I’m feeling more negative lately, and I don’t really enjoy that. Like I’m once again finding myself at the point where I am arguing consistently on the “this stinks!” side of things. Read Pile for the podcast? I’m crapping on the books lately. Moves in the theater to review? Crapping. New trailers for future hits? Crap crap crap.
I want to spin around in a more positive direction, and I want to feel better about things. It’s a M8nga week, so this should be easy: I’ve never discussed my favorite series of all-time! But that feels like cheating, so instead, I’m going to take something I didn’t love, but try to be positive about it… it’s an exercise!
TITLE: Dragon Ball Super
Writer and Artist: Akira Toriyama and Toyotarou
Publisher: Shonen Jump
Protagonists: Goku, Vegeta
Antagonists: Aliens and stuff. And Goku Black.
I absolutely liked the original Dragon Ball, as you may recall.
About twenty years had passed between the end of Dragon Ball Z and the beginning of Dragon Ball Super, but in that time, the reach, popularity, and influence of Akira Toriyama’s seminal creation only grew and grew. And sure we had Dragon Ball GT to placate us, but if you look closely, you will see that it is, in fact, Dragon Ball GT.
I’m not sure what brought Toriyama back to Dragon Ball (I mean, yes I do, and the answer is money), but he returned a few years back with Dragon Ball: Battle of the Gods, a movie unlike so many of the other DB flicks that made their way out over time in that it was considered canon! No longer relegated to a continuity-free side tale, Battle of Gods told a definitive story of what happened in the wake of Goku defeating Buu (but long before encountering Uub). With the raging success of that release came a sequel—Resurrection “F”—and then a return to ongoing storytelling with a new manga and anime series, Dragon Ball Super (effectively completely eliminating GT from any possible consideration).
So Super sees Goku encounter the God of Destruction, Beerus, and his assistant, Whis. Far stronger than anything he had encountered before, Goku was forced to take on a new transformation to become a Super Saiyan God to convince Beerus not to destroy the Earth. After this, the Z Warriors and Beerus become allies of sorts, and Whis starts training Goku and Vegeta (causing each to take on a new Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan form). Not long after, we are introduced to a new concept in Dragon Ball lore: alternate realities! Goku’s entire plane of existence is one of many, and each has its own God of Destruction who all live in resentment and rivalry with each other. This enmity between the Lord Beerus of the universe we are used to and the Lord Champa of another leads to a tournament between the best fighters from each realm.
The return of Dragon Ball has struck me a lot like the Netflix pickup of Arrested Development. It’s something I had long wanted! But while there wasn’t an extreme difference I could put my finger on, the magic was definitely still gone. It just felt like a lower quality version of what I had previously loved. Battle of Gods was an enjoyable movie with a lot of fun set pieces and interactions, but Resurrection “F” fell much flatter with me. Bringing back Frieza felt like a step backwards into nostalgia-for-nostalgia’s sake, and the idea that he came back to life, trained for a month or so, and immediately bridged the gargantuan gap between where he was when he died and where Goku wound up so much later on was just so forced and lazy.
The manga series Super falls between those extremes. I mean, it’s Dragon Ball so it’s not like we were going to be getting brand new ideas or concepts, but the plot of alternate realities isn’t particularly strong. Obviously Toriyama had written himself into such a corner in that he needed to look outside of reality to find characters powerful enough to challenge the Z Fighters. Which is fair, because how many times could you go the Buu route and just say “THIS megapowered character was just napping while Frieza was doing is Frieza-ing”?
Toriyama does have a knack for creating fun, unique characters, though, and in short order, DBS whips up an evil Winnie The Pooh, an invincible (except for his feelings!) robot, and an assassin who can jump forward in time by a second. There’s also a young Saiyan named Cabbe from a world where the race’s history is much different and a warrior of Frieza’s race named Frost. So there is a nice mingling of the established with the brand new.
Goku’s universe ends up winning the tournament through a fluke when Beerus outsmarts himself trying to motivate Goku and Vegeta, but the assassin Hit takes a dive when he sees what has occurred. Everyone learns their lesson!
It’s all… okay. Nothing to this point in the series is egregiously bad, and the idea of alternate realities is at least better than bringing back old foes and having them be suddenly substantially more powerful somehow (but don’t worry… Super eventually gets back on that bike when they reintroduce Android #17). But it still feels out-of-nowhere. It’s certainly written better than Dragon Ball GT, but if I’m honest… I like the story ideas in GT more (taking place after Uub, rather than trying to shoe-horn this entire other story in before his introduction; the dark dragons out to wreck havoc for the misuse of the dragon balls; Goku being de-aged by a villainous wish). I wish I could combine the ideas at play in GT with the more clever, joyful writing of Super. The idea of alternate universe Strongest Under The Heavens tournaments just doesn’t get me going.
At the end of the second volume of the manga (where the first tournament story ends), there is a build to the arrival of Goku Black, and we get the return of Future Trunks. It’s another desolate, depressing future at stake (man, that guy just can’t win), and he returns to the past to try to prevent it. Like a lot of things about Super, it feels a bit “been here before”, but the Future Trunks character is one of Toriyama’s best creations, so it gets a bit of a pass.
Talking Point: What series that has been defunct for 10+ years would you like to see revitalized?
This is kind of the exact median of storytelling. If it didn’t remind me so much of something I like a lot more, it might be higher. The art is great, the new characters are brilliant, and there is a lot of fun interactions (like Buu getting disqualified from the tourney because he can’t pass a written test). The whole conceit of the book just doesn’t sell to me, though. It’s reheated leftovers from three meals ago.