A Tepid Resurrection of a Franchise

One of the posters for Dragon Ball Z Resurrection ‘F’.

One of the posters for Dragon Ball Z Resurrection ‘F’.

I just want to tell people I’m not sayin’ the Dragon Ball franchise is fun. I’m super sayin’ the Dragon Ball franchise is fun.

As of late there has been a revival of older anime properties being reanimated. Among these are Space Battleship Yamato, Sailor Moon, and Dragon Ball. While I appreciate how the series are being brought back for younger generations to enjoy, they have consistently been re-aired on Japanese television, especially Japanese cable television. Because of this, I can’t help but think reanimating older series robs the current generation of a series they can call their own. Yes, there are more anime series being produced now than in previous generations and I understand the rising popularity of the series Yokai Watch has introduced a younger demographic to the medium. But, recently many of the series adapted from manga have found themselves pushed further into the late-night block. Because of this, children, possibly the largest subset of new viewers, are not awake to watch the programs. This is an issue that may haunt the anime industry in the future, but only time will tell. Until then, though, I will enjoy the quite obvious pandering towards my generation of anime fans. What better way to do this than with the most recent Dragon Ball feature film, Dragon Ball Z Resurrection ‘F’ (ドラゴンボール 復活の「F」 Dragon Ball Z Fukkatsu no ‘F’)?

I had my reservations about the film before watching it because I feel the Dragon Ball franchise is one that is just a fond memory of my youth. I also found it difficult to imagine what the author of the series, Akira Toriyama, could add to the franchise. After all, the main character’s power was on a level that was incomprehensible to even the people occupying that world. Thus, what was almost a begrudging trip to the theaters soon became a fun ride through the carefree days of my youth. What I mean by this is the film was far sharper with the narrative than the previous film, Dragon Ball Z Battle of Gods. I was disinterested in Freeza as the villain, though, yet despite this his presence added to the story. There were also a number of moments that were quite hilarious and kept with Akira Toriyama’s sense of humor. Those funny moments were also spread evenly throughout the story, breaking up the monotony of the characters fighting. However, what was truly an improvement over the film Battle of Gods and the TV series Dragon Ball Kai was the voice acting by both Masako Nozawa and Ryo Horikawa.

In the early to mid-1990s, when the Dragon Ball franchise was at its height, Toie Animation released about two Dragon Ball films per year. Much like the Pretty Cure franchise today, these films all followed a familiar pattern. It made each film very easy to follow and no matter when someone began watching the film, he or she could quickly understand the story. However, after seventeen years of not making a Dragon Ball film, Toei Animation lost the magic of how to make those films. Thus, when looking at Dragon Ball Z Battle of Gods we saw a very weak narrative with much of the film’s runtime devoted to letting older viewers reminisce about their time with the franchise in their youth. In this regard the film succeeded, though as a narrative story it failed quite thoroughly.

When it was announced in late 2014 a new Dragon Ball film was in production, I had a great deal of reservation. If the previous film pandered to older audiences with voice actors reprising their roles and a slew of images to remind them of their time with the franchise, I felt the new film would do the same. As more information was released about the film I became even more worried, especially when it was publicized Freeza would be the villain. To me, this felt like Toei Animation was no longer interested in making films in the Dragon Ball franchise at the same level as those in the early to mid-1990s. Rather, it seemed they wanted to indulge the audience members who perpetually want to reclaim their carefree childhood—or to remain, as I like to call myself, a man-child. Therefore, I was rather surprised when Toei Animation created a narrative, albeit a meager narrative, but a narrative nonetheless, for Dragon Ball Z Resurrection ‘F’.

Five of the characters who fought against Freeza's forces.  From left to right: Kame-Sennin, Kuririn, Son Gohan, Piccolo, and Tenshinhan.

Five of the characters who fought against Freeza’s forces. From left to right: Kame-Sennin, Kuririn, Son Gohan, Piccolo, and Tenshinhan.

