This Dragon Ball Super review contains spoilers.
Dragon Ball Super Episode 1
It’s kind of crazy to think that Dragon Ball Z began airing on Toonami in 1996—over 20 years ago—and it’s been over 13 years since the series finished its run of episodes with the network. The anime would end up being monumental for a lot of audiences because it acted as a gateway anime for many unsuspecting viewers (myself included). Dragon Ball Z fans soon got wind of Gundam Wing, Inuyasha, Naruto, and more, with Toonami’s programming largely acting as a barometer for what was popular, but it was all largely made possible due to the boundaries that Dragon Ball Z’s dub helped bring down.
Dragon Ball Super ends up being set in a very specific time period, six months after the defeat of Kid Buu towards the end of Dragon Ball Z’s run, but before the ten-year jump that occurs at the very end of the series where Goku leaves the 25th World Martial Arts Tournament to train Uub, the reincarnation of Buu’s good energy. This, of course, also means that everything in the already non-canonical Dragon Ball GT hasn’t happened yet—and won’t. Dragon Ball Super’s first episode is very much playing games with its audience. It doesn’t reintroduce Goku to viewers as a warrior or champion, but instead, a radish farmer. Goku even remarks that his farm work is a formidable match for him, with pesky roots that are “as stubborn as Vegeta.” With the world currently in peace, Goku beautifully tries to shirk his responsibilities so he can train and practice fighting for whatever threat looms next. He acts like some young child who’s trying to get out of his homework. This is the Goku that we all love and remember.
Curiously, this first episode isn’t afraid to replay old footage from Dragon Ball Z, almost as if for no other reason than to highlight how far along the animation has come since then. We can appreciate that the series doesn’t re-animate these choice scenes, as if the aged look is supposed to represent some flashback filter. It acts as yet another reminder of how far we’ve come and how bonkers it is that this series is even happening. While on the topic of the animation quality of the series, Dragon Ball Super admittedly takes shortcuts a number of times, with some episodes looking downright embarrassing. This episode however looks gorgeous and the series is still full of a number of really beautiful images and well-choreographed fights … sometimes. Unfortunately, the premiere doesn’t get anywhere close to this, instead focusing on how to properly animate crop fields and hot springs.
Goku and his farming abilities aren’t even the episode’s focus though. Instead, we see that Gohan is pretty much neutered by both Videl and Chi Chi’s influence, with him more concerned with being on the path of a “great scholar” rather than utilizing any of the power that that Z Sword unlocked. This unfortunately is the rut that Gohan falls into in this series, but Goten and Trunks are at least up to enough mischief and accidental battles to make up for Gohan’s complete abandonment of the battlefield. The two pre-teen fighters might be preoccupied with trying to get Videl the perfect present, but it at least results in the two of them taking part in battle with a giant snake. The series, much like how the end of Dragon Ball Z was, is quick to offer up plenty of bumbling Mr. Satan with Majin Buu in tow, as if they were some anime version of Laurel and Hardy. They continue to add to the very light hearted tone of this premiere episode that is 100% more interested in comedy than it is heavy plotting or action.
These almost painfully innocent moments on Earth are interrupted by a delightfully crazy scene in outer space that acts as the introduction of the mysterious and dangerous Beerus and Whis as they slowly travel the galaxy. Their goal is not yet made clear to the audience, with Beerus’ destructive tendencies currently very much feeling like the first glimpses that we got of Frieza. Beerus carries a heavier air to himself and there is much more than wonton destruction going on with him. For those that have already seen the Battle of Gods film, you’re well aware of what Beerus and Whis fully represent and what they’re looking for as they comb through the universe.
In spite of barely anything happening in this episode it’s just damn nice to get to see these characters again and hear the same voice actors returning to these roles. I legit felt like a teenage boy again as I watched the show’s theme song and there are few, few things capable of conjuring that powerful pull of nostalgia these days—I don’t even think the LucasArts logo and Star Wars crawl did it for me in The Force Awakens. The show’s ending theme is especially engineered to pull on your heartstrings and memories of this grand journey that chart all the way back to the days of Dragon Ball.
But this is still an episode where you don’t even get Goku in his traditional orange and blue gi! It’s like the episode is intentionally trolling you. This is what you waited for! Radishes! It’s like material you’d fill a teaser webisode with (and the next episode is very much more of the same with the Vegetas going on a family vacation—but uh oh—Mr. Vegeta wants to stay home and train!), and yet, it’s soothing to have this world back. Besides, Dragon Ball almost has a history of dragging its feet. It’s not as if the first episode of Dragon Ball Z has a whole lot of plot to it, other than it’s climactic ending—the same of which can be said here. And speaking of which, there’s a certain turn of events at the end of the episode that thankfully pulls Goku away from the tractor.
Dragon Ball Super also chooses to frustratingly focuses on pretty much just Goku and Vegeta, giving them the majority of the fights and development once the show gets rolling. I mean, these guys are people’s favorites, so it’s not exactly surprising, but it’s no reason to totally shelve equally impressive, varied characters like Piccolo, Majin Buu, or the complete dismantling that’s gone on with Gohan’s character (remember when this guy was the strongest, ultimate fighter? You’d barely recognize him now). This is not really an issue that’s solved over the course of nearly 75 episodes into the series at this point, so I feel it’s something worth giving you a heads-up on. Plenty of other characters do get moments to shine and there are some complete surprise appearances that turn up down the road (*coughCaptainGinyucough*) that imply that Toriyama is feeling just as nostalgic as his audience is, but still, get ready for The Goku and Vegeta Show.
As someone who’s been keeping up to date with the subtitled releases of Dragon Ball Super, I feel compelled to throw out some relevant information for those interested in jumping into this series. To begin with, the first two arcs—14 and 13 episodes apiece—are retellings of the latest two canonical Dragon Ball Z movies, Battle of Gods and Resurrection: F. In spite of this, this is a series that does get good if you’re willing to put in the time. It just doesn’t exactly help that Cartoon Network is going through these episodes at a weekly rate, whereas back in the day they’d breeze through five in a week. At the same time, there is more of a finite amount of the series available to them at this point. Dragon Ball Super is very much still airing in Japan, unlike the dub’s situation when Dragon Ball Z was being broadcast.
All of this being said, there’s no denying that people are going to be antsy—especially those who have seen Battle of Gods and Resurrection: F, which is kind of a shame, because those are the mega-fans that are going to be excited about this show in the first place. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy the first batches of episodes if you’ve already seen the movies—in fact, Dragon Ball Super’s approach with the material works a lot better and might even have you reconsidering what you thought of the films now that the material is able to breathe some. Just prepare yourself for some of the trademark slowness that Dragon Ball Z would eventually become known for in some extreme circumstances. In spite of this, when the show does connect it hits like magic and it’ll leave you smiling from ear-to-ear. There are some beautiful fights, glowing story arcs, and fortuitous character reintroductions that are going to blow your minds. You’re just going to have to put up with Dragon Ball at its most frustrating and filler-heavy to get there at certain points. But that’s why we love this show.
Dragon Ball Super’s dub continues to air on Saturdays at 8 p.m. on Adult Swim, and 11:30 p.m. in their Toonami block