Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero finally gives us the hero we deserve

The Dragon Ball film franchise has more low points than high, so fans have become reasonably sceptical of new entries. Add in the fact that the newest film, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, has not only had a fraction of the marketing of other Dragon Ball movies outside of Japan but has also experienced numerous delays due to the pandemic and a cyberattack? Well, it felt like Toei Animation wanted this one to slip under the radar.

However, it is easily the best Dragon Ball movie we’ve ever had, with a near-perfect mix of Toriyama’s humour, really fun fights, and – I can’t believe I’m going to say this – an almost complete lack of Goku.

Why Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is the best Dragon Ball film

Saying I was going into Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero with low expectations would be an understatement. Though the most recent three films had highlights, they had become overly repetitive even for a franchise that resists change harder than anything else on the planet. The series’ reliance on the “Goku Wins” formula was my biggest fear going into this movie, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that both Goku and Vegeta are barely in it.

The pair are off-world, training the new incarnation of Broly on Beerus’ planet, leaving Earth’s protection in Piccolo’s hands. The film spends most of its run-time focusing on our Namekian friend, giving him a much-needed chance to stretch his legs, sometimes quite literally, as he trains Gohan’s daughter, Pan, and investigates the apparent return of the Red Ribbon Army. Not only are there two new Androids with a serious superhero complex but there are rumours of a Cell clone sleeping in the basement, ominously waiting for the inevitable third act to roll on.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero Gohan

Gohan, who hasn’t had any real character development since the last time Cell threatened the planet, is focused on his research until Pan is kidnapped and we get to see our boy unlock his Papa Bear mode at the start of the film’s second act. Everything from this point on is one long fight scene, similar to the pacing in Broly, but with significantly more stakes. As a long-time Dragon Ball fan, I found it a delightful return to form for the series, focusing more on the martial arts choreography than a flurry of punches and increasingly destructive energy blasts.

A lot is going to be said about the animation style in this film, which is done entirely with computer animation rather than the classic animation that the series has employed since the early 90s. The movie manages to recreate the look of the show in much the same way that Dragon Ball FighterZ did; it isn’t perfect but it is reasonably close. There is an over-reliance on panning shots to show off the new technology but for the most part, it is effective and serves to highlight the action rather than get in the way of it.

There are plenty of moments in Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero that will delight obsessive fans of the series like myself. References to events from as far back as OG Dragon Ball and a fleeting mention to Android 21 to bring her into canon proper make this feel like a celebration of the entire series even as the screentime is focused almost entirely on Gohan and Piccolo. There is a faithful recreation of Gohan’s Super Saiyan 2 transformation that sent genuine shivers through my body, even if it did result in the ugliest Dragon Ball transformation of all time.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero has the guts to allow someone besides Goku to be the centre of attention. The fact that it relegates the two most well-known characters in the series to a single scene and a brief after-credits insert is easily the bravest thing that they could have done, and it makes this the first film in the franchise that offers actual surprises. Even supporting characters like Android 18 and Krillin get more screen time than the central characters in the franchise — and it makes it a better movie.

Fans of Gohan will be pleased with the amount of development our boy gets, even if it is long overdue. The call-backs in Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero will bring fans plenty of joy, while the fighting feels tight and choreographed better than the series has ever had. Some might not appreciate the change in animation style but overall there is far more good going on here than bad. This is honestly the first Dragon Ball movie that I can recommend without any caveats or reservations. Go see it in cinemas if you have the chance, or catch it when it hits streaming services.

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