Honestly, even now I’m not completely satisfied with the idea of resurrecting the most famous Dragon Ball villain, Freeza. However, I understand why he was chosen over creating a new villain or even using one of the other popular villains. It stemmed from the fact Freeza was quite possibly the only character in the franchise who wanted vengeance against the protagonist, Son Goku. Having a narrative that focused on the villain rather than the heroes gave the film a different perspective. While this method of storytelling didn’t instill any sympathy towards Freeza, we quickly grasped the humiliation of being defeated twice—after all, he was the strongest being in the universe before Goku came and fought him. In fact, his desire for vengeance was summarized very well in one line of dialog. He stated that if he actually trained there was no telling exactly how powerful he could become. This sense of purpose for Freeza helped engage the audience early in the film and greatly exceeded my expectations for the overall quality of Dragon Ball Z Resurrection ‘F’.

That’s not to say the film lacked the iconic fight scenes many have grown to love or hate. In fact, I felt the narrative of Freeza’s revenge benefited the climatic action scene. Again, the production team never meant for the audience to have any sympathy towards Freeza, but we saw how it pleased him to finally enact his vengeance against Goku. However, I couldn’t help but feel the production team was rushed when creating the climatic battle between the two characters because it lacked tension. For those familiar with the franchise as a whole, when looking back at their confrontation in both the manga source material and anime series, the battle had a number of peaks and valleys where it appeared Goku wouldn’t be victorious. This added to the tension of the overall fight between the characters and was certainly thrilling. Thus, because Dragon Ball Z Resurrection ‘F’ lacked the highs and lows of an action scene, the battle between Goku and Freeza felt lacking.

Even though the audience knew Goku would ultimately win, creating the façade he could lose would have greatly helped the tone of the film. For example, in the previous film, Dragon Ball Z Battle of Gods, we were introduced to the concept of Super Sayain God. This would have been a golden opportunity for the production team to show that while it greatly increased Goku’s power, there were even more beings that could surpass it. Thus, it would have forced Goku to reach the new level of Super Sayain God Super Sayain in a similar way to when he became a Super Sayain. This would have kept with the narrative of Freeza achieving his vengeance as well as the tradition of increasing Goku’s powers through great sacrifice.

The action was unquestionably the highlight of the film, but I was astonished at the amount of comedy present in Dragon Ball Z Resurrection ‘F’ as well. So we have an understanding, Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball, has a background in comedic series. One of his first major publications, Dr. Slump, was a comedy series. The humor in the early volumes of the Dragon Ball manga series was comparable to that in Dr. Slump. Yet, as Dragon Ball progressed a great deal of the humor was lost. Many of the films in the franchise also lacked humor, but Dragon Ball Z Resurrection ‘F’ certainly tried to revive the humor seen later in the franchise and Toriyama’s other works. For instance, in a short scene when the character Kuririn was preparing for battle, he had his wife, Android 18, shave his head. What was humorous about the scene was the all but stoic Android 18 gave an out of character remark about how handsome her husband was. It’s only a passing moment, but it came out of the blue from a character we didn’t expect, making it very difficult not to laugh.

Freeza nearly achieving his revenge against Son Goku.

Freeza nearly achieving his revenge against Son Goku.

However, it was the addition of Jaco from Akira Toriyama’s series Jaco the Galactic Patrolman that livened many of the action scenes. Though he is a new addition to the Dragon Ball franchise, he was an odd fit for many of the characters. Where the other minor characters who appeared in the film—Kuririn, Tenshinhan, Piccolo, Son Gohan, and Kame-Sennin—approached each action scene by charging into the fray, Jaco used comedic tactics to best his opponents. For example, he used the landscape and wildlife to his advantage when Freeza’s forces were chasing him. It’s reminiscent of the action scenes in the opening volumes of the Dragon Ball manga series and it was a welcome return to Akira Toriyama’s comedic action. There were also hints of action from Kabuki theater with Jaco’s combat scenes, which further added to the charm of his character. What I mean by this is he and his opponent’s movements were very grandiose, almost as if they had been rehearsed, and when all was said and done he would consistently strike a pose. The parallels with Kabuki theater were certainly not all that comedic by themselves, but when placed against the other minor characters it was humorous to say the least.

