After the success of multiple Dragon Ball films over the last decade, it started to seem like getting direct input from series creator Akira Toriyama was the missing ingredient from all of the previous non-canon stories. While fans may have enjoyed movies such as Tree of Might or Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan, it was always a bummer that they never connected to the greater Dragon Ball legacy… not to mention most of the films were of dubious quality.
So, with three canon movies finally under his belt, everything leading up to the release of Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero seemed like it would be a sure bet. The previous film, Super: Broly, was an excellent movie that deftly integrated fan-favorite characters into official canon while also recontextualizing some of Dragon Ball’s earlier lore to create extra motivation for the upcoming battle. Toriyama clearly knew how to make the best of work that wasn’t even originally his own.
I really don’t know what went wrong with Super Hero, but this may end up being the low point for Dragon Ball movies that aren’t titled Evolution.
Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero
Director: Tetsuro Kodama
Release Date: June 11, 2022 (Japan), August 18, 2022 (US)
Billed as a direct follow-up to Dragon Ball Super: Broly, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is… actually not at all related to the previous film. Taking place sometime after the events of Goku and Vegeta’s epic encounter with Broly, things are back to normal on planet Earth. There are no real threats challenging the planet anymore, so Gohan has been slacking in his training, much to the disdain of Piccolo.
Before any of the series regulars show up, Super Hero actually begins with a recap of basically the entire Dragon Ball saga. All the way back when Goku was a child, he had defeated the Red Ribbon army and thwarted Dr. Gero’s plans of wiping out humanity and replacing it with androids. Flash-forward some time to Dragon Ball Z, and Dr. Gero returned with newer androids and the legendary fighter Cell. Ultimately, he was thwarted again, but the remnants of the Red Ribbon army haven’t let the grudge die.
Since this film is so heavily focused on nostalgia and rehashing past ideas, newcomers Commander Magenta and Officer Carmine wind up recruiting Dr. Hedo, the grandson of Gero, under false pretenses to create a new army of androids. With his immense knowledge, they hope to finally wipe Goku and friends off the face of the Earth. Sadly (for them), Hedo is obsessed with superheroes and would rather create beings that help the downtrodden.
It’s a lot of setup to get to the main idea of this film, but all that exposition doesn’t even stop there. We then have to understand why Gohan has been slacking, how his daughter is coming along, and why Piccolo is so eager to get back into action. Really, the first 55-ish minutes of Super Hero are mostly expository dumps alongside winks and nods to the past that completely obliterates any sense of pacing.
While this is a personal aside, my one complaint with Super: Broly was that the intro felt a little long. It may have only been 35-minutes or so, but some bits of exposition could have been excised to tighten the pacing. Instead of learning from that error in the previous movie, Toriyama (who is the sole credited screenwriter) seems to have doubled down on providing every explanation possible you would ever need to understand the final battle.
That’s not to say the first two-thirds of the film is devoid of fight sequences, but they are over in a flash and mostly amount to getting one character from point-a to point-b. The very first fight is between Piccolo and Hedo’s latest creation, Gamma-2. Gamma-2 is essentially a stand-in for Android 18 as he and his brother, Gamma-1, are tasked with eliminating Goku. Since Goku and Vegeta are off training with Broly on Beerus’ homeworld, Gamma-2 tangos with Piccolo for the time being. The battle is over within maybe two minutes and then we’re back to setting up the events of the finale.
Now, I understand the intention of this film was to focus on the dynamic between Piccolo and Gohan and to reaffirm that Gohan is the strongest character in Dragon Ball’s lore. That’s actually a great angle since the series has done dirty by Goku’s son. Dragon Ball Z was originally meant to end with the Cell Saga and its final moments are Gohan avenging the death of his father by wiping out Cell. It was a passing of the torch that rarely happens in anime since one character typically becomes the dominant force.
Well, thanks to fan ire at Gohan supplanting his father, further sagas deemphasized Gohan’s importance and pumped Goku up to obscene levels of power. Hell, the very series that this particular film is based in, Dragon Ball Super, has been entirely about how Goku is such a badass that he doesn’t need anyone else. It sucks that the very thing Z was trying to do has been pushed to the wayside to give into fan demand.
All of that said, it’s puzzling that Goku and Vegeta aren’t given more of a role in Super Hero. We get an obligatory battle between the two that has zero stakes and that’s it. They are relegated to cameo status as a way to explain why they couldn’t help Piccolo and Gohan in this latest struggle. Worse still, anyone coming off from Super: Broly expecting to see more of him will be tremendously disappointed to learn he has even less screentime than the dynamic duo.
I have no issue with writers wanting to provide different stories in their franchises. Dragon Ball has so many characters that it’s kind of ridiculous that Goku dominates every fable. That said, the contrivances made to keep him out of this particular film are ludicrous. He and Gohan could have had a stronger arc together that would have done more to highlight how powerful Gohan really is. Instead, this just feels like some awkward side-story.
I’ve ranted and raved about the first two-thirds of the film for some time now, but sadly, that isn’t the end of my complaining about Super Hero. Even once things kick into gear for the last third, it’s hard not to feel like nostalgia played too much of a factor in the decisions made for this film.
While I can’t specifically tell you what comes next, it’s not hard to figure it out from how much nostalgia baiting this film does. It winds up making the basic outline of this entire movie, “What if Cell Saga, but again?”
It not only feels like a complete retreading of past events, but it ignores how well of a job Toriyama did in integrating fan desire and reframing past events for Super: Broly. That film paid homage to the past by helping clear up some lingering issues with series lore and giving fans what they had been clamoring for decades. Super Hero comes off more like, “Well, I guess we need to make another Dragon Ball film.”
I haven’t even spoken about the animation here, which has proven to be the most contentious bit among the fan base. I dislike making comparisons to Super: Broly, but along with its solid story and well-choreographed fight scenes was hand-drawn animation that stands as the best the series has ever looked. Super Hero, for some odd reason, goes the CGI route and is the first film in the series to be made almost entirely of 3D models. To say the animation is underwhelming is putting it nicely. It’s more like this film feels like a knock-off.
With the presence of the video game Dragon Ball FighterZ, it was proven that you could translate Toriyama’s hand-drawn work into 3D while retaining everything that made his style so memorable and eye-catching. Here, there are occasional shots that look solid, but the animation feels like it was created on a budget. I suppose fight sequences can have a more dynamic camera and the angles often whoosh around characters in a circular motion, but you have to contend with very stiff movement and repetitive strikes. Each battle feels like the same damn thing and it further drags the film through the mud.
Thankfully, the final battle isn’t a complete wash. The antagonist is beyond groan-worthy and the twists are hardly anything to write home about, but the last battle shows some of the signs of brilliance that made Super: Broly exciting. That might be down to how high-resolution everything is. The animation might not be very good, but the colors pop, and everything is rendered with razor-sharp edges.
It’s really just a shame that I can’t recommend watching the film for those few moments where it does work. I’m not sure what else I really need to even say. Why are we still getting fan service shots of Bulma’s ass? Why do the jokes often completely miss when the series typically delivers with its comedy? Why does the movie continuously try to joke about how inept its writing is?
Maybe with some distance from its release, I’ll come to see Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero for the intention that is clearly there. I like the idea of putting Gohan back in the spotlight and it’s honestly awesome that Piccolo has an entire movie to himself in the official canon. It’s just hard (if not nigh-on impossible) to not compare this to the last film that did everything so much better.
If the new animation style signals a change for the series going forward, I’m not sure many fans will be sticking around. This definitely isn’t the worst movie you’ll ever see and is hardly a complete disaster, but Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is anything but super.