Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero Review – Big explosions, little impact

Piccolo and super 2 in Dragon BallCrunchyroll

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is big on action and characters, but suffers from the pitfalls of many anime movies.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero hits western theatres next week. Distributed by Crunchyroll, the film is directed by Tetsuro Kodama, and has Dragon Ball’s original creator Akira Toriyama behind the screenplay.

The synopsis is described by Crunchyroll as such: “The Red Ribbon Army was once destroyed by Son Goku. Individuals, who carry on its spirit, have created the ultimate Androids, Gamma 1 and Gamma 2. These two Androids call themselves ‘Super Heroes.’ They start attacking Piccolo and Gohan… What is the New Red Ribbon Army’s objective? In the face of approaching danger, it is time to awaken, Super Hero!”

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Disregarding the quality of the original show, anime movies can often be rather hit and miss, so is this film as super as the title implies?

Dragon Ball knows what it does best

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero knows where the franchise’s strengths lie; in the fun range of characters and the bombastic action.

There’s plenty of fan faves appearing in this film; while it mainly focuses on Piccolo and Gohan, the movie almost feels like an ensemble piece, and the interactions between them all are as hilarious as ever.

If you’re less familiar with the franchise – or haven’t been following the series religiously – the film does a good job of catching you up to speed, in terms of characters and prior plot, which it does with a mix of graphics and voice-over exposition. Although sometimes this does go overboard; there’s a graphic introduction of Dr. Hedo, after we’ve already been introduced to him.

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The action is just as flashy and scream-filled as ever, now with extra budget to pad it out. The flying scenes are particularly immersive to watch, and the introduction of the penultimate villain – Cell Max – feels legitmanelty scary, as the animation gives him weight and scale that explodes off the screen.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is like many anime movies, for better and for worse

However, the action isn’t perfect. It often struggles to hold real stakes; when characters go Super Saiyan, it’s cool to look at, but there’s no significant character growth to give it weight, nor do these changes really come at any climactic moments in the film. In fact, Pan learning how to fly may be the only time you feel something during the action.

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super saiyan in dragon ballCrunchyroll
It’s iconic, it’s cool, but it’s all been done before.

And as for the animation, while it works for the action, the blatant CGI style of the film is very jarring at first, often looking like a video game. While you get used to it, it’s hard not to miss the classic animation of the show.

The show also has another advantage over the movie, which is that it has time to flesh out the large amount of characters. Seeing familiar faces is cool and all, but in such a short amount of time it’s hard to get sucked into the lives of the supporting cast, making it difficult to care about them during the final battle.

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The villains are similarly as rushed; Magenta and Dr Hedo are wacky, but their motivations are both too on the nose and too confusing. When Magenta turns on Dr. Hedo at the film’s end, stating, “I’ve been looking forward to the day I ended your life,” the statement holds far too much weight for the short amount of time they’ve been working together.

The plot also goes at Super Saiyan speed, with Piccolo finding the villains lair in the first third of the film. It seems like the film is trying to rush towards the action, which to be honest, you can’t completely fault it for, since that’s what people love about the show.

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magenta and dr hedo in dragon ballCrunchyroll
The villains share their plans almost immediately.

Ultimately, while Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is a fun romp, it has the same issues as most anime features: since the film can’t affect the plot of the coinciding series, the events of the movie hold little significance. Characters are unable to really change or grow.

These arcs are instead designated to newly introduced characters, namely Gamma 1 and 2, who admittedly are engaging to watch, but we will likely never see them again.

But despite the inevitable restrictions of this Dragon Ball movie, it still manages to be entertaining. It may prioritise action over story, but that action makes this movie definitely worth a watch.

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Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero will arrive in cinemas in North America and the U.K. on August 19.