One of the most beloved anime in the history of the medium, Dragon Ball, along with its follow-ups Dragon Ball Z, Super, and yes, even GT, the franchise has garnered millions of fans worldwide. The manga and anime’s success has been nothing but legendary. If not for the triumph of Dragon Ball Z in Western countries and Japan itself, other fan-favorite shows like Bleach and Naruto likely wouldn’t exist. To this day, Dragon Ball maintains an incredibly loyal fan base, ready to defend the franchise at a moment’s notice.
When Dragonball: Evolution was announced, it was not met by a resounding applause, but tentative skepticism. The sacred anime was about to be touched by American studios. The press for the movie was abysmal and Fox Studios barely released any information about Dragonball: Evolution until the movie debuted. When fans finally saw the live-action adaptation, they were outraged. Instead of a beloved ode to one of their favorite shows, they received a mockery of a timeless classic. As a result, Dragonball: Evolution went down in history as one of the worst movies and adaptations ever made. Today at CBR we’re looking at 15 things Dragonball: Evolution got around about the Dragon Ball franchise.
Goku is the central protagonist of Dragon Ball. Stemming from the Saiyan planet Vegeta, Goku was sent to Earth to conquer the world. After slipping down a waterfall and taking a bump on the head, his savagery was replaced with innocence and a love for battle. Since then, Goku spent the rest of his days training to become stronger and battling evil forces. On paper, it shouldn’t be difficult to understand the character; the makers behind Dragonball: Evolution had no idea what to do with him.
In a foolish attempt to make Goku relatable, they sent him to high school, gave him girl issues, and made him the resident weirdo. Worrying more about drunken teenage parties and hitting on Chi-Chi rather than spending his 18th birthday with his grandfather, DB:E’s Goku is unpleasant, boring, and nothing like his anime and manga counterpart. Oh, and he’s missing a tail.
The Saiyans were one of the most feared species throughout the galaxy. Though they ultimately served Frieza, their thirst for battle meant they didn’t mind going about and destroying worlds. If a particular world’s inhabitants were too strong, the Saiyans could transform into giant apes the size of skyscrapers. In terms of physical presentation alone, the Oozaru in the movie shamed the source material it came from.
Instead of changing during a full moon, Goku changes during a blood red moon...for unknown reasons. Additionally, he doesn’t grow terribly in stature, but just becomes something of a were-ape. More inexplicably, his clothes grow and shrink with him. The entire transformation is painful to watch; it’s totally uninspired and the effects are awful. Thankfully, Goku as an Oozaru is in the movie for only a few minutes. What should have been a highlight was an eyesore.
13 HIGH SCHOOL
Goku never went to school of any kind. A lot of people give the character a hard time, calling him dumb, and he is, at least in relation to the workings of the world. It’s because he never received a formal education outside of martial arts. While this might be a hindrance for some, it worked for Goku. He never needed an education because nothing in his life demanded he receive one.
The problem here isn’t just that Goku going to high school in Dragonball: Evolution, but it’s like the movie’s writers took every stereotype about school and threw it in, hoping it’d mesh well with the Dragon Ball universe. It didn’t. Instead you had Goku driving to school on a scooter, dealing with unnecessarily antagonistic bullies calling him Geeko, and acting like an insane person when talking to Chi-Chi, the school’s "it" girl, or participating in class.
Chi-Chi met Goku when they were children and was instantly smitten by him. The daughter of the Ox King, Chi-Chi was formidable in combat for a regular human. Her tough attitude and fighting prowess impressed Goku enough that the two ended up getting married.
Maybe it was because Dragonball: Evolution was written in the mid ‘00s and writers weren’t sure about how to handle superheroes movies yet (though it was probably because the film just had bad creators behind it), but Chi-Chi came across as a high school movie cliché. Presented with little character depth, she starts off as the popular girl who keeps her passion for martial arts a secret…for mysterious reasons. She watches Goku constantly getting made fun of, but doesn’t intervene. She doesn’t grow as a character and is consistently bland and unappealing. The only thing they share in common is a passion for fighting.
