By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by Tetsuro Kodama
- Starring Masako Nozawa, Toshio Furukawa, Miyu Irino, Ryo Horikawa
While the size of franchises like the MCU and Star Wars can be daunting to some people, overseas in Japan the Dragon Ball franchise is equally as dominate and has been for sometime. At 21 films and counting, it’s hard to say if it will ever stop, but considering the money it makes and the cultural standing it has been able to receive for the past several decades that’s looking increasingly unlikely as time marches on.
Super is it’s most recent line of films, spurred on by a new era of the series that attempts to broaden the universe while also bringing in a more tonally diverse Dragon Ball – one that mixes the more high concept comedy adventure storytelling of the original series and the sci-fi action epic of Dragon Ball Z. The results have been… mixed, to say the least, with several arcs and storylines in both TV and manga format falling short with others recapturing a magic that hadn’t been felt since the 90s. So far, the most successful of the bunch has been Broly, the film sequel to Super that was nothing short of a triumph across the board, and was the kind of Dragon Ball film that we should be getting on the regular.
And while it’s hard to say if Super Hero is on the same level – it’s final villain is much weaker and it lacks Broly‘s more unique act structure – it’s still an impressive feat all the same. Super Hero takes the time to focus on it’s side characters for the first time in years, and it’s all the better for it as it uses Dragon Ball‘s massive mythos and cast to it’s advantage to craft an exciting, thrilling, and often moving film.
Some homework might be needed for newcomers, but for the initiated, it’s fun seeing villains like the Red Ribbon Army return to the forefront. Unlike other threats in the world of Dragon Ball, which run the gambit from alien invaders to powerful mechanoids (and sometimes both at once), the Red Ribbon Army is cooperate based. There are many of them and while they aren’t strong individually, they pose a threat as a whole, and their presence in the original Dragon Ball was a shift in tone of itself, changing the series from that of a comedy adventure story to that of more dramedy leanings. Here, they are especially aided by great new antagonists Magenta and Dr. Hedo, both of whom’s clashing ideals make for nearly as much drama and intrigue as the stuff with our heroes. It’s Hedo’s creations Gamma 1 and Gamma 2 that end up stealing the show though, particularly Gamma 2, as their interesting arcs and developments make them shockingly sympathetic and likable in spite of their initial antagonistic nature.
But really this is a film meant to showcase one of the more unsung praises of Dragon Ball, which is the relationship between Gohan and Piccolo. Much of the early portions of Dragon Ball Z are built the slow build of their father/son esqe relationship, and here it really plays into that to great effect. Piccolo is arguably the lead here even if Gohan gets a meaty arc of his own, as Piccolo is forced to rely on his abilities for a good chunk of the story as both Goku and Vegeta are downgraded to bit players. By the end of the film, it mostly becomes a showcase for the supporting cast, finally successfully setting out to do what the tragically bad Bio-Broly attempted to do in the 90s – give the spotlight to the smaller characters and give them a bunch of stuff to finally do. Even the small Pan, having finally grown to be old enough to talk, gets an arc of her own that bookends the film.
And it’s hard to argue against when it looks this visually amazing. The CG animation is going to be hard to get used to for some people, but it’s stylized blend of 3D character movements and 2D shading is simply exceptional. It’s a visually stunning film from top to bottom, anchored as well by amazing sound design and shockingly great cinematography. This is the most cinematic Dragon Ball has ever been and while it’s likely they will return to the classic 2D style for future films, if they wish to continue with this style I will have zero issues with that. Of particular note are the action scenes, which fully benefit from the spectacular choreography that 3D animation can provide, with the final battle in particular being a standout.
It’s just a blast of a time as well. Dragon Ball should be first and foremost a spectacle series, and on the big screen this was just an absolute delight. While time will tell if it manages to hold up in the pantheon of other Dragon Ball films – it’s hard to beat Broly, and Battle of Gods also has a strong case to make for it’s quality – Super Hero, as an experiment for the franchise, might be one of their best achievements in a while and worthy of the name. Great stuff!