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Hollywood's live-action Dragon Ball is no evolution in the classic franchise. APA counts down ten reasons to stick to the original.
Dragonball:Evolution is the biggest fuck-you to fans of a beloved original comic since Batman and Robin. It makes the Chinese rip-off look shockingly accurate. You've read the reviews (my favorite one is from my fellow enraged alcoholic Rob over at Topless Robot) -- scathing ones about how utterly clichéd or nonsensical is its plot, or how unfaithful it is to Akira Toriyama's original source material, or how cheap and shitty the CG looks, or that the filmmakers are laughing in a pile of money from the profits of the film (just kidding on that last one! It debuted 8th at the box office over the weekend, thus validating DB fan rage to a small degree).
But instead of partaking in another profanity-laced diatribe against another Hollywood desecration, I think it'd be a much better idea to forget about that movie entirely and highlight just what made those first Dragon Ball episodes so special. There's a reason why so many people have felt so attracted to the story and characters of Dragon Ball, and it goes beyond the endless power-up scenes, interminable dialogue, and pointless filler episodes of the later Z arc.
The first Dragon Ball had a zaniness to it, a sense of free spirit and adventure that was the perfect arena for Toriyama to meddle with multiple genres: elements of action, comedy, martial arts, sci-fi, fantasy, and exploration are blended seamlessly in a story loosely based around the Chinese Saiyuki mythology. More importantly, all of this imagination was instilled into a cast that had both human characters we recognized ourselves in, and ideal characters who we'd like to be. It was wacky and crazy, but once it got going, it lost some of the camp and became surprisingly, incredibly touching. Dragon Ball has all the ingredients for a compelling Hollywood film -- we don't need Chow Yun-fat hamming it up, or some "Americanized" high school story arc, or svelte femme fatales getting in the way of the testosterone-induced warriors. We just wanted something that showed how fun and moving the original series could be.
Hopefully one day someone will make the live-action movie Dragon Ball so richly deserves, but until then, let's remember the greatest moments of what made Akira Toriyama's series so great -- and how Goku saved our world and became a legend among men.
10. Goku Takes Out the RRA
It all started with one ball. And the collection of that ball and its six compatriots was never more hotly pursued by any group other than the Red Ribbon Army. The Red Ribbon Army is like the Dragon Ball universe equivalent of the Galactic Empire: ruthless in operations, massive in reach and numbers, and run by an emaciated little man whose dirty work is handled by a dark sidekick. And Goku vanquishing their fiercely guarded headquarters is akin to Luke taking out the Death Star -- except with nothing but a flying cloud and a stick.
9. Roshi's Most Vibrant Nosebleed
During the Fortuneteller Baba saga, Goku, Krillin, Yamcha, and to a lesser extent, Puar and Upa, take on several of Baba's eclectic warriors. Yamcha has the bad luck of drawing the invisible man, and proceeds, as usual, to get beat silly by his opponent. A quick-thinking Krillin knows that the only method of victory lies in tagging the invisible man to expose his whereabouts. The only tools at his disposal are a perky Bulma and an especially horny Master Roshi. After some careful positioning, he pulls down Bulma's blouse in front of Roshi, leading to a geyser-like nosebleed that completely covers the invisible man and enables Yamcha to pepper him with body blows. Let me reiterate that. A gallon of blood. Shooting from an old man's nose.
8. Debut of Lunch(es)
After being rescued by Goku and Krillin, Lunch is taken to Master Roshi's house as the first act of "training" and ostensibly becomes a sex slave. But upon arrival, she sneezes and doesn't just change her personality, but also her total appearance, going from submissive Japanese stereotype to blonde, American firebrand. She also takes out a well-concealed sub-machine gun and proceeds to blast the three males full of bloody holes. She scores several kill blows but, as the wackiness of the original Dragon Ball will show, in direct contrast to the frequent deaths from impalement in Z, direct headshots aren't fatal.
7. Taopaipai's Steel Tongue
Taopaipai, other than sporting a hilarious coat that says "KILL YOU!", was the first premier villain of the series. He was also, at one point, the premier assassin in the world. To demonstrate just how insanely strong he is, they have him dispatch General Blue, a Red Ribbon officer who had been giving Goku fits -- with his TONGUE. Right to the temple.
6. Dr. Slump's Cameo
Akira Toriyama was known in Japan primarily for his gag manga, Dr. Slump, before Dragon Ball caught fire. But to show he never forgot his roots, he included the inhabitants of the manga's Penguin Village for a short sequence that proved to be both nonsensical and crucial to the plot. Nonsensical because, once characters like Arare-chan are introduced, they promptly beat the living shit out of General Blue. Crucial, though, when Goku sees the gap in ability between himself and the hicks from Penguin Village, he realizes the untapped secrets of the universe and vows to become even stronger with full knowledge that there will always be someone more powerful. This is the arc of the entire series in a nutshell.
