After a long hiatus, fans of the Dragon Ball Z series and characters were finally given an opportunity to see their favorite characters again in Dragon Ball Z: Battle of the Gods, the latest film featuring the Dragon Ball Z cast, and the first to be worked on directly by series creator Akira Toriyama.
The film was such a big deal that it became Dragon ball Z’s first theatrical release in the United State. Today, it become available to own on Blu-ray and DVD. To celebrate the occasion, we spoke to two of the film’s voice actors to talk about their experience making the film and what it means to the cast and fans.
Jason Douglas is a newcomer to the series, and voices the God of Destruction, Beerus. Chris Sabat is a series veteran, who voice Vegeta, Piccolo, Yamcha, and Shenron. Both actors spoke about what the film means for the present and future of the Dragon Ball Z series.
Check out the interview below before picking up your copy of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of the Gods.
Chris, you’re the Dragon Ball Z veteran here. Can you tell us a bit about the film? My understanding is that it take place between the end of Dragon Ball Z and the beginning of Dragon Ball GT. Is that correct?
CS: Yeah, it’s been a huge debate right now, about whether this film makes Dragon Ball GT non-canon, technically. So that’s just a debate, we’ll have to see.
So yeah, this feature takes place right at the tail end of the Dragon Ball Z series. In the timeline, there’s kind of a general sort of peace in the world. It’s about right at the end of the series, and Beerus is this destroyer of worlds who wakes up early because he’s had this premonition of a Super Saiyan God. He travels to Earth to find this super-warrior, and it’s up to Goku to convince him that Earth is worthy of not being completely destroyed.
Jason, can you tell me about who Beerus is and what his role is in this film?
JD: In the history of Dragon Ball Z, and all the villains and foes Goku and his friends have had to face, it would almost have been a letdown for him to have to face just another villain from another quadrant of the universe, with some power that he has to overcome. In this case, he is facing what – as far as we can tell so far – is the most powerful being in the DBZ universe, and he is unlike any other foe in that he really exists outside of that plane of existence of sort of created things. There seems to be a timelessness about Beerus. For me, I keep seeing him as part of the fabric of the universe, part of the creative and destructive forces that are always churning. So, you know, nebulas, new star formations, destruction, colliding galaxies, asteroids hurling out of control, these are all things that Beerus sort of metaphorically represents. That’s why he always represents an existential threat wherever he goes, because, not unlike in the real world, we never know when a star is going to supernova and destroy everything in its vicinity. That’s Beerus. I think what is required of Goku, and Vegeta, and all of the characters that come into contact is sort of an outside the box response.
I think that’s what gives rise to the comedy in the movie. Just fighting Beerus is not going to be sufficient, and so there’s a method to the madness to the silliness going on. It’s really kind of strategy for “how do we handle this force of nature?”
What was it like trying to the voice for a god of destruction who is also a cat?
JD: That’s a good question. I always like to give props to the animators, they really give us a wealth of information about the characters just based on what you see, visually, when you’re watching the animation. One of the first thing you notice about Beerus is his confidence. He’s extremely confident, his fighting skills are fluid like water, and he conserves energy very well. So we see him using the least amount of energy necessary to get from point A to point B. He could appear to be lazy at times, but we see its actually that he’s just a master of self-control, in some ways, which sounds like an odd thing to say about a god of destruction, but you really do see it. So that begins to inform how you make your approach, as an actor.
Also, what we wanted – and this is something that Chris really helped out with a lot – was, we didn’t want it to get too lazy in the speech. He wanted him to have this kind of soldier like quality, that’s kind of gruff at certain times. Even though he’s cat-like, we also wanted to play up that he’s kind of short fused, so we don’t know when he’s going to pop off. So I tried to pair this idea of this very confident, smooth character, who has the confidence someone would have from being an all-powerful being, along with this kind of idea that he does get impatient, and he does have this gruff side to him, this warrior like quality. So we found kind of a happy place where I could sustain the character over many, many hours of recording.
Chris, you got to voice Vegeta’s musical number in this film. I’m pretty sure that’s a first for the series. What was your reaction when you read that scene in the script?
CS: I didn’t even wait long enough for the script to come in, because as soon as the movie was released in Japan and people finally got to see it, I didn’t even have the chance to see. I had thousands of people telling me conventions. “Dude, Vegeta has a singing scene, how are you going to handle the karaoke part?” So at that point, it became my mission to try to find that scene, and I couldn’t because it was hard to find a copy of the movie online. It wasn’t until Funimation finally got the rights to it that I was able to see the whole thing, and the first thing I did was pop it in and fast forward so I could find Vegeta’s singing scene.
