After nearly a decade off the air June 20th marks the return of an anime king: Dragon Ball Super. According to legendary author and creator, Akira Toriyama, Goku has far from grasped his ultimate destiny and there are stories yet to tell and power up screams yet to yell. This is fantastic news given that there has been a severe lack of bellowing energy spikes in the modern world of anime. Dragon Ball has always had a favorable relationship with nostalgia. In the good ole days if a fight was not preceded by a few episodes of standoff-ish dialogue, screaming, and a firm calculating of power levels, than that fight simply wasn’t worth it. Now we tend to call that fucking terrible. But that’s not how most people remember Dragon Ball.
Those are the details that get glossed over as people remember the endless adventure and fun, which is perfectly fair given how strong Dragon Ball’s high points could be. The humor was well written, the characters were fun to watch, and the story was just thick enough to support the endless cycle of over the top fights and camaraderie. All of which puts Dragon Ball Super in a unique position of power. Akira Toriyama, as the original creator and artist, has the opportunity to recapture those childhood adventures and bring them to an entirely new generation of children and fans. Not only that, he has the opportunity to treat Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z as a kind of rough draft and fix many of the issues that used to plague the now legendary series. Unfortunately Toriyama is not in the habit of evolving his style or work. After watching the 27 episodes of Dragon Ball Super I can safely say that while the anime is not bad, it sure hasn’t changed much from its late 1980s roots.
The Characters were always the best part of Dragon Ball. The cast was diverse, it had synergy, and they were just as fun to watch on screen as the fights that killed planets. Goku invented cool spikey hair and Kuririn was the original beloved best friend. Some of my favorite moments in the series were the interactions between 10 year old Goku and Bulma. In the small downtime between charactersis where the humor and charm of Dragon Ball works best. Thankfully that doesn’t change with Dragon Ball Super. Even more so than Dragon Ball Z, Super really slows down at times and has fun with its large cast of characters. In fact, the very first story line in the show, a remake of the movie Dragon Ball Z: Battle of the Gods, is rewritten for the sole purpose of including more downtime. There are story lines about Bulma’s birthday, the childish antics of Gohan and Trunks as they try and find a present, even the enemy Beerus is given space to shine as he travels among a slew of different plants blowing part or all of them up.
Comedy remains the true heart and soul of the series. Dragon Ball Super impressed me with its ability to retain that trademark lightheartedness as it takes on bigger, more death defying story arcs. The series effortlessly managed to avoid the pitfalls of self-infatuation. The story never takes itself too serious and the characters really manage to pull things together in a way that is fun to watch and entertaining. The only real issue is that the series’ sense of humor seems dated. Goku is still cracking the same old jokes and Vegeta is still a sour puss. While there is definitely some nostalgia sucking goodness in making a few of those jokes here or there, the story seems oversaturated with them . I don’t know if this is due to Toriyama’s inability to create new material, or if his sense of humor is just dated. Either way as the episodes roll on into the dozens this feeling begins to really drag on in a way that isn’t pleasant.
Which unfortunately brings us to Super’s seriously dated animation. The fighting just doesn’t look good. Back in the day a few teleporting punches and lighting filled floating rocks got my blood racing. Today – not so much. In a world where shows like One Punch Man and Fate/Zero exist, you need to seriously step up your game. Especially if fighting is what your story specializes in. I mean Dragon Ball was one of the founders of the shounen genre. It essentially invented plot defying power ups and punches that shattered worlds, and yet this show is still giving us cheap animation and tacky uninspired fight scenes. To be honest, I can barely see a difference other than resolution between the fights in Dragon Ball Z and the fights in Super. They are nearly identical in form and substance. When the entire point of the show is watching superhuman warriors fight in space, bad animation is a very serious problem. It got so bad at one point in the fight between Beerus, The God of Destruction, and Goku that I literally fast-forwarded through a majority of the action.
The thing is though, I didn’t turn the show off. The story was actually good enough, and fun enough, that I watched all the currently released episodes. The story follows Goku and friends as they come into contact with an awakened galactic god, Beerus the God of Destruction. Beerus has begun to go on a rampage across the stars and finds out about a Saiyan God who might be able to withstand his might. Interested in anything that might alleviate his boredom he decides to travel to earth and find out more about the Saiyans. It seems as if Super is trying to fill out the Dragon Ball universe in a way none of the other shows have tried or talked about. Between Beerus and the other slumbering gods, Toriyama is giving a depth and logic to his world that for years has been seriously lacking. Unlike how derivative the action and comedy is, the story feels completely new. The enemies are different, the ideas entirely foreign, and that is fun.
There is something oddly satisfying about how Toriyama is able to take these characters, which are now well over 30 years old, and find new and interesting things for them to do (if not say). That is amazing. It is by far the most impressive part of this already surprising resurrection. The story is not some cheap ploy for nostalgia and viewership, there actually seems to be another adventure worth having. Which is far more than can be said about a vast majority of remakes. For that reason alone Dragon Ball Super is worth your time. Outside of the technical issues with the story, Toriyama really does manage to capture the feeling from the first two shows. Each and every episode feels like a little bite sized nugget of nostalgia driven goodness. If you don’t mind going back the nineties once a week, Dragon Ball Super is great fun. And it is for that reason that I give it the Nitwitty seal of approval. If you were a fan of the older series, go check it out.