5. The First Wish
When all seven of the dragon balls have been collected, a giant dragon named Shenron appears to grant a wish for anything in the world to whoever who asks. But the first person to collect all the balls is the evil Emperor Pilaf. So to prevent him from getting his wish, Oorong, a talking pig, yells out his wish first -- and it's for a girl's panties. Never has a big scene been so comically rendered anti-climactic with so few words. That was early Dragon Ball in a nutshell.
4. Goku Meets God
We're skipping ahead storyline-wise here, but when Goku finally climbs to the skies to become the first human to see "God," there are several shockers. One, we see that the true purpose of the nyoibo (Goku's ever-extending staff) was to reach the heavens. Second, we see Goku get whupped by the thinly-veiled racist caricature, Mister Popo. But the biggest surprise of all was to find out that "God" is a twin of the recently-deceased, incredibly evil Piccolo. Only Toriyama would have the audacity to make the "God" of his anime a wrinkly green man with snail antennae, as well as a character who quickly becomes weaker than the humans he's set out to protect.
3. Roshi Destroys the Moon
This incredible scene combines two of the most surprising moments in the entire series -- the change of Goku to Oozaru Monkey when he looks at the moon, and the change of ancient mummy Roshi (here masquerading as Jacky Chun) into roided beast. In what was at that point the most gripping one-on-one battle in the series by far, Roshi decides that to subdue the enraged monkey, he must use a full power Kamehameha blast -- and ERASE the fucking moon. The magnitude of this event was enormous, but was followed by an equally gripping finale where Goku and Roshi deliver flying kicks to each others' chins; the older Roshi, with a slightly longer leg reach, manages to score the deeper blow to Goku and win the tournament on a knockdown ten count. Though the loss is bittersweet, the battle is fondly remembered as one of the most moving sequences in the series, as the elderly Roshi demonstrates to his naive pupils that success in life is not a given, but something worked toward.
2. The Punch
Let me set the scene: King Piccolo, who is the series' first villain powerful enough to take over the world, has been stopped in his tracks by a revitalized Goku. Revenge for the deaths of Roshi, Chaozu, and Krillin is about to be tasted. But through holding Tienshinhan as a hostage, Piccolo manages to break both legs and one of the arms of the soft-hearted Goku, leaving him practically a cripple. Rising into the air to deliver the final blow, he doesn't realize that Goku still has one good arm left. Using an energy blast, Goku propels his body into the air, puts his entire soul into his one good fist, and PUNCHES THROUGH PICCOLO, leaving a crater-sized hole in Piccolo's torso.
While the craziness of this scene cannot be underemphasized, it was also one of the most emotionally satisfying moments in any series ever created. Piccolo had killed hundreds of innocents, including Goku's best friend and master. For the first time, the stakes were so high that the fate of the world hung in the balance. To deliver the finishing blow with only one good arm was nothing short of miraculous, leaving the stoic Goku so exhilarated that he cries tears of joy. And in many ways it was a culmination of the series' grand arc. Goku went from primitive ape child to savior of the world. There was only one thing left that he hadn't done...
1. Goku Wins the Tenkaichi Budokai
Goku, to reflect his spiritual growth, has finally physically changed into a grown-ass man. Three years after the King Piccolo fight, he returns to fight in the tournament that will decide the fate of mankind versus King Piccolo's hatched offspring, Piccolo Jr. At the end of what is the greatest of the Dragon Ball fights, Piccolo completely destroys the city, but Goku still delivers what is thought to be the finishing blow: a powerful Kamehameha blast that has seemingly knocked out Piccolo for the ten count. But just when the judge reaches 9, Piccolo shoots up and blasts a laser beam cannon from his mouth right through Goku's chest. After crushing all of Goku's limbs this time, Piccolo rises into the air to deliver the final beam. The situation looks even more desperate than in the battle versus King Piccolo. Piccolo shoots his final blast, seemingly vaporizing Goku. But suddenly, Krillin spots something emerging from the sky: Goku shooting towards Piccolo like a torpedo. Goku had never used the technique of flying before, and his employment of it here, when all hope was lost, is how Goku trumps Piccolo with his final card.
What's most remarkable about this scene is not that Goku once again manages to save the world. It's that, after knocking Piccolo to the ground with a hole in his chest, Goku asks the judge to see if Piccolo is out of the ring (or what's left of it) and thus disqualified from the match. The judge confirms that it's a ringout, and declares Goku the winner of the tournament. We realize that Goku had been fighting the entire battle-for-the-fate-of-mankind without EVER LEAVING THE RING. To Goku, losing fairly meant more to him than winning with help. Selfish, possibly. Manly and heroic, unquestionably.
Date Posted: 4/17/2009