Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero Interview: Chris Sabat on Playing Piccolo & Early Dubs

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero Interview: Chris Sabat on Playing Piccolo & Early Dubs

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero star and voice director Chris Sabat about the Dragon Ball Super movie. Sabat discussed playing both Piccolo and Vegeta and how early dubs were handled differently from modern dubs. The film is now available to stream on Crunchyroll.

“The Red Ribbon Army was once destroyed by Son Goku. Individuals who carry on its spirit have created the ultimate Androids, Gamma 1 and Gamma 2,” reads the official synopsis for the film. “These two Androids call themselves ‘Super Heroes.’ They start attacking Piccolo and Gohan … What is the New Red Ribbon Army’s objective? In the face of approaching danger, it is time to awaken, Super Hero!”

Tyler Treese: What was so fun about this movie and what really gave it that unique flare was Piccolo really getting the spotlight. There have been so many Dragon Ball movies, but he’s never had a role quite like this. How great was it, after decades of being with this character to see him have such a key role in this huge movie that became a box-office success?

Christopher Sabat: It was phenomenal. I could not believe it. I remember there was a moment when the producers at Crunchyroll brought me in to work on the film. It was very, very hush-hush. I literally had to sign an NDA within 15 feet in that building, and we watched the preliminary version of it on a producer’s laptop in a locked room, with security guards outside. I could not believe what I was watching. It was the most incredible way to present Piccolo: put him in a situation where he doesn’t have Goku and Vegeta to rely on and he has to use his own strategy to figure out how to make things happen. It was not only wonderful from a power-up standpoint to finally see him get an upgrade that he’s desperately needed for about 20 years.

It was really cool to see his relationship with Gohan and his family. That was probably my favorite thing about it, to realize that he’s very, very close with them — I mean, he’s a family member practically. They rely on him to pick up Pan. If you recall the beginning scene where Videl calls him and she’s like, “Can you pick up Pan again? I’ll get you one of those stuffed animals.” He’s like, “I don’t like stuffed animals.” And there’s a whole table full of them in the corner. He’s clearly spent a lot of time with their family and I loved that part of the film.

I love that the relationship gets explored so wonderfully in the movie. My buddy just saw the movie for the first time and his first reaction was “Piccolo’s not Gohan’s stepdad, he’s the dad that stepped up.”

That’s so true! [Laugh]. It’s so true. Goku gets a lot of criticism, even amongst the comparisons between Goku and Vegeta as to who’s the better dad. But when people are arguing, I usually step in and say, “Actually guys, Piccolo’s the best dad because he chose it and he chose Gohan.” In many ways, Gohan saved Piccolo just as much as Piccolo saved Gohan, not just in this movie, but in the whole course of the series. If it weren’t for Gohan, Piccolo would probably still be evil. Gohan sort of unlocked this goodness that was deep within Piccolo, and I think that changed him forever. That’s why some people really love Piccolo, just like they love Vegeta for his transformation.

That’s a really wonderful read. This movie really spoke to the strength Dragon Ball’s ensemble cast that you can have Goku in the background pretty much for the entire movie, not involved in like the core plotline, and it’s still such an interesting movie and it was still so well received. Can you speak to how strong that cast is in that series that you can have these secondary characters that aren’t Goku and still just deliver such a satisfying movie?

The great part is that calling in any of the legacy cast members … everybody came back. Krillin/Sonny Strait was back, Gohan — played by Kyle Hebert, and Goten and Kid Trunks — everyone was played by their original actors. When you bring those guys in, it’s super easy. They’re a primed machine that are ready to go. They know their characters. You don’t have to explain anything, it’s just literally playing in the booth when you get to work with them. A beautiful thing was, now that we’re at this point in Dragon Ball history where it’s been around for so long and Crunchyroll is so established as a dubbing studio, our talent pool has grown just exponentially from 1997 to now. There were 15 people on the cast list I could call in those original days.

