Dragon Ball Evolution was released in Spring 2009. We covered the news leading up to its release extensively, and reviewed it on our podcast following both its Japanese and American theatrical debuts. Following its home release on DVD and Blu-ray, it seems to have faded away with little more than a whimper to remind us that it even existed in the first place. Whatever there was to say about it as a movie seems to have already been said. Reflecting on all of the arguments and discussions leading up to its release, though, it seems crazy that there is nothing left to say.
We wanted to take a slightly-more-“objective” (as if that is really possible) look at the movie, ignoring any personal feelings about whether the adaptation was “good” or not, and compare certain aspects to the original source material. What things were carried over intact? What things were given a new spin? What things totally caught us off-guard and made us question if it was even a Dragon Ball movie in the first place?
That’s exactly how we decided to break it down:
- Stuff They Got Right: These are the things that we smiled at. They reminded us of the series we enjoy, and showed that someone on the production side of the live-action movie either did a little research, or had a little bit of fandom living within them.
- Stuff They Missed: There were plenty of additional opportunities for the production team behind Evolution to really drive it home for fans. Even if the script was kept essentially identical to its final version, these minor changes could have made a world of a difference.
- Stuff Out Of Left Field: Huh? Where did that come from? These things either made little sense in relation to the Dragon World, or simply made no logical sense in general. Wacky changes to characters, entirely new special techniques… the list goes on and on.
- Miscellaneous Changes: These random things just do not fit in any of the other sections. Perhaps it was a little change to some back history, or maybe it was a changed location. They do not really affect anything any which way, and could mostly be seen as minor adaptations to fit with the newly condensed (and heavily adapted) story. We figured they warranted a quick mention.
Before diving it, we will once again reiterate that most of these have little to do with whether or not the movie — as a regular movie — is actually “good” or “bad”. Some will come from a a fandom-enthusiast perspective in terms of things we thought were missed opportunities, sure, but do not let that detract from your enjoyment of the below examination!
Stuff They Got Right
These are the things that we smiled at. They reminded us of the series we enjoy, and showed that someone on the production side of the live-action movie either did a little research, or had a little bit of fandom living within them.
Simply having either Goku or Grandpa Gohan with a red staff was a wonderful little bonus. This was the perfect example of something that did not have to be included in the movie, but it made a world of a difference for being there.
The four-star-ball being verbally named with its Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese writing, exactly as in the original manga? Yes, please.
Bulma just as easily could have said, “my dad’s laboratory” or something else vague. Instead, the full-on “Capsule Corporation” is appropriately name-dropped! We unfortunately do not get any additional details on what specific things Capsule Corporation is responsible for (possible Bulma’s motor bike?), and even in the big city of Paozu there are no Capsule Corporation logos or labels on any technology sitting around. Even without further exposition, it was a great little inclusion.
There were only a couple hints of this in the live-action movie (Grandpa Gohan’s preparation of the birthday dinner, and the above shot when Goku and Bulma just arrive in the city), but the over-the-top food inhalation is a trademark of the Son family that absolutely should be included. It was great to have this little nod sprinkled here and there.
Tiny Amount of Roshi Perversion
You can only take it so far with a PG rating, so the few instances of perversion from the Evolution version of Roshi were welcome. The main example was the hands-on-the-hips moment right after leaving his house, which was really all we could ask for. Bulma’s finding of “Bikini Quarterly” was just icing on the cake.
Goku Runs With Stuff On His Back
This was the type of scene the movie needed a little more of sprinkled throughout. It makes sense for the point they are at in the story, it looks funny, it looks cute… and it is a clear nod to the original version. After Goku and friends set off from Master Roshi’s house, Goku packs some belongings up on his back and runs alongside Bulma’s vehicle as they make their way on their journey. The way it all comes together is a clear nod to Goku’s and Kuririn’s training with Kame-Sen’nin in which they wore giant turtle shells on their backs to boost their strength and endurance.
While technically stolen from Pilaf in the original version, the fact that Piccolo traveled around by airship was a nice little nod. You could even consider the special room in which he created the Fu Lum to have a sort of “throne” similar to what was seen in the original.
