DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION. A poor film about clowns in colorful clothes

Dragonball: Evolution didn’t change my opinion about the possibility of transcribing Toriyama’s world into the realm of live-action film.


11 March 2024

dragonball evolution

I won’t conceal the fact that at the first whispers about plans to bring the most popular manga by Akira Toriyama to the big screens, my hair stood on end, and sweaty palms began to slide off the computer mouse. Having the Taiwanese low-budget production “The Magic Begins” in mind, which – I remember it vividly – I watched through the explorer window in ridiculously low resolution and devilishly poor quality, as a fascinated “Dragon Ball” child – I immediately started thinking pessimistically, unceremoniously smashing the rose-colored glasses of the Dragon Ball story’s supporters. Senseless running characters covered in plastic-styrofoam-silicone costumes, crying out for vengeance through the night, haunted me in my dreams for a long time. When the trauma subsided, some fellow came up with the idea again to transfer the specific world drawn by the Japanese artist into another medium, and the unease returned, because I guess no one likes to see their childhood heroes made a mockery of. Dragonball: Evolution didn’t change my opinion about the possibility of transcribing Toriyama’s world into the realm of live-action film.

Furthermore, with embarrassment, I note that the creators decided to ride the wave of teen movie popularity (see: Twilight) and awkwardly transform the amazing reality from the comic book pages into a cute film about the consequences of growing up. The plastic costumes from The Magic Begins were replaced by plastic characters, forming a strange hybrid of various “Hannah Montanas” and characters from bad science fiction.

dragonball evolution

The movie’s plot takes place in the universe of the first part of the trilogy, in the world of Dragon Ball. However, it is not a faithful reproduction of any of the stories that make up the saga but rather a mishmash combining elements of different stories, often completely unrelated in the comics. Here on Earth appears a certain green Mutant named Piccolo. On the other side, in a small house, lives Goku, shy and lost, together with his grandfather who practices martial arts. The boy possesses extraordinary fighting skills, but even years of training under his grandfather’s guidance have not prepared him for a duel with a visitor from another galaxy. A visitor, about whom his grandfather told stories. Supposedly, Piccolo did not appear on Earth for the first time. Last time, he was accompanied by a beast named Ozaru. The whole story took place when we could observe a solar eclipse in the sky. The world then experienced something akin to a biblical apocalypse. In Goku’s time, the Moon is approaching the Sun again, and his grandfather is injured by the green mutant – thus, the fate of the Earth rests on the shoulders of the boy entering adulthood. The only salvation is supposed to be the titular dragon balls. Gathering the seven artifacts will lead to the appearance of a dragon who will fulfill every hidden desire.

It sounds idiotic, and I am aware of it, but that’s exactly how Dragonball: Evolution looks. In eighty-five minutes, at least four stories from the first saga of the trilogy are merged together. The side effect of this maneuver turned out to be washing Goku’s world of what was most precious to him – Toriyama’s crude humor and extraordinary imagination. The comic, and even the animated (under the creator’s supervision) Dragon Ball offered the audience more than just a simple plot. The pleasure of engaging with it came from the opportunity to connect with a whimsical and highly original world created by the Japanese. In such realms, a simple story assuming the intervention of extraterrestrial beings in the world we know from experience defended itself excellently. We bought it because we didn’t hear any squeaks. The whole machine was programmed from start to finish for the recipient who could navigate the twists and turns of human imagination.

dragonball evolution

The live-action film, aiming to become more serious, abandons this magical aura. It rejects the lifesaver, which from the beginning for Toriyama was the irrational and often illogical setting of the story. By placing colorful characters in an ordinary, gray world of wealthy kids, it falls into a trap it set for itself. Through this pseudo-seriousness, it becomes simply ridiculous. Goku, to whom a few years were forcibly added – probably so that another actor could play him, with a chance to become a teen idol – is a typical example of a hero who transforms from an ugly duckling into a swan, perhaps attractive, but fabulously kitschy. In the commercial laundry, the original is lost – a small, unruly, always hungry, and totally unfit for society kid, raised equally by his grandfather and nature (it should be noted that in the original, even adult Goku never loses these traits – he remains an eternal child). The story repeats itself with each character. Bulma (Goku’s friend) – originally a girl who amused herself during vacation by searching for crystal balls, becomes a bride sent by her father to search, indeed, for balls, but let’s add, balls stolen from a closely guarded safe. An immature and spoiled girl turns into a regular Angel from Charlie’s squad. Chi-Chi, who spoke with a rural accent as a few years old girl, evolves into a martial arts-knowing Asian at the age of the main character. Finally, the most is lost by the eccentric Master of martial arts – rejuvenated (yes, to make room for the star – Yun-Fat Chow), stripped of his crude jokes and erotic pursuits, he becomes a jumping idiot in a Hawaiian shirt (sorry for the bluntness).

The world has been destroyed, the heroes have been destroyed – the question remains, can anything else be destroyed? It turns out that for the creators of Evolution, this is not a problem at all. They take away from the original what was its hallmark: great, dynamically led fight scenes. Movement made Toriyama’s sketches almost burst out of the limiting fragments of the pages! This aspect

was not overlooked in the anime based on the manga either. And in Evolution? The fight is limited to a few flashes and stiff kicks because space had to be made for this extremely deep theme of growing up, of being real and accepted by society and, above all, by the chosen one, the man.

Once again, the magic of the original has been destroyed. And as much as I can forgive the Taiwanese producers for The Magic Begins because probably as much was spent on its production as the average Pole spends on breakfast, I won’t forgive the creators of Evolution. They made a lousy movie about clowns in colorful clothes, aiming to give the series a deeper meaning. Apparently, they haven’t seen animated theatrical films, with Trunks Special at the forefront – in it, it was most fully shown how much can be drawn from a supposedly banal story. Let’s hope that they’ll catch up before the next installment. Yes, unfortunately, they are planning another part. Nevertheless, I don’t predict a bright future for the whole endeavor. I am convinced that “Dragon Ball” and live-action film mutually exclude each other because what I saw was not an evolution but an extreme regression from the original.



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