New from Peter Spedale on Be Movie See Movie: Movie Review: Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

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My entry into Japanese anime storytelling was not Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro, unfortunately. Instead, it was Dragon Ball Z (DBZ), a martial arts epic TV extravaganza featuring all sorts of creatures, heroes, villains, and some really well thought out storytelling/worldbuilding. The original TV series ended in 1997 and came over to the US where its still selling toys today. Not content to chill with his residuals, creator Akira Toriyama created a few more seasons of TV, and continued his Downton Abbey approach to DBZ and made a movie here and there. Super Hero is just the latest movie from Toriyama, whipping up a twist on his old tales here with some fun new animation wrinkles.

If you’re new to the Dragon Ball world, I suggest you use this paragraph as a Wikipedia entry point. DBZ Super Hero takes place in between Z and Super. Piccolo (Toshio Furukawa) is training 3 year old Saiyan Pan (Yuko Minaguchi) in the way of martial arts, while Pan’s father Gohan (Masako Nozawa) takes a break from saving the earth with battle, instead writing research papers on insects. He gets pulled back into the fight with a blast from the past. Magenta (Volcano Ota) teams up with Dr. Gero’s grandson Hedo (Miyu Irino) to resurrect the Red Ribbon Army. Hedo gets started right away, using his intellect to create 2 terrifying androids (voiced by Hiroshi Kamiya and Mamoru Miyano) to take out Earth’s greatest “threats,” starting with Gohan, since normal DBZ heroes Goku (also Nozawa) and Vegeta (Ryo Horikawa) are off planet, training.

I admire the Dragon Ball TV show to this day for its excellent storytelling, cleverly building all sorts of fun worlds and adventures, pivoting at the right time with some great plot twists, and most importantly, creating a plethora of great characters to root for and fall in love with. My personal favorite was the Androids/Cell Saga, which as fate would have it, heavily influences DBZ Super Hero. Did I say influences? I meant remixes and lazily steals from. Because a movie is much shorter than a TV show, Super Hero suffers from the same overstuffing problems Marvel and Downton Abbey suffer from. As important as Goku and Vegeta are to the DBZ lore, they should NOT be in this movie except an end credits sequence; they don’t factor into the plot at all. But it’s DBZ, so Toriyama gives us 15 minutes of them sparring that should go to Piccolo, Gohan, Pan, Bulma, or any of the antagonists to make a more fulfilling story. Because everything is so streamlined, this DBZ movie relies solely on nostalgia to pilot its success, resulting in an all too familiar Marvel-like third act of crazy explosions that look cool but mean nothing. It’s shockingly lazy from a daring, beloved storyteller like Toriyama.

The saving grace here is the fighting and movie’s tone (that’s good nostalgia). Infused within a movie about taking over the Earth is a lot of silly over the top dialogue and that DBZ special of immediately shot down overconfidence. It’s always funny when a dumb character keeps insisting their smart, and especially Magenta makes the most of his big character showcase by being dressed down over and over again. Akira Toriyama took all that energy he wasn’t using on the script and devoted it to upgrading the animation style to a more CGI 3D experience. Most importantly, that upgrade means we don’t have to stare a 2D picture of two people fighting anymore. The action sequences in Super Hero pop because of how alive they feel. Toriyama makes the camera feel like a participant, whirling around combatants, stopping for a minute, then moving onto the next location. It’s constantly exciting/riveting, and gives the movie an energy it sorely needs. Hopefully they’ll work this killer new animation into a better script next time.

Despite its pointlessness, it was fun to spend time in the DBZ world, catching up with my favorite heroes. Super Hero isn’t totally pointless I should say: it gives Piccolo a big, mostly overdue standout. DBZ’s most underappreciated character is awesome in his moment in the spotlight here, hopefully earning more time in future DBZ movies/endeavors. SPECIAL BEAM CANNON!!!!

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