Dragon Ball Super is an anime and manga series that began in 2015 as a follow up series to Akiya Toriyama’s Dragon Ball manga and the Dragon Ball Z anime. The manga is currently being written by Toriyama himself alongside Toyotaro― Toriyama’s successor and current illustrator, while the anime is being produced by Toei Animation as it had been in the past.
After an 18 year hiatus Dragon Ball Super stands as the series’ fresh new look at the the Dragon Ball Universe, complete with new characters and new adventures. At the moment of writing this article, Super is still on-going with Episode 80 of the anime having aired recently and chapter 21 of the manga having been released as well. In the United States Dragon Ball Super is currently aired on Adult Swim’s Toonami block and marks the return of long-running cast members Sean Schemmel as Goku, and Christopher Sabat’s Vegeta among many others of the same cast as Dragonball Z and Dragon Ball Z Kai.
Dragon Ball Super’s story comes immediately after the conclusion of Dragon Ball Z’s Majin Buu saga and before the events of Dragon Ball GT. Super follows main characters Son Goku, and Prince Vegeta on their journey towards new heights of power, struggles against new enemies – through time and even across space to new universes.
The Artwork for the most part is as solid as it’s ever been but the colors are much sharper and more vivid, officially bringing the show into the HD era. Almost everything is exactly as you would remember and come to expect from such a pillar of anime, and is easily the best the series has looked on the small screen when it is at its peak. However, it is far from perfect. Throughout the 79 episodes of the series so far the art has suffered from frequent spots of inconsistency and sub-par quality. Most notably are the dramatic changes in the art style in the first few episodes, but hints of low quality are sprinkled all throughout the series so far.
Unfortunately it is a step down from the standards set by Dragon Ball Z and Kai. The worst of the dips in quality are painfully apparent, while even the subtle flaws like oddly drawn faces or characters appearing in award places are still recognizable even to people without eagle eyes. Thankfully though, a large upturn in quality comes as the series progresses, but it hasn’t yet hit par with previous Dragon Ball productions and even some other shows like One-Punch Man.
Unlike the artwork, the animation takes an even bigger dip in quality compared to previous entries. Now that’s not to say that it is all bad, in fact there are a lot of excellently animated moments in the series, especially later on. But what made Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z catch the eyes of some many millions of fans around the world were its fight scenes. However, a lot of where the animation is lacking is in the numerous fight scenes all throughout the anime. Long-time Dragon Ball Z fans will remember that when it came to fighting in any anime Dragon Ball Z was king. That crown may have found a new head as many of the fight scenes lack the visual smoothness, intensity, stakes, and even the choreography the series mastered in the past.
What’s left now is the idea of what Dragon Ball Z and even the best fights of GT used to be. What used to be all out brawls to the death, with each combatant’s heart and soul being put into every punch, is now reduced to mostly brief exchanges of blows usually done with excessive use of blurry arms or hands, ki blasts that are basically just pretty lights. The attention to detail previous entries had to the fight scenes that really exemplified just how powerful each hit was by slowing things down and adding in shock wave effects to emphasize the intensity, or the almost obsessively drawn cuts, torn clothing, and all other sorts of visual cues are either missing, or done too sparingly.
Where Super somewhat fails is in the complete absence of precious frames of epic combat that set not only set the standard for all action of years to come, but also remained supreme. Now, the techniques that came in short spurts of the original series and Z are now the majority of all fight content. The slow, blow for blow trading we were once treated with are almost distant memories, with nearly speed lines, and quick-paced blurs replacing them. The result is that many of the fights in Super lack the same wow factor some of Dragon Ball Z and even Dragon Ball’s Tekaichi Budokai, or World Martial Arts Tournaments had. Despite that, the best fights in Super easily stand up against the best fights in Dragon Ball history, but that ends up leaving more to be desired.
This is where Super mostly shines, and begins to make up for its shortcomings. Unlike past entries, excluding Dragon Ball, the story in Super is by far the strongest. Not only does it immediately and continually expand on series lore and its Universe, the story now goes beyond Dragon Ball’s usual ‘powerful enemy appears, characters train for x amount of time, and then defeat the bad guy’ formula. Instead new threats have a purpose, they are fully fleshed out characters that are not simply bent on causing destruction, or ruling just for the sake of it. Instead villains are motivated and have meaningful backgrounds. That however is not true for all of the series’ main threats, but the focus on villains is relatively minor by comparison to Dragon Ball Z so it’s hardly a negative.
Further breaking from the tradition is the development of its characters, though sadly the story now revolves around a small portion of its cast of excellent characters. Fortunately it is a welcomed trade, previously two dimensional characters gain a lot more depth to them, which goes a long way for the story. Beyond that, Super brings a lot of new ideas to the table which was something completely absent in the series until GT introduced the concept of the Black Star Dragon Balls and the Shadow Dragons. Super takes things a step further by introducing the Gods of Destruction, Multiple Universe, A King of Everything, and even the titular Super Dragon Balls just to name a few.
There are plenty of new ideas and even evolutions of old ideas that keeps the story fresh and exciting at every step, which more than makes up for the occasional plot holes and sometimes weak ideas. Overall the story is fairly solid. So far the only two real complaints about the story are that the kinds of power the characters have are very inconsistent and hard to gauge unlike before, and a couple of weak episodes here an there.
Another strong feature of the Super is its introduction of several new characters. Adding to an already wonderful cast is the God of Destruction, and Angel-assistant Duo― Beerus and Whis. While initially introduced as brand new threats, the two eventually join the Kame House crew and act as a combination of new comical relief, and trainers for our main characters. Though they act more as a recurring set of characters, they appear often enough feel familiar, but not so much that get old and tired. As a plus, they nail almost every appearance of theirs with quick quips, or useful information. The only drawback is the story’s reluctance to include them in any of the major conflicts.
Another high point is the development of some of the older characters. Unfortunately it does feel as if it comes at the cost precious screen time, as now the series focuses largely on Goku and Vegeta. Yet, the additions to their character, and the more world building focuses of the series keeps that from being being an issue. That said, there are a few cases where Goku is portrayed more like an idiot than he’s ever been shown as in the series. In fact, his apparent stupidity goes so far that his actions become a threat to not his universe, but many. It is a slight down turn, seeing the carefree, fight-loving, martial arts master reduced to an almost brain dead brawler but at times his bright rays of intelligence shine through in ways that didn’t exist before. Still, it’s fun to watch.
Dragon Ball Super pays a lot of respects to its history, as well as openly embracing its new stories and ideas in a way that both reinvents the franchise, but also grounds it in tradition. There are very few other stories that have existed long enough to pull this off, and do it as well as Super does. That in itself if quite unique.
Dragon Ball Super is a fresh and exciting new look at the Dragon Ball universe. It takes bold new strides in directions never gone before, or probably even thought off, and manages to hit all the right notes when it’s at it’s best. There are some flaws for sure, but none of them manifest in a way that truly ruins the experience, or diminishes the overall value of what’s there as a whole. Dragon Ball Super should be a welcome addition to the collection of both the veterans of the series and newcomers.
Final Score: ★★★★★★★