With The Success Of Netflix’ One Piece, It May Be Time For Dragon Ball Z To Return To Live Action

Since its August 31st premiere, Netflix’ live-action adaptation of Eiichiro Oda’s massively popular manga, One Piece, has topped the streamer’s charts week-after-week, getting viewers by the millions to tune into the show. That, coupled with its surprisingly solid critical reception, makes for a first as far as western live-action adaptations of Japanese anime and/or manga properties go. I say “surprisingly” because anime and manga fans have bore witness to Hollywood and western television producers tarnish their beloved stories and characters repeatedly without remorse. Though one only need to point to Netflix’ previous outing with their disastrous adaptation of Cowboy Bebop, the trend arguably began in 2009 with a little movie by the name of Dragonball: Evolution.

Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and Dragon Ball GT need no introduction. They are amongst the most successful manga and anime series to ever exist. Known for their multi-episode-spanning fight sequences, outlandish power-ups, and memorable characters, one could argue it was these shows — “Z” in particular — that acted as the catalyst for the rise in popularity of Japanese animation here in the west. So when news broke that a live-action film was going to produced, our collective teenage minds ran giddy with excitement. To see Goku, Piccolo, Bulma and the rest of the gang all come to life with real humans, in real-world sets, was something I alongside millions of fans were eager to watch. Unfortunately, the end product was something so terrible it soured the idea of ever wanting to see our heroes depicted anywhere outside of the hands of Toei animators.

Dragonball Evolution
Look at what they did to my boys. /20th Century Fox

It would only be a year later that another beloved animated TV show would be made horribly into a live-action film. M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender was a, to put it lightly, less-than-stellar adaptation of one of Nickelodeon’s best shows. Avatar: The Last Airbender still stands as a crowning achievement for western animation, and one that anime and manga fans hold in high regard, even to this day. So to see it be adapted with such a lack of understanding and care, by a director who was well passed his prime and clearly in it for the paycheque, was a punch in the gut. And so, it seemed as though anime fans would go by the way of video game fans, who themselves had been burnt to a crisp over the multitude of lacklustre adaptations of their own beloved properties over the years.

However, a decade later and it seems Hollywood may finally “get” video games and anime. For all my disdain for Disney and Marvel — and believe me, those feelings run deep — one thing I must admit is that it made us nerds mainstream. Liking comic books, anime, and video games is no longer met with a scoff and eyebrow raise. We’re a part of the “cool kids” now (God help us). As such, it’s now finally profitable to actually make a decent enough adaptation of the things we like. Because doing so means potentially having millions of impassioned nerds flooding theatres for that sweet shot of nectar known as nostalgia. And they were right. Both Sonic the Hedgehog movies crossed the $300 million dollar mark at the box office, with The Super Mario Bros. movie crossing the unthinkable $1 billion threshold; something that we’ve become accustomed to only being done by the likes of Marvel properties.

None of these films were particularly great as far their quality goes, but they were good enough, and that’s all that’s required because the rose-tinted glasses of fans will take care of the rest. Still, getting even passable adaptations of video games and animes was an unfathomable notion even a decade ago. Which is why I believe the time is ripe for a studio to take a stab at bringing the Z fighters to live-action once again. I hesitate to put Netflix in the list of names that should take on that responsibility, mainly because they’ve already green-lit a slew of other anime adaptations including Yu Yu Hakusho and Avatar: The Last Airbender — hopefully with Shayamalan nowhere near the set this time-around. These, alongside season two of One Piece means that Netflix’ production budgets are already at eye-watering numbers; and budget is an area that one cannot skimp on where Dragon Ball is concerned.

Netflix One Piece
The beginning of The Straw Hats! Credit: Netflix

Dragon Ball has always been the perfect source material for a high quality live-action TV show, though doing it justice means loosening the purse strings. Due to its high-flying, explosion-ridden, planet-destroying nature, a Dragon Ball adaptation would require some serious VFX talent. This was an area I was concerned about for One Piece as its scope is so vast with unworldly beings and whimsical landscapes, but Netflix delivered; albeit with some minor visual inconsistencies. I can’t argue if Dragon Ball would require more or the same amount of effort in regards to its visuals, but the same attention to detail across the board — from casting, music, and set design — is a must. That, alongside having creators that actually understand the source material and be connected to its creator, has seemed to prove successful for Netflix.

Frankly, the only studio I’d even consider letting taking creative liberties is HBO. Though I have no idea what a live-action Dragon Ball series would look like under their stewardship, it’s a curious partnership that I wouldn’t mind seeing unfold. Although, tonally speaking, Dragon Ball is a far cry from the type of stuff HBO usually produces. And so, realistically we’re left with either Amazon or Netflix. Things obviously open up when we move away from television and into film, however a massive story like Dragon Ball really does fit better within the episodic structures of television. Though Amazon doesn’t really have a track-record with live-action anime adaptations, they are currently working on a Hellsing movie with John Wick writer, Derek Kolstad, as well as turning The Promised Neverland into a live-action series as well.

Whosever lap Dragon Ball may fall onto, I simply hope it’s done enough justice to recoup the horrors from its last venture into live-action. Even though I’m still not entirely convinced that Hollywood live-action remakes are entirely necessary, and prefer leaving the animated characters within their panels while we pursue new stories, it would nevertheless be a joy to see Goku and Co. be brought to life in the same way Netflix have done with One Piece.

Shaz Mohsin

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