What can be said of Dragon Ball now that hasn’t already been said several times over in the past three decades? An a shonen adventure classic-turned-international phenomenon from the moment the series made landfall in West during the ’80s, the enduring significance and popularity of Akira Toriyama’s magnum opus is beyond reproach. Acknowledged as one of the preeminent and influential works of Japanese animation of its era, the spikey-haired, gi-wearing silhouette of Son Goku, Dragon Ball’s protagonist, has become all but a universal shorthand for anime as whole to not only a generation of anime enthusiasts and earnest neophytes, but even among that of the most disinterested of befuddled onlookers.
The conclusion of Dragon Ball Super—the latest installment in the Dragon Ball series—in March of last year saw its heroes triumphant in the wake of a deadly contest of multiversal proportions. Dragon Ball Super: Broly, the direct follow-up to Super’s final episode and the first Dragon Ball film to carry the series’ name, follows Goku, Vegeta and co. faced with yet another existential threat, this time in the form of a mysterious Saiyan warrior with an unprecedented level of destructive potential.
To cut to the chase: Dragon Ball Super: Broly is impressive, for several reasons apart from even that of the quality of the film itself. When it was initially announced in December of 2017, the film was a contemporary reimagining of the eighth feature-length installment in the Dragon Ball Z film series, Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan, released in 1993 and directed by Shigeyasu Yamauchi (alternatively known for his work as series director of the 2008 anime Casshern Sins). Toriyama, though credited with the principal design of the character, was for the most part uninvolved with the production of the original film and so, after learning years later of the character’s enduring popularity among Dragon Ball fans, took it upon himself to recreate the character to his liking and introduce him into the canon of Dragon Ball proper.
This wouldn’t be the first time in Dragon Ball’s history of a non-canon character being later recognized within the main series itself (e.g., Garlic Jr. from Dragon Ball Z: Dead Zone received his own eponymous arc in the Dragon Ball Z anime), nor would it potentially be the first case of an ostensibly non-canon character introduced via one of the series’ films to later be incorporated into the series’ accompanying manga (Goku’s father, Bardock, holds that distinction). What is exceptional in the case of Dragon Ball Super: Broly is that it’s the first instance of a non-canon character having amassed so much popularity among the Dragon Ball fanbase decades after their debut that it warranted the character’s wholesale reinvention and reintroduction into the series by none other than Toriyama himself. That alone raises interesting questions with regards to the past and prospective future of the franchise, to say nothing of the chance of yet even more non-canon characters seeing their due in the series one day.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly is a retcon not only of its namesake origins, but that of some of the earliest, formative and significant events of the Dragon Ball universe. Because of this, despite technically being the latest in a long series of Dragon Ball features spanning over 20 total installments, Dragon Ball Super: Broly might in fact be one of the approachable entry points into the series for newcomers, short of watching the entire 450-some episodes of the anime itself. If that comes as a shock to you reading this, imagine my surprise having written it. There are, of course, several characters and cameos that would be lost to viewers in lieu of explanation—Beerus the God of Destruction and his attendant Whis, for example—but that Dragon Ball Super: Broly manages to toe such a fine line between gratifying the expectations of long-time fans and rendering the film accessible enough for those new to the series is worthy of both mention and celebration.
The Dragon Ball series is at its best when it appropriately balances the later series’ emphasis on martial arts action with the series’ roots as a sci-fi adventure comedy, of which Dragon Ball Super: Broly does exceptionally well. Special praise is due for the film’s emphasis on strong supporting characters, such as Cheelai and Lemon who, while comparatively less developed than that of the series’ long-time supporting cast and protagonists, are likable and dynamic enough to carry their proportionate weight on defining moments of the film’s conclusion.
As pat a comparison it may be, the spectacle of watching Goku and Vegeta trade blows against Broly is not unlike watching Superman and Doomsday throw down in any one of their most deadly confrontations. Theirs is a titanic bout between three immensely powerful characters that shakes the Earth to its very foundations—and beyond. The use of CGI-animated scenes interspersed between several of the film’s most exhilarating clashes, initially introduced throughout the Dragon Ball Super series, adds so much to the film’s action and dramatic pace one could be surprised that the series ever went without it. Finally of note is the film’s art style, which replicates the tone and feel of the original Dragon Ball manga per Akira Toriyama’s own explicit request. This means it not only looks fantastic, it’s arguably more visually distinctive than any previous Dragon Ball film before it.
Overall, Dragon Ball Super: Broly punches triumphantly within its own weight class, aspiring not to any lofty heights of thematic heft or cinematic gravitats, but delivering a visually packed and unabashedly enjoyable experience that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser among enduring fans, the modestly engaged and newcomers alike. There’s a whole lot of potential for the series going forward in the wake of Broly’s conclusion. Thirty years after it’s debut, it’s seldom been a more exciting or opportune time to give the Dragon Ball series a chance.
Director: Tatsuya Nagamine
Writer: Akira Toriyama
Starring: Masako Nozawa, Ryo Horikawa, Bin Shimada, Ryusei Nakao, Banjo Ginga, Toshio Furakawa
Release Date: January 16, 2019 (limited)