“Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero” stars Masako Nozawa, Toshio Furukawa, Ryō Horikawa, Yūko Minaguchi, Mayumi Tanaka, Aya Hisakawa, Bin Shimada, Hiroshi Kamiya, Mamoru Miyano, and Miyu Irino. Released on June 11, 2022, the film has Piccolo and Gohan saving the world from the Red Ribbon Army.
The film was directed by Tetsuro Kodama. It is the twenty-first film in the Dragon Ball franchise, which is based on the manga series by Akira Toriyama. When someone mentions the world of anime, there are several shows that come to people's minds. Some say "Pokemon" or "Yu-Gi-Oh", while others mention the recent ones like "My Hero Academia" and "Jujutsu Kaisen". However, the only answer many people bring up is "Dragon Ball". Since its release in 1984, "Dragon Ball" has continuously grown into a revolution through its influences, characters, and action. Even the anime shows reached the same popularity, with audiences going goo-goo over its vibrant and heart-pounding fight sequences and character arcs. Of course, just like any other anime show, "Dragon Ball" also has a series of theatrical films that are just as successful as the source materials. Well, except for the 2009 live-action film. We don't talk about that one. However, it wasn't until 2013 that its movie line-up gained more traction with its worldwide theatrical releases, starting with "Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods". This year sees the "Dragon Ball" saga continue once again with another big-screen adaptation that takes place during the franchise's recent "Super" era. I haven't watched the shows as much as others, but I did grow attached to them through their references. Additionally, my interest in "Dragon Ball" peaked a bit when I watched "Dragon Ball Evolution" and the previous "Dragon Ball Super" film, "Broly". Don't ask why I watched "Evolution", as I was in a different phase back then. So that should be enough for me to check out the recent installment in the long-running franchise. With that said, let's dive back into the world of "Dragon Ball" and see if it's another anime-infused experience fit for longtime fans and newcomers.
The story takes place after the events of "Dragon Ball Super: Broly". While Goku (Nozawa) and Vegeta (Horikawa) continue their training with Broly (Bin Shimada) on Beerus' (Koichi Yamadera) planet, Piccolo (Furukawa) and his former student/Goku's son Gohan (Nozawa) face a new threat from Earth. The revived Red Ribbon Army, led by Commander Magenta (Volcano Ota) and Staff Officer Carmine (Ryota Takeuchi), recruited Dr. Gero's grandson, Dr. Hedo (Irino), to exact revenge against the duo. Hedo has the Army create two androids, Gamma 1 (Kamiya) and Gamma 2 (Miyano), to act as superheroes. However, as they battle the new androids, Piccolo and Gohan discover the Army's true intention: to create a new and improved version of Gero's ultimate weapon, Cell, known as Cell Max (Norio Wakamoto). As a result, the two fight to foil the Red Ribbon Army's latest plot and save humanity.
Movies based on anime shows usually have the task of honoring the source material and providing enough qualities to satisfy its fans. But, more importantly, it also has to have something that newcomers will enjoy and maybe get them to watch the show themselves. The ones based on shows like "Pokémon", "Demon Slayer", and even "My Hero Academia" had a similar objective, which they succeeded with flying colors despite being filler adventures. "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero" is no different, as it seeks to be another thrilling continuation for longtime fans and a good piece of entertainment for general audiences. Unsurprisingly, the film offers enough nostalgia and fan service to satisfy those who grew up with the franchise. As a standalone movie for the regular crowd, it doesn't do much with its screenplay to generate the hype, but it compensates with likable characters, an entertaining plot, and thrilling sequences.
"Super Hero" offers a couple of differences that helped it stand apart from the previous installments. One of them is the focus on the characters. Many "Dragon Ball" films usually focus mainly on Goku and his high-stakes battles against some powerful foes. However, "Super Hero" takes a different direction by having Piccolo assume the role of the main character while Goku trains (and fights) with Vegeta. This change worked wonders in providing a fresh spin on the formula that drives the franchise to success regarding the characters. It also gives Piccolo some necessary and well-executed depth, especially in his relationship with Gohan, who's constantly working on his studies rather than training to be a warrior.