11 GOHAN'S DEATH
When Goku’s grandfather died, it was one of the seminal moments in the hero’s life. For years, Goku would never know how his loved one died; only that someone or something killed Gohan. A long while later, Goku was shaken to the core upon discovering he was the cause for his adoptive grandfather’s death. Unwittingly, Goku transformed into the giant Oozaru and killed Gohan.
Gohan’s death would inform much of Goku’s ideals and beliefs; Goku also named his own son after Gohan. There should have been real emotional resonance with Gohan’s death. In Dragonball: Evolution, Piccolo is the instrument of the aged warrior’s death. He arrives and casually brings a house down on the old man, killing him. To add insult to injury, once Goku happens across his dying grandfather, he doesn’t seem terribly broken up about it and gets over it alarmingly quickly.
10 THE KAMEHAMEHA
The Kamehameha is Goku’s signature attack and one of the defining energy blasts in all of anime. The white-blue energy energy-based attacked focuses all of Goku’s Ki into the palms of his cupped hands, before unleashing it in the form of a destructive energy wave powerful enough to destroy worlds.
As a kid, Goku watched Master Roshi perform the move once; it was all he needed to learn it himself. It’s a testament to Goku’s genius as a fighter. In Dragonball: Evolution, none of this happens. We never see Master Roshi use the Kamehameha offensively, instead giving ambiguous training and weird advice on how to perform the attack. When we actually do see the technique, it starts off well enough, but quickly becomes a hot mess as it laughably launches Goku into the air. Also, for some reason the Kamehameha can heal people…
9 THE PICCOLO-SAIYAN CONNECTION
In the original anime and manga, Piccolo’s origin is remarkably different from what we see in Dragonball: Evolution. Piccolo Daimao was the evil half of the Namekian Kami and went on a quest to try and rule the world. Though Goku stopped him by punching a hole in his chest, before he died, the evil Piccolo birthed Piccolo Jr., the Piccolo we would see from then on. Dragonball: Evolution did away with all that and gave Piccolo a pretty unoriginal backstory. Apparently, he arrived 2,000 years earlier, but was sealed away by seven mystics.
Things got even weirder, as it turns out the Oozaru, the giant ape forms of the Saiyans, were actually his slaves and would serve him dutifully. There are so many things wrong here that it’s impossible to list them all, but it’s one of the more offensive changes made to the source material.
Do you know who Mai is? Do we know who Mai is? Does anyone know who Mai is? The answer is no, no, and no. Never appearing in either the manga, anime, or even in a filler scene or non-canonical movie, Mai’s origin is a mystery to anyone who’s ever watched Dragonball: Evolution and was probably a mystery to the writers themselves. Piccolo’s primary henchman, the wicked Mai was devoid of any emotion, which might speak volumes to the actual movie.
Mai popped up at random moments to serve as a pain in the butt. Capable of shapeshifting, though the power never gets explained, Mai’s addition to the movie was unremarkable. Why did Piccolo, a god amongst men, need a groupie whose only real purpose was to provide him moral support? Piccolo had demonic henchmen in the source material, but Mai is a far departure from all of that.
7 THE DRAGON BALLS
The Dragon Balls were originally created by Kami, Earth’s god, and could summon the magical dragon Shenron to grant any wish within its powers so long as it doesn’t repeat a wish he previously granted, or surpasses its creator's power. This was why Krillin and Master Roshi couldn’t wish for the dragon to defeat the Saiyans. Once Kami fused with Piccolo, the Dragon Balls were rendered permanently inert. Dende was made the new guardian and he created new Dragon Balls.
In Dragon Ball: Evolution, the history of the orbs is a lot more convoluted. Apparently, when Piccolo was laying siege to Earth thousands of years ago, a group of seven mystics banned together to create the balls…or something like that. It doesn’t really matter. The Balls’ abilities are also confusing, because Bulma thinks they can make for a great energy source and calls them Promethium Orbs. It’s weird.
The world of Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, etc. have very clear and defined rules when it comes to the powers of its characters and their capabilities. Ignoring the issues with power scaling in recent years, the manga and anime have both explained the energy manipulation required to use these powers. Ki is metaphysical and is the source of everyone’s power. It’s basically a kind of natural life-force energy and is dependent on the physical ability of the user.
