Everything A Proper Live-Action Dragon Ball Movie Needs Already Exists
A live-action Dragon Ball movie that stays true to the manga and the anime is now possible, with a range of famous films and shows proving it could be done. Dragon Ball is the epitome of action-packed Shonen anime due to its larger-than-life characters and planet-shattering battles. But while it has been popular for almost four decades, Dragon Ball has been adapted for live-action only once with 2009’s universally panned Dragon Ball: Evolution.
Anime’s unique visual and narrative style sets it apart from other media, but many movies—such as The Matrix and Pacific Rim—have drawn inspiration from it to inform their editing, action sequences, and cinematography. Recently, anime’s rise in popularity has only made its influence on other formats more palpable. As there haven’t been many direct live-action adaptations of famous anime, now it’s the perfect time to bring them to life. Among the live-action anime adaptations already in the works, Dragon Ball could become a mainstream franchise as big as the MCU or Star Wars thanks to Hollywood’s recent technical and artistic advancements.
Visual effects may be the make-or-break element in a live-action Dragon Ball project. Dragon Ball is all about energy blasts, extravagant transformations, and seeing different kinds of alien species. With the right budget, Goku’s first Super Saiyan transformation could be as groundbreaking as the Avengers’ first team-up scene. Realistic CGI is more available now than ever, and even mid-to-low budget movies such as Everything Everywhere All At Once can rely on effects-heavy scenes without as much trouble as they would have once been. Nowadays, the motion capture needed for characters like Piccolo and Frieza, the green screen or real-time backgrounds needed for planets like Namek, and the CGI needed for all the Super Saiyan transformations are all accessible.
In fact, every visual element that makes Dragon Ball so distinctive has already been translated to live-action, only in different movies and shows. For instance, Superman’s aerial fight with General Zod in Man of Steel—which was inspired by the anime Birdy the Mighty—looks ripped straight from Dragon Ball. In Eternals, Ikaris’ fight scenes perfectly capture the essence of the Z-Warriors’ battles. And in Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen’s scenes alongside her dragons show what Shenron’s appearances could look like. Captain Marvel’s Binary form looks exactly like a live-action Super Saiyan, and both Avatar and Star Wars have paved the way for Dragon Ball‘s alien creatures and landscapes.
The Dragon Ball franchise is divided into series, with each divided into sagas. However, Dragon Ball as a whole functions as an indivisible unit. Goku’s early Dragon Ball adventures are incomplete without seeing Goku grow up and learn of his Saiyan origins the same way that Gohan’s fights as a teenager are incomplete without first seeing Goku’s past with Piccolo. Thankfully, audiences are already used to long-form storytelling in live-action. Whereas franchises were mostly limited to trilogies in previous decades, Hollywood is thriving on prequels, spinoffs, and crossover events both on the big and the small screen.
A live-action Dragon Ball franchise could include one or two Dragon Ball movies focused on Goku’s early adventures with Red Ribbon and Piccolo, followed by one movie for each Dragon Ball Z saga (Saiyan, Frieza, Cell, and Buu). In between those movies, there could be spinoff movies or shows that incorporate Dragon Ball Z‘s non-canon movies, which would develop supporting characters like Bardock and Trunks. The live-action Dragon Ball franchise could eventually culminate in a Dragon Ball Super movie, perhaps followed by a What If…? style take on the non-canon Dragon Ball GT. However it’s outlined, there’s more than enough material in Dragon Ball lore to distribute across different formats.
Martial arts are as important to Dragon Ball as transformations and energy-based attacks. After all, the franchise started with Goku’s quest to gather the Dragon Balls and compete in the World Martial Arts tournament as a child. Therefore, fight sequences have always been crucial for any attempt at a good live-action Dragon Ball adaptation, regardless of budget or format. Fortunately, stunt work and fight choreography have continued to improve since the dawn of cinema, and they have strived for realism, safety, and sheer spectacle.
Movies and shows such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Cobra Kai, and the John Wick franchise have recently pushed the boundaries in this area, often working in tandem with the VFX department to create mind-blowing action sequences. A masterful handling of martial arts and close combat is a no-brainer in a live-action Dragon Ball project. Combined with energy attacks, super speed, flight, and teleportation, live-action Dragon Ball fight sequences could easily become some of the most ambitious cinematic action scenes ever produced.
Superhero movies may have flooded mainstream cinema, but they’re not the only kind of property with box office potential in Hollywood. Streaming platforms and social media have opened the gates for a much more varied selection of audiovisual content, which can become a goldmine as long as it provides opportunities for expansion. This includes everything from belated sequels (Top Gun: Maverick), to reimaginings (Wednesday), to foreign shows (Money Heist), and faithful video game adaptations (The Last of Us, Super Mario Bros.). Despite previous failed adaptations of Death Note, Cowboy Bebop, and Dragon Ball, anime and manga could be Hollywood’s next goldmine.
All that’s necessary for a well-received live-action anime adaptation is respect for the source material, an appropriate budget, and attention to detail. Just like Marvel Studios managed to turn C-list characters into box office gold, other studios could redesign properties as big as Dragon Ball for mass audiences in live-action form. And to help the efforts made by adaptations like James Cameron’s Alita: Battle Angel and Edge of Tomorrow, what better manga/anime adaptation to lead the way than Dragon Ball? Done right, the Dragon Ball franchise — or Dragon Ball cinematic universe — could precede successful live-action Hollywood blockbusters based on Naruto, Demon Slayer, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and other popular anime.
Although bringing live-action anime adaptations to Hollywood would be an exciting experiment, not everything about them needs to be Westernized. Gone are the days when movie studios believed that only white American actors were the only valid movie stars, and fortunately, famous franchises have proved that actors of all races, genders, and backgrounds can lead major movies and shows—something that Ghost in the Shell‘s movie adaptation forgot. This means that a Dragon Ball cast made up of Asian actors is now possible, and that elements such as Goku’s gi, Vegeta’s armor, Shenron, and Dragon Ball‘s Monkey King and Journey to the West inspirations can keep their original roots.
A live-action Dragon Ball adaptation is also an opportunity to correct some missteps from the source material, including the limited presence of its female characters and the problematic nature of others, like Mr. Popo. Perhaps a live-action movie can give Chi-Chi, Bulma, Android 18, and Videl more fighting to do instead of waiting on the sidelines, or perhaps Kale and Caulifla could be introduced earlier on. Beyond that, there are very few changes a live-action Dragon Ball adaptation has to do to succeed as a major Hollywood franchise.
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