Yes, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is a pretty silly name, even for a franchise that is already ridiculously over-the-top, but the film is a wonderful celebration of the past, present, and future of Dragon Ball. With huge storyline ramifications and callbacks to the original Dragon Ball manga, the latest movie is sure to delight longtime fans despite breaking from tradition and moving its focus toward characters other than Goku and Vegeta. In fact, this change in direction leads to some great emotional moments and some of the best character work in the long-running series, which is a stellar surprise.
Appropriately, a lot of Super Hero explore what it means to be a superhero, thus making the name a bit less of an eyesore and thematically sound. The main antagonists are members of the revamped Red Ribbon Army, who are using the genius grandson of Dr. Gero to create powerful androids. While he’s not as psychotic as his grandfather, the eccentric Dr. Hedo shines as he’s focused purely on creating the most powerful androids he can rather than world domination. Hedo’s mindset is not unlike Goku’s own one-minded approach toward power, while his work on the androids is also an attempt to mimic the superheroes of manga and anime. Of course, Hedo is still a man of dubious morals, something that could be said of Goku as well, but his admiration for heroes adds an interesting dynamic.
The film’s conflict comes into play after Hedo is served misinformation that the Z Warriors are threatening the Earth rather than protecting it. This comes from his manipulative boss Magenta, a gangster-type leader that is as short as his temper and is wonderfully voiced by Charles Martinet in the English dub. This leads to Hedo’s powerful androids, Gamma 1 and Gamma 2, going after both Piccolo and Gohan in order to do what Hedo believes is right. It’s not the wildest examination of right and wrong, and it’s been well established that most people in conflict view themselves as the good guy doing the right thing, but there’s a bit more gray area here than with your common Dragon Ball villain and that winds up being quite a refreshing change. With enough comedic moments, style, and plenty of Oreos product placement, Hedo and the Gamma androids wind up being great additions to the franchise.
Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero focusing on the duo of Piccolo and Gohan is an interesting change of pace for the series, which has primarily concentrated on Goku’s quest to become the strongest warrior he can be and to save the Earth from any baddies, for a couple of different reasons. For one, Piccolo and the non-Saiyan characters have often been viewed as less powerful and helpful as the series progressed, so how does Piccolo deal with such a threat? Secondly, unlike his father, Gohan has put his career and his family first rather than his training, which has led to him coming up short in many crucial battles throughout Super. Thankfully, both of these elements are thoroughly addressed in interesting ways that further flesh out each character, both in terms of their abilities and personalities.
That’s not to say that Goku and Vegeta are totally ignored, though. They are off on Beerus’ planet training while a contrived, yet hilarious, plot device keeps them from helping out their family in danger, but their scenes are just as important to their character arcs. Not only do they offer some much-needed levity and comedy throughout the movie, they wind up having some stellar moments near the end that should set up the future of the anime in an exciting way once it eventually returns. Rather than fluff, these sections are planting important seeds that will be explored later on.
It turns out that not only does Goku work in small doses, but it’s nice seeing the ensemble cast get more time to shine as well. There are genuinely great moments throughout the film with Pan, who is growing up before our eyes and undergoing training with Piccolo, and we get to see Trunks and Goten, who have both hit a growth spurt since Dragon Ball Super. Even Bulma gets time to shine as she has been using Shenron for some hilarious wishes that play into her personality perfectly. While it doesn’t shoehorn in visits from everybody, the film takes full advantage of the cast of characters that it uses.
Its visual style was one of the biggest question marks before its release since 3D visuals have had a shaky history in anime. Even the occasional usage of 3D in the Detective Conan films can look wonky, so a computer-generated look for an entire Dragon Ball movie made me more than a bit cautious after seeing the first teaser for the film last year. Luckily, the movie looks incredible in motion, even if it can still look a bit off when looked at frame-by-frame — although that complaint can certainly be levied against traditional animation as well. Similar to how Dragon Ball FighterZ used 3D to mimic the 2D art style of the show, Super Hero wows in its action sequences and it all comes together as a cohesive project, which is one of the downfalls when anime uses 3D for specific scenes rather than throughout.
Worry not, this is still the stylish, fast-paced Dragon Ball action you’ve come to expect. The combat itself is another highlight with the several battles, which includes an awesome new villain that has been kept under wraps officially, featuring some memorable exchanges and creative sequences in each. The fights featuring Gamma 1 and 2 have plenty of flourish, as they both use holograms to display manga-style sound effects when they land blows. It’s a hilarious touch that makes the battles look awesome while also emphasizing the personalities of both characters and their creator.
Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is a blast that every Dragon Ball fan should check out. From important character development that pays off storylines that have spanned literal decades to some of the best action in the franchise, this is a film that rewards fans for their dedication to the franchise. It’s rare for a series to be reaching new highs this far from its debut, but Super Hero is the best Dragon Ball film yet thanks to its smaller scale, more focused story, great sense of humor, and some incredible moments that will leave fans in amazement.
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