Seasoned anime fans know not to get their hopes up too high for Hollywood adaptations of their favorite series. Not only do a lot of projects never get past the rumor stages (we’re looking at you, "Battle Angel Alita," "Cowboy Bebop" and "Mai the Psychic Girl"), even when they do, the results have historically been sub-par. Despite its growing worldwide popularity, anime is still primarily produced for a very specific demographic and environment, and a lot of what makes the originals work so well gets lost in the attempted transition to a mass-market blockbuster.
But even with guarded expectations, "Dragonball Evolution" came as a shock. Some people like point out that 20th Century Fox’s live-action version of the "Dragon Ball" anime and manga franchise had so little respect for its source material that it couldn’t even be bothered to spell its name properly, and that’s really just the tip of the iceberg of puzzling alterations, disappointing omissions, and baffling additions in the 2009 film.
With such a huge gap between the abilities of "Dragon Ball" and "Dragonball" to please audiences, one could point the finger at any number of people involved with "Evolution’s" production. Many, though, choose to point theirs at the movie’s scriptwriter, Ben Ramsey. Ramsey recently spoke with Derek Padula, author of multiple books analyzing the "Dragon Ball" phenomenon, and offered two things many fans have been wanting for the last seven years: an explanation, and an apology.
Ramsey’s complete statement can be found here on Padula’s website, The Dao of Dragon Ball. In it, he acknowledges the disdain fans have shown for "Dragonball Evolution’s" script, and also sheds some light on how it came about.
“To receive hate mail from all over the world is heartbreaking. I spent so many years trying to deflect the blame, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the written word on page and I take full responsibility…I went into the project chasing after a big payday, not as a fan of the franchise…So I’m not blaming anyone for 'Dragonball' but myself.”
“To all the 'Dragon Ball' fans out there, I sincerely apologize.”
Ramsey’s comments are actually quite revealing, and also make some of the movie’s script choices understandable, if not necessarily defensible in the minds of anime purists. If you weren’t a fan "Dragon Ball" and simply tried to give yourself a crash course in what it’s about, you’d quickly see that the story is centered on an alien martial artist, raised as an unassuming country boy, who sometimes transforms into a giant ape. He goes on an adventure and becomes stronger in the process, while making some new friends, meeting a romantic interest, and fighting other, more sinister, aliens.
At that point, you might feel like you’ve got enough characters and story beats to craft an adaptation and stop reading/watching the original. But where "Dragon Ball" really kicks into high gear is as the series goes on and we see not how Goku acquires his superhuman powers, but how he manages to stay the same innocent, pure-hearted guy he’s always been, even as he fights against increasingly powerful and dangerous foes. That heart is sorely missing from "Dragonball Evolution," in the eyes of many of its critics.
Ramsey’s marginal interest in the source material also goes a long way in explaining why characters like Yamcha and Mai were given such prominent parts in his script. Both make frequent occurrences in early installments of the manga and anime (i.e. the chapters and episodes you’d be looking at if you had no prior knowledge of "Dragon Ball" but needed to quickly bring yourself up to speed on its characters and lore), but are hardly more than bit players when you look at the story of "Dragon Ball" as a whole.
It also explains why Piccolo was chosen as "Evolution’s" primary villain. Sure, he started out as an antagonist, but he’s been one of the anime’s heroes for several decades now.
But just as many "Dragon Ball" villains eventually see the light and repent, so too does Ramsey seem to have learned from the experience. In wrapping up his statement to Padula, Ramsey says he now focuses his energies on projects he feels a genuine passion and enthusiasm for. “That’s the only work I do now,” he asserts.
It’s a change in philosophy that we think Goku would be proud of.
Sources: The Dao of Dragon Ball, Yuruku Yaru, Jin
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