Review: Kodama’s ‘Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero’ Lacks Epicness
by Manuel São Bento
August 22, 2022
As someone born in 1994, Dragon Ball was one of the TV programs that accompanied me throughout my childhood, impacting my life – and that of many children and teenagers worldwide – in an unforgettable manner. No other television offerings came close to watching the epic adventures of Goku and the Z fighters. It’s impossible to describe the tremendous happiness fans felt when Dragon Ball Super was announced as a continuation of the anime – a series that improved exponentially, arc after arc. Then came Dragon Ball Super: Broly in 2018 – by far the best movie in the franchise. Therefore, expectations were very high for the latest Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, so it hurts to write that I left unsatisfyingly unfulfilled.
I think it’s evident that no fan truly anticipated a movie on the level of Broly, especially when the premise completely removes Goku and Vegeta from the story, as well as Broly himself, Beerus, and Whis, among others. Super Hero focuses on the family relationship between Gohan, Piccolo, and Pan, a narrative choice that, in fact, proves to be extremely interesting and driven by immense emotion. Goku was an absent father in addition to being an irresponsible, silly protagonist, so Piccolo has always been the real father to Gohan, having a much greater emotional connection to the Saiyan who exploded during the Cell Saga – becoming a character that everyone hoped to start leading the saga, but Akira Toriyama didn’t share the same ideas.
I applaud the courage to release a movie starring Gohan and Piccolo as protagonists, particularly when one hand is enough to count the times that Goku and Vegeta were put aside in more than twenty other Dragon Ball flicks. Through the return of the Red Ribbon Army and with new androids to defeat, Super Hero takes advantage of the canonization of Pan – she had already been introduced, but only as a baby – to create a passionate plot, but not without first dedicating time to the antagonists for a good portion of the first half. While I appreciate this allocation of time to introduce and develop the villains, it’s a slow, repetitive phase with a lot of unnecessary exposition that doesn’t help viewers start the movie with the same enthusiasm they entered the theater with.
Broly has an incredibly captivating, emotionally compelling backstory, bringing the audience over to his side when the inevitable battle unfolds. In Super Hero, the heads of the organization are formulaic, dull caricatures with banal motivations, but the androids Gamma 1 and Gamma 2 are pleasant surprises, even featuring in one of the most memorable scenes in the entire film. Dr. Hedo – grandson of Dr. Gero – also proves to be a complex antagonist rather than a villain with an evil plan for world domination. It’s a pity that Toriyama and director Tetsuro Kodama aren’t able to balance all these relations efficiently.
Super Hero spends a lot of time with the Red Ribbon Army and some of its generic characters, not allowing the affinity between Gohan and Piccolo or Gohan and Pan to grow to the point of justifying what happens in the third act. Here, it might be an unpopular opinion, but the new transformations and forms seem forced and driven solely by fan service. One of these truly screams “fan art” and somehow reduces the impact of transformations from the past that required so much sacrifice, training, and traumatic losses from other characters – almost as if it skips two or three forms without explanation. The quick camera movements and abrupt cuts further detract from these points, not allowing viewers to really marvel at the new looks.
However, the biggest problem is related to the animation style and the studio’s questionable decision to follow a different direction after the greatest movie success in the franchise’s history. Super Hero applies 3D animation and unlimited use of CGI throughout its runtime, a detail that was already known when the film was announced. While adjustment is possible over time, the sensation of watching a videogame with slightly better graphics never goes away. The characters look too clean and fake-looking, as if the punches, kicks, and energy blasts don’t really affect them. The details seen in 2D animation are impossible to achieve with this 3D style, leaving this movie very far from the visual quality of Broly or even the last arc of the series.
I don’t mean to insinuate that Super Hero doesn’t have jaw-dropping moments or that 3D animation is the main issue. The action holds incredible energy, and there are genuinely phenomenal sequences, notably a fight in the rain where the CGI really delivers an absolutely stunning visual dimension. Although no battle is as impressive as any in the previous movie, they’re still packed with entertainment and iconic references to many episodes across the different series. The ending boasts as many satisfying elements, but I prefer to avoid commenting on it here, despite most of the trailers spoiling all the essential information anyway.
I want to finish with what I liked the most about Super Hero – something that surprised me tremendously. Toriyama’s humor has never worked so well. The interactions between the several characters are so ridiculously hilarious that I lost count of my full-on laughs. All Dragon Ball content has some sort of comedy associated with it, but I can’t remember the last time I laughed this hard. Even when the film’s momentum is low, the saga’s classic jokes and references lift it, keeping the audience entertained and engaged with the story. It might not be the best work in the whole saga, and there are many superior movies, but it’s still far better than the vast majority of the franchise’s adaptations.
Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero offers what most fans of the saga come looking for: energetic action, new transformations, and the classic Akira Toriyama humor that works brilliantly in this movie. The risk and courage in creating a narrative focused on Gohan, Piccolo, and Pan turn out to be successful due to the more intimate context, but it’s still quite far from the epic levels and supreme satisfaction of the last feature. Exaggerated fan service leads to unjustified, absurd new forms. The pacing and balance of the different storylines and relationships lack better control. The fight sequences have good moments, but some abrupt cuts take away some of the dazzle. And finally, 3D animation proves to be a massive detriment in almost every aspect compared to the ideal mix elsewhere. It’s a pleasant, light, fun adventure but sadly unfulfilling.