“Dragon Ball Z” was something of a pop culture phenomenon — created in 1989 and brought to the US in 1996, the anime series (and its accompanying animated movies) about a group of warriors defending the earth from various strange and powerful threats was a watershed moment for the rising popularity of Japanese animation in America.
Thanks to its syndication on channels like Cartoon Network and The WB, along with immensely popular (albeit scattershot) home video releases, “Dragon Ball Z” became an entire generation’s introduction to anime.
It’s also in the middle of a huge revival in fan interest — last year marked the series’ 25th anniversary, and also saw the premiere of “Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods“, the first new project with a story by creator Akira Toriyama in 18 years. This year, the “Dragon Ball Z” revival continues with “Resurrection F“, a second film that revisits what fans consider one of the best stories from the original series.
“We were shocked. That movie took us by surprise,” says Christopher Sabat, a veteran voice actor famous for his role as the English voice of fan-favourite characters Vegeta and Piccolo across various English dubs, remasters, and video games over the past fifteen years. “All of last year and ‘Battle of the Gods’ was a blur, it was so new to us — we knew it was important, but it was very difficult to wrap our head around exactly what was happening.”
Sabat has been involved with all things “Dragon Ball Z” since 1999, when American distributor Funimation committed to building its own in-house voice cast after an initial mid-90s attempt to bring the series to American audiences failed to garner interest.
“When I first started working on ‘Z’ — this was in the late ’90s — a lot of us were just mystified as to what we were even working on,” Sabat told Tech Insider. “We weren’t even a hundred per cent sure what it is that ‘Dragon Ball Z’ was going to become. And then we started going to conventions, and there was this giant fan outpouring — I’d never been to a convention before — and we suddenly realised that there was this giant fan base for it.”
According to Sabat, these new movies — the first in almost two decades — are coming at a perfect time, one where fan conventions are more popular than they have ever been and anime is far more accessible thanks to popular streaming services like Hulu and more specialty platforms like Crunchyroll.
“It’s all at its absolute peak. Con culture is growing, so many people are going to conventions and they don’t even have to be super fans to go — they know the name Comic-Con and they’re like, ‘I’m gonna go check one of those things out.’ I’m meeting so many people who loved this show many years ago. I was just [at] Tampa Bay Comic-Con over the weekend, and somebody brought me an action figure that I had signed thirteen years ago. And I resigned it in gold and said ‘Come back in 2028!'”
To Sabat, that’s one of the most rewarding parts of being involved in bringing “Dragon Ball Z” to America — seeing the way the show has inspired its many fans as they grew up.
“It’s so heartwarming to hear them tell you stories about them running home from school every day,” says Sabat. “Or how it inspired them to get through kidney dialysis, or how they’re a black belt in karate. It’s incredible, none of us ever knew that it’d be anything like this.”
“Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F” is currently in theatres for a limited theatrical release August 4-12.
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