Four years after the 2018 release of the impressively cinematic Dragon Ball Super: Broly, series creator Akira Toriyama and director Tetsuro Kodama, who was previously in charge of the CG sequences in the last Dragon Ball Super movie embraced the self-referential approach wholeheartedly in Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero. The kind which pokes fun at the characters and the familiar situations they are in, making the latest Dragon Ball Super movie significantly funny and even laidback in its overall structure and tone. This includes several hilarious moments from Bulma (voiced by Aya Hisakawa) summoning Shenron the Eternal Dragon (Ryuzaburo Otomo) to make wishes, to the failed Fusion techniques.
Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero also toned down the Goku and Vegeta-centric appearances in favour of another classic Dragon Ball character to shine. That character in question is Piccolo (Toshio Furukawa) and it’s nice to see him take centre stage for a change. In this latest movie, Piccolo discovers the Red Ribbon Army has sent an android named Gamma 2 (Mamoru Miyano) to ambush him while he’s meditating alone.
Piccolo, of course, survives the attack and subsequently decided to investigate further by following the android back to the base and disguising himself as one of the soldiers. From there, he learns about Dr Hedo (Miyu Irino) is working for the leader of the Red Ribbon Army, Magenta (Volcano Ota) to construct the bio-android called Cell Max. Upon learning about the situation, he reaches out to Bulma in hope that she can get in touch with Goku (Masako Nozawa) and Vegeta (Ryo Horikawa) for help.
Similar to Dragon Ball Super: Broly, you don’t have to be a fan to enjoy what’s going on in this animated feature. The movie gets you up to speed with a brief summary regarding the introduction and backstory of Red Ribbon Army, even though the exposition-heavy narrative approach does dilute the pacing for a while there. Once you get through that, it’s all easy-to-follow and straightforward stuff, thanks to Akira Toriyama’s streamlined script. The story may have been fast-paced but I like how the movie spends considerable time developing Piccolo’s character arc without dragging down its momentum. This is especially true for his character being a caring father figure to Gohan’s (also Masako Nozawa) little daughter, Pan (Yuko Minaguchi). It also shows him more than just a heroic personality, where depicting the lighter side of him brings a nice balance to his overall character (his wonderful relationship with Pan is among the highlights here).
While Piccolo steals the show in Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, some of the other characters (e.g. Pan, Gohan and Bulma) are just as good in their solid supporting turns. Kudos also go to Tetsuro Kodama for making good use of the 3D animation, which I initially thought might be a bad idea but it turns out to be better than I expected. It gives the movie a tremendous sense of fluidity and movement not only in terms of the character designs but also in the fight sequences.
The latter may have been pale in comparison with the more thrilling ones shown in the previous Dragon Ball Super movie. But it still delivers the goods that you come to expect from a Dragon Ball movie. Watching the fight sequences on IMAX is epic and immersive and so does the incredible sound effects, even though they can be deafeningly too loud with all the usual shoutings.
As much as I enjoyed Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that the stakes are somewhat lacklustre. Sure, we get a big bad in the form of the formidable Cell Max. But too bad the antagonist is devoid of credible personality other than showcasing him merely a brute force for Piccolo and the rest to fight against him.