I don’t generally talk about how much I enjoyed watching Dragon Ball Z in the late 90s a lot, because, let’s face it, most Dragon Ball fans either fall into the category of super-casual “oh yeah, I used to watch that on Toonami!” fans, or are completely insufferable know-it-alls who enjoy showing off every tiny bit of minutae they know about every single character. You know, like the first couple paragraphs of all of my Transformers Custom Toy posts.
I fall somewhere into the middle. I was introduced to DBZ in 1996 by a friend who was watching it in syndication on network TV. I checked it out, showed it to my brother, and we watched all of the rest of it. He got super into it and kept up with all of the everything that’s been released since, and has re-watched the series multiple times. I remained a casual fan who has NOT re-watched all 291 episodes again. I couldn’t even re-watch all of Dragon Ball Kai, the shorthand version.
I do, however, own the complete Dragon Ball Z manga series, in those three-in-one VizBig editions. And I picked up the box sets with the movies, so I have all of those on DVD. And when the Battle of Gods feature hit theaters in 2014, my brother and I went out and made sure to catch that in theaters. I went with my friend Danny Duoshade to see its direct sequel, Resurrection ‘F’, in theaters in 2015, and then went with my brother again to see Dragon Ball Super: Broly in 2019. I’ve picked up the first few volumes of Dragon Ball Super manga (Super is the sequel series to Dragon Ball Z), but I’m seriously like 12 volumes behind in that right now.
When YouTube recommended the trailer to Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero to me, I immediately sent the link to my brother along with the text, “so we’re going to this, right?”
He immediately bought us tickets for the IMAX screening at the biggest screen in Arizona.
I didn’t look into ANYTHING ELSE about the movie. Just that first trailer. I wanted to go in as cold as I could. But that trailer revealed one thing: This movie wasn’t done with traditional hand-drawn animation like the past 20 movies had been. Instead, it’s CGI that’s been cel-shaded over, and looks a lot like the more recent Dragon Ball video games; FighterZ, Kakarot, Xenoverse, etc. But I was optimistic about that! I knew that it meant there would be camera shots and effects that are way easier and cleaner to do in 3D animation than with traditional hand-drawn animation.
And do you know what? I was totally right. This movie is GORGEOUS. Once you get over the fact that it looks a little different than what you’re used to, everything is so smooth and clean. Effects blasts are incredible. I’m glad that not only did I get to view this spectacle of a film on the big screen, but on the biggest screen that I could.
The story centers around the return of the Red Ribbon army, from the original Dragon Ball series. What’s that? You don’t know who the Red Ribbon army is? Well that’s okay! The movie opens with a 2-minute recap of every bit of the army’s history that you’ll need to know for the film, and even gives us a couple of quick on-screen confirmations of character relationships that had never been officially acknowledged before, as well as the introduction of a handful of new characters (the quintet on the far right of the image below).
The basic plot is the same as basically every Dragon Ball season and movie: A bad guy (often from the past) wants to kill everything and/or take over the world, and it’s up to
Goku and Vegeta Piccolo and Gohan and friends to save the day. Everybody fights until it looks like the heroes are about to lose, and then they get a new transformation and beat the big bad and save the day.
That’s right, Goku and Vegeta are…distracted throughout most of this movie, so it’s a full on Piccolo & Gohan affair, just like a LOT of the first season of DBZ. It’s a nice return to form for the series, and, honestly, a relief to see a new adventure that isn’t just about Goku wanting to fight everything all the time. There’s actual stakes in this movie — If Piccolo and Gohan don’t stop the Red Ribbon army, shit’s fucked.
And, of course, since it’s a new 21st century Dragon Ball movie, that means there’s new transformations and upgrades for at least one of the characters. Both Gohan and Piccolo get new modes in this flick. Piccolo’s is awesome, and Gohan’s is… weird?
The movie’s been out in Japan for a couple of months, so anybody who wants to know more specific details can already have everything that they want spoiled. I’m just posting this to say that I had a hell of a lot of fun seeing this movie in theaters with my brother and some of our friends, and I will definitely be buying it on BluRay when that comes out.
If you already like Dragon Ball, watch this movie. It’s a blast.
If you don’t like Dragon Ball… uh, this probably isn’t the best place to start? I mean, you’ll still have fun, you’ll just be asking, “wait, WHO’S that again?” The movie assumes you already know who, like, 25 characters and what their relationships to each other are.
But you’ll probably think the fight scenes are pretty sick, either way.
SOME SPOILERY THOUGHTS BELOW:
- Outside of one quick reference Jiren, you don’t need to have seen any of Dragon Ball Super. If you’ve seen the other three 21st century movies — Battle of Gods, Resurrection ‘F’, and Broly, you’ll be fine.
- Pre-school age Pan is adorable. She’s the ONE element from Dragon Ball GT that’s become canon, and I think it was the right decision.
- There’s a LOT of callbacks and throwaway lines to previous Dragon Ball stuff.
- All of the quick flashbacks actually are traditionally animated, and that’s a nice touch — It makes it VERY clear which scenes are the past, and which are present-day.
- Krillen says a line that’s basically, “Remember that ONE TIME you grew all huge to fight Goku? Why don’t you do that again?” an then Piccolo is like, “oh yeah, I forgot about that.” And then he does it.
- The brief cameos of who Androids 16 and 21 were based upon got my brother to point and go, “WHOAA!”
- At one point, Gohan did a straight-up pro wrestling-style sheer drop brainbuster, and I actually couldn’t stop myself from going, “FUCK YEAH!”
- Speaking of pro wrestling, there are a LOT of back suplexes and izuna drops throughout this movie. It’s nice to see some grappling attacks thrown into the fight choreography for a change.
- The entire final fight scene is an homage to the time that Piccolo and Goku fought Raditz and baby Gohan went all crazy, and it’s awesome.
- One of the things that’s kind of great about seeing Dragon Ball movies in theaters is that EVERYBODY there is already a fan, so people in the auditorium are SO HYPED that they’re clapping and whooping and hollering whenever something new happens. It’s almost like watching a live performance. If you ever get to see ANY Dragon Ball movie in theaters, I recommend it.