Title: Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods
Director: Masahiro Hosoda
Writers: Yūsuke Watanabe (Based on Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama)
Distributed By: (Japan) Toei Company, (North America) 20th Century Fox
Starring: (Japan) Masako Nozawa, Ryō Horikawa, Naoko Watanabe, Kōichi Yamadera, Masakazu Morita/(North America) Sean Schemmel, Christopher R. Sabat, Monica Rial, Jason Douglas, Ian Sinclair
Release Date: March 30, 2013 (Japan), August 5, 2014 (North America)
Welcome back boys and girls to another exciting installment of BENTO BAKO WEEKLY! This week, yours truly will be filling in for our dear Kristin, as we take a look at Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, the latest in the series of animated films inspired by the very successful manga Dragon Ball.
Dragon Ball is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Akira Toriyama, originally serialized from 1984 to 1995. It spawned three anime television series that aired from 1986 to 1997. Also counted amongst the adaptations are eighteen animated movies, three god-awful live-action movies, over half a dozen animated shorts (or OVAs in Japan), and dozens upon dozens of video games.
What makes the release of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods so special? Well, this is the first Dragon Ball movie in seventeen years to have a theatrical release, and the first ever Japanese film to be screened in IMAX Digital Theaters, and apparently the first ever Dragon Ball movie to get an official North American theatrical release.
While Dragon Ball has always been an action-comedy, there’s a definite split with the first half of the show featuring much more comedy and adventure than the second half, which focused more on melodramatic action and had a more “monster of the week” feel to it. The movie itself is fairly light and upbeat, striking a good balance between the more melodramatic threats of previous Dragon Ball Z movies (those based on the second half of the manga), and the more adventurous light-hearted Dragon Ball movies (those based on the first half of the show). Those particular fans that were expecting more melodrama and action, and a less light-hearted affair, might be disappointed with this latest movie, but I found it to be a welcome change of pace that harkened back to what made me fall in love with the series in the first place.
Taking place after the manga and show, Goku is away training, while his long-time friend and original co-star Bulma is celebrating her birthday. All of the series regulars show up to help celebrate, giving fans almost all of the cameos they could ask for, though I was sad that I didn’t see a personal favorite character (Launch) in the crowd. Enter Beerus, the indolent, childish God of Destruction, who decides that to alleviate his boredom he is going to find a worthy opponent to have a sparring match against. Hearing of Goku’s feats of daring-do, Beerus decides to face him in mortal combat. All sorts of crazy hijinks ensue as Beerus crashes Bulma’s party and starts causing problems, threatening to destroy the Earth if he doesn’t get his way.
The action, though taking a backseat to more story and character building, is still present and when it kicks in, it kicks it into high gear. Series favorites like Gohan and even Majin Buu get a chance to throw some kicks, but the three characters that get the most focus are our hero Goku, his rival and ally Vegeta, and of course the film’s villain (who isn’t really a villain) Beerus. There should be enough fighting to satisfy the action fans, with our star going toe to toe with Beerus twice, and a small brawl between a few other characters and the titular God, and even Vegeta gets to go one on one with the movie’s “big bad” for a bit.
The voice acting is all pretty great, mostly what you’d expect from the higher-end side of American dubbing, considering English dubs for Japanese movies aren’t quite the cringe-inducing joke they used to be. Not the best dub I’ve ever heard, but certainly far better than average. The actors all hit their deliveries with just the right emotionality, and while using somewhat different humor and dialogue than the Japanese (certain jokes and cultural references would get lost in translation), still make sure that their performances capture the spirit of the original.
Where the movie really shines is in the characterizations. Goku is his usual naïve bumbling self who’s just spoiling for some fun and a good fight. We get some back story for his rival Vegeta, and his character gets to showcase that he’s grown a bit as the series has progressed, no longer the spoiled brat he once was, and now a full-fledged defender of Earth and its people in his own right.
One of the few faults I can find with this film is just how much it tries to cram into one story. And while about an hour and a half, much longer than most Dragon Ball Z movies, it’s still too short to deal with everything the story tries to include. This leads to many characters getting sidelined even more than they have in the past. Too many guests and cameos means a lot of useless and silent characters whose only purpose is to appear on screen for no other reason than for fans to say “Oh, hey look!”
Another grievance has less to do with this movie specifically, and more to do with the direction the series has gone since about the seventh movie out of the eighteen, and a little over halfway through the show. And that’s the complete and utter focus on Goku as the hero. Sure, he’s the main character, but at least in older movies the supporting cast got to help out a little, with lesser enemies getting taken out, and taking on the big bad was at least partially a team effort. With the last few movies, the supporting cast made up of Goku’s friends and former rivals has slowly turned from helpful allies to useless cannon fodder. It’s gotten to the point that fans make jokes about how quickly everyone else will get taken out before Goku arrives to save them. And this film is no different in that respect.
One very positive aspect of the film is the overall story. Going against formula for once, we have a “villain” who isn’t really a villain at all. I mean seriously, does every new character they meet have to be out to kill them?! Beerus is just a bored God, neither benevolent nor malevolent. Yeah, he’s the “God of Destruction,” but he seems to only really destroy when something pisses him off. Now, he has the quick overactive temper of a bratty child, but he also has the wisdom (at least to an extent) of a worldly martial arts master. Through the story we get insight into other characters, and interesting lessons in pride and teamwork. That may sound hokey on paper, but within the context of the film I assure you it’s entertaining and not as goofy as it seems.
Other than the misused cameos and short-changed characters, there isn’t much fault to find with this production. The characters that are utilized are used well enough, considering what they’re up against. The action is nice, the humor is great, and the story is thoughtful. This reviewer gives Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods a score of 9 out of 10.