Becoming Heroes

Like many, I was a fan of the first season of Heroes…. right up until its “epic” last battle with Sylar. The thing is… as you might’ve noticed… that last battle was not epic at all. As I do so many things in life, I’m going to explain this in Dragon Ball Z terms…

So we are offered a Goku in Peter: a nice guy who just wants to do good – who also happens to have the potential to be the most powerful humanoid in the universe. He even trains a little bit to try and sharpen his skills. Good for him! We are also offered Vegeta in the form of Sylar: maybe not a bad guy, but certainly with a great capacity of evil – who also happens to have powers that could come to rival the protagonists, if not quite as naturally/effortlessly, and with a head-start.

We have supporting cast: Hiro/Krillin, Glasses Guy/… I don’t know… Piccolo, Buff White Chick/Bulma, her boyfriend/Yamcha, Cheerleader/… Chi-Chi? Is Nathan Raditz? And Parkman… In any case, we have a great ensemble and many potential heroes, but none who are quite on the level of our protagonist/antagonist… so obviously when it comes down to a final, epic battle… yes, some teamwork is involved – but overall, the expectation would be that the final battle would see the two most fitting rivals converging. This is something Dragon Ball Z has shown us over and over again – but that Heroes took one look at and balked. Perhaps they thought it they gave us a Peter/Sylar show-down, we’d be satisfied with that and forget about the show entirely? Alas, they underestimated our extreme excitement to see such show-downs over and over and over again. I mean, seriously: how many fights did Goku and Vegeta get into? And now how many actually bored you? (Well… you know… besides for the episodes-long power-ups).

That’s just one of my issues with Heroes. When the moment came for Peter to live-up to the title of the show, he wussed out, and the “final battle” with Sylar amounted to a bunch of people taking a whack or two at Sylar. Now, I know that Yajirobe is the one who cut-off Vegeta’s tail, much like Hiro was the one who stabbed Sylar with a friggin katana – but removing Vegeta’s tail was far from a final blow, and it only demonstrated that the defeat of Vegeta was arduous… not just a gang of people randomly pot-shotting one (admittedly bad) guy.

This makes for an easy comparison to the final battles of video games: typically, you have a team. That team stands by you throughout each battle; you begin to think of them as a single unit with your hero. In Persona 3, you can have the protagonist, Akihiko, Aigis, and Koromaru or Ken or Mitsuru or whomever. In KOTOR, you actually get to face off with Malak alone, which is awesome (and basically the hardest fight ever… or maybe just for me)… but up until then you have Bastila, Carth, Zaalbar, the ever entertaining HK-47, and T3-M4 – who basically won my entire penultimate battle against Malak single-handedly (immune to many force powers and able to heal my party when Malak fled; I hardly leveled HK-47 at all due to my insistence on playing mostly-light side). Final Fantasy always gives you your teams. But because you are controlling all members of your party in these fights, the accomplishment feels like a win for you – the player – who has trained and leveled-up and tried every tactic after death scene after death scene (my tactic when fighting Malak? Stock-up on grenades, especially shock ones/ice ones, run really far, throw a grenade, hit him a little bit, then continue to run like hell).

You feel satisfaction in those wins because it took effort, and it was challenging and utilized the sum of your training. Because it was the fruitage of one person’s struggles against a worthy adversary: yours.

So yes, in TV shows like Heroes, you do track the progress of several different characters of the arc of the series. That’s a trend continuing more and more. You don’t want writers to just drop the ball entirely by forgetting about the characters once shit gets real. But you don’t want to totally neuter the main character either, by rendering their efforts useless in comparison to a few slaps in the face by auxiliary characters. I think, in this case and despite my many problems with the movies itselfMan of Steel did well in that department: we followed a determined soldier trying to protect his country from beings vastly out-matching him… and win (sort of) – throwing back a catchy little jab at said beings, at that. Meanwhile, the ultimate, most difficult victory was still Clark’s.

For our own game, we face the same difficulty all game creators do: making boss battles feel meaningful and difficult – without being impossibly frustrating. While we’re a little limited with the Pokemon-like battle-system, acquiring skills and leveling up will vastly aid us in this quest.

Balls of Dragon

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.