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Dragonball: Evolution

A look at Dragonball: Evolution from the anime/manga fan side

By Briana Lawrence     April 22, 2009

Piccolo in DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION (slideshow)
© Mania

Dragonball:  It’s… evolution?

Let’s be honest with ourselves.  No one expects this movie to be good.  Fans of the series have been complaining since day one about Justin Chatwin as Goku.  And I’m here to tell you that yes, this movie isn’t good. 

But this movie is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. 

Going at midnight was probably the most fun I’ve had at a movie in a long while.  Cosplayers stood at the door handing out Dragonball trading cards and we all discussed our very low expectations of the film.  This movie is great to see if you’re with a group of people who expect absolutely nothing.  Everyone makes the same observations.  All of us were laughing, rolling our eyes, groaning, and pretty much not taking the movie seriously at all.  The universal statement in the theatre was “WTF” because seriously… WTF? 

But for those who aren’t brave enough to go see the movie, or for those who want to know what they’re getting themselves into, this article will give you details as to why this movie is so horrible that its awesome.

Content (this will most definitely contain spoilers)

Many years ago; too long ago to remember (though later we’ll tell you that it was approximately 2000 years ago), the evil King Piccolo along with the Oozaru (great ape) went around causing destruction and mayhem during a solar eclipse.  Piccolo was later imprisoned by a powerful group of monks and the Oozaru disappeared.  Now, 2000 years later, Piccolo is back and is seeking out the dragon balls to get revenge (though why he couldn’t just destroy everything with his bare hands -- which he does several times in the movie -- is beyond me). 

While this is all going on we meet Goku, a high school outcast who only wishes to be a normal guy.  Instead, he is constantly training with his grandfather, Gohan, and is picked on at school for being weird (yet everyone seems to know martial arts too so how is Goku the weird one?)  Goku has a major crush on a girl named Chi-Chi but she, unfortunately, is seeing a jerk of a guy who loves to pick on Goku with his friends.  But this doesn’t stop Goku’s feelings for the beautiful Chi-Chi as he envisions her in a field of flowers while eating strawberries (not even joking, folks).  He manages to finally talk to her -- after blowing open her locker with a burst of Ki -- and we find out that she actually knows about all the ways of Ki.  She invites(?) him to her house for a party and the conversation goes something like this:

Chi-Chi:  I’m having a party…
Goku:  I’ll be there!

I’d hate to admit it, but sometimes these two are cute in their interactions with one another.  Goku stutters, Chi-Chi smiles, its all very awkward and a little bit endearing.

Goku rushes home and tries to get ready for the party, but his hair proves to be too powerful for hair gel.  He takes the 4-star dragon ball his grandfather gave him as a sort of good luck charm and he takes off for the party, missing the dinner and birthday cake that his grandfather prepared for him.

Meanwhile… Piccolo is still destroying things.  And Goku is destroying the school bully’s car, or rather, he’s dodging attacks and watching the bully destroy his own car.  This impresses Chi-Chi and the two of them go off to talk.  I have to say, the bashful silence is either because a) they really don’t know what to say to each other or, b) the actors forgot their lines.  Goku can’t stay for long because he feels that something is wrong with his grandfather.  He rushes home to see the house completely destroyed and his grandfathers last words are to find Master Roshi and tell him that Piccolo has returned. 

Goku decides to take action and find this Master Roshi, but before he can leave he’s attacked by everyone’s favorite Capsule Corp genius: Bulma Briefs.  It turns out that someone broke into her father’s lab and stole the 5-star ball.  The two of them decide to join forces in finding Master Roshi and the dragon balls.  Master Roshi turns out to be a rather odd fellow who definitely knows how to kick butt -- as demonstrated on Goku -- but he finally seems to calm down when he realizes that Goku is Gohan’s grandson.  After telling Roshi that Gohan has been killed, Roshi tells Goku and Bulma the story of King Piccolo and the reason why he’s going after the dragon balls (somehow… neither knew about the whole granting wishes thing). 

And thus, the group of two become three. 

With the help of Bulma’s dragon ball radar the group is on their way, and they “just so happen” to stumble into the city where the group of monks who have the urn Piccolo escaped from are.  I have to ask… how did Piccolo escape in the first place?  Did the monks not notice this angry green dude breaking out of the urn -- which is still in tact, so did he just push open the lid?

