Being a Dragon Ball fan I feel is a lot like being a Star Wars fan. One’s more mainstream than the other one but they have a lot of weird parallels. They’re both massive franchises that originally had one person at the helm that have now grown bigger than their creator. They both went on haitus for long periods of time leading fans to believe they were done and then came back for controversial new installments and they’re both cash cows that are never likely to die due to their popularity.
When something’s really popular and they keep churning out new content the question of quality is always going to become contentious. I’ve been a massive fan of Dragon Ball ever since I read the original manga almost twenty years ago and have devoured everything that’s been released since but let’s be honest….not all of it is great. Some of the anime movies are quite forgettable and as for Dragon Ball GT, making a show that wasn’t written by series creator Akira Toriyama’ was a mistake. He’s the heart and soul of Dragon Ball, without him whatever is made tends to look a bit like a pale imitation. No wonder it’s classed by many as non-canon now.
So if I’m such a big fan of the series why didn’t I watch Dragon Ball Super until now? Honestly I was a little concerned about whether I’d enjoy it or not. I asked myself repeatedly: is this coming out because Toriyama is excited about telling a new Dragon Ball story or is it just that Toei is making too much money to retire the franchise and they offered him a deal he couldn’t turn down?
We went from having no new installments for the best part of twenty years to having a bunch of movies within years of each other and a brand new TV series in what seemed like no time at all. Now I really enjoyed the recent movies Battle of Gods and Resurrection F that fit into the manga timeline and had Toriyama-San’s involvement. However these were short little trips back to the Dragon Ball universe. I wasn’t sure how I felt about another big, epic TV show. I just felt if anything it was unneccessary.
On top of that I must admit that initially I was kind of annoyed that they were retelling the stories of the last two movies in the TV series continuity. It felt as if it rendered the movies pointless and I’d really enjoyed them. However the more I thought about it the more I realised that it was a moot point. This was mainly because the last two movies according to production staff and Toriyama himself were sequels to Toriyama’s manga and not the anime series. Hence the TV version of Super follows on from the Z anime and not the movies making them two very distinctly different continuties. Also even if that wasn’t the case; how badly mangled are the continuties of some comic book movies these days? I still watch all of those. I decided this was no different and so I took the plunge and four years after it aired I gave it a go.
I’m pleased to say that from its opening moments Super seems to have a very good handle on what makes Dragon Ball so special to so many people. The show is set only six months after the defeat of the evil half of Buu in the last few episodes of Z but continuity wise the final episode of Z is still ten years away since it skipped over that exact amount of time.
The opening moments of the first episode show us that Goku is now making a living as a radish farmer. Amusingly the first few panels of Z’s manga and the first anime episode also began with a farmer in his field. The series seems to be full of little in-jokes and callbacks like that that I’m sure fans will enjoy.
The first episode mainly serves to re-introduce the characters and remind fans of important plot points such as Mr Satan being viewed as the protector of Earth and the fact that Shenron wiped everyone’s memories of Buu and restored the people of Earth after his murderous rampage. This first episode also shows Gotenks and Trunks going on a small adventure that feels very much in the vein of the original Dragon Ball and is sure to bring a nostalgic smile to long term fans faces. In the next few episodes we get the hillarious premise of Vegeta being forced to go along on a family holiday while Goku goes off to train on King Kai’s planet and we even get a chance to catch up with original Dragon Ball villains Emperor Pilaf and his subordiantes Shu and Pai. Meanwhile a new threat looms that promises to make Bulma’s birthday party aboard a luxury ocean liner a memorable one.
Beerus, a cat-like god of seemingly limitless power is a fickle, impatient destroyer of worlds. He’s introduced in a brilliant and darkly funny scene where the inhabitants of an alien planet all bring him their tastiest gourmet dishes for him to try, hoping to convince him to spare their world from being destroyed by his hand. Sweating profusely, the head chef brings him their ultimate dish. Initially he praises it, listing a lot of very good points and then abruptly decides that despite all of that it’s too fatty and declares that he’s only going to destroy half of their planet. Cut to an outer space shot of one half of the planet being severed by a huge beam of light and exploding. Awaking after a prophetic dream in which he learned of the existence of a Saiyan so powerful he is known as the “Super saiyan god” he seeks out Goku and Vegeta to ask them if they know anything about such a being and causes a hell of a ruckus at Bulma’s big birthday bash.
This arc is a lot of fun so far. Beerus and his servant Whis are brilliant characters considering they were only added to the franchise fairly recently. Whenever they’re on screen I’m aware I can’t stop smiling. Their characterisation is very much like their first appearance in Battle of Gods but the fact this is a TV show means we get to see a lot more of them and honestly it’s totally welcome because they’re a fantastic addition to the Dragon Ball Universe.
It’s not just the Beerus and Whis show though. Every classic character gets a chance to shine in this first arc too and things are set up nicely for what is slowly becoming a much more serious and dramatic storyline.
One of the biggest complaints aimed at Dragon Ball Z‘s anime adaptation was its non-manga material that is often labelled as “filler” content. I actually really like some of the anime original episodes of Z but it’s an undeniable fact that while some of them are really good additions to the series others serve no purpose except to artificially pad things out while the producers were waiting for Toriyama to have completed more of the source material. Thankfully Super fares much better pacing wise because the aim from the beginning was to have the Manga and Anime differ from each other significantly. This gives Toriyama and his writing colleague Toyatarou more creative licence in how they approach things. I’ve only watched ten episodes so far but the pacing is pretty good. The first four episodes mainly focus on characters and comedy with only little snippets of action here and there while the series builds its looming threat and sets the stage for Goku’s inevitable first fight with Beerus in episode 5. From then on to the tenth episode there’s a fantastic mix of comedy, drama, action and revelations as Goku and his family and friends realise they’re outclassed by Beerus’ power in every imaginable way and Goku realises he might know a way to become the “Super Saiyan God” that Beerus so desperately wants to fight.
While there are one hundred and twenty one more episodes of Dragon Ball Super to go and things could change a great deal over that hefty episode count I’m glad to say that so far it feels like a fairly solid conclusion of the anime series timeline. Production wise the show looks nice though its very pronounced line work and shift to digital makes it look a lot sharper and more colourful than the older episodes creating a weird contrast when flashbacks are shown. The animation is of pretty good quality. There were a lot of complaints when the early episodes first aired and I remember a lot of people saying they looked awful. However Toei overhauled the animation in certain episodes for the home video release and as a result what I saw was absolutely fine. In certain scenes where there’s a big group of characters some of them aren’t drawn in as much detail but all the characters are on model and while the animation obviously doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of the theatrical productions it definitely looks good for a TV anime.
While I’m much more of a fan of the original Dragon Ball than Z this takes the good parts of both of the previous installments and mixes them in a blender to good result. The fact its pacing is a bit slower and it shows stuff like characters going about their daily lives with a kind of slice of life comedy approach at the beginning is great. It shows a certain confidence and maturity that the show doesn’t need to be wall to wall succession punches and ki blasts to engage its audience right from the beginning.
As much as I’ve tried to avoid spoilers I know a little bit about what’s in store including the return of several other classic characters as well as the introduction of parallel universes and some things I’m really looking forward to: the introduction of Jaco to the main series and also another crossover with Akira Toriyama’s other wonderful manga/anime creation Dr Slump.
I’m hoping the pacing remains on point and it keeps a balance of action, plot and character moments and its more self aware sense of humour. I have to say that right now I’m finding it a bit “moreish” and when one episode ends I’m already looking forward to the next one. Now if only we could say the same about Star Wars.…..