Review: Dragon Ball Super: Broly

Distributor: Funimation
Director: Tatsuya Nagamine
Writers: Akira Toriyama
Composer: Norihito Sumitomo
Starring: Sean Schemmel, Christopher Sabat, Chris Ayres, Vic Mignogna
Genre: Anime/Action
Rating: PG

With the widespread success of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods and Resurrection F, followed by the controversial problems surrounding Dragon Ball Super, series creator Akira Toriyama has returned to tell one of the largest canon stories to date.

Content Guide

Violence: Planets are destroyed, several animals are killed for food, a lot of brawling and general superpower fanfare.
Language/Crude Humor: Some language throughout including dumb***.
Drug/Alcohol References: None
Sexual Content: Some female characters with low cut clothing and sexual poses, no sexuality beyond this.
Spiritual Content: A canonical deity and angel watch the main battle from a distance.
Other Negative Content: N/A
Positive Content: Positive themes of overcoming violence, finding peace and building friendships.

Review

Dragon Ball is in a strange place, creatively speaking. On one hand, some of the best stories in the entire canon have been released in the past five years including Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods. However, beyond that the continuation of the series has been largely controversial—garnering either extreme adoration or intense loathing. Dragon Ball Super has added three original story arcs to the canon, which many agree started out promising and fell apart across the duration of their runs. Toyotaro’s manga version has done a solid job improving the mistakes Toei Animation made in rushing the series out the door as a weekly series.

As far as I’m concerned, the largest problem concerning the series is an overall lack of vision for what the story needs to be going forward. Dragon Ball Super made the same mistake Dragon Ball GT made in that it attempted to go back to the well of the original run of Dragon Ball to bring back wacky elements that clash badly with the tense emotional action that defined the series’ most popular run.

Between the original series, all the way through the Cell Saga of Dragon Ball Z, there was a consistent character journey for its characters. The constant onslaught of war and conflict forced Goku, Vegeta, Piccolo, Gohan and the rest of the Z Fighters to grow and mature with the conflicts. After that, the series’ story arc fell apart as Toriyama’s boredom with the continuation of the story merely led him to start flinging things at the wall to see what would stick and keep his editors happy.

This scatterbrained approach to the final arc of the series did immense damage to the stories of these characters. Goku and Vegeta have a logical place their characters need to end up in by the conclusion of the series and yet the series just keeps contriving new villains and scenarios. Goku is in serious need of the emotional maturity and forward-thinking he developed towards the end of the Cell Saga, wherein he realized that the mantle of Earth’s protection was something greater than him, and needed to be passed on to a new generation. Since that point in the series, the franchise has just continued to make Goku a more powerful and less rational character at the expense of his compatriots. Even Vegeta suffers, now a permanently bored, vaguely angry rival that can never truly catch up to him.

The Battle of Gods movie served the purpose of reinvigorating the franchise by diving into its character’s anxieties and bringing them to the forefront in intelligent ways. It hinted at character hubris and offered surprising new avenues by which these characters could continue to evolve and grow by spreading the scope of the series into a multiverse-spanning story. The second movie even went as far as to highlight the central rivalry that defines Goku and Vegeta’s relationship. This should’ve meant that any follow up to these stories should’ve been about Goku and Vegeta’s attempts to rival Beerus by grappling with their mutual tension and learning to work together. Instead, Dragon Ball Super became an experiment in wheel-spinning and endurance-testing with the fan base that never resolved the conflicts of either film’s ideas and wasted interesting world-building concepts on boring stories.

Dragon Ball Super: Broly exists as an attempt to revitalize the franchise once again by reexamining elements of the non-canon materials  in an effort to reorient them and add them to the main story of the series. The plot of the film borrows elements from several of the TV specials like Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan, Bardock: The Father of Goku and Fusion Reborn to tell a new story. After all the dead weight the series has accumulated as of late, this new film has somehow managed to emerge as one of the best original Dragon Ball stories ever. That’s obviously high praise, but I can’t begin to describe how refreshing this story is after five years of less-than-stellar attempts to keep the series relevant.

The same overarching problems that define the series are still present, but now the story shifts focus. This isn’t primarily a Goku/Vegeta story as much as it is a Broly story. The film puts an enormous amount of effort into building this new interpretation of one of the series’ most popular non-canon villains into a relatable tragic character. While he may share some similarities with the emotionally unstable hulk of the original films, Broly 2.0 is an empathetic gentle giant who is constantly manipulated. His power makes him a mere pawn in other people’s games. When he’s not being controlled, he’s inquisitive, protective and melancholy.

If there is any major flaw in the film, it’s merely that the actual prescribed structure of a Dragon Ball story seems to limit the scope of what can be told. The opening chapters of Broly’s character development and the final resolution of the story aren’t built upon during the actual Goku/Vegeta/Broly/Frieza fight. The fight itself is one of the most visually gorgeous fights in the series and manages to capture some vital character-building moments in the midst of a frenzy, but it goes on for far too long. The resolution of the fight is far more cathartic than much of the fight itself by the end of it, if only because it subverts where you think it’s going in favor of a decidedly refreshing happy ending.

There is also a lack of tension between Goku and Vegeta in the film. Their series-long rivalry is almost totally absent in the film as they’re visibly comfortable working together. Considering the implied story arc from the last film involved Goku and Vegeta working together to surpass Beerus’ implied strength but being unwilling due to their stubbornness, it’s a wasted opportunity that could’ve given their advertised fusion more weight.

From a franchise management perspective, the film is a much-needed improvement in direction for the series. The movie deftly acknowledges its place in the canon and offers a glimpse at a new status quo for the series going forward, wherein Frieza and his army are now active agents in the universe again, scheming in the background and slowly accruing power. It’s an exciting new status quo that builds off of the finale of Dragon Ball Super and offers some interesting clues about the future direction of the series.

There are a number of major long-term questions that any future Dragon Ball story needs to address. The series needs to start actively building towards a goal wherein they can reasonably end the series with an emotional payoff or radical shift. Maybe Goku could unwillingly become the new God of destruction, leaving Vegeta the inheritor of the mantle of Earth’s guardianship. It’s clear that the goal is for Goku to eventually fight Beerus again and potentially win. What’s exciting now is that this movie hints at stories to come. With the return of Frieza, the eleven other universes, and Goku’s new power-set from the Universe Survival Arc all on the table, the deck has been set for a plethora of exciting new stories.


The Bottom Line

"Dragon Ball Super: Broly" is one of the most exciting changes of pace that the franchise has had since "Battle of Gods" revitalized it back in 2013. Flaws and all, it's a spectacular visual experience, a refreshing story and a great start to films in 2019!

 

7.8

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Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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