This same city “just so happens” to be the training grounds for a tournament that Chi-Chi is participating in, so more awkward romance ensues.  Roshi continues to train Goku, but feels that he isn’t ready to face Piccolo so he decides that he is going to use his life force to seal Piccolo with the urn.  So he talks to the monks, who he “just so happens” to be buddy/buddy with, and they all work together to prepare the urn.  During all of this the group is still racing against the clock to find the dragon balls.  Unfortunately, they’re caught in a trap set by the always scheming Yamcha, but he decides to join them after hearing about what the dragon balls can do.  They all work together and find an underground volcano that is conveniently away from the tournament grounds so no one is hurt when Piccolo sends his troops to attack. 

We do get to see a little bit of the tournament, where Chi-Chi is fighting and doing quite well against her opponent.  Unbeknownst to everyone, the woman is Mai -- Piccolo’s right hand woman in the quest for the dragon balls.  Mai gives up the fight after collecting some of Chi-Chi’s blood, but no one worries about this because… it’s time for some more awkward romance!  Chi-Chi comes up with a rather enticing (as enticing as PG can get) challenge where each candle Goku blows out with his Ki he can take a step closer to her.  Needless to say, some making out happens.  Catcalls all around the theatre commence because… have these two ever kissed in the anime or manga?  Does anyone make out in Dragonball?

Later on that night Bulma sees Chi-Chi coming out of Goku’s room.  Her and Yamcha are quick to assume the worse, but their sexual (as sexual as PG can be) thoughts are interrupted when the dragon ball radar goes off and reveals that Chi-Chi has stolen the dragon balls.  Not to worry, though.  This Chi-Chi is actually Mai, so we get to see two Chi-Chi’s battling it out.  Unfortunately, Goku can’t figure out who’s who and attacks the wrong one.  He’s then shot down by the “Chi-Chi Mai” and almost dies… until Roshi uses a Kamehameha on his chest to bring him back.

No.  I’m not even kidding.

He uses.  A Kamehameha.  To resuscitate Goku. 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but… wouldn’t a powerful energy blast to the chest… I dunno… blow out someone’s inner organs or something?! 

… moving on.

The team rushes after Piccolo and Mai -- who, despite this being tournament grounds -- have managed to conveniently find a completely deserted area.   The team manages to stop him before he can use all of the dragon balls.  But Piccolo hasn’t lost yet.  The solar eclipse of legend happens and Goku learns that he IS Oozaru.  He learns that his grandfather found him as a baby, and Goku was actually sent here to destroy the world.  And this is where Goku transforms into the giant ape (he is officially the smallest giant ape in the history of giant apes, by the way) and Bulma and Yamcha are forced to run for their lives.  They manage to keep a dragon ball safe and Yamcha tells Bulma to run while he stays behind to try and take on Goku.  Bulma doesn‘t quite get away, however.  She runs into Mai and the two of them fight, but Yamcha appears and helps Bulma beat her. 

Roshi tries to use this time to seal Piccolo and fails miserably, and soon Goku is choking him to death.  Roshi tells Goku to remember who he is and Goku manages to regain himself -- after killing Roshi -- and faces off against Piccolo.  Goku shows that he has perfected the Kamehameha and defeats Piccolo, and afterwards the group decides to use the dragon balls to wish Roshi back (and Shenlong is officially the smallest grand dragon in the history of grand dragons… besides maybe Spyro).  The movie ends with Goku and Chi-Chi facing off in a sparring match and if you stay during the credits you can see that Piccolo is still alive (but whether its King Piccolo or the Piccolo we know and love from DBZ is up in the air).

Oh boy… where to begin? 

Looking at it with a sort of critical eye, there are a lot of things that just make this movie so painful that its awesome.  As a Dragonball fan the amount of things changed in the movie hurts my fangirl heart.  And what I don’t get is that they weren’t really things that needed to be changed.  I understand that movie adaptations to anime or video games or comic books change things for various reasons (costume changes, for example, because in real life people look silly in yellow spandex -- thanks X-Men), but having high school angsty Goku?  Or having Piccolo and the Oozaru as tag team buddies back in the day?  I’m not going to fret on the changes from anime to movie because that would be a very long article. 

Besides, its something fans need to cringe at for themselves.

So lets look at this movie as a movie, outside the eyes of a fangirl whose been into Dragonball since she was 10 years old.  There were so many plots going on in the movie and it was all very, very rushed and all very clichéd.  Piccolo wanting to destroy the world, Goku learning that he isn’t human, Goku dealing with school bullies and overcoming them, the dragon balls; there’s only so much you can do in 80 minutes.  There’s no real sense of time in the movie.  One scene we find out that the group has seven days before the eclipse, the next scene its down to two days, and the next scene Piccolo is trying to summon Shenlong. 

