I am no longer the writer of Dragon Ball Z: Light of Hope. I have been replaced by another writer who will modify my scripts and prepare them for production according to Robot Underdog’s preferences.
Why have I been replaced?
The director and producer of the series have a different idea of what constitutes a good script, a good story, and a good adaptation of live-action Dragon Ball Z.
Despite being The Dao of Dragon Ball, they don’t want my scripts.
I think my readers deserve an explanation because they donated money to see more of my work. I never received that money, as it all went to the production, but your emotional investment was pinned on my writing.
Throughout this story I’m not trying to point the finger. I’m just stating the facts as I experienced them and will let you decide how to feel about them.
The producers of Light of Hope are entitled to their own opinions and decision making rationale. I may fundamentally disagree with them, but that’s me. Robot Underdog is fine with me explaining it.
I was first contacted in the summer of 2013 by the principle staff at Robot Underdog and asked if I could, “Write an original screenplay for a Dragon Ball Z live-action series.”
The reason they contacted me is because of my pedigree as a scholar of Dragon Ball and my leadership in the Dragon Ball community.
There are Dragon Ball fans who know a lot about the series, and then there are writers, but there are few Dragon Ball fans that are also writers, and almost none who are experts at both. While staying humble, I believe I’m a perfect fit for the role of writing a Dragon Ball Z screenplay.
It was an unpaid job and I knew it would be difficult, but I agreed to write it in part because of the fact that DBZ fans across the planet thought it couldn’t be done. After all, with Dragon Ball Evolution as their example, what else were they supposed to think?
In order to succeed I would have to solve the number one problem with Dragon Ball Evolution. That is, disrespecting the source material.
I decided to follow 3 rules:
- Stay true to the source material.
- Respect the fans.
- Give fans what they want.
When Robot Underdog read my scripts for the episodes, they told me:
“It feels like we’re watching an episode of Dragon Ball Z.”
So I did a good job of expressing the essence of Dragon Ball Z in the medium of a screenplay.
Dragon Ball Z: Light of Hope Episode 1 premiered on February 24, 2015. To date it has 18.1 million views, and is one of the most successful live-action fan films ever made.
I believe that everybody on the team did a great job bringing our collective vision to life, which started with my vision as written in the script. It wasn’t perfect, but it was ground-breaking and we “did the impossible.” We gave hope to the fans.
As a result, we received funding from the fans to film the remaining 2 episodes in the series, and the increased budget allowed for new storytelling possibilities.
That ‘Dragon Ball Z Feeling’
With our first success in mind, I followed the same 3 rules in revising the scripts of Episode 2 and Episode 3, in order to bring them to the next level.
If any part of the project violated one of these 3 rules, especially the 1st rule (“Stay true to the source material”), I vowed to raise my concern and fight for it to remain true, on behalf of the 2nd rule (“Respect the fans”). After all, fans told me that they were placing their trust in my hands.
Don’t get me wrong on that point, because I know that we’re making an adaptation and you should be free to have creative license. We all agreed to diverge from the original TV special on account of there being no value in doing a shot-for-shot recreation. And I took free license with my scripts, but only so long as they continued to comply with the 3 rules. That means my creative choices had to be true to the characters and the world they live in, as well as make sense to the emotions and logical expectations of the viewer. It’s a difficult balance to attain, but I still feel like I succeeded with it.
I’ve written entire books about the Dragon Ball fandom and I’ve been a fan for 18 years. I live and breathe the fandom, so I think I understand what you guys want.
However, my commitment to following these 3 rules led to contention with the principle staff at Robot Underdog, who had a different perspective on how to do a live-action adaptation.
When they said they, ‘Felt like they were watching an episode of Dragon Ball Z,’ that sounds like a good thing, right? Well, I discovered last night that they didn’t actually want that, and weren’t happy with the script for Episode 1. They wanted it to be different from how Dragon Ball Z manifests in the anime, manga, and films.
That’s right, different from Dragon Ball Z. And this is despite the fact that Episode 1 was an enormous success.
The word they were striving for was, “subtle.”
I have two thoughts on that. First, Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball is not subtle, via his rule of making his content “easy to understand.”
Second, I do appreciate the benefit and grace of being subtle in a work of art, and I think that’s an excellent ideal to strive for in a project—and one that I did strive for—in addition to the classic DBZ ways of expressing content, on account of the fact that this is just how I write fiction.
I conveyed multiple layers of subtext and context, unspoken psychological roles of father and son, mother and child, personal ambition in conflict with responsibility to society, along with emotional content and tension in each scene that has an implied deeper meaning and purpose relevant to the human condition. These are interwoven with exciting and intricately written battles full of classic DBZ content, dialogue, and transformations via emotional triggers.
I believe that my scripts have subtlety to them, and frankly, are works of art in that regard. If anything there was too much subtlety, so it’s odd to me that they’re blind to it. And then to cite that as one of the reasons my scripts were rejected is outright confusing.
They felt my dialogue and the scenarios were too much like the series it was based on. They also didn’t want Dragon Ball-style humor or the other trademark features of Toriyama’s work, such as capsules, East Asian culture, spiritual concepts, and the cultural flavor that is the result of a fusion of East and West. I.e., “Dragon Ball Z.”
Suffice to say that we had creative differences. In my mind, they didn’t want Dragon Ball Z. They wanted the characters and the overall content on the outside, but not who they are on the inside.
