I usually don’t write about anime and prefer to focus on American animation in general. However, exceptions can be made. Who knows; perhaps there might be many more to come in the future.
During the heyday of Dragon Ball Z in the 80s & 90s, several one-off films were released alongside the show. Most of these films felt a lot like extended episodes with the plots and execution lacking the intensity of the show. The biggest problem with these films was that the plot lines and characters introduced seemingly had no consequences on the show or vice versa. While there would be some vague or loose references to when these stories were taking place in the timeline of the series, it was never entirely clear. The fact that these characters or incidents were never referenced in the show made it very difficult to be totally invested in these films.
Among all these films, the one film that really stood out was ‘Bardock: The Father of Goku’. Afterall, Goku is originally from planet Vegeta. The possibility of having an interesting back-story associated with his Saiyan past that ties in to Frieza and even Vegeta, opens up so many interesting possibilities.
Another of these films that stood out was ‘Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan’. The whole premise of this movie was once again very interesting and again ties in to Goku & Vegeta’s past. This movie once again proved to be among the more popular ones with Broly becoming a fan favourite character. Unsurprisingly, this movie spawned off 2 sequels. They weren’t quite as good as the original one with the last movie ‘Bio Broly’ being the kind that you wish didn’t exist (Yep, it really was that bad).
What made Broly’s character popular with the fans was that he was actually the legendary Super Saiyan casually referred to as a myth within the Saiyan populace. However, his character wasn’t properly developed with his behaviour being akin to that of a wild animal with super powers.
The Saiyan Connection
It’s interesting to note that some of the best stories in DBZ are heavily associated with the Saiyan race. The original series started to get stale and run out of ideas particularly after the cell saga. The intensity, high stakes feel & legendary battles no longer felt original and were starting to fade. Story arcs such as the Buu saga may have had their share of fans and in all fairness weren’t bad. Yet at the same time, something was missing and it lacked the punch of the first half of the series. It is well known that series creator Akira Toriyama had planned to end the series at a much earlier stage but continued creating extended story arcs due to popular demand. Moreover, it becomes difficult to maintain the same level of intensity while using the same formulaic approach. This is where exploring the Saiyan ties to our beloved Z warriors had so much scope to be explored. It never really happened though and was a wasted opportunity.
Fast forward to more than 2 decades later and Toei decides to release a movie that ties-in to DBZ’s follow-up series Dragon Ball Super. This time though, the creators decided to finally go the Saiyan route.
The essential premise of Dragon Ball Super Broly is the same as that of Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan. The movie takes its time to set-up the main plot with the back-story of Broly fleshed out. Similar to the original plot, planet Vegeta is ruled by King Cold despite being under the leadership of King Vegeta (Father of Vegeta). King Vegeta believes that his son is destined to liberate planet Vegeta from the rule of Frieza and Co (King Cold hands over the rule of planet Vegeta to Frieza). However, a spanner is thrown in the works when King Vegeta is informed that a baby with an unusually high-power level exceeding even that of his son has just been born. Perceiving this as a threat, he exiles Broly to the barren planet Vampa and Broly’s father Paragus chases after his son only for both to get stranded on Vampa.
Years later, Frieza (After having returned from Hell) has resumed his goal to collect all the dragon balls and gain immortality. In the meantime, two of his low-level soldiers (Cheelai and Lemo) rescue a now grown-up Broly and his father Paragus from Vampa while searching for new recruits. Frieza, after hearing their story and realizing their Saiyan back-ground, recruits them. Having been defeated and humiliated by Goku & Vegeta before, he believes that Broly’s extraordinary power could be a useful weapon against the duo. After finding out that planet Vegeta is no more, Paragus believes this to be a golden opportunity to take revenge on Vegeta (being King Vegeta’s son and the reason for Broly’s exile); hence setting up a battle of epic proportions !! (Heck its Dragon Ball !!)
This movie is refreshingly good in many ways. The first thing that this movie gets right in comparison to the original is the handling of Broly’s character. While the reason for Broly’s hatred towards Goku seemed rather silly and hollow in the original, everything is fleshed out very well in this movie. A lot of focus is given to the relationship between Broly and his father Paragus. His strained relationship with his father as a result of always being treated like a weapon for revenge; really helps shine a light on his animal-like personality. Moreover, the leash placed by Paragus on Broly’s neck (designed to control his power when his anger gets out of control) further adds to his unruly and animal-like personality. When this is added to Paragus’ desire for revenge against Vegeta, the character motivations & their behaviour become very clear.