It’s not magic and Dragon Ball makes a very distinct difference between the two. Dragonball: Evolution does not. Instead of Ki acting as the cornerstone for energy attacks, Master Roshi describes it as “airbending”. Aside from not making a lick of sense, it was a complete rip-off of the Avatar: The Last Airbender franchise.
5 GOKU'S INNOCENCE
Goku is arguably the purest, or at least one of the purest, superhero in all of anime. He doesn’t care about his appearance or what others think of him. This was demonstrated in an episode of Dragon Ball when Goku was hit by Spike the Devil Man’s Devilmite Beam. The attack transforms an opponents own negative thoughts and impurities and turns it into a beam that can destroy them. Though getting hit twice by the beam, Goku was completely unaffected, since Goku harbored no negative thoughts and was utterly pure hearted.
The DB:E Goku is not at all pure-hearted. One of Goku’s defining characteristics is his anime hair and though the movie tried representing the kooky hairdo, it back-stepped by having Goku hate his own hair, trying to gel it down so he can fit in. This Goku isn’t pure; he’s vain, self-centered, smug, and not a guy you’d want to hang out with.
4 GOKU AND GOHAN
While you might not see much of Goku and his grandfather Gohan’s relationship in the anime or manga, it still informs much of Goku’s journey. Even though Goku was a wild and vicious baby, Gohan treated him with the utmost care. In the movie, the actors themselves have little to no chemistry and look as though they were just thrown together and left to their own devices. Goku doesn’t seem to care about Gohan and would rather spend his nights with Chi-Chi.
In the movie, Goku thinks his grandfather a bore, struck with poorly written movie teenage angst, as our “hero” doesn’t believe Gohan understands him and what it’s like to be young. As any fan of the series know however, Goku loved Gohan and did everything he could to honor his memory.
3 MASTER ROSHI
Master Roshi is incredibly important in the Dragon Ball mythos. Roshi trained Goku, expanding on the teachings of his grandfather and honing Goku’s abilities to a razor-sharp edge. Master Roshi also lives on an island in a little house, not in the center of a major metropolitan city.
Played by Chow Yun-fat, who really has no business starring in such an abysmal movie and looks nothing like the character. Instead, it appears the actor was abducted while on vacation in Hawaii and was forced into the role. Goku and Bulma break into his apartment, because Roshi is holding on to a Dragon Ball for some reason and then quickly decides to train Goku after they fight. Roshi’s powers are ill defined as seen when the group falls down a pitfall. Even though Master Roshi could jump out of the hole, he doesn’t until the plot demands it.
2 A LACK OF JOY
Dragonball: Evolution is a lot of things, but fun isn’t one of them. Dragon Ball on the other hand is a nonstop romp down comedy lane with awesome power beam action thrown in. In reading the manga or watching the anime, it’s easy to understand the hows and whys related to the franchise’s success. Dragon Ball is appealing on a great many levels and can be enjoyed by anyone with a sense of humor. Even Dragon Ball Z, despite the lengthy filler and endless monologues, sports some of the coolest battle sequences in any anime.
Dragonball: Evolution found it challenging to squeeze even an ounce of anything resembling fun. The characters are generally uninteresting, the battles are atrocious, and the special effects appear dated even to the era the movie was filmed in. Looking back on Dragonball: Evolution is painful, the movie is cringe-worthy and then some.
1 THE DIRECTOR
If you’re taking a stab at turning an important franchise like Dragon Ball Z into a successful film, then it’s important to have people work on the movie who are familiar with the source material. That wasn’t the case with Dragonball: Evolution. Turns out, neither the director nor the screenwriter were familiar with the manga or anime.
Numerous directors were approached, including Stephen Chow, but ultimately the job fell into the hands of James Wong with Ben Ramsey as the screenwriter. Wong had never seen an episode of the anime or read a page of the manga before and didn’t do either in preparing for the movie. Ramsey himself admitted he only took the job for a paycheck and is now sorry for the horrible job he did. Suffice to say, even Akira Toriyama was left ticked off upon seeing the debacle made of his creation.
Did you love or hate Dragonball: Evolution? Let us know in the comments!