The movie is cheesy.  Extremely cheesy.  It’s all very after school special-esc.  “I’m not going to run away anymore,” says Goku, or, “Look at these people.  They have no idea what’s going on.  I wanted these dragon balls for such selfish reasons before but now…” says Bulma.  Gag.  Gag.  Gag.  And the icing on the cake is when Goku transforms and, with the almighty power of friendship, reverts back to normal.  “I am Goku.  And I am the Oozaru.  To become one I must become two.”  The gagging in the theatre, I think, was record-breaking.      

The acting -- if you can call it that -- I’m not quite sure what to say about it.  I feel kind of sorry for the cast, as weird as it sounds.  You can tell that they thought that they were making such a cool movie: Bulma comes sauntering in with guns and attitude but it felt so forced, like she’s the “cool chick” of the movie and you can feel her trying to be but half the time I wasn’t feeling it.  Yamcha tries to be the cool, slick thug, but in all honesty he didn’t feel important to the movie at all.  You can tell that he’s only in the movie because his character was in the original.  And Master Roshi is way too serious for me.  His seriousness and his humor didn’t balance out to me and it felt like his perverted nature (as PG as a pervert can be) was added to satisfy the fans who are use to their Roshi ogling breasts and trying to grope women. 

And Goku, sweet sweet Goku.

I admit there were times where he made me laugh but most of the time he was so… bland.    And I just can’t get over him being angsty!  He showed more angst about being picked on at school than he did when his grandfather died, you blink and he’s packing and off to find the dragon balls but I swear he had more scenes “wishing to be normal” or “not running away from the bullies.”  Its one of those movies where you know the actors and actresses went home thinking they’d done a good job.  In fact, I bet they’re all surprised that the movie did so bad but honestly, if it were going to do “good” in the theatres it would only be opening weekend where all the masochistic fans like myself would go see it for the sheer purpose of mockery.   

And I have to say I hate the fighting.  All right, hate is a strong word, but the slow motion effect is only cool a few times.  But almost every time someone is fighting we get a slow motion punch to the face, slow motion water drops from the eyelashes, slow motion falling backwards to the ground; its like the director discovered a new trick and wanted to use it as much as possible.   And the green screen is amazingly obvious in some scenes and its hard to believe that we’re here in 2009 and I can still tell that they are not actually riding through a desert when Bulma turns a sharp corner.

In the midst of all the cheesy good fun I almost forgot to mention the most epic part of the movie:  Ayumi Hamasaki's song!  Fans of the JPOP star should sit through the credits and give a listen to her single, "Rule," which is extremely catchy and definitely outshines the movie.  This is her first single to hit American theatres so a big congratulations to her... too bad the movie couldn't be as epic as the beats of the music.
Though despite all of these complaints I honestly think that the movie is worth seeing, and I most definitely will purchase it when it comes out: so I can inflict it on others.  That’s what this movie is for.  It’s ridiculous.  It’s cheesy.  It kills your childhood memories of Goku and his friends.  I’ve decided to think of this movie as a fanfic; it’s an alternate universe where Goku is a strange high school student who only wants to fit in and get the girl but there are hurdles in his way: Piccolo, dragon balls, and being the Oozaru.  In the end, our oddball teenager gets the girl, saves the world, and lives happily ever after… until the second movie, where he’ll probably have a new transfer student in his school named Vegeta.     


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TayDor 4/22/2009 1:02:29 PM

I saw it.  I knew nothing about the original material other than a few commercials on TV for DBZ.  I found the movie to be fun.  Cheesy, but cute and fun.

mortellan 4/22/2009 3:13:09 PM

Interesting review, thanks Briana! My guess is fans of DBZ have forgotten how cheesy and sappy the cartoon actually was until it was put up there in live action. An angsty Goku? That is troubling if not trendy of teen movies. This shouldn't be a vampire flick. Goku should be naive and obliviously happy all the time, even when fighting. But I guess the direction felt that would be cheesy. Definitely not on the same page.

Ideally they should have made Dragon Ball first. Goku as a child. Build up the DB universe and grow some familiarity for the characters that way when you do get to teen goku some of the things you mention would be accepted better. I assume they shot for this time period knowing it may be their only chance to make a movie.

who713 4/23/2009 1:50:04 AM

being a fan of the dragon ball series all i have to say is did you count how many times Goku looked at the full moon? the fanboy in me was screaming really really. and why didn't Yamcha have a cat? and i agree with it being very very cheesy. the people i went and saw it with cought stop laughing or growning the whole time, i think 10 minutes is the longest any of us made it. and after it all i cant wait for the next one



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