Next time on Crunchyroll Movie Night: an old foe returns in “Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero.”

It’s fair to say that in the pantheon of manga-adapted anime series, Dragon Ball is among the greats. Starting as part of Shueisha’s “Weekly Shonen Jump” in 1983, creator Akira Toriyama’s series has taken on many iterations (Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and Dragon Ball GT, to name a few) and has spawned several films and video games. The latest to join the DB legacy, as well as being the newest addition to Crunchyroll’s Movie Night line-up, is director Tetsuro Kodama’s theatrical release Super Hero, a direct follow-up to 2018’s Dragon Ball Super: Broly (itself a continuation of a 131-episode series), that sees the return of an old DB enemy long thought defeated. Trading the traditional 2D for 3D animation, Super Hero is a spectacle which blends the audaciousness of the manga source material with the tangibility of live action to create a bombastic adventure.

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L-R: Dr. Hedo (voiced by Miyu Irino/ Zach Aguilar) and Commander Magenta (voiced by Volcano Ota/Charles Martinet) in DRAGON BALL SUPER: SUPER HERO. Photo courtesy of Crunchyroll.

While Goku and Vegeta spar off-world with Broly (Masako Nozawa/Sean Schemmel, Ryō Horikawa/Christopher R. Sabat, and Bin Shimada/Johnny Yong Bosch respectively), Piccolo (Toshio Furukawa/Sabat) works on training 3-year-old Pan (Yūko Minaguchi/ Jeannie Tirado), daughter of Gohan (Nozawa/Kyle Hebert) and Videl (Minaguchi/Jeannie Tirado). Though things are calm now, Piccolo worries about what is coming next, a concern unheeded by Gohan, who’s forgone training for some time. When androids Gamma 1 and 2 (Hiroshi Kamiya/Aleks Le, Mamoru Miyano/Zeno Robinson, respectively) appear, wearing the armbands of old nemesis Red Ribbon Army, it’s up to Piccolo and Gohan to stop them. The only thing worse than new androids from an old foe, however, is an updated version of an old one in a brand-new devastating form.

Quick note: Though this reviewer prefers to watch animated content in its original language and Crunchyroll/Sony Pictures did provide both the sub and dub editions as options, as someone who “grew up” with voice actor Sean Schemmel as Goku, this review will be based on the dubbed edition. If you’re feeling wiped out by that admission, grab a senzu bean before going any further.

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Piccolo (voiced by Toshio Furukawa/ Christopher R. Sabat) in DRAGON BALL SUPER: SUPER HERO. Photo courtesy of Crunchyroll.

Unlike Broly, which is as much a reboot of events as it is a retelling, the bulk of Super Hero is spent on moving the current adventure forward. This means, rather than waiting 50min+ for the first throwdown in Broly, the script from Toriyama quickly rehashes the events that saw Dr. Gero clash against Goku and the rest of the Capsule Core crew, ultimately finding defeat during the Cell Saga, so as to get to the fights that Dragon Ball fans clamor for. Smartly, Kodama doesn’t change the animation style of the flashbacks to match Super Hero, serving as a way to honor the past and acknowledge the difference between then and the now. One might presume that the differing styles would grate, yet it works quite well in establishing the two periods of events. If new members to Dragon Ball lore are feeling lost or confused, there’s a running gag with the central antagonist’s right-hand man, Carmine (Ryota Takeuchi/ Jason Marnocha), one which helps early on to make plain any connections missed by the initial rundown. As a viewer who’s a casual-at-best with Dragon Ball, these refreshers and supportive moments not only helped get up to speed quickly, but also made a great deal of sense within the world of the film as central antagonist Commander Magenta (Volcano Ota/Charles Martinet) introduced himself and his plan to Dr. Gero’s grandson, Dr. Hedo (Miyu Irino/ Zach Aguilar), who shares his grandfather’s desire to perfect androids. By working them in naturally, these moments (and others) of extended exposition still felt like they were moving the plot forward. But, as mentioned, if you’re coming to Dragon Ball, the plot is more than a summary can convey as there’s plenty of rousing butt-kicking whose implications may just reshape the series moving forward.