It ended up being way easier than I thought it was going to be. My initial though was, “oh god, this is going to be some ridiculous karaoke song, and it’s going to be complicated.” The voice of Vegeta in Japan, Ryō Horikawa, he has a much higher voice than I do, and he’s also kind of a musical theater guy. So my initial thought was, “oh my god!” But as it turns out, it was actually really fun and relatively easy to do, because my thought was, this is Vegeta. He’s probably never sang a song in his entire life. His entirely life has been basically killing people and watching all of his family and friends die, so I doubt he’s had a whole lot to sing about. So I figured, if he did sing, he’d probably be a pretty bad one. So that’s kind of how I played it. His version of singing is sort of a shouting style, that would be very indicative of his personality.
There’s a certain, oversimplified idea of Dragon Ball Z is, and that boils down to a lot of yelling and punching. It seemed to be that this film, and the character of Beerus in particular, were subtlety subverting that idea. Did you get that sense from the film? Do you feel it intentional, or just something that grew out of the characters personality as it evolved?
JD: I definitely think that it’s both. There’s this line from The Exorcist, of all places, where the priest is just trying to get the demon to show itself by doing something, and the response from the demon within Regan is, “That would be a gross display of power.” As if an all-powerful, supernatural creature even has limits as to what it will go to because it’s just not done in this society, to grossly display all of the power that you have. I think with Beerus, in particular, there’s an aspect of that, but it’s also this idea of just, I don’t have to power up. I don’t have to impress you with my skills. I’m going to impress you not with how much I can do, but how little I have to do to beat you. I think that’s where it comes from with Beerus.
CS: Yeah, I think it felt like a nice reunion. It doesn’t seem like that long ago, because we got these episodes later than everyone else, but it’s been 17 years. I think what they ended up doing was creating something that just so perfectly fit into the Dragon Ball universe at that time. I think the only people who will be disappointed by this film are people who are looking for one, very specific thing. I think they’ve already covered those bases. If you want that sort of movie, you can watch the Broly movie, or something like that.
In this case, I think they did something unique, and there’s a lot of fan service in it. There are a lot of really great moments for people who love the series. And I think what Vegeta dealt with personally, in the movie, is just as important as what Goku did. Vegeta does a lot of things in the film that you were really hoping he would do in the series.
I think there’s a lot for everybody in this film, and I haven’t seen too much feedback that anybody has been really disappointed with it.
Jason, when you took the job of a god of destruction in a Dragon Ball Z movie, did you expect to find yourself in a shouting match over pudding?
JD: Absolutely not, I wasn’t expecting that at all. But let me tell you, I was very pleasantly surprised by that, and really all of the subtlety and the lighthearted moments and the comedy. Whatever my preconceived ideas about what DBZ is, or would be, this movie kind of subverted that. Not to say that I didn’t expect to enjoy the process, or enjoy the movie, but I really enjoyed it much more than I expected to. Not only doing it, but watching it. It’s been a lot of fun seeing it on screen. And my favorite moments aren’t necessarily the tough guy moments, with the fighting, although those are very well done. It’s the lighthearted stuff, like Beerus lightheartedly sneering at something, or almost anything King Kai is doing. Bulma, slightly tipsy at her birthday party. I was just astonished and laughing half the time.
At one point in the fill, Piccolo says that it almost seems like Beerus is training Goku. Jason, when you were voicing Beerus did you pick up on that master-student relationship? And what do both you feel Beerus was trying to teach Goku?
JD: I think we know that something has drawn Beerus to this corner of the galaxy. He’s had a premonition about something so extraordinary that he cuts short his hibernation, which usually lasts 50 years. He’s cut it short to 39 because he’s got to go find out what this thing is. Rather quickly, there’s this premonition about a Super Saiyan God, and he’s thinking “finally, something that can challenge me.”
Once the real fighting commencing, I think there’s a level of respect not just for Goku. There’s a level of respect earned by Vegeta. I think Vegeta’s fighting spirit is what clues Beerus in, at first, that these Saiyans are different. What is it about them? I need to know more. Vegeta responds to Beerus’ assault on Bulma and gets a few good shots in.
But I definitely got the sense, once they started fighting, that there was something about Goku that I think Beerus identified with. There’s a bit of you in me, is what he might have said. There’s definitely a sense that there’s something in Goku, sort of a raging energy. I think as they not only fight, but converse, there’s the sense that Beerus comes to sort of have this begrudging respect for Goku, and frankly also for the spirit of the people surrounding Goku, that entire clan.
So yeah, I began to feel like there was a little bit of Jedi training going on here, or sort of Rocky and Apollo Creed. I definitely think that’s an angle, I don’t think it’s an accident. I hope, eventually, that gives us something to look forward to in future releases. I’m not doing anything with that, I’m just sort of hoping.
CS: I felt like this battle that Beerus had with Goku was – it’s hard to explain it. It seems like a very Eastern philosophy. Beerus reminded me very much of, even though he’s such a grumpy character that wants to destroy everything, his lust to find somebody who’s extremely strong is very common to the Dragon Ball Z universe. It’s extremely common with Goku, who is always looking for someone to fight. You saw at the beginning of the feature, when he finds out that Beerus is coming and he could destroy everything, the only thing he heard is “I hear he’s really strong, and that makes me really excited.”