While the Evolution version of the attack did not culminate with a drop into an electric rice cooker, its version of the Mafūba is certainly quite close to the original story’s version. Piccolo was caught in a giant wave-like blast and thrown down to a container… which was cracked at the last second, preventing his capture. The attack consumes the life of its user, and our heroes must find another way to defeat their enemy. The description might as well be written for Toriyama’s original version! With the exception of a slight mispronunciation (no extra emphasis on the final ba, and the fū should be elongated), it was pretty accurate.
Stuff They Missed
There were plenty of additional opportunities for the production team behind Evolution to really drive it home for fans. Even if the script was kept essentially identical to its final version, these minor changes could have made a world of a difference.
Name of the High School
This was another missed opportunity that, like the below example with Sifu Norris, could have only added another minor nod to please long-time fans. “Unitech” High School seems like an odd name, especially considering we do not get a chance to see much of the school beyond a brief classroom scene and Goku busting open all the lockers with his ki. It is possible that the producers were trying to get across the idea that it is a semi-“futuristic” world with lots of technology, but since there is already an established name for a high school in the original version, they might as well just have gone with that one.
The Turtle Hermit… With No Turtle
The old Chinese/Taiwanese live action film understood that the Turtle Hermit should at least maybe have a turtle. While once speaking aloud his name as “Muten-Roshi”, the “Kame-Sen’nin” part is entirely lost in translation. With all of the junk cluttering up the Evolution version of Master Roshi’s home, you would think that a pet turtle in a glass case would be a easy inclusion and appropriate nod to fans. There would not even be a need to acknowledge the turtle; just having it there in the background seems like such a no-brainer. Maybe even just a cute little turtle on his silly shirt, instead of an anime chick?
The Random Tournament
It seems a little strange to include a massively-attended fighting tournament and not somehow related it to the series’ trademark Tenka’ichi Budōkai. As you will continue reading, Japanese words are not entirely removed from the script, so why not use some Dragon World lore to your advantage? Even a dub-specific-“World Martial Arts Tournament” would have at least been a nod to some version of the original series, rather than its generic tournament known only by its location in Toisan.
Master Roshi’s… err… Master
Sifu “Norris”…? You have already implied that this person is somehow related to Master Roshi’s training in the past (perhaps his teacher), and you have no problem busting out Japanese words like Sūshinchū… so why not just call the guy “Mutaito”…? If not this particular character, the leader of the seven monks that originally sealed Piccolo away could have been name-dropped as “Mutaito”. The most basic of research could have yielded one more nod for fans that would not have negatively affected anything else at all. Hardly detrimental to the movie, but a wasted and completely missed opportunity.
The Final Battle
It was such a tease. After an incredibly disappointing and rather anticlimactic battle between Goku and Piccolo, it seems as if the director was leading us to a familiar finish to the fight… and totally blows the opportunity. Let’s be honest; there was no way a PG movie was going to have Goku bursting through the chest of his enemy, and we certainly were not expecting him to spit an egg into the distance. With each of them flying toward each other at the exact accurate angle from the original, it seems ridiculous that the famous shot couldn’t finish it off. End it in slow-motion with Goku having just flown past Piccolo with one fist stretched out in front of him and you’re solid. Better yet, toss a ghost-like shadow of the Ōzaru behind Goku right as he is about to slam into Piccolo. Instead, what do we get? Goku kinda bumps into Piccolo mid-air, and then they fall to the ground. We think. It’s not entirely clear what happens in the movie. Goku definitely wins, though. Sorta.
Ignoring the acting talent of Justin Chatwin, and even ignoring the script he is given to work with, it is impossible to view this character as “Goku”. The Goku we know is always sure of himself (and even in the rare instances that he’s not, he at least remains confident in something). The Goku we know has no real interest in women. The Goku we know naturally picks up on new fighting styles and techniques. The Goku we know certainly never went to school. It can be argued in a variety of ways how the script and characters “needed” to be changed to fit this new take on the story, but no matter your take on the movie as a whole, the fact remains that the Evolution portrayal barely resembles his namesake. Slap the name “Gohan” on him if this were a later movie in a possible series, go ahead and keep him in high school, possibly have him lose a baseball game, or something… and maybe we could talk. Goku? Not so much. This one was a clear miss.