Before the implications, let’s examine the 3D animation. At first, the style gives an impression similar to that of the recent third-person perspective games like Dragon Ball Xenoverse or Dragon Ball X: Kakarot. This is not a compliment as the camera-angle and design of the scene in which we follow Magenta’s car near the start of the film could literally be ripped from one of those aforementioned games. However, when the action kicks off as Piccolo takes on Gamma 2, the value of the 3D animation reveals itself, making the altercation, and those which follow, feel as close to an authentic live-action experience as we’ll ever get. (Yes. I’m saying there has not been a live-action film yet. Shame, too, as the Dragon Ball Universe is ripe for adaptation.) Of particular note is something which feels like a ridiculous visual affectation in that any blows Gamma 1 or 2 connect with result in visible onomatopoeia to go along with the sound. This is both lovely in design and a sharp homage to classic comic heroes of old. But, more than that, there is a real in-world reason for this that the film explains.

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L-R: Gohan (voiced by Masako Nozawa/Kyle Hebert) and Gamma 1 (voiced by Hiroshi Kamiya/Aleks Le) in DRAGON BALL SUPER: SUPER HERO. Photo courtesy of Crunchyroll.

When talking visuals, there is one moment in battle where I could only imagine how badass it would look in a theater due to the size and scope. I point this out as some are comfortable heading to the cinema and, if that includes you, you’re in for a treat. What can be stated without concern is that you’ll want to check this film out in the best possible option you have as the colors are gorgeous in a few scenes, capturing not just the varying stages of power levels as the fighters grow stronger, but the representation of how those powers impact the physical world around them. Portions reminded of the Midoriya and Bakugo vs Nine fight in My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising, while others reminded of Saitiama vs. Boros in One-Punch Man in the way Toei Animation didn’t just use color as a means of highlighting the differing locations or otherworldly nature of the characters (many of whom are alien), but used blacks to convey the absolute combination of all shades and white as the absence. This review comes from watching Super Hero on a 43” 4K UHD television via Sony’s Apple TV app (via a 4K Apple TV), so the picture is as close to perfect as it can be and, yet, there’s still a sense that seeing it in theaters would blow audiences away.

Regarding the implications, first, credit to Toriyama for figuring out a way to keep the focus on Piccolo and Gohan, making Super Hero feel like a grand Dragon Ball adventure while also seeming super personal given the history between Piccolo, Gohan, and Gero’s creations, so as to generate real narrative tension. As demonstrated in Broly, if Goku and Vegeta get involved, it’s basically game over for any opposition at their current power levels, so Toriyama had to figure out a way to tell a compelling story that wouldn’t get cut short. The execution addresses any potential plot holes and, honestly, allows for some fun moments of levity. Which, considering Dragon Ball is known for its irreverent side, isn’t saying much as there are plenty of fun moments, especially in the Piccolo/Pan relationship that does more than present the once-King Piccolo with babysitting duties. With the way Toriyama sets up the action and delivers on all of its promises, whatever follows Super Hero will include a shift in the roster, for better or worse. Considering the ways in which fan favorites have started as enemies and turned into friends, well, this shouldn’t be a surprise, but what will is how the Dragon Ball Universe moves forward post-Super Hero.

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Gohan (voiced by Masako Nozawa/Kyle Hebert) in DRAGON BALL SUPER: SUPER HERO. Photo courtesy of Crunchyroll.

Where Broly was fun, providing a chance to see Goku and Vegeta throwdown with someone who can give better than he gets while also soft-rebooting some elements of Dragon Ball lore, Super Hero strongly connects that film to the pre-existing lore in a way that makes them seamless. This will no-doubt provide a movie night that Dragon Ball fans will delight in, while providing the kind of pulls-no-punches action that anime fans in general rush to find. That Super Hero includes humor and heart, that’s just the cherry on top.

In North American theaters on August 19th, 2022.

For more information, head to Crunchyroll’s Movie Night webpage.

Final Score: 4 out of 5.

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Categories: Films To Watch, In Theaters, Recommendation, Reviews

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