I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, that Dragon Ball Super has been the thing I’ve loved most that I never knew I wanted. I was done, or at least content, with Dragon Ball Z. Dragon Ball GT wasn’t good, but I didn’t need it so it wasn’t something that bothered me. Then Battle of Gods came out which ended up being the start of something new for Dragon Ball and here we are. Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is the second Dragon Ball Super movie following 19 volumes of manga, 131 episodes of the anime, and the movie Dragon Ball Super: Broly. And really, the last two Dragon Ball Z films were basically Dragon Ball Super since they were adapted into the anime in a longer form. The original Dragon Ball anime will likely always be my favorite, but there’s something to be said for Super which is more self-aware and comes across as being very confident in how to depict these characters, some of whom have been around almost 40 years. It’s funny and willing to poke fun at itself without resorting to more meta humor or fourth wall breaking. And it’s still action-packed and contains all of the tropes of Dragon Ball Z that have somehow become more charming as the years go by, maybe because of the nostalgia. Probably because of the nostalgia.
Super Hero is written by series creator Akira Toriyama and it’s very much a film a designed to place the spotlight on the B-team. When Toriyama was writing and illustrating the Cell Saga for the manga, it was conceived as a passing of the torch, and even a finale, from Goku to Gohan. Obviously, that changed quickly as Toriyama was convinced to keep going and we got the Buu Saga which basically returned Goku to the top of the mountain while Gohan trended towards a more peaceful existence and characters like Piccolo, Krillin, etc. settled further and further into the background. When Super came around, it largely followed that with the only difference being Vegeta moved into an almost co-lead with Goku, but when the anime came to an end, Goku was firmly back at the top.
Now, the anime ended a few years ago, but the manga has continued. We basically have two different canons going on now. While there was always some differences between the two, they were often subtle and inconsequential. Now we have Broly and this film while the manga has gone in a very different direction. This film even features a time-jump that I don’t think has taken place in the manga. I’d have to go back and look, but regardless, there will likely be debate on what is and is not canon and I think the simple answer is we simply have two timelines at this point until (if?) the anime comes back.
Needless to say, this one takes place after the events of Broly and Goku (Sean Schemmel), Vegeta (Christopher Sabat), and Broly (Johnny Yong Bosch) are now comrades. They train together on the planet belonging to Lord Beerus (Jason Douglas) and it’s implied that Broly still has a ways to go in order to get his temper under control. Elsewhere, Piccolo (Sabat) has taken to training Gohan’s daughter Pan (Jeannie Tirado) in martial arts, though the young girl is having some trouble learning to fly. Gohan (Kyle Hebert) has immersed himself in his work neglecting his training and even fatherhood, which it’s hard to say what irritates Piccolo more as he and wife Videl (Kara Edwards) have become more and more reliant on Piccolo as a babysitter of sorts.
Brewing in the background is the threat of danger. The Red Ribbon army has been re-assembled by its new leader, Magenta (Charles Martinet), who is dissatisfied with being a mere pharmaceuticals producer and longs to restart the androids program. In order to do so, he turns to the great grandson of Dr. Gero, Dr. Hedo (Zach Aguilar), a young prodigy in robotics who was recently incarcerated. Despite the fearsome origin, Hedo is a bit childish and enjoys cookies. He also doesn’t aspire to be a great villain like Magenta and would prefer to create stylish androids in the model of a super hero. Magenta is able to woo the young scientist to his side by claiming that the individuals who took down Cell years ago are aliens out to conquer Earth and Hedo is willing to go along with this since it means money for his research.
With Dr. Hedo onboard, the Red Ribbon army successfully restarts the androids program leading to the creation of the twins Gamma 1 (Aleks Le) and Gamma 2 (Zeno Robinson). It’s Gamma 2 that comes into contact with Piccolo, whom he confuses for King Piccolo (we get a running gag of people referring to Piccolo by one of his former aspects throughout), and picks a fight since he fancies himself a super hero. Gamma 2 makes the mistake of thinking Piccolo was defeated and inadvertently leads Piccolo to the Red Ribbon HQ where he makes a startling discovery. Unfortunately, Bulma (Monica Rial) is unable to get ahold of Goku and Vegeta so it will be up to Piccolo and a rusty Gohan to save the world this time.
