly Japanese actors – although I mean, I don’t care that much about Bulma, for example. Krillin, too. But enough with Asian people taking the backseat in their own stories. No more Tom Cruises being the last samurai, or Keanu Reeves being a ronin (though I know his character was mixed-race, and that’s pretty cool in my book, but still!), no more David Carradines being playing an oppressed bi-racial Chinese man when he knows neither the culture nor the oppression. I think we’ve reached a point where we’re open-minded enough, as a whole, to watch another race take the lead in a movie franchise. And if we can watch Thor fight monsters in an entirely different realm, we could survive a fictionalized Japan. Or even, forget that and have it be in some made-up parallel-universe. Whatever. It’s not going to be in Oklahoma, is what I’m saying. (Nor in California, Hollywood.)
Anyways, in the first movie, he’d probably be about the age of the kid in Ender’s game for the main storyline. While I’d like to stay away from Piccolo as the villain, to maintain distance from Evolutions, it’s somewhat unavoidable. Though I think chronically his journeys, his dealings with Yamcha for instance, would be pretty fun to watch. There’s already a seed planted for god-aliens in our cultural-subconscious: I can’t be the only one who saw that Ancient Aliens program on History Channel, talking about how this village of Chinese people say that their ancestors came from the stars – that’s a good opening for Kami-sama and how he came to viewed as a god, which also opens the way for Piccolo.
The next movie would take place years later (as the anime similarly lapses), when Goku reunites with the Z fighters to avert a new threat that Kami-sama has alerted them to: the arrival of the Saiyans. During that movie, Vegeta would gain sympathy (as he did the anime) talking about Vegeta (the planet) being destroyed by Freeza. The last installment would see Vegeta and Goku team up to take Freeza down.
I know this cuts out some of the best stuff: Trunks, the androids, the Cell saga. But if I were to stick to a trilogy, that’s probably the arch I would follow.