Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero Review: An Overdue Return to the Series' Roots

Dragon Ball is one of the most iconic franchises in anime, and by now, it is hard to find people who've never heard of Goku. The character has become a mascot for anime as a whole, and he's spent years heading up Dragon Ball even at the risk of stagnating the IP. But after years spent pleading, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is here to deliver on old promises about Gohan's true power. The film leans into all things nostalgia to give Gohan and his mentor the solo adventure they've needed for so long. If you love Dragon Ball at its most playful, this new movie will leave you with a big grin on your face.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero reunites fans with Goku and Vegeta as the Saiyans make good on a promise to train Broly. You are led to believe the film will focus on the pair as usual, but it doesn't take long for Earth to come around with Gohan in tow. It turns out the Red Ribbon Army isn't quite as defunct as Dragon Ball fans thought, and its cocky leaders are itching to get revenge against Gohan and Piccolo on Dr. Gero's behalf. And when the organization targets Pan to get to the pair, Gohan and Piccolo go through countless villains to bring the young girl back home.

At its core, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is an action film, and the project delivers some truly stellar choreography. Newcomers Gamma 1 and Gamma 2 bring a new tag-team dynamic to the franchise that hasn't been seen in ages. Of course, Gohan is given center stage time and again to show off his power, as does Piccolo. Despite tossing out epic energy blasts, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero threads its battles so that they're fluid, and its new animation style both helps (and hurts) the effort.

Toei Animation elected to animate Dragon Ball Super's new film in CG, which marks a first for the franchise. While previous entries used CG animation here and there, everything in this movie was animated as such. Despite the fandom's uncertainty, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero uses CG animation in creative ways that left me feeling pleasantly surprised. For instance, the character's facial expressions are vivid, and the CG animation allows the battlefield to extend its scope. After all, there are some things you can do more easily in CG than with hand-drawn animation, but longtime fans will certainly need time to adjust to this visual shift. The CG animation also leaves much to be desired in terms of scenery, but the film's tight setting shots feel real enough.

The biggest letdown of Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero comes in its pacing. At nearly 100 minutes, the movie does drag in its third act. The pacing of Gohan and Piccolo's reintroduction to the Red Ribbon Army is solid but things begin wobbling once the movie's final boss appears. The last battle comes after a strange lull, but the most troublesome patch of pacing comes thanks to Goku. The film's back-and-forth with the Saiyan feels unnecessary and could have been cut entirely.

Despite its pacing issues, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero shines thanks to its fun story that's filled with nostalgia. From forgotten foes to new transformations and long-awaited close-ups, this movie was made with fans in mind. The story is easy enough to follow for newcomers, but longtime lovers of Dragon Ball will revel in all its Easter eggs. Not even its shift from Goku registers as strange, and if anything, audiences will be glad to root for Piccolo or Gohan for a change. Its ambitious animation proves Dragon Ball is willing to learn new tricks even after decades on the screen. And as fans sit down to watch this new movie, they better prepare to revisit the roots of Akira Toriyama's classic shonen. 

Rating: 4 out of 5

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Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero will be released in U.S. theaters on August 19th. The film is currently screening overseas in Japan.