So it does seem to me that Beerus is doing what a lot of characters ended up doing in the Dragon Ball Z series, which is kind of poking at him to see how strong he actually was before they had a serious fight. I think that once Beerus saw that he had somebody that he could go toe-to-toe with, I’m sure he believes that Goku is too valuable to him, as even just a sparring partner, to destroy.
The theme of the movie seemed to be Goku versus himself, borrowing power from somebody else and kind of accepting that he was the one mankind chose to defend the Earth and inheriting that power, then discovering that he was able to learn this particular state on his own so that he didn’t even have to borrow it anymore.
I hope that makes sense. It’s a really complicated thing, but I thought it was a really nice way to end the feature, without necessarily having to destroy someone.
The way the film ends feels like a subversion of what you expect from a Dragon Ball Z movie. You expect Goku to power up and win the day, and that is very much not how the film ends at all. Were you expecting that at all, and how did you feel when you read how the story panned out for the first time?
JD: Yeah, I think upfront, before I really knew the script and the story, I kind of came into it expecting, here’s another character, it’s going to be just another OVA that kind of comes out and expands another little piece of the DBZ universe, and then he’ll be defeated and go away. I think that was probably my expectation upfront.
I had been on the DBZ video game that came out earlier this year, which Beerus was also a part of, but that didn’t really tell us much about where this character would go. But as we came to the end of it, it almost felt like we were setting the stage for something. I’m almost thinking of this film as almost the first film in a trilogy arc. That’s what it feels like to me. I’m just speculating, but I definitely feel like it was a satisfying story arc in itself, but I think there’s enough that there’s a desire for more. Like, I want to see more of this character Beerus. I want to see more of Goku kind of exploring what we come to find out is a greatly expanded universe. So, I think they’ve done a great job of teeing up the future of the DBZ franchise, if they choose to go that route.
Chris, do you agree, that there’s room to keep going with this story thread if Akira Toriyama chooses to follow up on it?
CS: I absolutely do. It really seems to me – now this is just me speculating to. I don’t know if you heard, but they did just announce another movie for the beginning of next year. Now nobody knows what the story or, or what’s going to happen, or where it’s going to go.
It would be very nice, for me, if they were to set these Dragon Ball movies up into a kind of series in and of themselves, so that maybe we get to meet all the other gods in all the other universe. I would not be surprised if we saw Vegeta or Goku training with Beerus or Whis in the next movie. I would not be surprised if they did that.
What would be your hopes, going forward, for the characters you voice in the series, like Vegeta and Piccolo?
CS: Piccolo has always been a complicated character for me to play, because he requires a lot of knowledge of Dragon Ball to really understand his character, and I think he’s a confusing character sometimes even for me.
But Vegeta is crystal clear, and I would love to see him featured in a movie. I’d like to see his fight next. We got to see Goku do his epic thing, I’d like to see Vegeta do something pretty epic in the next one.
It’s been an amazing reunion to come back after all these years of just repeating the same material again, and again for video games and different iterations of the series. To finally come back for something fresh and new, and take these characters that we know so well and finally put them in a new situation, it’s awesome. I love it.
This film was released in theaters, which is a rare for a Dragon Ball Z film, at least in the states. What was that experience like for you as voice actors in the film?
JD: I will tell you that I saw things that I didn’t see in the booth. We’re working with, obviously, lower resolution video when we’re recording the voices. I was amazed at how clean the animation looks, and how richly detailed it is. If there’s any computer generated stuff, it’s pretty seamless. It’s mostly hand drawn animation, and it looks beautiful. The fighting sequences are very fluid, and they do some interesting things that have some really lovely effects on how you perceive the fighting that’s going on. I think it’s very reverent toward the source material, but I think carries DBZ to the modern, cinematic storytelling. It also sounds good. The soundtrack, the voices, the music and effects, everything is enhanced on a project that, when it’s shown on a big screen, it was designed for that and it just feels like it was. It was really immersive, and I was pleasantly surprised and really proud to be a part of the project, seeing it like that.
CS: It was incredible. We had company parties every now and then, where maybe we’d watch one of the movies or something in a theaters. But we never really go to watch a high definition version. Best case scenario, we’re watching DVD on a larger screen.
Aside from watching it in a large presentation like that, with beautiful music, and beautiful sound, and gorgeous video, what made it ten times more special was watching in a theater with people who love the characters so much. I don’t know if you’re experience was the same as mine, but every time you’d see a new character there was a big roar in the audience. Or when Vegeta yells “My Bulma!” People were screaming so loud they didn’t even hear the line that followed it. Or when Goku screams “My Bulma,” mimicking Vegeta at the end, people were laughing so hard you could hardly hear the end of the movie.
Watching it with a really interactive audience of people who grew up with it and who are now getting to revisit it, just like we are, was the most awesome part. And when the film ends, and everybody applauds – at least that was my experience in my theater, and I went anonymously – it was incredible. The feedback online has been so great, I feel like its 2001 all over again.
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of the Gods is available to own now.