The First 2 Arcs Are Entirely Pointless
Starting not long after the release of Dragon Ball Z Resurrection F was the beginning of a fresh new TV anime announced just months before in Dragon Ball Super. Whilst fans who had just witnessed Goku and Freeza duke it out once more for ole’ times sake in theaters may have hoped for an immediate continuation that followed up on the promise of expanded lore presented by Battle of Gods, that didn’t happen for the 1st 27 episodes.
Instead, Super opted to show long time fans everything they’ve already seen in movie form adapted to television with the Battle of Gods and Resurrection F sagas. A bit disappointing for many fans yes, but I was not wholly against the idea myself. For starters, people who happen to catch Dragon Ball Super in Japan might not necessarily have seen both movies yet, so starting over from the very beginning so as to not alienate part of the audience was a sensible move. And besides, who knew? Perhaps the script writers of Super had some ideas to add in that would justify lengthening the two films into televised story arcs.
There was certainly room for expansion and improvement, especially with regards to Resurrection F. This, however, is where one of Dragon Ball Super’s first major gaffs comes into play; the fact that it had nothing of worth to contribute that wasn’t already delivered to fans in theaters. If you go in hoping to see some fresh new elements, or perhaps see them address some of the gaps from the films, you’ll be in for serious disappointment.
Worse than what they didn’t do with the material though, is what they did do. Scenes taken shot for shot from the films almost all look much worse (something I’ll get into a bit later) and take far longer. These two arcs apply the age old DBZ problem of inserting unneeded scenes to forcefully spread out the content to fill a 23 minute running time. Except this time, there isn’t the excuse of having to let the weekly manga get far enough ahead to adapt more material.
Perhaps the most egregious comparison to make between the films and series is the episode 5 battle between Goku and Lord Beerus compared to its theatrical counterpart. The Battle of Gods film had Beerus dispatch of Goku with no time wasted. The point of the scene was to not only emphasize the sheer might of Beerus with how quickly he could dispatch a full-powered Super Saiyan 3 Goku. Dragon Ball Super took what initially made most sense as a short scene and turned it into an entire episode that was essentially a protracted and dull animation lowlight reel so ugly that it instantly became one of the franchise’s most notorious moments.
Dragon Ball GT didn’t start out particularly well either. The idea of the Black Star Dragon Balls is one of the most forced concepts introduced into the franchise and the hunt for them was a failed attempt at capturing the appeal of the first arcs of Dragon Ball. However, unlike Super, it didn’t take the entire length of Gurren Lagann before I stopped feeling like I was wasting my time.
Even Less Tension Than in Dragon Ball Z
Something that definitely was a strike against Dragon Ball Z was the number of ways in which it managed to undermine the tension of its own situations. It’s kind of hard to feel the dread of nearly every major and minor character – along with the rest of the earth – being destroyed when in the back of your mind you know there’s still an extra set of Dragon Balls on Namek just waiting to be used.
The more Dragon Ball villains have upped their game over time, the more methods were created/abused with the express purpose of stymieing the new threats. At the very least though, Dragon Balls had a set of restrictions about them, and senzu beans were limited by the fact that the plant from which they come from takes a long time to grow. Dragon Ball Super, on top of the rules of the Dragon Balls that were rewritten in Z (3 wishes, and the dead can come back multiple times) has given us even more fail safe options to neuter tension. From the fact that Beerus is always kicking around and can take care of possibly every threat thus far, to Whis’ ability to reset time in a pinch, to the fact that Goku can summon Zen-Ou to nuke whatever problem is too big for them. Not to mention, there’s the Mafuba (the Evil Containment Wave) technique that was reintroduced in the Future Trunks arc, but with drawback of it being difficult to master and having to sacrifice ones life to use it. Theoretically, there isn’t anything stopping Goku, Vegeta or any of the Z-Warriors from sealing away the next irredeemably evil super villain for all eternity without much sacrifice on their part with the Mafuba now.