Stuff Out Of Left Field
Huh? Where did that come from? These things either made little sense in relation to the Dragon World, or simply made no logical sense in general. Wacky changes to characters, entirely new special techniques… the list goes on and on.
Shadow Crane Strike
It is clear that the Kamehameha will be the “super move” of the movie. Why, then, bring in another specifically-named attack? For all the times it is mentioned, it ends up being nothing more than a weak plot device for Roshi to figure out Goku’s connection to Grandpa Gohan (in the original story it being Nyoi-Bō, which was already present in the opening to the movie, anyway!). If there is going to be this random, extra attack… why not pull something directly from the original story? The setup for the attack is close enough to something like the Zanzō-ken, and again… since we are already tossing out Japanese words left and right, we may as well pull something from the original source material. The inclusion of the word “Crane” is equally strange, as it is heavily associated with Tsuru-Sen’nin and his cohorts… none of which are seen in this movie.
The inclusion of this phrase at all is a clear grab at the Avatar: The Last Airbender crowd. Absolutely nothing named in this style appears in the original source material. While it would be fair to say that ki control and manipulation becomes a heavy focus at times, it is never given an additional name in this same way. Thankfully, it is just a toss-away line spoken by Roshi… one that comes out of left field, none-the-less.
Shape-Shifting Mai Working With Piccolo
You could make the argument that Mai is somewhat integral to the plot in the resurrection of Demon King Piccolo, but this character appears to be nothing more than a random insertion for plot convenience, and one that only barely takes any elements from pre-existing Dragon Ball characters. While in the original story Mai is one of the bumbling Pilaf’s minions and happens to be along for the ride when they bring Piccolo back to life, she was far from being a skilled assassin, and certainly had no special powers like the shape-shifting seen with the movie version of the character. The Evolution version of Mai seems to play the role of Piano combined with one of the more fighting-based demon-spawn of Piccolo, but we are given absolutely no back story for her. Why does she serve Piccolo? Is she even human? What’s with that outfit? Did she steal Mr. Satan’s jet-pack?
This one is more a combination of “things they got right” with “things they missed”, but since it is not completely one of the two, we will classify it as coming out of left field. While the original story’s Piccolo is able to create minions by spitting up eggs (later revealed to be the Namekian process of reproduction), the Evolution version of Piccolo has demons genetically created from his blood samples. These “Fu Lum” have the ability to reproduce themselves when split in half, which seems to be a nod to the Namekian ability to regenerate body parts… though we never saw a Namekian get split in half and then create two new beings from the severed parts. It is certainly an interesting take on the original (and one of the few adaptations/modernizations that actually makes sense in the movie), but one that serves little purpose other than allowing Goku to create a bridge to get a Dragon Ball.
We have seen characters transfer ki between each other in order to either heal them (Goku to Freeza) or simply provide more energy (DBZ Movie 8), but using the Kamehameha as CPR? Very strange. While the Kamehameha has itself been performed in a variety of ways (most interestingly being from the feet), its sole purpose has almost always been pure destruction. Raising your hands to the sky and delivering a gigantic blast of energy directly into someone’s chest while shouting “Kamehameha!”…? Now that is strange.
It seems weird to classify this one here rather than under “Stuff They Got Right”, but when you step back to look at it, it really does come out of left field in terms of its execution regardless of whether you even like it or not. Sure, we saw it coming from the very beginning of the movie, and Piccolo might as well just have said, “No… you… ARE… Ōzaru!“, but everyone was caught off guard in some respect. The full moon was brought in somewhat appropriately, and while there was also no connection with Saiyans yet in the original source material, having Ōzaru (as a singular individual and a proper name, mind you) be Piccolo’s henchman somehow reborn in a human body was a particularly head-scratching change. For the record, though, the emphasis (if you truly place any at all, which you really don’t…) would go on the first, elongated Ō-syllable, rather than the za in the middle. Just sayin’.
