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Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero Review (Movie)

With Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero expect lots of surprises, gorgeous action with vibrant animation, layered characterization & all-timer Dragon Ball moments.

Dragon Ball Super: SUPER HERO characters

Since the climax of the Universal Tournament Arc at the end of the original run of Dragon Ball Super back in 2018, fans have been eagerly waiting for the series to return with weekly episodes. While at this point we’ve had no such luck, Akira Toriyama, Toei and now Crunchyroll have made sure to somewhat savour our appetites with canonical stories continuing the journeys of Goku, Vegeta and the rest of the Z warriors as theatrically released movies: In 2018 we got Dragon Ball Super: Broly, which made a fan favourite character part of actual canon, lending intrigue as to where the series would go next.

Well, now we have Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero which sees the return of the Red Ribbon Army from Goku’s past having created two new androids Gamma 1 & Gamma 2 to challenge him and his friends. But with Goku and Vegeta off-planet training with Whis and Beerus, it’s up to Piccolo and Gohan to protect the world from these new foes.

There’s an elephant-in-the-room that needs to be addressed before anything else in this review and that is unprecedented shift from classic 2D animation to a full on CGI production, a first in the Dragon Ball franchise, which has mixed in CG elements in action sequences here & there in previous films, but never fully transformed its visual style, until now.

This decision was made by the film’s director Tetsuro Komada, who is experienced with this style of animation, but nevertheless original Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama is still very involved: having written the screenplay and done all the character designs.

Dragon Ball Super: SUPER HERO review

From a technical standpoint this is perhaps the most technically sound Dragon Ball movie, visually-speaking: with beautifully rendered backgrounds & environments, hard lines surrounding the characters, who still have a classic 2D design style and movement, to make them visually standout within the frames.

The colors burst out of the screen with vibrant animation and fluid camera movements proving how it’s maybe the best looking film in the entire franchise, which elevates the phenomenally exciting action-sequences that boast a level of storytelling driven by characters and themes with an ever-present sublime pacing where every punch, kick, & beam-struggle’s impact is felt with an ever-escalating sense.

All that said, on a personal note I do feel like the action isn’t quite as visceral as it was with the classic 2D style of the franchise, so in a matter of preference I still feel that sticking with the classic animation style would’ve served the movie even better.

More than the visuals however, what truly elevates the quality of storytelling is the movie’s small-scale story. Unlike most of what Super has been knowing to do with its arcs and character journeys, Super Hero instead ditches the world-ending scenarios with a personal, character-driven narrative which sees the Red Ribbon Army of a path of revenge, directly attacking the Z Warrior where it hurts the most: their friends and family.

This narrative approach is more reminiscent to the OG Dragon Ball than anything else, with its focus and delivering on compelling themes of fostering the next generation, which hits close to home to those who followed the series since its inception in the 1980s with its powerful messaging and how effectively it is conveyed through all the storytelling fundamentals: action, characters, themes and even tone.

Yes, tone. This film delivers the classic tone of Dragon Ball: silly, quirky, fun, charming, and even outrageously funny at points, and while the film doesn’t ever properly get “dark”, nor does it need it, it’s not afraid to get serious, nor does it off when it does.

The Red Ribbon Army are the best visual representation of this classic tone throughout the film, they worry about silly things like looking good or being tall and menacing, while at the same time being so impotent and cheesy when compared to our heroes, which displays a tongue-and-cheek sensibility that is so classic Toriyama. Even Bulma gets to deliver some laughs that fully display her personality that has been present since the series’ beginnings but ever-so missed in recent years, demonstrating that her priorities are not always in service of her friends, but rather herself.

Dragon Ball Super: SUPER HERO review

Finally, we have Gamma 1 and Gamma 2, who not only sport fantastic designs that display Toriyama’s fascinating and influence by American pop-culture, but they are the most uniquely motivated androids in the franchise, with fabulous move-sets to boot, generating a real threat when clashing with Piccolo/Gohan but also interesting and compelling personalities that bounce off nicely from one another and make for great foils when contrasted with our heroes.