Now there’s thousands of actors. Being able to pick from a really broad casting pool of really talented, skilled actors to play these other characters. I mean, Dr. Hedo was played by the voice of Tanjiro in Demon Slayer — his name is Zach Aguilar. And we got Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario. I saw that Chris Pratt was going to play him in the movie, and I was like, “Well, if he can’t be in a Mario movie, then he’ll be in a Dragon Ball movie instead!” I happened to know Charles from going to conventions, but we had Zeno Robinson and Aleks Le playing the two Gammas, and they were wonderful. They were great. I got to call in these people that are just ringers in the industry, like really strong, very powerful actors in their own respective fields as well.

So it’s very cool to be able to call them in to not only just work with them on a show and be able to absorb their talent into this experience, but it was really fun directing someone like Zeno, who I would explain something and he’d be like, “Bro, you don’t have to tell me. I know Dragon Ball! I grew up on Dragon Ball! I love this stuff!” And it reminded me how much I had to explain to people at the beginning, because Dragon Ball … no one knew about it in those early days. Now I’m working with actors who grew up watching it. So it’s the coolest thing to bring in people who are really versed on the series and know how to inject themselves into the series in the right way. I know when they got to those screaming moments at the end, everybody went above and beyond because they know that’s what happens in Dragon Ball.

I love that. You’re speaking to your role as the voice director and it’s so awesome to see this mixture of old and new in this movie, but when you get to bring back these people you’ve worked with for so many years now, how joyous is it that you all get to keep on voicing these characters? That these actors are still coming back and that you have such great work to do. It’s not a retread — this is a very fresh movie. We’re seeing character development. Just how special is that?

It’s incredible. These actors … I basically have grown up with them. I’ve spent the last 25 years with a lot of these guys. They’re like brothers and sisters, in many ways, to me and it’s always a fun reunion. For instance, working on Gohan’s moments at the end of this feature that I won’t spoil for anyone … it was like working with a really close friend to try and make something great. I didn’t have to explain to Kyle how Gohan was supposed to feel in that moment. We just got to really dive and granularly think about the best possible way to portray him in those moments. We were both working and both locked-in and both just laser focused on trying to make that final scene with Gohan otherworldly.

And when we got it right, there was hardly any oxygen in the room, because we both inhaled so deeply that it was just so effective and such a powerful moment in the movie that we knew we finally got it right. These actors are incredible. They’re been doing this forever and they’re still doing it. Movies like Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero are amazing because many of the years that we were working on Dragon Ball, we were regurgitating a lot of the same content, right? Like a lot of the video games way back in the early days were repeating the storyline. But I love it when there’s new story to be told and I’m very excited to see if we get some more Dragon Ball Super in the future too.

You mentioned earlier just how overdue this kind of power-up for Piccolo was. What was your reaction when you saw the Orange Piccolo transformation for the first time?

Oh dude, when Piccolo floats up, all hulked out, I screamed at the top of my lungs — and I think everyone in the theater did too. It was such a cool moment, that crazy pan up and he is looking all beefed out. It was incredible. This is the Piccolo we’ve been needing forever. I’d be curious if he could run with Goku and Vegeta now, considering that this upgrade was pretty intense.

Hopefully we’ll see that explored in the future. Vegeta is in the background here, but he has some really important character moments. It’s shows how far he’s come that he’s meditating. We’ve just seen Vegeta change over so much time and I really like that we’ve seen more humor with him, like with the Bingo song. How has it been, watching that transformation for Vegeta? He goes from the ultimate bad guy to being this really fun dad.

He does, but what’s cool is he still gets to be the ultimate bad guy. He’s more of an ultimate badass now. I love that he has this full range of character and emotion and development throughout the series. I love that in Super Hero, you see him meditating, chilling out, explaining to Goku that instead reaching for more intense, more angry, more screaming, more rage, the idea was to pull back entirely. It’s interesting, if you really want to get deep into kind of old Dragon Ball dubbing lore, Dragon Ball was, in its original form, back when you may have been watching it on Toonami or whatever, it was edited so that it’d be more appropriate for audiences and the writers then were injecting a little bit of stuff into those scripts.