And that’s basically what it feels like this film waned to do. Unlike other Dragon Ball films, Goku is not going to swoop in at the end to save the day. This is Gohan and Piccolo’s fight, and both are going to power-up to new, largely unexplained, heights. Do we care that these new forms are unexplained? No, because they’re both fun and expected. There’s a fair amount of fan service at play, especially with callbacks to some of the forgotten lore of Dragon Ball’s past, and the sort-of return of an old villain. That’s actually the one criticism I have with the fan service elements as the returning villain is more like a shell of its former self with no personality. It would have been fun to see that personality rekindled and its reaction to the current state of this universe, but oh well. The story is fun, and Piccolo’s infiltration mission he undertakes creates a surprising amount of plot for a Dragon Ball feature. Usually it’s just bad guy shows up, and a long fight ensues. This one actually has pacing and needs things to happen in order to get to the fight. And we’re also dealing with villains who think they’re the heroes, which adds a different twist. It might be less action-oriented as a result so some fans may dislike it, but I found it rather enjoyable and it definitely gave the film more of a Dragon Ball feel such as when Kid Goku basically did the same with the old Red Ribbon army.
The character and story are certainly familiar and a whole lot of fun, what’s different is the production. This is the first Dragon Ball film to be rendered in 3D. It’s a 3D that can look like 2D in some parts and it’s something the past film did in certain shots. This one, outside of 2D flashback sequences, sticks with the 3D throughout and the results are mostly fine, but there’s some ugly parts. For some reason, Goku seems to look the worst in this style and comes across far too much like a character from a video game. I guess it’s a good thing then that he’s not in a lot of this one. There are a few other shots and moments where it gets “video gamey” and it is distracting. And a lot of those shots happen early in the film which is unfortunate because the film begins with a 2D refresher that looks awesome and made me wish the entire film was animated in such a fashion. I would prefer this, and any future episodes of the anime, to look more like that, but I suspect this is the wave of the future for Dragon Ball so I better just get used to it. I do like the use of colors and light with this film going for a manga look. Scenes pop and some of the tracking shots and angles this film goes for are dynamic and really engaging. Director Tetsuro Kodama has done a fantastic job of presenting Dragon Ball as there’s a great energy to the animation and a real weight to the blows.
Another strength of the film rests with the audio. The voice performances are all as expected, which is pretty great, while the soundtrack is maybe the best Dragon Ball has ever had? There will always be plenty of fans that love the old stuff from the 80s, but this one has a terrific presence. Composer Naoki Satō really got the message across that this one should sound heroic. There’s a lot of super hero sounding compositions and the music is very dramatic. There were no odd moments, like chanting which was used in the last movie, that took me out of the moment at any time. Some might be disappointed with the lack of more familiar songs, but I for one really enjoyed this soundtrack and found it quite suitable for what the film wanted to present.
Dragon Ball Super – Super Hero is another great addition to the Dragon Ball universe. It continues this high quality return for the series which has really seen the film version of the franchise taken to new heights. Before, Dragon Ball Z films felt like filler. They were simple stories that basically were like the Cliff Notes version of the main series with placeholder villains standing in for the real thing. These last four have felt more like full-fledged movies and I suspect that’s because those involved in the creation of them wanted that to be the case. Dragon Ball has become this warm blanket for me that always shows up. It would have to be really bad to be a disappointing experience and this film is far from it. Because I seem to ask so little of the franchise to entertain me, it’s become harder to decide what’s best among these films, but easy to say that they’re all good. If you’ve ever liked Dragon Ball definitely check out Super Hero. Dragon Ball on the big screen is an experience in and of itself so this gets a strong recommend from me. And Bandai, if you’re reading, we need some more figures based on this one. You know what I’m talking about!