Dragon Ball Super: Broly – Review

Here we are at last. The 20th Dragon Ball film. My thoughts on the films and specials leading up to this are documented in a retrospective you can read here. Dragon Ball Super: Broly is a theatrical venture directed by Tatsuya Nagamine (One Piece Film Z) with character design and animation direction provided by Naohiro Shintani, also among One Piece alumni. This marks not only the franchise’s 20th movie, but the first fresh blood in main series aesthetic in 26 years. As I mentioned in The Road to Film 20, Tadayoshi Yamamuro has been at the forefront of the franchise since the original Broly film debuted in 1993. He also directed Resurrection ‘F’, so his presence is more than established at this point. Now that he’s been effectively shuffled off to the Super Dragon Ball Heroes anime, there’s the hope that this new direction will redefine the series going forward.

Minor spoilers from here on out so that I can properly elaborate on both the end of Dragon Ball Super and some of the premise for this film.

 We open on King Cold’s retirement and Frieza taking the reins of his military, including the Saiyans. Meanwhile, King Vegeta has decided to exile Broly to a remote planet for fear of his power level and potential for insanity. Paragus, bitter at the mistreatment of his lower-class son, follows Broly to “Vampa” and ends up stranded with his son for the decades following the series. Flashing forward, Goku and Vegeta are training together following the Universe Survival arc, which has of course lit a spark for Goku to hone his strength. Vegeta however, is more concerned with Frieza roaming around after his life was restored at the end of the tournament.

With the Frieza Force seemingly at full capacity again compared to Resurrection ‘F’, eventually two soldiers named Cheelai and Lemo find Paragus’s distress signal on Vampa and take both of the Saiyans to Frieza, who attempts to use them both in an attempt to get rid of Goku and Vegeta on Earth. From there on out, it’s pretty much an unhinged battle scene for the better part of 40 minutes. It’s all spectacle, the likes of which attempts to not only outdo the original Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan, but one other movie as well.

As far as story content goes, this definitely provides more bite than Resurrection ‘F’ did, but Battle of Gods still feels like the last thing that truly opened up the franchise to new possibilities. There is a better balance between development and spectacle here, however. There are also retcons I cannot ignore. I had mentioned in the retrospective how Bardock: The Father of Goku was contradicted in Dragon Ball Minus and this film feels the need to fully adapt and expand on the Minus version of Dragon Ball’s origin. While certainly more fleshed out than the original short story, it’s a pity for a such a beloved anti-hero like Bardock to be reduced to little more than a Jor-El stand-in. The Superman and Goku parallels have always been prevalent but this is one step too far. But again, as far as this movie on its own, it’s definitely more well executed than I would’ve thought. In fact, I’m really into the subtle worldbuilding the film offers outside of Bardock and Gine’s involvement. Frieza’s introductory scene, the technology the Saiyans used before portable Scouters, and weapons supplied to those without proficient Ki.

The way Broly is utilized in the film also compounds that. He’s a far cry from the original hulking edgelord. In a good way. He’s more or less a Tarzan-esque parable who’s been conditioned by his savage environment and the callousness of his father. Broly is treated like a dog, shock collar and all, in fear of his strength when provoked. Take that away, and we have a softer character overall. Cheelai and to lesser extent Lemo act as his “Jane” in this. They’re the only ones that don’t seek to either fight him or use him. The heart of the story lies within their relationship, more so than anyone else’s involvement, fun as the others may be. Frieza is a particular standout. With the Tournament of Power softening him up more than he’d like to admit, his bits in the film are among the funniest. He’s still wry, condescending and murderous, but his role in the story is more devious than malicious in context and he’s even more entertaining here than in his own film.

Speaking of which, I was worried Chris Ayres’s battle with COPD would affect his performance and as much as I adore his portrayal of the character, I’d sooner not have him overexert himself. Thankfully, his performance is as spot-on as it’s ever been. There’s little indication of what he’s been through the past year or so. Vic Mignogna has always gone on record as to how hard it is for him to voice Broly, who’s far more gruff and gravelly than what’s normally in his vocal range, which is naturally closer to Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist. Here though, as this version of Broly isn’t a sadistic rage machine, he’s able to find something closer to his liking, even when Broly’s basically screaming for the entirety of the fight. Performances are great all around. Super has been somewhat controversial as far as modern dubs are concerned, so it’s nice to see this one stick to the script in the same way the last two films did.

This is by far the best the franchise has ever looked. While Yamamuro has continued to stagnate over the decades since Z, his contemporaries have been leaving stamps just across the hall with One Piece and it was a decision both conscious and wise to bring over a director who’s impressed the company with modern sensibilities. The level of seemingly unrestrained sakuga on display here is astonishing. The same animators who constantly battled with Super’s harrowing schedule and time constraints have been given room to really play and it only accentuates how much we need a more animation friendly aesthetic from here on out, but how we can move on from the days of Z Movie 8, in more ways than one. All evidence seems to point at the TV series returning at some point, be it this year or next. If we can properly give it its due pre-production and try and emulate this film on a manageable scale, then we’ll be in for something refreshing.

As far as its own merits, it’s an absolute blast. This is the first Dragon Ball film I’ve seen since I was a kid that I wanted to immediately watch again, even though I think there are better films I’ve covered. It’s just pure fun, and you can’t blame me for trying to chase that. I hope we get an extended cut on home media like Battle of Gods, because the film does jump around a lot and I know the original script was for a 3-hour film.

9 out of 10.

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