The Dragon Ball series has experienced a resurgence in the past few years, kicked off by the success of the 2013 movie, Battle of Gods. The film was genuinely funny and functioned as both a celebration of the series’ admittedly strange history and characters, while featuring solid action and introducing Beerus and Whis – worthwhile villains who became part of the family before the credits rolled. As a lapsed Dragon Ball fan, Battle of Gods pulled me back in a big way, prompting me to rewatch Dragon Ball Z in full and eagerly anticipate the follow-up film, Resurrection F, and the new show, Dragon Ball Super. I became a fan all over again, and for this reason I have been excited for Dragon Ball Super: Broly since its reveal. It doesn’t celebrate Dragon Ball by reveling in its strange sense of humor and characters the way Battle of Gods does, but it features some of the series’ best animation and adds interesting context to the plight of Goku’s alien race, the Saiyans. It’s easy to forget that despite being powerful fighters, they are forever on the verge of extinction, thanks to Frieza.

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The canon of Dragon Ball has always been fast and loose. Most of the things that happen in the movies just don’t count. Sometimes Piccolo is a demon, sometimes he’s an alien from another planet; sometimes the moon exists, sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe the entirety of Dragon Ball GT just doesn’t matter. Even Broly, this film’s titular character who appeared in a trio of movies starting in 1993, has always been up in the air as to whether he really exists. Pending any retconning, this movie goes out of its way to make sure Broly is canon in a way I appreciate. It reveres the long-running Dragon Ball story, showing events that happened 40 years ago and explaining how individual Saiyans like Vegeta, Nappa, and Raditz survived the catastrophe that blew up their home planet. It takes time to focus on younger versions of familiar Saiyan characters, and even reserves a line of dialogue for Vegeta to mention his rarely seen brother. The highlight for me of this early flashback section of the film is seeing Goku’s parents. The two have always been a little mysterious, and to see them care about at least one of their sons is charming and offers a little insight into Goku’s provenance. For someone who has been watching Dragon Ball for a long time, I appreciated this attention to detail.


Outside of the fun callbacks for the hardcore, there is an original story here about Broly and his father, Paragus. Broly is essentially a nuclear bomb of a Saiyan who has the potential to go off at any moment. His power is unfathomable even as an infant, so Vegeta’s father, the Saiyan king, exiles baby Broly to a dangerous, nearly uninhabitable planet. Broly’s father crash lands on the planet in an effort to recover him, stranding the two to train and lie in wait. Broly and his father have a strained relationship, as Paragus wants to use him as a tool of revenge against those who exiled them, but recognizes that Broly must be kept in check. The story quickly rushes through why their relationship is difficult in an effort to hurry up and force Broly into a fight with Goku and Vegeta on Earth, and it ultimately gets shuffled aside in favor of the action in an unsatisfying way. That action, however, is exciting.


For all the positive things I can say about Dragon Ball’s return in the last few years, the quality of the animation has been underwhelming. Both Battle of Gods and Resurrection F and the television series, Dragon Ball Super, look cheap. The hand-drawn quality of the show as it aired in the late ’80s and early ’90s has entirely disappeared in the latest iterations. When combat gets really heated, there is a tendency for the fighters to inexplicably change to 3D models, and the swap is always jarring and noticeable. While that strange swap does occur occasionally here, a much larger portion of Broly resurfaces the hand-drawn style of Dragon Ball’s past, and it looks fantastic. The result is much more dynamic character movement and animation, making the fights surprisingly engaging. As I have aged alongside Dragon Ball, I have become less interested in the actual fighting, and have become more enamored with the family dynamics and character interactions of a group of people who have grown up together, but the animation is so good in Broly that I found myself more interested in the choreography of the fights than I have been in years.


I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Broly, Goku, and Vegeta end up clashing and it all looks great, and the film does a good job selling why Broly truly is a dangerous, uncontrollable fighter. Goku takes one of the hardest beatings of his life, and that’s saying a lot when you consider how many Senzu beans Goku has eaten while lying on the ground with his shirt torn to shreds from too much punching. The final fight is ridiculous in the best way, and even takes on a strange, visually interesting abstract tone as it culminates.


In the end, Broly is all about the fight and the history of the Saiyans. There are some jokes peppered in here and there, but generally speaking, it strikes a more serious tone. There is some room left in the end to grow Broly into an interesting person, but for duration of the film, he is mostly just a really strong, angry dude. Piccolo makes a cameo for a few quick jokes, and Bulma as well as goofballs Beerus and Whis are hanging around, but for the most part, the rest of the cast is absent, which is a bummer. On the Goku spectrum, which spans complete and utter idiot to brilliant combat strategist, this movie generally hangs out on the more serious end of the character. That version of Goku is rare these days, and while it was fun to see him showcase his expert combat skills in a challenging fight, I missed seeing all his friends around to cheer him on and serve as comic relief.

Broly is definitely for the longtime fans, but not explicitly. There is plenty of quality action to appreciate for the uninitiated, but the highlight is definitely the history gaps it fills in for the Saiyan race.

Dragon Ball Super: Broly hits theaters nationwide on January 16.


Additional thoughts:

    The soundtrack is weird, but I like it. It features a lot of chanting, including the chanting of the names of some of the characters.
    You get to see what scouters used to look like before the familiar head-mounted models.
    Super Saiyan levels don’t really make sense anymore, but Goku and Vegeta do kind of go through the proper levels instead of just skipping around like they tend to do in the show lately.
    My daughter asked, “Why are there so many daddies in this?” while we were watching. It was a valid question. Frieza, Broly, Vegeta, and Goku’s dads all play important roles.
    There is a scene where Broly’s dad grabs baby Broly by the tail to calm him down, which I though was clever. It was like a cat picking up their kitten by the scruff.
    A low level, non-soldier Saiyan mentioned that he had never turned into an ape by looking at a full moon. It had never occurred to me that every Saiyan wouldn’t have gone ape at least one point in their life.

Should You Watch Dragon Ball Super: Broly?