At that point the writers were adding some things about Goku letting go and that’s when he finally becomes a Super Saiyan, or something like that. And same with Vegeta, when the original translations were more along the lines of Vegeta harnessing rage. So I think at this point, for them to kind of get back to where that was, that was kind of weirdly prophetic. It’s looking like maybe the more relaxed you are, the more focused you are, the more zen-like you are, the more powerful you can become. I’m really interested to see where that goes later on.

Yeah, it’s where in the storylines take place [that] is a little nebulous to me. This appears as if it happens perhaps maybe right before … Super is supposed to technically happen right before that final tournament in Dragon Ball Z, to my knowledge. But it’s interesting how these movies somehow either transcend the series and doing things that aren’t happening actually in the Dragon Ball Super series or in the manga, or they become the set-up for what will become a series. So I’m interested to see what they do with Vegeta. I’m interested to see what they do with Broly. They seem to be priming him to be kind of a third Musketeer in this trio, this fighting universe. So we’ll see what happens with him, too.

You worked on the Case Closed dub and Detective Conan is my favorite anime. So I was curious if you had any memories of working on that show,? The dub was really fun because it added a little extra flair to the characters and the extra personality really shined through.

Yeah, that was definitely one of … I’d say Case Closed may have been one of the last examples of Fundation making changes to the substance of the translation to make sure it was entertaining for audiences, because that show definitely had an ability to maybe cater to a younger audience, too. So I think they were trying to harness some of that as well. So that might have been one of the last shows that they did that with. And it was very special too. It was a difficult adaptation, I know, because a lot of it had to do with kanji and interpreting text and things like that, which you had to work your way around. Some of it had to do with stuff that was culturally irrelevant in America — people wouldn’t know what it is. It was also interesting because Detective Conan — what was his name? Jimmy?

Oh, Jimmy Kudo?

Jimmy Kudo, that’s right. His parents, I guess, live in America, which is weird because they kind of treated Detective Conan as if it was happening in America too. So yeah, I loved that show. I think that is such a fun time because … it was almost like One Piece where you got to always bring in new people all the time and a lot of new actors were found in recording that series.

Speaking of that era of making changes, the ultimate example of that is the Shin-Chan dub, which was just so westernized and over-the-top and hilarious. As you were saying, you don’t really see that sort of creative license within the dubs anymore. It’s more of a straight adaptation, and there’s obviously pros and cons to each and it’s great to see the original work, but it’s kind of fun from a looking back perspective to have the original and then see this other version that took these different things. You can enjoy these episodes in two completely different ways. I’m curious about your thoughts on how we’ve gotten far more faithful as the dubbing has continued.

I think the faithful dub is I think what people — if you interviewed everybody — probably want, right? I think that’s what Crunchyroll has brought to the table too. Some interesting revelations I’ve found, and I kind of believed some of this even back in the day, is that a lot of these shows can stand on their own without having to inject anything into them, right? Dragon Ball survived every other language and excelled in every other language in the universe. So there was really no real reason to have to change it anymore. I understand why they did in 1997 in the United States when people were like, “Cartoons for kids, right?” There was no understanding that adults and older people might be actually watching this stuff, so that you almost had to dumb it down to get it on television back in those days.

But now there’s a lot of great faithful dubs that I think are great. When I’m working on a show, when I’m directing it, my goal is to make it as entertaining in English as it is in the original language. So if there are moments that are awkward, I’ll write around that if I have to, or I’ll add something to it just to make sure that that fans still stay engaged to it. I don’t do anything that changes canon or anything like that, but I’ll sneak an extra line in somewhere just to fill an awkward gap or change the tone of something so it matches what the picture looks like a little better so Americans can grasp onto it a little better.

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