These random things just do not fit in any of the other sections. Perhaps it was a little change to some back history, or maybe it was a changed location. They do not really affect anything any which way, and could mostly be seen as minor adaptations to fit with the newly condensed (and heavily adapted) story. We figured they warranted a quick mention.
- Full Names: In one of Mai’s few lines of dialogue, she says the full name of “Son Goku” to Piccolo. While Gohan is never labeled with this surname, his name is mispronounced by Roshi with the “han” sounding as it does in “hand”. Bulma introduces herself as “Bulma Briefs” which seems to be a FUNimation-only creation; Dr. Brief’s name is spelled as such (ブリーフ / burîfu or “Brief” instead of “Briefs”), and Bulma herself is never given any additional name. In the “Junior Novel” adaptation of the script, Bulma is given the full name of “Bulma Enchanto” and Chi-Chi is given the full name of “Chi-Chi McRoberts”, neither of which appear in the final movie script (though do resurface in the PSP game based on the movie). Roshi introduces himself (in somewhat flashy form) as the great “Muten-Roshi”, though goes simply by “Roshi” to all other characters for the remainder of the film.
- Namekian Back-History: Goku reveals that in the Evolution universe, Earth was threatened by an evil alien race called “Nameks” two thousand years ago, and Piccolo was one of them. In the original version, once we actually learn about Planet Namek and its inhabitants, we are immediately told that Demon King Piccolo was the anomaly and that they are a peaceful race. Furthermore, Demon King Piccolo created his own minions from scratch, rather than an unrelated, dedicated minion like “Oozaru the Destroyer” (further described as a “Saiyan” named “Kakarot” in the Dragon Ball Evolution “Junior Novel” adaptation).
- The Dragon Ball Story: When Goku receives Sūshinchū from Grandpa Gohan on his 18th birthday in Evolution, he is told how they work as a collective group of seven to summon Shenlong and grant a wish. Bulma calls them “Promethium Orbs” and, while she seems to not be completely shocked there are more of them, does not quite understand their significance. In the original version, it is Bulma who knows the full story behind them before she even meets up with any other character, and Goku who thought Sūshinchū was just a memento left behind from his grandfather.
- Bulma’s Wish: While in the original version Bulma had planned to wish for strawberries (and eventually a boyfriend), the Evolution version of the character plans to create some sort of unlimited form of energy, presumably to make the world a better place… and make some money and get famous, of course, in the process.
- Grandpa Gohan’s Death: It is revealed much later in the original series that it was actually Goku, himself (as an Ōzaru), that stomped on and killed his adoptive grandfather. In Evolution, Piccolo is the one responsible for his death by destroying his home on top of him, crushing him in the wreckage.
- Roshi’s Home: In the original version, Goku’s home is located out in the boonies on Mount Paozu, while Kame-Sen’nin lives out in the ocean off the coast of the east district of the Dragon World. In Evolution, “Paozu” appears to be a modernized city, where Roshi lives in a not-so-modernized home that sits on some land that jets out as its own sort of peninsula surrounded by the rest of the city.
- Goku & Chi-Chi’s Relationship: As noted earlier, the “Goku” seen in Evolution is far removed from his original incarnation. This extends to his relationship with Chi-Chi. In the original version, he winds up married to her because of a mistake he made with a promise while they were children (not understanding what “marriage” was), and since he made a promise… well, a promise is a promise. In Evolution, Goku is infatuated with Chi-Chi from the very beginning, though it is entirely mutual, especially once she sees him using his ki and later reveals to him that she is also a fighter. Goku shows little affection toward her in the original version, though this could be chocked up to Toriyama preferring not to write that kind of story!
- Bulma & Yamcha’s Relationship: While Yamcha’s shtick of being scared of women is completely swept aside in Evolution, there does come a moment where the live-action versions of the characters realize that perhaps the other is what they were looking for all along, well after Bulma has already tried using her womanly charms to get her way.
- Summoning the Dragon: In the original version the summoning chant gets reduced down to nothing more than, “Ide yo, Shenlong!“. In Evolution, we end up with a somewhat long-winded prayer that no-one had alluded to the entire duration of the movie: “Dragon, the test of seven has been fulfilled. I compel you to come forth and grant my wish!“