Talking about myself for a paragraph is not something I’d like to do because I think my life deserves a retrospective, but because how I view this film needs some context. Recently I’ve seen a lot of reviews talking about how Watchmen changed how readers viewed comics and in some cases, changed their lives. Dragon Ball Z was my Watchmen. One Sunday morning I woke up to see the first syndicated airing of Dragon Ball Z in the United States on (at the time) WB11. After just 24 minutes the direction of my life was completely turned around. DBZ sparked my interest in Japanese animation which led to the creation of my old DBZ website which provided the path to my being scouted for a job writing for a DBZ magazine which allowed me to save money for my first trip to Japan . These days I speak fluent Japanese, live in a small country town in Japan with my wife who, bless her heart, moved out into the sticks with me from Yokohama , and teach English at a local high school. While now I don’t read much manga (besides DB’s spiritual successor One Piece) and I’ve all but given up on Japanese animation aside from Ghibli’s occasional offering, the role Dragon Ball played in inspiring me to make my adult life what it is, is irrefutable. I’ve grown to recognize the series’ many imperfections and I can’t remember the finer details of many of the story arcs anymore either, regardless, the series is very near and dear to me. That is why I tried to view this film in two separate ways to do it justice, one as the long-time fan of the series and one as a long-time fan of film that knows nothing of the series. Hopefully you will find that by doing so I’ve given the film a fair chance to prove itself as something unique and not just the deflowering of that which DB fans around the world hold sacred. Dragon Ball: Evolution is the attempt to give Dragon Ball a meaning or direction beyond simply getting stronger, forging friendships and showing bravery; the three classic elements of any successful comic printed on the pages of Shonen JUMP, the serial weekly comic magazine Dragon Ball was published in. When we were young boys, what did we love? Big things! Strong things! Things far more powerful and stronger than us! Dinosaurs! Godzilla! Robots! As we got older we learned to appreciate what it meant to be brave and stand up to bullies. Years later when we filter into and out of high school, we learn the importance of friendship beyond just having someone to watch ‘the game’ with or play video games with. That’s why stories like Dragon Ball are so successful the world over, they appeal to something most adults and children can relate to on very basic levels. DB:E tears most of that out and instead, asks us to accept somewhat familiar characters in a story about finding oneself and accepting your differences. Or wait, is it that having confidence in yourself will allow you to get the girl and oh yeah, perform some cool battle moves? Nonono, I’ve got it, it’s that love can bloom in the least likely of places between complete opposites. Actually I think it’s how listening to your elders might just save your life. And it goes on like this. Since when did Dragon Ball become an amalgamation of every Dreamworks CG flick ever made? Take aside the ‘meh’ acting and the unbelievable scenarios our characters find themselves in that make ‘LOST’ coincidences seem downright normal, the biggest problem with the film is it suffers from a severe case of identity crisis. Someone or some group of people, thought it would be a good idea to throw a bunch of clichéd character development ideas at the wall and whatever stuck, they ran with. The awkward outcast in high school who doesn’t believe in his ability to grow, the wise grandfather whom the rambunctious teen ignores, the self-confident sophisticated girl who falls for a grungy uneducated lunk, the cold villain who has seemingly unlimited resources but… still somehow remains a step behind. These and more are all there, and they’re all handled with the grace of a bull in a china shop. The ‘spark’ of love between Yamucha and Bulma was dealt with in one brief scene where they shared a thought, that it’s unfortunate they had knowledge of the world’s impending doom, and cupid’s arrow strikes! The two who previously couldn’t stand each other (all 2-3 scenes they were in) go for a kiss. That’s what we’re dealing with. “But wait!”, cries the ever vigilant fan, “Many things happen very quickly and with little explanation in the comic!” Very true, and I’d be willing to give you that point IF this film wasn’t made with the intention of stiffing everything fans know and hold dear about the series. I will not create a list of the holocaust unleashed on Dragon Ball canon within the film’s one hour and thirty-five minute running time. I never watched anything beyond trailers for fear of giving the film a poor chance without seeing a scene in context, but I assure you, there are things done and words uttered that will have you shuddering with rage at the liberties they took with the story. Just performing the Kame Hame Ha has become like some sick bastard child of the Electric Slide