Speaking of… Gohan and Piccolo have not been this compellingly written since the Cell Saga. Where the two have been relegated to the side-lines, or even completely written off the grand-narrative of Dragon Ball, Super Hero finds a clever way of writing Goku and Vegeta off the story in a character-centric manner that while hurting the pacing slightly in the early stages of the story as it tries to gather all its plot-threads so it can get going, it also thrusts Gohan into his rightful place: leading the Z Warriors and protecting Earth, pushed onto battle alongside Piccolo, because we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Furthermore, with Gohan being the most emotionally driven character in the franchise, it’s only fitting this story feels more personal when positioning him as the protagonist, creating a narrative that only makes sense for Gohan to lead the charge and finds him more emotionally invested than anyone else, leading to some truly incredible character moments that are not suddenly nor cheap, but have rather been cultivated through years of long-term storytelling, finally feeling like pay-off to a slow, but sure, narrative build up.

There’s a beautiful narrative thread that finds Gohan being confronted with the choices he’s made of step away from battle and focusing on being a scholar, leaving Piccolo to train Pan so she may carry the family’s legacy and potential, this relationship reveals itself to be utterly endearing and the movie’s secret weapon from an emotional perspective, with Pan and Piccolo sharing touching moments that layer out both their personalities and push the story forward through their decisions, instead of through plotting.

But being left to train Pan due to his pupil, her own father, choosing not too hurts Piccolo because he knows Gohan’s true unlimited potential. So, this turns into a beautiful story of Master and Apprentice pushing each other to their limits, fighting side-by-side to protect that which they hold most dear, each other and their family, which Piccolo has grown so attached too, even if he doesn’t realize it.

The arcs of master & pupil are made all the better by capturing the theme that is ever-present in the grand scoping story of Dragon Ball: Progression through struggle. We see both Gohan AND Piccolo reach new narrative heights that push them forward in the story in a way that hadn’t seemingly been present for them as characters in a long while, and by being written by Toriyama himself, it feels all more genuine to the heart of who these characters are and have always been, harking back to many character-beats the writer has planted seeds for throughout the series’ run.

This thematic nature that elevates the action surrounding the character journeys and allows for truly emotionally potent & cathartic moments to be delivered, moments that rival all the key story beats that fans remember so fondly from the series due to their long gestating build ups that eventually lead to cathartic pay-offs and capture the magic that has made these characters and story so narratively rich and timeless.

That said, what Akira Toriyama and the Dragon Ball franchise are also no strangers to is falling into the skin-deep trappings of nostalgia. There’s one element in the third act that, once we look past the instant visual gratification of seeing it present (in a Gohan-centric story nonetheless), is the perfect representation of skin-deep. It doesn’t take away too much from the story emotionally, but in context of what the franchise has been doing with its films, it starts to feel like a strange, repetitive pattern, while at the same time creating some interesting potential for its future directions.

Dragon Ball Super: SUPER HERO review

Be careful on the internet, the spoilers are all over YouTube, Twitter, IG, etc. and these moments should be savored for your experience watching Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero on the biggest screen possible, with the biggest sound system possible. The incredible climax of this film delivers everything one can want from a story that feels personal, but delivers the unique action, characters and themes that have inspired generations of stories and storytellers.

One last note: There is, for the first time in the franchise, a post-credits scene at the very end, that if for nothing else: elaborates on a certain story happening in the background that should be continued whenever the series return to our TV screens.

Overall: Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is a real treat for die-hard fans, while being welcoming to new ones.

Its intimate narrative & themes are heart-warmingly reminiscent of the OG Dragon Ball series and Gohan is bound to become once more a fan favorite, being at his most compellingly written, and emotionally rich since the Cell Saga.

Expect lots of surprises, gorgeous action with vibrant animation, layered characterization & all-timer Dragon Ball moments.

FINAL GRADE: B+

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Dragon Ball Super: SUPER HERO poster

About Dragon Ball Super: SUPER HERO

The Red Ribbon Army was once destroyed by Son Goku. Individuals who carry on its spirit have created the ultimate androids — Gamma 1 and Gamma 2. However, these two androids call themselves superheroes and start attacking Piccolo and Gohan.

Tickets for the newest film in the global anime blockbuster franchise are now on sale in the United States and Canada at Fandango.com.

The film will be available in both English dub and subtitled and will arrive in more than 2500+ theaters in North America, including select U.S. based IMAX® theaters.