What a Live-Action Dragon Ball Series Can Learn From Netflix’s One Piece


  • “Dragonball Evolution” served as a cautionary tale for future live-action adaptations of anime, providing a map of what not to do.
  • Netflix’s successful adaptation of “One Piece” demonstrates that a live-action Dragon Ball series can achieve similar results with a diverse cast and dedication to the source material.
  • By incorporating practical changes and staying true to the fun and adventure of the original manga, a live-action Dragon Ball series has the potential to be a must-watch fantasy adventure.

Not only is it hard to talk about Dragon Ball adaptations without mentioning Dragonball Evolution, but it’s also painful. The silver lining is that the movie’s failure served a purpose by detailing a map of what not to do in future live-action adaptations of anime. Couple that with the fact that Netflix’s One Piece has become one of the most successful anime adaptations, and you have a blueprint for a hit Dragon Ball series. Those who may feel betrayed by the streaming giant’s past ventures into the anime world, like Death Note and Cowboy Bebop, are understandably hesitant to tune in. Yet, only two weeks after its release, Netflix announced that One Piece would receive a second season.

Part of that success goes to Eiichiro Oda, the manga’s creator, who was brought on as an executive producer. Oda said he was inspired to make One Piece by Akira Toriyama, the creator of one of his favorite manga series, Dragon Ball. Netflix’s One Piece has been praised by viewers for its strong performances, from a diverse cast of mostly unknown actors and its dedication to the source material. With a similar approach, a live-action Dragon Ball series can achieve identical results, if not more, because of the many fantasy-adventure elements and devoted fandom.

Live-Action Dragon Ball Needs A Diverse Cast

The cast of Dragon Ball

The One Piece manga has a gallery of characters as diverse as the world they inhabit. As an executive producer, Oda was essential in the casting process, and Netflix’s One Piece cast embodies his characters perfectly. The Netflix show remains true to Oda’s creations by finding actors who represent different parts of the world. Not only is Latino actor Inaki Godoy keeping in line with Oda’s statement that Luffy would be Brazilian, but casting Godoy as the lead Luffy makes the series immediately stand out from the past whitewashing of classic anime heroes. The show also jumps right into the otherworldly characters by introducing Arlong, the Fish King. Like the fishmen of One Piece, the world of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball contains anthropomorphic characters on Earth and aliens originating from unknown planets.

A live-action Dragon Ball would work well to cast actors from specific regions of the world. For the longest time, Toriyama has said that Jackie Chan is the only actor who could play Goku. While Jackie Chan would have been perfect for Goku, he has aged out of the role for some time now. Goku should be played by someone of Japanese descent or, at the very least, be Asian. If Toriyama is made an executive producer in the same vein as Oda, he’ll be a part of the casting process and sign off on another viable candidate. When it comes to the supporting cast, under Toriyama’s guidance, the show’s creators can find logical representations of the characters that illustrate the rich and diverse world of Dragon Ball.

Practical Changes Make a Faithful Anime Adaptation

Dragon Ball anime Goku and Justin Chatwin in live-action Dragonball Evolution Goku

One clear thing is the respect Netflix’s One Piece creators have for the source material and, by extension, the fans. The first season didn’t contain all the anime’s story arcs, yet Netflix made the right decision by excluding one. The choices behind the differences in taking the leap into live-action were conscious story changes only implemented to benefit the overall pacing and emotion of the eight-episode season. Where previous adaptations would choose to exclude the inexplicable silliness of the universe, Netflix’s One Piece has no problem depicting a snail telephone device without explanation. Toriyama’s Dragon Ball has a lot of exciting story arcs, some more famous than others, and some most likely are easier to adapt.

Where Dragonball Evolution failed, a live-action Dragon Ball series can incorporate more elements from the source material in an eight-episode season. The changes Dragonball Evolution made were horrendous. There’s no reason a live-action adaptation should shy away from characters like fan-favorite Krillin, Goku’s best friend, and Oolong, a shape-shifting pig. Dragon Ball has its fair share of human antagonists, like Mercenary Tao and the Red Ribbon Army. In choosing more grounded characters for a first season, a live-action series could cut production costs and save some of the more CGI or SPFX-heavy characters for a sophomore season.

Dragon Ball Has Fun and Adventure

Kid Goku flies with Tail-Helicopter Technique in Dragon Ball

Fans and critics have agreed that Netflix’s One Piece is a must-watch for all who enjoy a fun-fueled fantasy adventure. Like the manga, the series’ creators already have plans for the future, hoping for One Piece to have a 12-season run. The show’s strength in escapism is apparent through the fan base who project themselves onto the characters. All the main characters have a dream that unites them together for a common goal. An aspect of anime that often appears and was no doubt also inspired by the work of Toriyama. The Dragon Ball characters have individual wants and come together to achieve a shared purpose.

Goku and his friends band together to find and collect the titular Dragon Balls, enabling one to make any wish their heart desires. Throughout the journey, they face danger and encounter various villains looking to make a wish, usually in some form of world domination. In addition to the action and excitement, Dragon Ball is a coming-of-age story, with Goku being 11 years old at the start of the series. Since supporting characters like Bulma and Yamcha are teenagers as well, a live-action Dragon Ball series has the potential to have the actors grow with the characters and have the audience watch them grow up on screen, similar to the cast of Stranger Things.

While Netflix’s One Piece has monopolized folklore and the world of piracy, a live-action Dragon Ball has the potential to explore a more fantastical and science fiction-based narrative, combining elements from Lord of the Rings and Blade Runner. Diving into genres and blending them together can help separate the series from One Piece. While the manga did not run as long, there is still more than enough source material to make Dragon Ball last at least five seasons. After that, the show can ascend (like a Saiyan) to its even more powerful form: Dragon Ball Z. But that’s looking beyond Snake Way.

Like a senzu bean, time can heal all wounds. The only thing one can do now is look at Dragonball Evolution and hopefully laugh. By taking a page out of Netflix’s One Piece, a faithful Dragon Ball adaptation may finally be in the cards. With Toriyama acting as a watchful protector, a successful live-action Dragon Ball series with a diverse cast that stays true to the source material is possible.

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