Dragon Ball Super: Broly is the 20th film in the decades-long Dragon Ball franchise and the first time I’ve ever actually engaged with it in any sustained way. Through cultural osmosis, I’m familiar enough with certain characters (Goku, Vegeta, Frieza), concepts (Saiyans) and styles (the prolonged power-up sequences and constant power climbing through battle) of the franchise. But I’ve never watched an entire episode, never read a manga and never seen one of the films.
DBS:B kicks ass. It reminds me of the few times I’ve been able to attend a watch party for professional wrestling. Multiple characters, each with distinct personalities, performing pageant-like fight sequences with heel turns. Heroes and villains defined by raw power. Powering-up. Super-moves. Convoluted story arcs that add motivation and flavor and fun but don’t matter all that much when the chips are down and the characters start smashing through mountains.
But for the uninitiated: In the series, there is a race of alien super-beings who are extremely powerful; they measure everything by “power level,” in fact. The Saiyans are ape-like aliens who take a more human-like form but have furry tails. The tails can be cut off to prevent them from turning into their wildly uncontrollable ape forms. They’re space mercenaries by trade. Saiyans invade and conquer weaker planets and then sell them to the highest bidder.
The hero, Goku, is a Saiyan rocketed away from the destruction of his home world as a child and raised by humans (kinda Superman). His current best friend is the former prince of their species, a gruff dude named Vegeta (kinda Wolverine). The titular Saiyan, Broly, was also sent away prior to the Saiyan genocide. Unbeknownst to our heroes, Broly is the most innately strong of all of them, but his childhood on a desolate, violent world has made him nuts. When Frieza, the arch-villain of the series, finds Broly, he decides to use him as a weapon against the hero characters.
Don’t worry: The first half of the movie explains everything about Saiyan history and how the three men ended up where they are. And everyone fights for like 45 minutes.
It is gorgeous. Toei Company’s animation is apparently much-improved from previous entries in the franchise, but this was novice was impressed by its expressiveness. The simplicity of the fight sequences as Broly continuously becomes more and more powerful is breathtaking. I’ve rarely seen animated superhero action edited so effectively. What starts as kicks and punches becomes energy beams and bombs and auras and sheer scale as characters fly miles after every blow. As the fight progresses, the visual style compensates by becoming less exact and more simplistic, using color to convey the intensity of the battle. Just gorgeous, particularly paired with the score by Norihito Sumitomo.
I have no sense of what the events of DBS:B mean for the overarching Dragon Ball story but the audience seemed very pleased by the entire experience. It’s the kind of event where the limited showings mean few in the audience are attending without expressly wanting to be there, so I take their positive reactions at face value. For fans of the series, it seems like this is one you shouldn’t miss. As someone just coming in for the first time, I had a hell of a time.