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‘Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero’ Is An Endearing Love Letter To The Franchise And Fan Favorites – Review

Few franchises have seen the massive success of Dragon Ball. Predominantly known as the most significant “gateway anime,” Dragon Ball is one of the longest-running anime with one of the most faithful fanbases in the world. Whether you grew up with the original Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z or GT, chances are you know at least part of the story. The beauty of Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, the newest entry in the franchise, is the self-awareness the movie has about its tropes, its characters, and even the fandom itself. 

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero cleverly catches the audience up to speed by showing major events from the classic Dragon Ball arc, the “Red Ribbon Army”, where a very young Goku takes down an evil organization hell-bent on world domination. From there, they highlight other iconic Dragon Ball Z arcs such as the “Android Saga” and the “Cell Saga,” where Dr. Gero, the maniacal scientist of the Red Ribbon Army, creates the ultimate fighting weapons: sentient androids who can evolve to take down any opponent. The conclusion of those arcs is well-known to fans, as they are some of the most beloved stories within the Dragon Ball universe.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero
(Courtesy of Toei Animation)

The movie teases the return of the Red Ribbon army, this time with the grandson of the evil scientist, Dr. Hedo, following his family’s work to re-create the android program and eliminate the “Z Fighters” and Capsule Corp. The movie presents this premise in a slightly different way, instead, as a misunderstanding between Dr. Hedo and Capsule Corp. Commander Magenta, who inherited the Red Ribbon Army, manipulates the doctor into believing that the Capsule Corporation, run by Bulma, is secretly harboring aliens who are planning a planetary takeover. (Only part of that is true, as there are aliens she is protecting, but they are planetary defenders.) Through this manipulation tactic, Dr. Hedo creates two androids, Gamma 1 and Gamma 2, to take down the invading aliens, as well as an “emergency only” android, Cell-Max, as a last precaution if the aliens do takeover.

This premise sets up a love letter to so many aspects of the Dragon Ball franchise. First of all, with the legendary android saga, which many believe to be the best arc in the entire series. Reminiscing on this chapter of Dragon Ball is enough to get any fan invested in this new story. Beyond that, the movie reaches new heights with its hilarious, self-aware, comedic approach. Dragon Ball has never shied away from comedy, but the almost fourth-wall-breaking style is something relatively new within the anime and worked remarkably well with the story.

(Courtesy of Toei Animation)

For anyone who has been following this franchise for a while, the formula becomes predictable. A new evil arises that wants to destroy the world, the fighters train to prepare for battle, and they all take on the new big bad, only to fail; until Goku comes in, last minute, to save the day. This formula became so customary that the android saga is famous because it strayed slightly off that course. Instead of Goku saving the day, it was his son, Gohan, who did, all while he was just a teenager. He destroyed the most powerful fighter in the world, and he did it while still a kid. This shook the DBZ fanbase at the time because it teased just how powerful Gohan could become. Ironically enough, as the years passed, Gohan took the opposite path of a warrior. He got a regular job, got married and settled down to live a normal life. The most he did after that was some small stakes superhero saving as the “Great Saiyaman.” The Gohan character arc became a “what could’ve been” conversation among fans. The movie pokes fun at this fact, with Piccolo referring to how strong Gohan could’ve become instead of straying away from his warrior lineage. This comes into play in the third act of the film with a truly satisfying conclusion.

Speaking of love letters, what really sets this movie apart is who our main character is- Piccolo. For many years, Piccolo has been a fan favorite for his grumpy but loving personality. However, too many times, his character felt more like he was used for exposition dumps and less as a major part of the team. The movie also references the long-running belief that the real father of all these young Saiyan warriors is none other than Piccolo himself. Having first trained Gohan, young Trunks and Goten, and now the newest addition to the family, Pan; Piccolo was always there for the kids when Goku was busy on his intergalactic battles and training. The movie puts it plain and simple, “what if Goku and Vegeta are off-world when a new big bad attacks?” It’s up to Papa Piccolo to gather his young warriors to defend their adopted planet. Who better to team up with Piccolo than his first student (and adopted son) Gohan? This dynamic and concept are incredibly fulfilling. It’s a great callback for Dragon Ball fans who remember Piccolo sacrificing himself to save Gohan’s life all the way back when Vegeta first attacked earth. There’s no better way for Piccolo to connect with his adopted family than fighting the bad guy. 

(Courtesy of Toei Animation)

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is a self-aware love letter not only to the franchise but to the fans themselves. Akira Toriyama created these iconic characters and knows how much fans love them, some Vegeta and Goku, but the other colourful characters are iconic in their own right. Having a film centered on Piccolo, Gohan, and the family aspect of this story is endearing and exciting all at once. As the years passed, different roles were passed on to different generations, and Piccolo realizes his role as trainer, mentor, and father of the group is a great step toward the future of the Z fighters. When you’re a fan of Dragon Ball, all these characters, inside jokes, and tropes become incredibly familiar so having a film that acknowledges that and showcases other characters is exactly what a longtime fan could want. Although the CGI can, at times, be distracting, the heart of this film is enough to overpower any kind of animation change. If you’re a Dragon Ball fan, you’re sure to enjoy this movie.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is now playing in theaters.

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