Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

Getting Back to My Roots – Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods

In the mid-90s, every Sunday morning the local WGN affiliate in my hometown would play the original Ocean company-dubbed Dragon Ball (and then later Dragon Ball Z). This wasn’t that big of a deal to me, but I did watch it occasionally before heading off to three horrible hours of church. A few years later, however, Dragon Ball Z showed up on Cartoon Network in a much more manageably viewable form. That is to say it aired weekdays in the after school timeslot. To say Dragon Ball Z became a hit would be an understatement – it became a HUGE hit. It is arguably the most famous Japanese anime in the history of the medium, particularly in America. The show is almost single-handedly responsible for the anime boom of the late 90s. It was a gateway drug for many of us, myself included.

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I would say I was a big Dragon Ball Z fan in the late 90s. I used to watch it every day after school, even well into high school. I enjoyed the serialized nature of the show and the mythology behind the characters. The show had some really great villains and I liked how some of the villains eventually became good guys in their own right and continued to be a part of the show’s universe. After a time, however, I moved on from Dragon Ball Z. It’s likely I didn’t pay much attention to the show after the Frieza arc, partially because the show immediately started getting tiresome to me. I was also growing up, and my tastes began evolving towards more adult-themed properties like Satoshi Kon and Mamoru Oshii films. But Dragon Ball Z remained immensely popular amongst American audiences, buoyed by a series of successful animated films, toys and action figures, and fighting video games.

Outside of the highly derided (deservedly so) 2009 live-action Dragonball: Evolution film project, I haven’t spent too much time thinking about the Dragon Ball franchise. To be honest, I was surprised to find out that Toei was still producing Dragon Ball animated films at all. Then, I heard about Battle of Gods and how it was a big hit in Japan, where it grossed over 30 million dollars. It was the first theatrically released Dragon Ball film in something like 17 years, and obviously demand was there for it. I then saw that Funimation would be releasing the film into domestic theaters for a one-day only event, and decided to show up for the movie. Despite not having seen anything Dragon Ball-related for something like 14 years, I found it surprisingly fun and easy to follow. In short, I’m glad I caught it.

Battle of Gods is a very uncomplicated film. Lord Beerus, one of the titular gods of the film (the god of destruction, naturally), wakes up from a thirty-nine year nap after prophesizing about an epic battle with a Saiyan god. He immediately heads towards earth, which is one of the only planets in the universe where Saiyans remain. After an unsuccessful encounter with Goku, who knows nothing of a Saiyan god, Lord Beerus heads off to find Prince Vegeta, inadvertently crashing Bulma’s birthday party in the process. After Vegeta continually fails to placate the notoriously fickle god of destruction, Lord Beerus threatens to destroy the earth unless the Saiyans can unlock the mystery of the Saiyan god and give him a proper fight. The stakes are high, but the situation is comical – remember that all of this takes place with an extravagant birthday bash as its backdrop.

The film is incredibly lighthearted, funny, and winning. Battle of Gods feels like it could be an extended episode of the series, but that is not a bad thing at all because of how comedic it is. Even Lord Beerus, who again is the god of destruction, is kind of funny and doesn’t seem to take things too serious. His appetite and love of food brings some levity to the character. Goku is of course his dumb self, incredibly goofy yet charming and powerful. Vegeta gets continually embarrassed, but it’s all in the service of saving the earth and protecting his family. Minor characters get their due as well, with Gohan learning that his wife Videl is pregnant with their child, Bulma celebrating her birthday, and Goten and Trunks having various misadventures with Mai, Pilaf, and Shu. Longtime DBZ stalwarts Piccolo, Krillin, Yamcha, and various others get their scenes in as well.

The animation is smooth and clean throughout, though the film transfer wasn’t great. I assume it was projected digitally as this was a one show only event. Though the image wasn’t always the best, I could still definitely tell that the film used its animation budget well, with the action scenes being really cool. Akira Toriyama’s character designs are simple but iconic, and they look great on the big screen. The Super Saiyan god stuff looks great, and the ending fight between Lord Beerus and Goku is an obviously highlight of the film. I saw this movie in a crowded theater (I was surprised it was at capacity) and the audience was really into it. It was my first experience viewing anime in a theater (I’ve actually not even seen any of the Miyazaki movies in theaters) and it was great fun viewing it with this kind of crowd.

I’m not against dubbed anime, but I found the dub of this film to be below par unfortunately. I would have much preferred to see it subtitled in the original Japanese language. This is where I really think Funimation dropped the ball. Dragon Ball Z is a huge franchise and this film is going to be a big success on DVD so I really wish they’d put more effort into their dubs. The biggest offenders to me were Vegeta and Shenlong, who were both voiced by the same actor. I enjoyed Sean Schemmel’s dumb guy act as Goku and Monica Rial was great as Bulma. I wish I enjoyed this English dub, but on the whole I just didn’t. Additionally, the script isn’t particularly ambitious, but as noted earlier it is lighthearted and fun. I should note that the music is great throughout, however.

I’m glad I took the time to go and check Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods out in theaters. Even though I haven’t given the franchise much thought in the better part of a decade and a half, I still enjoyed what I saw and wasn’t too confused by anything despite not actually seeing the series in its entirety. I’m not usually too impressed by theatrically released movies based on anime properties (I really dislike the Fullmetal Alchemist movie, for instance), but I found Battle of Gods to be a lot of fun. It is a lighthearted and funny movie with a lot of good action scenes and a decent amount of good-natured humor. Though I had problems with the digital film transfer in my local theater, I could still tell this was a quality product with a lot of work put into it. I had no idea Toei was still making these movies, but I’m glad I caught this one. It was a lot of fun.

-Z-

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