Dragon Ball Super: Episode 1 (EPISODE REVIEW)

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After 18 years, the first official Dragon Ball episode since Dragon Ball Z ended its long run has now aired in Japan. Dragon Ball Super, the new series, picks up directly after the events at the end of DBZ, helping to introduce the new threat of Beerus, and to reintroduce the great cast of characters fans have come to know and love. There is no question that the Dragon Ball franchise has helped anime (Japanese animation) flourish in Western countries like none other. Dragon Ball Z is perhaps the most influential anime to ever invade American culture, and as such it’s a huge surprise to all fans of the series that it is finally being revived in this new original series. Much of Super’s first episode takes strides at ensuring to longtime fans that the much maligned sequel series Dragon Ball GT (which was not produced by Akira Toriyama) is firmly placed on the non-canonical side of the spectrum.

Akira Toriyama is behind this new project, and his love and understanding for the characters truly pops in this first episode. As I mentioned above, the episode is built primarily to reintroduce the characters, and explain what they’re up to now. With no immediate threat to the future of the universe at hand, Goku is farming to bring in money for his family. Gohan and Videl are planning their marriage, and she’s helping pay for his schooling. Trunks and Goten are kids once more (as this is only about 6 months after the events of the Majin Buu saga), and they’re off being… well, kids. Chi-Chi is as feisty and fiery as ever, and Master Roshi is still such a pervert. It’s really great seeing all these old faces once again.

One thing that was a bit odd to me was the Japanese voice actors. Nowadays it’s almost unthinkable for me to watch anime in anything but it’s original Japanese language, but since I spent most of my after school hours as a kid watching DBZ in an English dub it’s hard for me to disassociate myself from those voices I’m so used to hearing. However, it’s very cool that 78 year old Masako Nozawa reprises her legendary roles of Goku, Gohan and Goten. I’m not sure how the other behind-the-scenes cast and crew stacked up either, but it was strange for me to see a new animation feel so dated. Or, rather, not dated: vintage. It looks and feels exactly like the animation quality of the Dragon Ball Z episodes 18 years ago. The series sparked a whole genre of action-oriented animes, which have up to now evolved quite vividly and stylishly from the DBZ of old. I was expecting more flair in the animation after all this time, but alas I was a bit let down in this respect.

After the events of the Majin Buu saga, the Dragon Balls were collected to grant the wish that everyone forget about the atrocities that befell earth during Buu’s reign of terror. Naturally everyone also forgot about the heroes who truly saved the planet. Mr. Satan (his name is changed to Hercule in the American translation) is touted as the savior of the world, and he eats it up, although he clearly did no such thing, being the coward that he is. The irony of the situation is that he’s now taking care of Majin Buu and keeping him calm so he doesn’t lash out again. The fear he manifests when Buu shows up at a press event because he was hungry is palpable. And it’s hilarious to watch. He ends up giving the money he receives as reward for saving the earth to Goku, who truly deserves it, and naturally Goku uses the money as an excuse so that he can continue his training. Chi Chi unflinchingly (lol) takes the money and let’s him leave (so long as he comes back to visit).

The highlight of the episode for me though was the childish naivety of Goten and Trunks, who are in search of a wedding present for Videl. They overhear an old man say that the hot springs near his home can make old skin new again, so they grab a jar, fill it with the water, and present it to her. This childish side story was where it truly felt like Dragon Ball again for me, and brought me back to my childhood. It wasn’t Goku’s ridiculous parenting, the very nostalgic opening sequence, or anything of the sort. It was this. It just felt right. It was less Dragon Ball Z, and more akin to the original Dragon Ball series.

Of course, the episode isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Nostalgia aside, some things were clearly missing. No sign of Vegeta or Bulma for starters. Also, Beerus (who was introduced in the Dragon Ball Z film Battle of Gods) was so ridiculously overpowered and irrational, it was beyond reason. He blows up half a planet. Why? The food they served him was too greasy… All said and done though, I don’t think I’ve been this excited for a new anime in a while. I hope to make these reviews a weekly event. Also, my wife had never seen the series (neither Dragon Ball nor Dragon Ball Z), so we’ve started from the beginning of Dragon Ball and are working our way through the impressive bulk of episodes. It holds surprisingly well against the test of time, I’ll tell ya. I’ll try and review those as well (although by sagas and not by individual episodes or seasons, so as not to totally waste my time and spam you guys).

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