They disagree with that statement. They feel that they are giving fans what they want while upholding the integrity of the series. It’s just that their approach to achieving those objectives are the opposite of how I want to do it. Thus, the clash.
So I tried my best to walk the line between both worlds in order to please them with each new draft, with the goal of getting it to production, because you can’t produce a film without a script, and the actors and fans were counting on me. It was a lot of pressure.
In terms of process, I would write a script to the best of my ability, and then they’d suggest rewrites. After reading them, I’d usually disagree with 99% of their choices and the logic behind them, because I felt like their choices tarnished the integrity of the Dragon Ball Z characters, the world they live in, and the spirit of the series.
The dilemma of trying to uphold my perception of the integrity of the series along with my own artistic integrity, while also pleasing the producers—which were opposite goals—often sent me into a spiral of depression via over-analysis and the disappointment with my ideal versus the concrete real. Long days of lying in bed and not eating, confusion, frustration, anger, sadness, tears, and an eventual asking of “What would Goku do?” led to me getting back up another time and then writing another draft. This cycle repeated itself near-endlessly. In the case of Episode 3, there were 14 drafts of the script, which in several cases required complete rewrites from scratch.
This was above and beyond what any screenwriter should have to do; especially for free. And there’s also the massive amount of work that I volunteered to do behind the scenes as a co-creator, because I wanted the project to succeed. So that’s a lot of work, but if I know anything in life, it’s how much Dragon Ball Z means to its fans. At the top of the list being the feelings of inspiration, perseverance, and hope for the future. So with the mentality of “Never give up!” that is so inherent in Dragon Ball Z, I did my best.
Writing about Dragon Ball is my life. It’s all I do, 7 days a week. So this seemed like such a great opportunity to express myself in a medium that would be seen by millions of people. I didn’t want to quit and walk away, despite the frustration.
I completed Episode 2 first, and they were happily surprised by the end result. They said they didn’t want to change much of anything, and it was basically greenlit.
But with Episode 3 we had a lot of conflicts. When they objected to my choices, I fought the good fight and provided solid logic and rationale for why the characters do what they do and say what they say, in alignment with Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, yet while adapting it for live-action.
I tried to do this in the most courteous manner that I’m capable of, but after a year and a half of working with me, they decided to tune out and give me the silent treatment.
This break in the communication meant that most of the time I was working on my own and trying to figure out what they had in mind via their latest list of bullet points, only for them to be unsatisfied with the result all over again.
I asked countless questions, repeatedly asked for feedback, again and again, seeking answers and more information. But their replies were silence and more bullet points. Although to be fair, I wrote those questions instead of making phone calls; but you know what? I’m a writer and it’s how I communicate. Lesson learned. If you want answers, pick up the phone. Of course, they never called me after my requests for them to do so. There was no real communication.
I can’t say they didn’t have anything to do with improving the quality of the script, because one idea does spur on another idea, but it was definitely a one-man operation as far as the actual writing. The script was mostly improving due to the sheer amount of man-hours I poured into it, and the fact I thought about it on a 24-hour basis for months on end.
But this process created a growing divide between us, and unfortunately, earlier this week we reached a breaking point. I suppose it was inevitable.
As a result of these contrasting perspectives I am no longer the screenplay writer of Dragon Ball Z: Light of Hope, and have been replaced.
The new writer will make changes to the final submitted drafts of my work in conformance with Robot Underdog’s preferred version of the story. This will be done despite my objections, and it will be done without my final approval on the production script. Such is the fate of the writer when, ‘the person with the money calls the shots.’
I’ve read their current draft of Episode 2, and they have butchered my child. Ironically, instead of being more subtle, it is the opposite: blatant. The spiritual content, the deeper discussions, the subtle context of unspoken words, allusions to DBZ lore, and in some cases the heart of the scene, have been removed. Most of the general scenarios remain, but are not as I intended. Overall, I’d say it’s about 51% of what I was going for. So it’s like I wrote it, but then… not.
They told me Episode 2 only had light edits made to it, while Episode 3 will undergo major reforms. If that’s what light edits look like, then I cannot fathom what major reforms will look like.
Two years of work. How do you let that go? Especially when it’s an expression of your life’s work and your ideals.
I know there are worse things that happen every day and that this isn’t the end of the world, but it’s difficult to not feel emotional. I was invested in the outcome of conveying Dragon Ball’s message to an audience of millions.
I was passionate about it, which is what made my scripts good, but at the same time, is why I’m no longer the writer. I couldn’t settle for mediocrity. I cared too much.
Looking back, I can say that while the task itself was difficult, the real challenge was working with people who had different perspectives. This, combined with the lack of communication and the fact we don’t live in the same location, created an emotional and physical divide that continued to separate us.
Even so, I thought the quality of my work would speak for itself. It worked for Episode 1, and they had told me they liked Episode 2, so why not with Episode 3?
I believe that I played a role in making the first episode of Dragon Ball Z: Light of Hope a success, and that the content and characteristics of my first script are one of the reasons why fans donated to see more episodes. So to make an analogy to the Light of Hope story, I feel like I’m Gohan, who endured and fought hard battles, but ultimately died doing what he believes in, with integrity intact. This charge led the way for Trunks to rise up and finish what Gohan started.
This has been an emotional rollercoaster, but I have learned from the experience and will stand up again, ready to fight my next battle!
Dragon Ball Z: Light of Hope is no longer in my hands.
Best of luck to the cast and crew.
P.S. For those who are asking how I’m doing:
I may have left Light of Hope, but I haven’t lost my light of hope.