and the Macarena. Now those liberties were taken with the intention of making a deeper more believable story that they could market to a wide audience. That’s why Goku, an uneducated bumpkin, is in high school right? That’s why Chichi is a rich girl who, oh yeah, secretly practices kung fu instead of a mini Amazon right? That’s why Goku is all dreamy about girls when he thought breasts were just an extra butt right? That’s why the film is set on OUR Earth instead of a fantasy world right? Nay. While the film is attempting to create some overarching personal story growth story it’s handled so sloppily that no one over 10 could believe it for a moment. There’s so much CRAZY information being poured forth with strange names that unless you’re a long-time fan, it’s incredibly hard to keep up with who is who, what they can do and why they’re doing what they’re doing. This created and endless stream of explanations that are drastically different from the source material only serving to raise the blood pressure of fans even more. The question I pose to Mr. Wong is, “Who is this movie made for?” The fans in Japan ? I saw the film on its advance opening night here. There were twelve of us in the theater. Three older men by themselves, a family of five, and another couple. When a movie is over in Japan , no one moves. Everyone stays glued to their seat and savors the list of names onscreen even if they can’t read them. The older men and family all left dead silent during the credits. The other couple left the theater after the lights went on, laughing as they went. The fans in other countries? Apparently not. I think many of them will agree with me. Actually I think they’ll be far more severe than I am. The curious general public? Impossible. There’s so much crazy information flying back and forth it’s a chore to keep track of it, UNLESS you were a fan going into it. And the weak attempts to give Dragon Ball themes like ‘love’ or ‘finding oneself’ comes off awkwardly when you’ve got characters throwing energy blasts and turning into apes. I simply would love to know for WHOM this movie was intended. The one cool thing I’m able to say about DB:E is that it has one cool DB-inspired fight. It’s a short scene but it’s the only scene in the film that felt lifted off the pages of the comic. It involves Goku refusing to lift a finger in a fight causing a reckless punk to total his own car. Classic Toriyama. Too bad I can’t say the same for the ‘climatic’ battle with the big screen debut of the Kame Hame Ha that is over before you can blink. There were days when we fantasized about a Hollywood CG Kame Hame Ha. This ain’t it folks. Speaking of series hallmarks, there are small nods to bits and pieces of the original story but they seem forced. When I first noticed a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ set of nudie mags by Roshi’s bed I though, “Hmm, clever.”, but they continued to force that one idea later on more and more while ignoring many other avenues. Early on the term ‘Dragon Ball Energy’ is coined which Bulma quips, “DBE….catchy!”, she might as well have looked directly into the camera and given a big ol’ wink. The most painful part, even more moreso than the Hamasaki Ayumi cued roll to main cast roll, comes during a break in the credits when we watch a minute of footage of a minor character doing something that is so incredibly obvious, you know it can’t actually be what you think it is. You know they had to pay makeup artists, light technicians, cameramen, caterers, shoe-shiners and yes-men all for this one final scene that has to be so spectacular it will leave us wanting more of this punishment. And when it’s revealed that it’s exactly what you thought it was, you just have to laugh long and out loud. Dragon Ball: Evolution is a terrible film for both DB fans and as a standalone film. It’s not unwatchable, but it’s definitely in the same league as Street Fighter circa JCVD which means you’ll want to gather your friends and have a great laugh together. With respect to the thesps, kudos to Chow and Joon. Both had a lot of fun with their role and tried really hard to make their roles seem close to the source characters, especially Joon. The problem for Joon, not so much Chow, was the script refraining him from acting more like the character Yamucha would, particularly around females. Chow seemed to have a blast, it just would have been nice if they coached him on how to properly pronounce ‘Gohan’. Chatwin’s Goku is not the Goku you know from the comic. He doesn’t do a poor job on screen, he just does a poor source Goku. Emmy Rossum’s Bulma takes her part far too seriously creating a nerdy instead of perky Bulma and Jamie Chung’s Chichi is just kind of there onscreen. Worst line-reading goes to Randall Duk Kim who was clearly overacting trying to do far too much with the little screen time he had. Dragon Ball remains a cornerstone in my life and with the start of a comic-accurate animated edit of the series hitting the airwaves in Japan this April it will be interesting to experience it once again. As for live action films? My wish would be for a reboot. Please?