By Owen Glancy
“Dragon Ball Super: Superhero” is the latest film in the “Dragon Ball” franchise, being the 21st major film release since the release of the first “Dragon Ball” film in 1986.
This film follows the story of Goku’s son Gohan and his mentor Piccolo as they attempt to stop the return of the villainous Red Ribbon Army.
The film is very different from almost everything the series has done prior. 3D animation is used instead of the franchise’s iconic 2D animation style. The near omission of the main protagonist Goku and his rival Vegeta makes for a fresh experience that more than delivers on its promise of excitement.
Beautiful visuals fill the film, even if the beginning transition from 2D to 3D can feel a bit jarring. The fight scenes have never been better choreographed, with a greater focus on techniques and tactics than on raw power deciding the winner. Of these fights, the final brawl against Cell Max feels especially well realized and engaging.
The Z warriors fighting against an opponent so much larger than them is a novel concept and one that is perfectly executed, even if the fight’s conclusion does feel underwhelming, with Gohan ending the fight seconds after achieving a new transformation.
Despite the excellent visuals and fights being what draws viewers in, the characters are what will keep them there. Goku is a beloved character for sure, but shifting the focus to his son is a decision for the best.
Seeing Gohan and Piccolo’s differing opinions on how their godly strength should be used is a breath of fresh air in a franchise that was beginning to stagnate.
Some of the decisions made by both Gohan and Piccolo feel bafflingly stupid or mystifying. Piccolo’s decision to “fake kidnap” Gohan’s daughter Pan to unlock his hidden potential feels especially mean-spirited and against his years of character development.
Gohan, on the other hand, pulls new power-ups seemingly out of nowhere and his refusal to fight in the beginning feels cartoonish, leaving him in this strange space between gag character and serious fighter.
The new characters introduced in the film are far more consistent than our protagonists, yet are far simpler. Magenta and his lackeys have memorable designs, but forgettable character traits. Doctor Hedo and his Gamma units are where the film’s original characters find their stride.
Doctor Hedo’s conflict between wanting to create a superhero and his innate naivete leads him to become a villain with good intentions that the audience can’t help but feel for. Gammas 1 and 2 are fun new additions to the franchise’s ongoing obsession with androids, with each unit having their own distinct personality.
Their designs do feel rather generic compared to the rest of the film’s heroes and villains, but their personalities and character arcs that sees them become allies by the end of the film puts them above the rest.
The final threat of the film is Cell Max, an android built using the blueprints of one of the franchise’s most iconic and beloved villains. While getting to see Cell again seems like a guaranteed home run for both long-time fans and newcomers alike, the film somewhat falls short.
Cell Max uses Semi-Perfect Cell’s design instead of his distinct Perfect Cell design and his personality is non-existent. He is simply a raging monster that feels like an excuse for the film to throw a bit more fan-service in an already fan-service packed film.
While the fight against him is visually excellent, the Gamma fights end up feeling more compelling due to the great character moments and more engaging dialogue among our heroes.
“Dragon Ball Super: Superhero” isn’t as redundant as the title would suggest, offering a new visual style and fresh character focus that both old and new fans of the series would appreciate. The banter among these characters and the fights they engage in are excellent, but the lackluster final villain and the inconsistent writing do drag the film down.
Despite these issues, the film is enjoyable from start to finish and will no doubt become a beloved addition to one of the world’s most popular anime franchises.
C+ Fun fights and characters, but inconsistent writing