On My Shelves: Dragonball Super


I have previously reviewed Dragonball and Dragonball Z (http://grandcentralarena.com/on-my-shelves-dragonballdragonball-z/), which in a nutshell I described as "the Skylark series of anime and manga. It has much of the same cheerful, full-speed-ahead energy, the same innocence of the protagonists, the same fairly simple, blunt-instrument approach to moral problems… and the same incredibly-escalating powerscale. It may not be the BEST of its kind, and perhaps many of the pieces were there beforehand, but it was the one that put them all together first. This is a series in which the battles start out being fought on a hand-to-hand level that looks like a Jackie Chan film – in other words, just a little beyond what real humans can do – and ends with a fight against a being who destroys solar systems as casually as a human being might step on ants."

Having started in the 1980s, Dragonball influenced many anime and manga over the years, and – as with Saint Seiya – many of the things it inspired took the lessons it taught and built much better on them. The most popular and overall well-done follow-ons are Naruto and One Piece, both of whose creators explicitly acknowledge Dragonball as one of their primary inspirations, and both of which surpass their predecessor in their complexity, emotional depth, and character arcs.

Bandai itself tried to continue Dragonball without its creator, Akira Toriyama, and produced Dragonball Grand Tour (GT). Some people liked it, but to me it was a terrible continuation, ruining much of the work that had been done to that point with things ranging from simply stupid design choices to having the "Goldfish Poop Gang" (see TVTropes) of Pilaf, Mai, and Shu manage to somehow secretly gain access to Kami-Sama's home (see that name? It means GOD), without even Kami-Sama's ridiculously omnicompetent butler/major-domo Mr. Popo sensing them, and unleashing a dark version of Shen-Long. And then messing up their planned wish AGAIN, just like they had before. The series went, in my view, downhill from there.

With this as a preamble, one can understand, therefore, that I was at best extremely wary and at worst utterly cynical when I heard that a new Dragonball series, Dragonball Super, was going to begin. There was one, and only one, fact that made me consider that it might possibly be watchable: apparently Akira Toriyama himself was going to be running it.

And by Kami-Sama, I was pleasantly surprised.

Dragonball Super is a fully worthy follow-on series to the original, and is overall superior, in fact, to most of its predecessor. It is not, of course, going to reach the same level of complexity and character that Naruto or One Piece do (the latter, of course, has had 800 episodes to work on it!), but in a way, it doesn't need to. The world of Dragonball is already firmly established, as are the major characters, and all that Toriyama could reasonably do would be to try to make the best use he can of those materials while trying to tell a better story.


That is precisely what he does.


Dragonball Super starts out after the end of the Majin Buu arc which ended Dragonball Z, ignoring entirely the events of DBGT. Goku's actually working for a living (as a farmer), and most of the other cast have got some kind of job; Kuririn, for instance, becomes a policeman. Some of them have continued training, while others haven't (Gohan's got a steady office job, which kinda cuts down on the physical labor), but there haven't been any threats for a while.

The series then integrates the basic concepts from two standalone Dragonball movies (Battle of the Gods and Return of Freezer) into the timeline, introducing the God of Destruction Beerus and his major-domo and trainer Whis. While these sequences, and the following God Tournament arc, are in their essence standard Dragonball fare (big enemy appears, characters have to find power to fight them, and the Superpower Tournament which has been a staple of Dragonball), Toriyama adds some new touches that improve drastically on the prior seasons of Dragonball Z.

Perhaps the most gratifying of these is letting the other, non-Saiyajin characters get moments in the sun. When Freezer's reassembled army comes to earth, the army gets humiliated by Kuririn, Piccolo, and even Kame-Senin, who had been relegated to comic relief many, many seasons before. Here, he's allowed to demonstrate the fact that old masters of martial arts are old for a REASON. They've taught you everything you know… but maybe not everything they know.

Another wrinkle is Beerus himself. Beerus is very catlike in his behavior and somewhat in appearance (which is emphasized by his faux-Egyptian garb), and so seems utterly self-centered and as potentially nasty an adversary as any prior enemy of the Z-Team. But ultimately Beerus heavily subverts the usual Villain Arc: he is not outpowered by Goku – at best, he's temporarily matched – and he departs Earth not by being bested, but by deciding on his own that he's been rewarded enough by the contest (and the food of Earth) to make it worth sparing the planet. And he does so in a way that neither makes him an offical ally of Goku, nor an enemy.

This allows Vegita to eventually start training with Whis, and when the conflict with Freezer finally occurs, it ends up being Goku who's taken down first (by treachery, naturally – Freezer hasn't changed his tune any), and Vegita who finishes off the resurrected monster. Okay, it was still one of the Saiyajin Brigade, but for once it wasn't Goku taking the last bows, and Vegita finally getting that moment in the sun.

The tournament itself also allows the other characters some cool moments, as well as continuing the necessary Doc Smithian power escalation… and introduces the myriad of gods and beings from other universes. Which eventually leads to the most awesome of the story arcs in Dragonball Super, when Future Trunks returns and the Z-Team ends up facing a literal mad god, Zamasu, who wants to eradicate all of humanity… which he basically defines as "any even vaguely humanoid species that isn't actually a god".

This is a truly emotional story arc that focuses on Future Trunks, his devastated future world, and his search for hope, for a chance for the people on that world to find a way to a better life, and how even their meager existence is threatened by Zamasu's insane quest. It's also a story in which Trunks gets a moment of total awesome that is in some ways the absolute peak of the series.

I haven't watched much past this, but it looks like they're doing some more new wrinkles in the old tournament formula (including what appears to be someone plotting to use the tournament from behind the scenes), and re-introducing characters we never saw much of, including Android 17.


I may actually watch more of this, when I'd thought my Dragonball days were long over!


Your comments or questions welcomed!