Credit where it is due though, Super hasn’t relied on these potential cop-outs as much as it could have by now. However, the problem doesn’t come from how such things are implemented; the simply existence of these deus ex machina devices at the disposal of the characters is inherently damaging. It either opens paths towards anti-climactic writing, or encourages plot-induced stupidity by having characters conveniently forget what exactly they’re capable of. Tension, something built out of uncertainty, is patently lacking in Dragon Ball Super.
GT Made Better Use of Callbacks and Established Lore
Perhaps the biggest difference that defines the storytelling of both GT and Super was the way in which the two go about expanding the overall lore of the Dragon Ball-verse. Whilst Dragon Ball Super is fine going with the cheap, ‘here’s something we conveniently forget to mention before’ route, GT opts to bring back some old lore, refurbish it and take it into a new direction. This approach to storytelling is evident in the idea of the Super Saiyan 4, a form which requires mastery of not only the Super Saiyan transformation, but of the difficult to control Great Ape transformation. Conceptually, its a clever way to bring back an old concept in a way that makes sense since it required Goku to try to embrace a part of himself cast off for the safety of others. In contrast, Super Saiyan God (and by extension, Super Saiyan Blue) is far less interesting. The story behind the transformation is a lot more random as it retcons in some mythology about the original Super Saiyan God (that not even Vegeta knew somehow) and how to attain the form. All of which was apparently recorded in some Namekian Book of Legends of all things for reasons we’ll probably never know.
GT also made other meaningful callbacks to events long past in the form of Baby, the final remnant of Tsufurujins (Tuffles in the English dub) exacting his vengeance on what remains of the Saiyan race whilst attempting to re-establish his lost culture with brainwashed human followers. Whilst GT didn’t manage to execute on such ideas as well as it could have, I’d argue that Super’s attempts to reintroduce old ideas/characters is far weaker. Super sees the return of Freeza, Ginyu, Vegito, the Mafuba, etc but these didn’t result in much in the long-run besides shallow winks to long time fans. It seemed like reintroducing Future Trunks with his timeline being ravaged by an angry God in Goku’s body might be an exception to this at first. However the convoluted disaster the Future Trunks arc ended up being was far more disappointing to me than any of GT’s shortcomings ever were.
It Looks Really, Really Bad
Is this going for low-hanging fruit? Certainly, but there’s a lot more to be said about Dragon Ball Super’s animation besides some of the more infamous moments that spread across the internet. This is something that extends far beyond the fight scenes as off-model drawings seem to be almost the norm here. Characters often look different between shots, and fight scenes often don’t carry the same degree of impact fans have grown accustomed to seeing from Dragon Ball Z.
I don’t consider this as a point that needs to be gotten into too much as the internet has already been rather unforgiving about it. However I will say that the Future Trunks arc managed to correct this problem to an extent. It did so with a degree of fluidity and great action choreography that was very rarely ever seen before aside from a few stand-out cuts of animation. Though the scenes outside of battle haven’t improved, the Future Trunks arc has set the bar surprisingly high for big confrontations that I hope to see met on a more regular basis from here on out.
It’s Not a True Sequel
Whilst often billed as a sequel, its worth nothing that timeline-wise, all of Super thus far takes place before the end of Z, cushioned in-between the 10 year time-skip Majin Buu saga and the short tournament arc that introduced us to Pan and Uub. This essentially means that until Super actually stretches out beyond where Z left off, everything will more or less be protected by a continuity shield. Limits are placed on what the series can do with its setting and characters that Dragon Ball GT never had to deal with.
With all that I’ve dumped on Super, I think I need to stress the fact that I don’t yet consider the series to be total lost cause. Whilst certain flaws are likely to persist to some degree, the fact that each arc jumps into a completely different direction means its hard to predict where the series will head next. Whilst I find it a bit difficult to get truly hyped for a new storyline, the fact that the previous one’s faults don’t get carried over makes me wonder if each new arc will be “the one” in which the series starts to redeem itself. With any luck, the upcoming Universe Survival arc will be the return to form the franchise has needed for a long time now.
MFA_Community is the official publishing arm of the MAL Featured Articles club. This article was written by gedata, one of the club’s writers, in collaboration with the official Featured Articles team.