Dragon Ball Z is really, really popular. If you grew up with Saturday Night anime on Toonami and big print issues of Shonen Jump, you already knew that. If you’re at all in the know on the world of anime and manga, you’d also know how the iconic Japanese mega-franchise of the 90s and early-aughts has been going through a massive resurgence over the last few years thanks to theatrical continuations and the television sequel series Dragon Ball Super.
The uninitiated masses, however, were treated to an absolute shock when the latest Dragon Ball movie made $21 million during its opening weekend run in America. Despite a limited run on around 1200 screens, Dragon Ball Super: Broly is taking the box office by storm and shaping up to be one of the largest anime movies in US history.
Before diving into the review, I asked fellow TheSixthAxis anime aficionado Jason Coles about his thoughts on the staggering success of the new Broly film, and what he thinks the future of the franchise might have in store for us:
Dragon Ball has been a part of my life for nearly as long as I can remember. It was my gateway anime, I’m pretty sure it’s part of the reason I started weight training, and I live everyday sad that I can’t shout and change my hair colour.
Seeing it’s resurgence recently, thanks in no small part to the films that have come out, is incredible. Dragon Ball Super was a brilliant addition to the universe and it’s just generally wonderful to have a fantastic fighting game from the series too. It’s just so cool to see something you loved as a child come back as an adult and still find you enjoy it. Plus we’re getting a new action RPG at some point too. It’s a very good time to be a Dragon Ball fan.
That sense of love for Dragon Ball carrying over from childhood to adulthood is an important piece of what makes Dragon Ball Super: Broly so special. While a lot of the movie is the sort of mystical martial-arts action smorgasbord that you’d expect from a feature-length Dragon Ball entry, the main players in this story each exemplify the idea of parents passing the baton on to the children. This thematic throughline of caring for your offspring above all else is one of the most powerful parts of the film, especially when looking at how it’s interpreted differently between each of the three main characters.
While fans might recognise the name Broly, this iconic Dragon Ball character has only shown up in Dragon Ball Z spinoff films that aren’t considered canon. Dragon Ball Super: Broly aims to create a canonical explanation for the existence of this legendary super Saiyan, thanks in part to a charming script by the father of Dragon Ball himself, Akira Toriyama.
The first third of the film lays out the birth and origins of not only titular character Broly, but iconic protagonists Goku and Vegeta as well. We see King Vegeta banish Broly from their planet as a child because he proved to be stronger than Prince Vegeta, with Broly’s father fleeing the Saiyan homeworld in order to track down and protect his son.
Meanwhile, fearless Saiyan warrior Bardock, the father of Goku, is sick of every Saiyan being forced down the path to becoming heartless warriors, and decides to send his child off to a meaningless planet called Earth in order to live out his days in peace. These three fathers, and the way each of them portrays the idea of family preservation and the importance of your offspring, creates a shared bond between the three Saiyan warriors that makes their impending battle all the more compelling.
In most action-oriented films, you have moments of downtime between each big fight scene, where characters talk and grow and pursue their goals. Dragon Ball Super: Broly is a very different action film, where the goal is to fight and growth happens through battle. After a compelling 40 or 50 minutes of character introductions and setup, Broly steps foot on the same soil as Goku and Vegeta, leading to a non-stop exchange of fists and fury that takes up the entire last third of the film’s runtime.
Fight scenes rely on visual impact and gripping imagery in order to be interesting, and a fight as exhaustively long as the one featured in this film needs sufficiently impressive visuals to deserve running for so long. Thankfully, it delivers in spades. The entire movie is rendered in a crisp, simplistic art-style that is the closest I’ve ever seen to the original manga being put in motion.
These simpler character designs also allow their animations to be more fluid and dynamic than ever before, and it shows. Our trio of Saiyan warriors fly through the Antarctic skies and pummel each other like Dragon Ball Z characters usually would, but with a graceful and kinetic style that I’ve never seen before from the franchise. Fans of the hyper-animated and explosive action of One Punch Man will be left speechless by the gorgeous fight scenes in this film.
Unfortunately, even the prettiest of fight scenes can go on for too long, and the action that caps of this film just seems to never end. Once Broly starts throwing hands, he never stops, and there just aren’t enough moments to rest and release some tension in this extended fight. What started as a jaw-dropping spectacle eventually became tiring and overwhelming, and it reached that point with a hefty amount of action left to be seen.
What disappointed me most, though, was that for the insane amount of action and fighting that this film boasts, it all takes place in the same place and in the same scenery. Usually, characters in a film would have an initial brief clash and then go on journeys or missions as the story progresses and their character arcs advance, before we’re treated to a big climactic showdown that ties everything back up.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly starts and ends with the final showdown, which leads to our characters starting and ending mostly unchanged. Broly goes through a wealth of development prior to the fight, but instead of having story beats or character interactions that help him grow stronger and learn new techniques, he simply magically pulls this stuff out of his Great Ape ass over the course of his 40-minute fight-reel.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly is equally charming in both its writing and its visuals. Fan-favorite characters put in equal amounts of silliness and seriousness that’s sure to please fans, while new players in the franchise and our redone version of Broly put on memorable performances that are sure to just be the beginning of their long tenure in the Dragon Ball universe. I only wish the action in the film were broken up a bit more, as it’s hard to appreciate the gorgeous animation on display in this epic when the bombastic battle rages on for more than the length of a full anime episode. Still, despite the overwhelming pacing of the film, Dragon Ball Super: Broly is a high-point in the 35-year strong franchise, and represents the start of a new and incredibly promising chapter in a series that still feels like it’s only just begun.
In 2019, we’re expanding the type of media we cover by taking a dive into the world of anime. Expect articles and reviews about anime series that have a history of video game adaptations, potentially even covering stand out Japanese animation that isn’t related to video games at all.