In addition to the superior character development, there is also some focus on Bardock (Goku’s father), his eventual battle with Frieza and why he sent Goku to earth. This origin story really adds to the movie as the Z warriors and the exploration of their Saiyan heritage could throw up several interesting directions to take the story in the future.
Another notable aspect of this movie is the much-improved animation. Much of the animation in Dragon Ball Super anime has generally not been of a very high quality. While it does improve, it is well below what it could potentially be. This aspect is addressed very well in this movie. For the most part the battle sequences are animated very well with a lot of detailing (not seen since the heydays of DBZ or even the much-maligned Dragon Ball GT for that matter). The character designs of the main characters (The Saiyans) have a lot of detail and have been drawn well.
Most importantly, some of the fight sequences are absolutely stunning to watch. They really pack a punch and once again bring back memories of DBZ in its prime. The movie does a great job of bringing the intensity back to this franchise.
Despite being a refreshingly good movie for the most part, the movie is not without its flaws. While the animation is a huge improvement over Dragon Ball Super, the movie does occasionally tend to use 3-D animation in certain areas such as the Space Pods of the Frieza Forces. The 3-D animation does not gel well with the movie and is also of not very good quality. Further, the character designs of some of the side characters are down-right terrible. They look marginally better than simple box-figures (Yes, it really is that bad). Toei Animation could really do well to look back at its glorious past and avoid such unnecessary cost-cutting strategies.
Without getting into spoiler territory, the movie makes some very safe, convenient and questionable choices which (in my opinion) undermine its otherwise good execution. What made DBZ so good were the high-intensity battles that took place with a lot at stake. Moreover, phrases such as ‘The Fate of Planet Earth’ & ‘The Fate of the Universe’ actually had a lot of significance. The creators could do well to up the stakes at certain crucial junctures.
This movie is definitely a fine effort from director Tatsuya Nagamine. He gets most of what made DBZ a great show, right in this movie. The tone of the movie is also darker than whatever was witnessed in Dragonball Super. The movie is a much-improved take on the original source material and does a very good job of combining several different plot-points into a very compelling narrative.
However, as mentioned earlier, the movie plays it safe and this is where the creators could do with some improvement. If you’re a DBZ fan and have been waiting for some quality content from this franchise, then this movie certainly delivers.
The biggest positive from this movie is that it returns to the franchise’s Saiyan roots. The Saiyan related content from DBZ is arguably one of the best parts of the franchise and offers interesting possibilities for future exploration. This movie really builds a solid foundation upon which several great stories could be told in the future. So, what could the future hold ?
This movie gave a surprising amount of time to Goku’s father Bardock. In the anime special Dragon Ball: Episode of Bardock, it is revealed that Bardock was not killed by Frieza during the destruction of Planet Vegeta. It is also later revealed in the movie that he is the original legendary Super Saiyan often referenced in the show. Could Bardock eventually end-up meeting Goku at some point ?
In the recent promotional anime for the game Super Dragon Ball Heroes, an evil ancient Saiyan named Cunber shows up with the ability to transform into the Great Ape (Oozaru). Could similar Saiyans be out there in the universe ? This has already been shown in the Dragon Ball Super anime. Further, could we actually see Goku and Vegeta reach SSJ4 at some point after its first appearance in Dragon Ball GT ? Additionally, could we also a return of the Golden Great Ape ?
Last but far from the least, could characters such as Gohan and Piccolo finally get their due worth ? For a long time now, many of the Z Warriors who played important roles in DBZ have either been relegated to bit-part roles or been completely side-lined altogether. This has happened to the extent that one could even question whether these characters are needed anymore. The end of the Cell Saga in DBZ was supposed to be the passing of the torch to Gohan. Ever since, however, everything has revolved about Goku and Vegeta.
This has been to the franchise’s detriment and often reduces the viewer’s investment in the battles. When one can’t feel invested in characters, it makes no difference if the character is killed off or even exists. It is about time that characters such as Gohan, Piccolo, Tien, Yamcha etc become important characters again.
With a new movie on the horizon, one hopes that these aspects are addressed and the franchise explores some exciting new territory !!