My Favorites: Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods

Having received it for Christmas (Happy Holidays, everyone!), I must say Battle of Gods is my new favorite DBZ feature. Its predecessor, you ask? Why, the fusion-promoting, dead-resurrecting, acid trip of a movie that was surprisingly poignant in a couple places! Oh yes, casual readers.

To my fellow fans: *mimics the Kool-Aid Man voice* OHH YEAH. Crazy, Snorlax-lookin’, mutated…

MODERATE spoilers for BoG abound, but a smidgeon of background first: I love Dragon Ball Z and did in fact run out with a friend to see Battle of Gods in theaters this summer. I’ve been a staunch fan of the U.S. version since I was about five, I believe. I played with Barbies, Beanie Babies and DBZ figurines in elementary school and think these things are a lot more unisexual in nature and appeal than some people may think, but I digress.

Anyway, the energy in the theater was palpable. Everyone was all hyper and jittery with suppressed excitement. When the lights dimmed, I heard a guy behind my friend and me shout out “Yeah!” Instantly I answered back: “YEAH!” The theater then erupted with whoops and cheers and claps. I haven’t felt that kind of camaraderie with strangers since the premiere of the last Harry Potter film, and to be submerged in an atmosphere with that kind of emotive connectivity, to feel kindred to 100 other people you don’t know but you know are with you every step of the way, is a truly magical sensation. Now, why does this movie send chills down my spine, put the creative fire in my belly and make my cheeks hurt from grinning too much? Weeelll…

1. The Voice Actors. I do respect the Japanese cast and have no particular problem watching the show in its native language as long as the subtitles are accurate, but I grew up with the FUNimation dub. Seán Schemmel, Christopher Sabat and co. provided some of the most inspirational lines of my childhood, and even though it’s years later, their voices took me right back (a little millennial nostalgia right there, am I right, Toonami watchers?).

It was refreshing to hear the actors’ more refined takes on their characters and delightful to get fine-tuned translations for the original dialogue (“Can you give me like, five minutes please?”). It feels more authentic since the lingo reflects the current time period whereas you can tell DBZ and its dubs were written in the ’80s-’90s. Along with more believable exchanges (though I love the corny stuff, too), there are so many nice little gifts the voice actors proffered for long-time fans especially: We got Goku’s impression of Vegeta; some meaty but not self-indulgent screams; a sprinkling of swears; some nice character inflections on Vegeta’s lines (“For once I’m glad it’s not me”); some meta humor (“Why would you fly through the air to move 25 feet?”) and comical yet commanding personalities for new characters Beerus (or Bills) and Whis, voiced by Jason Douglas and Ian Sinclair, respectively. In my opinion, the choice to use most of the original FUNi cast was a definite coup.

2. Development of Character Development. What I mean by this is that they managed to reveal lesser known things about well-known characters with a few well-written conversations instead of a three-season story arc or a clunky line that spells out the obvious (though Roshi has one of those, ergh). It was a pleasurable challenge for both the fan and writer inside me to listen and learn about a familiar universe while watching a good amount of tense action at the same time. I want to layer my work similarly, want my stories to elucidate at different levels and influence multiple senses and sensations. What’s interesting here is that a lot of the final character arcs established toward the end of Z carried over to this film, but at this juncture the characters have only halfway changed, which fits since the movie is set midway between the end of the Buu arc and Uub segment of Z.

Here, Majin Buu is still selfish although relatively docile; he hasn’t quite learned to play nicely with strangers but, as we know, he soon will (DBZ episode 287). The same could be said for Vegeta, whom we know to be “a good guy” at this point, but not a good guy who feels as comfortable or “mellow” about that judgment as he will in the final episodes of DBZ (BoG: “The Prince of all Saiyans is not some righteous-hearted goodie-goodie!” vs. DBZ episode 290, where he very gently disposes of some punk for insulting him instead of straight-up murdering him). This film foreshadows the rest of his arc perfectly. Vegeta sacrifices every scrap of his pride to protect his family and guests, doing everything in his power NOT to start a fight with a being who once dishonored his father. It’s hard to believe and impressive to behold. I’m continually in awe of Vegeta for many different reasons, and I love how dynamic his character is compared to how static someone like Goku is.

Then again, maybe “static” isn’t the right classification. I didn’t think we would ever learn anything more about Goku, as he has always been very simple, but we did! It turns out he “hates” that he can’t achieve God-form without external support. True, he’s hinted about this sore point in the past, but never before has he expounded on these feelings as deeply as he does in BoG. Interesting! But silly Goku. Hasn’t he learned by now that many of the boosts he’s gained, when he can’t reach them himself, are due to his using his family and friends as motivation? Others are always a part of his power—his love and concern for them—and that’s the most potent power there is. All right, enough of my “sentimental rubbish.”