As for the story itself, it's as "Dragon Ball-y" as "Dragon Ball" can get. It's an extended version of a straightforward yet enthralling "Dragon Ball" episode that sees Piccolo facing a dangerous plot by the Red Ribbon Army. For fans of the franchise and casual watchers, it's more than enough to provide some entertainment values in the action, comedy, and characters without trying to be anything more. Additionally, it showcases some brief insights on its lore to get specific people caught up in the film's events, mainly the Red Ribbon Army, making it a comfortable viewing experience for those who haven't seen a single "Dragon Ball" episode. Although, the story does have a few downsides from a filmmaking perspective. Despite a couple of changes to spice things up, it still offers some familiar elements from the franchise's memorable moments, resulting in the film being a tad predictable. There's also the screenplay by the franchise's creator Akira Toriyama, which consists of plenty of callbacks and the heart and soul of the characters. While agreeable for my taste, it could've expanded on some elements regarding its themes, including Gohan and the Red Ribbon Army's newest androids, Gamma 1 and Gamma 2. But then I remembered that it's a "Dragon Ball" movie, not "The Godfather", so I was willing to let that slide. There's also Cell Max, who they could've saved for another movie and have the story only focus on Piccolo battling the android superheroes. At least for what it's worth, Call Max's dangerous personality does result in a thrilling and flashy finale, even if he isn't one of the franchise's most memorable villains.
I decided to watch the English dub version of the movie for this review since I'm not in the right mood to read subtitles. The cast for this version consists of Kyle Hebert (Gohan, Goku, Goten), Christopher Sabat (Piccolo, Vegeta), Aleks Le (Gamma 1), Zeno Robinson (Gamma 2), Zach Aguilar (Dr. Hedo), and Charles Martinet (Magenta), who you might know as the voice of Mario from "Super Mario". Who knew the plumber also works for an evil organization bent on world domination? While some of their dialogue delivery was a bit corny, the English voice cast managed to be suitable in their respective roles. Sabat effectively captures Piccolo's personality through his voice. Piccolo came across as stern and annoyed on some occasions, but he's also caring in helping Gohan be a better warrior and rescuing Gohan's daughter Pan (Jeannie Tirado in the English dub) from the Red Ribbon Army. Le and Robinson were also fun additions to the cast as the android superheroes, and Tirado as Pan brought plenty of joy to my system without making her the annoying part of the film. Seriously, Pan is extremely adorable…and strong.
Now, it's time for me to address the elephant in the room, or the second change made for "Super Hero" in this case, and that's the animation. "Super Hero" marks the first film in the franchise's long history to be produced entirely in CGI, with the previous installments being made in 2D animation. Some people were okay with this choice, while others were left feeling mixed about this new style. Traditional animation is one of the significant factors to the franchise's success, as it represents the creativity and swift energy of the character designs, fantastical settings, and, more importantly, the fight sequences. So I understand why longtime fans aren't thrilled with this sudden switch. However, I can also see this as an experiment for the creators to see how people would feel about a "Dragon Ball" movie with a different presentation. Was it a successful experiment? No, but I appreciate their effort in doing something new for the franchise, even if it's not welcoming. The CGI looked decent for resembling the characters, visuals, and fight sequences brought to life through traditional animation in the "Dragon Ball" shows. However, it also made the character movements look a bit clunky and slow during specific scenes compared to the previous "Dragon Ball" movies. It's a bit jarring, but it didn't reach the point where it made the film unwatchable.
Overall, "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero" continues the long-running franchise's successful run with an agreeable and vibrantly frenetic movie fit for both fans and newcomers. Unfortunately, it doesn't reach the same heights as the previous installments, including "Broly", when considering its simplistic plot, antagonist, and screenplay. However, it succeeds in being another entertaining "Dragon Ball" adventure and nothing else. With its suitable voice cast, diverting narrative, thrilling action scenes, and acceptable use of 3D animation, "Super Hero" is a superheroic blast from beginning to end.