The Dragon Ball franchise is in a strange place right now. The anime has been on hiatus for years, despite the Dragon Ball Super series being at the height of its popularity, and feature films seem at a standstill after the milestone success of Dragon Ball Super: Broly. Meanwhile, the Dragon Ball Super manga has pushed on into pretty significant new developments with its "Galactic Patrol Prisoner" arc. As that storyline plays out, both Goku and Vegeta are getting another significant power boost, and yet the beats of the story are starting to feel overly familiar, if not outright tired.
Given where things stand, it's time to ask: Does Dragon Ball need to change in order to survive?
Here's the thing: while Dragon Ball has chosen to largely operate at standstill on the anime front, the genre (and the world around it) has continued to move forward. Anime/manga is branching out, and more and more diverse kinds of series are breaking through to the mainstream. Titles like Demon Slayer, My Hero Academia, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, and Attack On Titan are not just growing their sales and fanbases - they're becoming the new poster children for the genre.
Meanwhile, Dragon Ball is starting to see more and more fans calling it out for not keeping pace with changing times. The manga's "Galactic Patrol Prisoner" storyline started out with the promise of bringing something new to the table, but has ultimately settled into being a Dragon Ball Z clone. The only other story content the franchise is really putting out is the Dragon Ball Heroes promo anime, which is connected to the Super Dragon Ball Heroes arcade and card game. That series is just pure fan-service, which does not advance the Dragon Ball canon in any meaningful way - despite its flashy power-ups and battles.
And therein lies the problem: Dragon Ball has seemingly fallen into a rut of being recycled spectacle, rather than offering exciting new substance. Dragon Ball Super has not yet offered anything new that Dragon Ball Z didn't already do - and has arguably been less bold, by sidelining characters like Gohan, Goten, and Trunks, who Dragon Ball Z setup to be inheritors of the Saiyan story. It's just been Goku and Vegeta getting new hair colors (red, blue, silver - in that order) as pumped-up versions of DBZ's Super Saiyan process. Even the Dragon Ball Super movie was a frustrating mix of true stylistic re-invention (the famed "Shintani Style" the film introduced) and a canonized re-hash of Broly's origin story, and the re-introduction of a fan-favorite fusion form (Gogeta).
So does Dragon Ball need to change to survive in changing times? If Akira Toriyama and Toei Animation are planning to keep the series going, then some kind of reboot or signaling of a new era, is quickly becoming a must. Whether that means big character shakeups (Goku and Vegeta stepping aside) or a rapid expansion of the series into more diverse spinoffs and/or sequels, fans need Dragon Ball content that actually feels new.
Same goes for style: Fans have been calling out the lapse in quality animation in both Dragon Ball Super and Dragon Ball Heroes, just as they've held up and praised the results of when someone like Naohiro Shintani actually brings new visual flavor and battle mechanics to the franchise. Going forward, Dragon Ball needs to reclaim the anime mantle that made it a global phenomenon: iconic visuals.
What kind of changes do you think Dragon Ball needs to make, in order to survive? Let us know in the comments!