“DRAGON BALL SUPER: BROLY” – A Magnificent Reimagining and Franchise Commemoration

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There is no question that Japanese manga and anime has long become well-known to the whole world. Generally however, certain manga/anime series and genres seem more popular in one global region than all others. “Shounen” action anime like “Saint Seiya” are hits in Latin America, as are sports anime which is shared in turn with the Middle East. Anime featuring giant robots have been watched in Italy, while girly “shoujo” series like “Sailor Moon” sometimes stirs North America. But one series is undoubtedly well-represented no matter what part the world one might be. This is none other than the “Dragon Ball” franchise by Akira Toriyama.

Originally begun as an action-comedy fantasy in 1984, it followed the exploits of a changing group of adventurers and martial artists in the company of the super-strong monkey-tailed boy Son Goku, as they search repeatedly for the seven Dragon Balls that could grant any one wish. Toriyama’s manga was quickly adapted into anime, with two distinct series: “Dragon Ball” and “Dragon Ball Z”. The latter covered the exploits of the grown Goku in the larger universe of the setting and introduced his origin of being from the Saiyan race. This is probably the most popular segment of the entire saga.

Toriyama’s growing responsibilities with his company eventually left him with little creative control over later “Dragon Ball” anime, resulting in the non-canon “Dragon Ball GT” and numerous feature films. Among the latter is a trilogy featuring a Saiyan antagonist named Broly, which Toriyama designed but nothing more. While a popular character himself, Broly’s one-note berserk characterization was a major shortcoming. That is until the “Dragon Ball” creator decided to bring Broly into canon by producing a new film retelling his character, in line with the canon anime series follow-up “Dragon Ball Super” which ran 2015-2018.

Thus is set the stage for “Dragon Ball Super: Broly” which, for what it is worth, is now the most successful “Dragon Ball” film and one of the all-time highest-grossing anime movies ever. That is not bad for coming from a “shallow” shounen action title that thrilled boys the world over with super-fast fighting, planet-destroying energy beams and more mindless violence. The fact perhaps that the screenplay is being worked on by Akira Toriyama himself, thus making it canon to the recently-concluded “Super” series, has drawn fans that may or may not like Broly to see the franchise creator’s take on the overpowered, divisive character.

Several other things that the new film touches on are retellings of the backstory for the Saiyan saga that lead to the events of “Dragon Ball” as a whole. While these elements featured as flashbacks in both manga and anime forms before, this revision by Toriyama, which forms a very extended intro for “Super Broly”, is a grand way to bring series newbies into the know of the entire setting. The fact that it frames the extraterrestrial origins of franchise hero Son Goku in parallel with Superman might be why the audience accepted it graciously.

Following the intro is the meat of the plot itself, with iconic “Dragon Ball” alien warlord Frieza resuming his quest for universal domination by recruiting new super warriors. Among them are a father-son tandem of Saiyan survivors, Paragus and his son Broly. He immediately sets them on Son Goku and Vegeta to run interference while he collects the Dragon Balls, especially as Paragus has a grudge towards Vegeta’s father for past offenses. Here the true potential of Broly’s power is revealed, as both sides race against time to secure the Dragon Balls while keeping Earth from being destroyed in battle with a potentially unstable Broly.

For those who have seen the original non-Toriyama writing for Broly in the old “Dragon Ball Z” films (I saw them on cable), they would have to agree that this retake on the character is a lot more substantial in personality than before, which also ties dynamically into how this new movie ends. No spoilers, of course. Anyway, longtime “Dragon Ball” fans from the original eighties series to “Super” will certainly enjoy the reprising voice cast, whether your cinema showed “Super Broly” in the original Japanese with subs, or in the official Funimation English dub.

Visuals are pretty stunning and seem to cover all recent media renderings of “Dragon Ball”, from the 2D anime series to the just-as-lengthy videogame adaptations that have been praised for their graphic quality. You can actually spot the animation style transitions with a good eye. And the soundtrack is pretty awesome too with the surprise English-language chant song instrumentals and a lovely lyric-less rendition of a very familiar tune. Long story short, “Dragon Ball Super: Broly” totally justifies its high review scores and record-setting box office earnings worldwide. It is a brilliant celebration of the franchise. If you got to watch it, you will agree.

Image courtesy of Polygon

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