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This Dragon Ball Musical Proves A Perfect Live-Action DBZ Show Is Possible

Chinese YouTube alternative Bilibili hosted an extravagant New Year celebration to ring in 2024, featuring a number of tributes to internationally successful pop culture properties. Among these was a dance performance inspired by the Dragon Ball franchise. While the prospect of a live-action screen adaptation of "Dragon Ball Z" is daunting, the success of Bilibili's stage production offers something of an unlikely blueprint for how to satisfyingly bring the animated series' action to life.

Bilibili's stage show, notably, focuses on dance first and foremost, rather than comprehensively retelling the events from the Dragon Ball franchise that it adapts. Of course, centering dance moves in a true live-action "Dragon Ball Z" show or movie probably wouldn't be a great idea. What's worth mimicking from the Bilibili show, however, is its prioritization of fun above all else.

A big reason this Dragon Ball dance performance works is that it presumes its audience already has at least a general understanding of its characters. From start to finish, then, fans have the satisfaction of watching those characters in nonstop action — even if that action casts Master Roshi as a hip-hop dancer for some reason. While a live-action "Dragon Ball Z" show would require at least some minimal exposition, it's worth noting how satisfying it is to see these larger-than-life characters in larger-than-life situations, unencumbered by the meticulous storytelling that's oftentimes characteristic of live-action adaptations of major IP.

Focusing on spectacle is the right way to go for live-action DBZ

There are pretty much just two major reasons the prospect of a new a live-action Dragon Ball adaptation is tricky territory. First and foremost, Dragon Ball revolves around otherworldly action between impossibly strong Saiyans. This is, of course, considerably easier to draw than bring to life with human actors. Complicating matters further is the dismal reception of the 2009 film "Dragonball: Evolution." Rather than highlighting even a few specific qualities, criticisms of the film cover practically every major category, so surpassing it is about as straightforward as not making a bad movie.

What Bilibili's stage show proves is that the big fights and idiosyncratic characters in Dragon Ball don't necessarily have to come to life in high fidelity, so to speak, as long as they're suitably spectacular. This dance performance uses live digital effects to depict some of Goku's most powerful moves, like his kamehameha and spirit bomb attacks. They look good on stage not because the effects are flawless but because his attacks are huge and powerful just like in the anime that has won over so many fans. A good "Dragon Ball Z" show, then, essentially needs to go big or go home — not necessarily with its budget but with how its action looks on-screen.