The humor with Jaco wasn’t just in the combat scenes, though. Outside of combat he played the bloke to Bulma’s straight man in a comedic duo routine. This stemmed from how Jaco claimed he was an elite Galactic Patrolman, but turned a blind eye to any infractions made by the Galactic Patrol as well as trying to avoid any sort of confrontation with Freeza and his army. Therefore, many of his lines, even in the action scenes, saw him either complaining about the situations he was in or thinking about how he could escape them. Placed against Bulma’s straight man, this worked well because she never engaged anyone except verbally. Granted, Bulma was definitely the straight man in the early volumes and episodes of the Dragon Ball manga and anime series, but as the series progressed and the humor became absent her presence slowly dwindled. Thus, seeing her return to her roots as a comedic straight paired up to Jaco’s bloke was refreshing.

As much as the narrative was far more polished than Dragon Ball Z Battle of Gods and a return to Akira Toriyama’s comedic roots, the best improvement in Dragon Ball Z Resurrection ‘F’ was certainly the voice acting of Masako Nozawa, who voiced Son Goku and Son Gohan, and Ryo Horikawa, who voiced Vegeta. Yes, both voice actors are well established, but listening to their voices in Dragon Ball Z Battle of Gods and Dragon Ball Kai, it was clear they had aged. This was far more prevalent with Masako Nozawa as she is nearly eighty years old as opposed to Ryo Horikawa who is nearly sixty. It’s not as though the quality of their voice acting has diminished, but rather with Masako Nozawa she wasn’t enunciating as well as she did even ten years ago in Dragon Ball GT. This made her speech sound a bit slurred. While we could still understand what she was saying, it was clear she needed a bit more practice before reprising the role. With Ryo Horikawa, though, I believe the issue stemmed from not having voiced the character in over eighteen years, thus he needed more time to prepare.

Yet, in Dragon Ball Z Resurrection ‘F’ both of the voice actors sounded almost exactly as they did when the Dragon Ball Z TV series ended in 1996. This may seem like a minor point, but when one becomes as familiar with characters’ voices, as I have with these characters, any discrepancies stand out. Yes, these were the same voice actors, but voices can change over the years. For example, the anime series Sailor Moon from 1992 and the re-make Sailor Moon Crystal from 2014 had Kotono Miishi reprise her role as the protagonist, Usagi Tsukino. Yet, it’s clear from listening to the two renditions, she forced her voice to sound like it did in 1992 in the latter series. Thus, Masako Nozawa and Ryo Horikawa working to sound as they did twenty years ago helped mitigate some of the issues surrounding how their respective characters sounded.

With the revival of the Dragon Ball anime series in 2009, I felt the film Dragon Ball Z Resurrection ‘F’ captured the sprit of the 1990s iteration much better than the film Dragon Ball Z Battle of Gods and the anime series Dragon Ball Kai. While I still feel Freeza was not the ideal choice of villain for this film, the production team created a narrative that was satisfying to say the least. This was a great shift in focus from the heroes of the franchise, but it didn’t alter the fundamentals of the film. However, there was certainly a lack of tension in the climatic battle between Freeza and Goku. The throwback to Akira Toriyama’s early comedic style was also a welcome change of pace for the film and did a good job of breaking up the action. The inclusion of Jaco from Jaco the Galactic Patrolman also livened up the film and gave Bulma a chance to shine as the franchise’s straight man once again. However, it was the quality of the voice acting that made Dragon Ball Z Resurrection ‘F’ far easier on the ears and I commend both Masako Nozawa and Ryo Horikawa for their excellent work despite their age. Any fan of the Dragon Ball franchise will find this film irresistible and passing it up would be a great shame. Even the young boy in the seat behind me at the theater found the film entertaining. If that’s not a recommendation, I’m not sure what is.

Work Info
Title:
Dragon Ball Z Resurrection ‘F’ (ドラゴンボール 復活の「F」 Dragon Ball Z Fukkatsu no ‘F’)
By: Akira Toriyama
Under: Toei Animation
Official Site: http://www.dragonball2015.com/
More Info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_Ball_Z:_Resurrection_’F’

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