If you had or were a child during the late 90s and early 00s, you’re bound to have seen Son Goku and his super saiyan friends and family pop up on one of your screens. If you are or have been a fan, however, it’s possible that you are more than familiar not only with the colorful characters from the Akira Toriyama universe, but also with some of the overdone tropes of the anime series, which has been on the air for the better part of the last 30+ years. Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is well aware of that legacy, and uses that mileage to its advantage. Fan or not, it’s safe to say you’ll have fun with it.
Based on the latest spin-off of the anime series, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero centers around Gohan enjoying some quiet time on Earth while his father Goku and friend Vegeta train hard on the distant planet of Beerus, along with Broly from the previous franchise entry Dragon Ball Super: Broly. But, of course, Gohan’s peace soon gets interrupted as the revived Red Ribbon Army works to build two powerful androids in order to take revenge on Son Goku and saiyans in general.
One of Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero’s greatest merits is the direct involvement of series creator Toriyama, who once again pens the script. Even though some die-hard fans might shout “this isn’t Dragon Ball!” at the new 3D version of their favorite characters, they’re all being handled by a writer who knows what he’s doing – and surely knows his characters a lot more than we do. So there isn’t a single moment throughout the movie where you go “Gohan woudn’t do that”, or “Vegeta isn’t like that.”
In fact, Toriyama and director Tetsuro Kodama are so confident in their material that we get a long introduction with none of the characters we love, and it efficiently establishes the plot, making it clear what type of villains are featured in the story, and what sort of attitudes we should expect from them. This kind of subversion of expectation permeates the entire movie, and it’s the adventure’s best quality.
First, Toriyama understands that we don’t need to have absolute fan-favorites Goku and Vegeta front and center all the time, and they’re not always going to be around to save the world when a massive threat emerges — there might not even be time to warn them about it! This allows some room for other character arcs, which includes a full first act that’s almost completely dominated by Piccolo (and his sweet relationship with Gohan’s daughter Pan), who single-handedly moves the plot forward with incredible efficiency. Or, as a guy who’s more than used to dealing with growing threats and has his own competent protocol to deal with them.
As the movie progresses, it throws curveballs when it comes to plot decisions, from how the main characters are featured in the story to the duo of villains—albeit lazily named villains, Gamma 1 and Gamma 2—are distinct enough to have their own personalities and provide some fun battles, as well as fun cameos and a bit of self-aware humor. One of the most famous criticisms of the Dragon Ball anime saga is the length of most of its battles, and not only those lengthy fights are practically non-existent in Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, they are cleverly nodded at as a group of people watch Goku and Vegeta fight.
Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is also clever in grounding its characters, despite the universe where they live in: You really feel for Gohan when he admits he has neglected his training because he’s finally gotten a stretch of time to study. And, at a certain point, Vegeta calls Goku out for his fighting style and the errors that the super saiyan made during their last epic battle with Broly.
The fights, of course, are another high point of the movie. Fans of the franchise largely didn’t like the idea of switching the animation style, but (I know I’m alone when saying this) the 3D works perfectly for the fights, and makes them even more fast-paced and fun to watch. Not only that, the fights feature some interesting attention to detail: Notice, for example, how you can hear the somewhat discreet sound of metal being hit whenever Gamma 1 or Gamma 2 are in a fight.
The biggest problem of Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is one that you’re probably familiar with if you watched even one arc of the anime series or one of the franchise’s twenty movies. When the battles start coming to an end, it all comes down to transformation and finding new strength, which has definitely been done countless times throughout Dragon Ball history. The movie even tries to dodge this trope by switching gears when it comes to its villains and what they can do when push comes to shove, but ultimately, you realize that it just took the scenic route to arrive at the same destination.
Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is a fun movie that knows how to use its humor and has fun with the fights, but it’s very conscious that you need to care about those characters to enjoy the ride. Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero isn’t afraid to let go of brainless action in favor of developing its own plot and spending quiet time with some fan favorites.