Dragonball: Evolution Junior Novel
Adapted by Stacia Deutsch & Rhody Cohon
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: All Ages (9-12)
Goku thought he was a normal high school student until he found out he’s actually a martial-arts whiz with all kinds of powers. Now he and his fellow teen warriors are on a quest to find all the Dragon Balls before they fall into the wrong hands. But they may already have! Goku must battle the evil madman Piccolo with all he’s got to save the planet Earth!
Taking the title and character names from a manga does not make it “based on”, as it says on the front cover of this book (in very small letters). Not even the description from the back cover has much to do with the story inside. This story takes only the barest of elements from Akira Toriyama’s original manga and weaves them into a generic and boring story that has none of the charm or fun of the source material.
Dragonball: Evolution follows the story of Goku, a loser high school kid with some mad martial arts abilities. He ditches his grandfather for a date with a popular girl, Chi Chi, who secretly practices martial arts too. His grandfather gets killed, so he teams up with smart, weapons-mad Bulma to find the dragon balls so he can avenge his grandfather and save the world from the evil alien-demon Piccolo, and his shape-shifting henchman Mai. Joining Goku is the lay-about but martial arts master Roshi, and the greedy bandit Yamcha. They find 4 of the dragon balls, but Mai, disguised as Chi Chi steals them. Piccolo tries to summon the dragon Shen Long, is interrupted by Goku and gang. Goku turns out to be a monster, goes on a rampage, put by believing in himself, changes back and defeats Piccolo. Happy ending.
You could change all the names in that plot summary and still have the same movie. It is about as formulaic as a teen action movie can get. Boy has doubts about himself, goes on a quest, finds himself, and gets the girl. No real thought was required to come up with this plot. Pulling plot points from a hat could have come up with something more original, or at least more interesting. Following the story arc that it is supposed to be based on would have been better as well.
While unoriginal plots aren’t anything new, they can be overlooked if there was something else interesting in the story, like the characters. But this story fails on that point too. The characters are also generic and downright boring. They all fit neatly into their pigeon holes with no actual character traits to call them out or make them seem appealing. Goku starts out as an Emo teenage boy who’s in a rush to grow up, who then becomes all fiery when he has to avenge his grandfather. All the little clues that are dropped throughout the story that there’s something more to him does nothing to improve his character. Bulma is another “Lara Croft” type of girl; smart, adventurous, and loves to use guns. Yamcha is just a money grubbing thief. There is nothing interesting about any of the characters to make them memorable.
The adaptation of this story to novelization is about as bare bones as you can get. It goes through the motions of telling the story, but there are no descriptions of the characters or the world around them. Yes, it’s based on a movie, but it’s lazy to assume everyone who reads the novelization will have seen the movie and will know what everything and everyone looks like. Even when Goku transforms into Ozaru, a moment that should have had lots of descriptive text, it only mentions his eyes going red and growing fangs. There was no punch or flavor to the writing. It the script made into prose, and is as dry a read as the Mohave Desert.
The real crime of this novelization, and ultimately the movie, is that the writers completely ignored or threw out everything that was good from the source material. Dragonball‘s popularity comes from it’s characters and world. Tokiyama created a unique world. Futuristic cities and rural small towns separated by wide spans of wilderness and/or wastelands. It’s a place where dinosaurs wander and humans and anthropomorphics live and work together in peace. The characters were just as unique. Goku was an innocent, but also a great fighter. Bulma, while still brilliant, acted liked the teenage girls she was. She wanted a boyfriend, not fame. Yamcha wasn’t just a bandit, he was a martial artist in his own right, yet was also deathly afraid of girls. Master Roshi wasn’t just a lazy but great martial artist. He was also a lech, wanting to get a girl, but never succeeding.
Dragonball wasn’t just an action adventure, it was also a comedy. It’s this mix of action and comedy with a touch of coming of age drama, that made it such a success. The failure of the writers, producers and director to see that is what makes this story such a disappointment. At best, my feelings about the book are “meh”. At worse… I really can’t recommend this book to anyone.
Review copy provided by publisher