‘Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero’ Review: Solid Fan Service
There’s a good chance you know more about Dragon Ball than you think. Whether through memes or references to terms like “Super Saiyan,” “Kamehameha,” and “It’s over 9,000,” the 38-year-old franchise has garnered worldwide popularity, though it’s remained somewhat of a niche outside of its native Japan. With 42 volumes of manga, multiple animated series (including “Dragon Ball Z”), theme park attractions, video games, an ill-fated live-action adaptation, and billions of dollars in merch revenue, the series isn’t going away anytime soon. Still, feature-length animated films have been rare – the new Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is only the fifth, while there have been 15 films lasting an hour or less, usually shown as double features.
And while Super Hero is set to become one of the franchise’s more ambitious forays into the American market in more than 2,500 US theaters, the film is clearly a fan-only offering whose ancestral nuances will be lost to first-timers. That’s less criticism than warning: this shouldn’t be your introduction to the world of Dragon Ball. The likes of Goku, Piccolo, and Vegeta are all back, and while they’re compelling characters, much of what they do here holds weight because of their individual and shared histories. Even Dragon Ball Z veterans could be at sea here, as the story follows that of the Dragon Ball Super manga, 131-episode animated series, and 2018’s Dragon Ball Super: Broly.
If that sounds like a lot of context for what, at its core, is a traditional good-versus-evil story, it’s because there’s a lot swirling around that core. “Super Hero” follows the nefarious Magenta (who is short in stature but big on ambition) as he revives the Red Ribbon Army, using two androids named Gamma 1 and Gamma 2 to present himself to the world as superheroes while he actually magentas less than benevolent targets. He does this with the help of a young genius named Dr. Hedo, whose dedication to building the most advanced artificial human the world has ever seen is matched only by his love of Oreos.
The rest of the ensemble includes recurring heroes like Goku, Gohan, and Piccolo, who are eventually called to action against Magenta and his would-be army after solving their own ongoing problems. Some of them can fly, and all have at least a touch of grandiosity. Dragon Ball Z has always existed in a big way, with plans for world domination alongside an often childish sense of humor. Fittingly, “Super Hero” is often super serious until it’s not — a tonal back-and-forth that induces whiplash nearly as often as it induces laughter.
The animation itself is quite flashy at times, with vibrant background colors – particularly the blue grass and purple trees of Beerus’ Planet, the film’s most compelling setting – and detailed shading that accentuates each character’s facial expressions. These expressions, it will come as no surprise to you, are often quite dramatic. Dragon Ball isn’t known for the subtlety of its characterizations, which is part of its appeal. Great personalities engage in even greater battles, especially during the film’s climax.
If you’re wondering, the actual Dragon Balls are mystical spheres with no individual power that can summon a wish-granting dragon when all seven are gathered – and as you might imagine, not everyone with the wherewithal to find them has the wherewithal , purely intentions. (It’s not always life and death, though, like when a character here uses two of their wishes for a firmer butt and always slightly longer lashes.)
Whether you prefer subs or dubs – one of anime’s longest-running and most fundamental debates – Super Hero won’t disappoint, as it’s available in both formats. (This writer prefers the subtitled version, for what it’s worth.) Still, longtime fans probably won’t be disappointed, as while the film is nothing groundbreaking, it mostly finds a sweet spot between fan service and narrative weight. And while it’s not particularly friendly to the uninitiated, it’s so damn out there that even novices might be motivated to seek out more Dragon Ball lore once it’s over – such is the appealing strangeness of this ever-expanding world .
https://variety.com/2022/film/reviews/dragon-ball-super-super-hero-review-1235338667/ ‘Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero’ Review: Solid Fan Service