For most of my life, I’ve been a massive “Dragon Ball” fan. “Dragon Ball Z” was my life when I was growing up. I must’ve watched it and rewatched it 3-4 times throughout, and I kept enjoying every minute of it. The characters are fantastic, but perhaps the most important part of it is how imaginative and crazy it is. It’s a show that merges themes like life in outer space, resurrection, and supreme beings in control of the universe through the badassery of ki-enhanced fighting. It’s glorious.
The “Dragon Ball” saga has gone through a lot of ups and downs. While “Dragon Ball Z” was the height of the series, it was immediately followed by the undeniably inferior “Dragon Ball GT” (which I’ve been rewatching these days, and I’m hoping to review after I’m done). For the 11-year-old me, the ending to the saga was a bit underwhelming, but my mind just got used to the idea that that was it. It was good while it lasted, and it was time to move on.
But, decades later, Akira Toriyama, creator of the original anime, came back to the series to produce “Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods,” a movie that mostly worked for my nostalgic brain but failed to leave any substantial impression on me. Ultimately, it felt like a reminder of a time well past – but “Dragon Ball” had become an icon of my childhood, and one that I did not need to revisit. Some years later, a second new “Dragon Ball” film was released, titled “Resurrection F”, and its predictable plot and lackluster narrative made me conclude that my abovementioned feelings were correct. It was time to move on.
Because of that, I had no interest in watching “Dragon Ball Super,” when it was first released in 2018. It sounded fun, but I was over it. It wasn’t until early last year, at the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, that I decided to pay for a Crunchyroll subscription and work my way through it. Surprise: my understanding was incorrect. “Dragon Ball” was not an icon of the past that did not work for me anymore, it was a concept that was very much alive and capable of making me just as excited as it did when I was younger. Most importantly, it was just as imaginative as it used to be. Here’s my review.
But, why had I walked away from this show? What was it about “Battle of Gods” and “Resurrection F” that made me think that I was over these characters and storylines, when most of the things I loved from my childhood (such as Star Wars or The Karate Kid) are still a part of my life?
It honestly took me some time to realize that the medium was what made me have an unfortunate understanding of my fandom. “Dragon Ball” is meant to be portrayed on the screen as a TV series, because the medium of film just doesn’t work for the narratives as they are established in this saga. Act structures, character arcs or plot beats do not function for this story when they are transmitted to the medium of cinema. And it was my recent first-time watch of “Dragon Ball Super: Broly” that made me reach this conclusion.
I tried to think about this movie as something that I would enjoy just as much as I enjoyed the sagas in “Dragon Ball Super” on TV and nothing else. It was going to be a fun (and funny) time and it would be a sort of epilogue for the mind-blowingly good Tournament of Champions, as portrayed on the TV show.
But, as fate would have it, this was not meant to be. Just like most (if not all) of the “Dragon Ball” films that preceded it, “Broly” realizes that the story that it’s telling is too short for a feature film runtime, so it spends an abnormal amount of time setting up backstories that end up being quite irrelevant for any of the characters but they’re fun for the audience. Sure, it’s fun to see Goku and Vegeta’s parents – but is a 20-minute sequence about them really relevant for the story we are telling? It sets up Broly’s backstory, but he doesn’t seem to know much about that, so the weight of the storyline doesn’t directly affect him as a character.
Perhaps more frustrating is the fact that the backstory of the “Dragon Ball” saga does not seem to matter for this story, because it’s mostly centered around the uninteresting (but cool-looking) Broly and his father, with Goku and Vegeta coming in halfway through the film to get through the overly-long fight sequence that’s so predictable that it feels like fan fiction.
All this to say, “Dragon Ball Super: Broly” was not an enjoyable watch. But there’s hope. A lot of it, actually.
There’s hope for the franchise because the film was incredibly successful at the box office and it seems to be liked by fans – and good for them, as far as I’m concerned. Enjoy what you like! More importantly, I watched the film while I was coming to the realization that “Dragon Ball” will continue to be a part of my life in the medium that I prefer it to be, and that the subpar films do not represent the creative heights that the story continues to show me.
All this to say that: I was proven right by “Dragon Ball Super: Broly,” because this beloved franchise just doesn’t work for me… on film. But, thankfully, I was proven wrong by “Dragon Ball Super”, because the franchise is very much alive for me, but in the medium that I prefer it to be. And I can’t wait for more.