3. Technical Aspects. I will always prefer the Faulconer score (I own 61 of his themes from the American release), but the music is still well done, aided by the genius addition of “Hero” by Flow. Had to scoop that rockin’ track up, too. And then there’s cleaner, crisper animation with fight scenes that make you feel like you’re witnessing it all firsthand—there are a couple of shots of SSJGod Goku zipping through a rocky landscape to meet Beerus head-on that were straight out of the Battle of Z video game. I’ve heard the gripes about too much computer generation, but it personally didn’t bother me. In this movie, you’re placed so close to it all, you’re in it all, viewing from every angle, trying to catch your breath, and it’s exhilarating, especially for us super fans.

4. A Strong Canon Storyline. Can we ask for anything more? Everything looked good, felt good and I liked the concept of a Super Saiyan God. At first I was surprised by its legend, but given Toriyama’s recent creation of Goku’s mother, Gine, and the modifications made to bits of the backstory (yep, Dragon Ball Minus), I buy the way SSJGod came about better than I might have during the earlier seasons of DBZ. Along with a new transformation, we also got an interesting villain in that Beerus the Destroyer isn’t exactly a villain, but more so a being in whose wake our heroes are swept up. Nor is he one-dimensional as opposed to, say, Kid Buu. Layered antagonists for the win! Beerus is comedic, polite…to a point, shrewd, matter-of-fact and I have no words for how much I love his battle and rapport with Goku. Didn’t see that ending coming either. It opened up so much…

True, there are a couple inconsistencies it seems (Bulma’s voice is different and shouldn’t she be pregnant with Bulla if we’re at this point between the Buu saga and Uub segment? Also, she is so not the age she claims to be, but for those of us who know Bulma, we know it wouldn’t be out of character for her to lie for vanity’s sake), but they’re overlookable, at least for me. No story is perfect, but a respectable amount of effort garners respect in turn.

5. Fan Service. I enjoy it, to a degree. I don’t really label it as “wishy-washy” writing on the creators’ part, but more of a wink or a nudge to certain lines or scenarios they know fans adore; they appreciate that we appreciate their work, and I appreciate that. I believe in giving audiences some semblance of what they want from time to time as long as it doesn’t derail an artist’s ultimate design. They found a way to do that here. We get our beloved cast with everyone receiving a moment or two (so many in-jokes and antics…we impregnated the theater air with so much laughter). They brought back Pilaf and his gang to pay homage to Dragon Ball (yay!) and sate the people who did like GT (nah, I’m not one of them). There was even a reference to a past special that was never dubbed in English, so that was a cool Easter egg for the fans who’ve seen the Japanese dub of Yo! Son Goku and His Friends Return!!

My preferred moment of fan service stems from my own sentimentality, as my favorite piece of the entire movie is the simple shot of Goku grasping Vegeta’s hand in empowerment. Every change in character, every saving throw, every good-natured joke about the show’s brotherhood/playful sense of homoeroticism—i.e. the entire series and everything it stands for—is in that shot and I love it. I’m also long-winded, as you can tell, and enjoy a lengthy dialogue. Uncut, this movie is 1 hour and 45 minutes long! YAY! But don’t worry. When the fights do crop up, they effectively mix thrills, old-school moves and sharp, breathtaking visuals. The fights in particular inspire me to write some action scenes or work out; they give me new energy, the fancy-free energy of the dumb, spirited dreamer I once was (and often aspire to be again). I’ve seen BoG three times and that surge of life (ki!) has not diminished. As a child, a teen, a college student and as an adult, DBZ has fueled my will, illustrated to me what it means to have [a healthy sense of] pride and has awakened in me all kinds of strength and for now, the “power” I derive from Battle of Gods is the most intense.

I do think only hard-core DBZ fans will fully appreciate every nuance of this movie, but for comparison, it would be like if J.K. Rowling decided to add another chapter to the epilogue of the Harry Potter series (actually, wasn’t there a rumor that she did?)—the excitement level in Japan and internationally was that high for this film, and it warms my heart. This franchise and these characters are still so fundamentally important to so many of us, and I’m glad Akira Toriyama is helping them to shine once again. Next up is Resurrection F, which features Frieza as the main villain (hark, I hear groans, queries, and cheers all at once!). It’s slated for release in Japan on April 18, 2015, so in North America, we’ll probably get it for the 2016 summer (please be sooner than that).

EDIT: It’s sooner than that! August 4 – 12 in North America!

Better start my training now—it’ll take nerves of steel to calm the fangirl inside…

So, fellow entertainment buffs and DBZ fans, if you want to reawaken the child inside and learn a couple new things about this period in Dragon Ball lore, I highly recommend this movie. Unless of course, you’d rather just imagine it for yourself. Either way, you won’t go wrong. What do you think? What other anime features or series revitalize your energy and give you all the right power-ups? Feel free to share your inspirations below while I go off to jam to “Hero” by Flow, the aforementioned tune to which I wrote this post. Do I remember the translated lyrics? No. Do I understand what they’re saying? Nope. Do I care? Nuh-uh. Because when a song’s that spectacular, it transcends cultural barriers. And to me, this song, this movie, its sentiment and our excitement—all of it is universal.

–BP

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