This Dragon Ball Super review contains spoilers.
“For what purpose did you come to Earth”
“Isn’t that obvious? For revenge.”
With Dragon Ball Super nicely settling into its next big battle, any initial complaints with “Start of Vengeance” are going to come from the group of people who have seen the Resurrection ‘F’ feature film. Granted, the action has only started here in Dragon Ball Super, but it should already be pretty clear that the movie equivalent of this battle had a lot more work put into it. It’s understandable that the animation for a feature film would be of a considerably higher quality than a television show with a much quicker turnaround, but even the choreography of this battle feels lazy and uninteresting at times.
I’m holding all of this to the higher standards of a fan who has seen the series do better and knows that it’s capable of more. In spite of these shortcomings though, this battle is a lot of fun (those opening shots of the Frieza Force emptying out onto Earth are also pretty gorgeous). And even if the déjà vu of having Frieza back is causing you to roll your eyes more than it is to pump your fists in excitement, the guy doesn’t waste any time in playing the Big Bad card.
The bulk of this episode spends its time getting lost in the colossal five versus 1000 grudge match (that’s 170 soldiers for each of them—Roshi’s done the math) that Frieza has orchestrated for planet Earth. There’s a heaping amount of nostalgia thrown into this fight for good measure. It’s definitely appreciated to see warriors like Krillin, Tien, and Master Roshi getting back into the mix. The stark contrast in their power levels may be abundantly clear around people like Goku and Vegeta (or Buu, who’s currently off sleeping through this attack on the planet), but amongst the rag-tag intergalactic militia they’re up against, they’re operating just like it were old times. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve also got a handy reservoir of senzu beans, too. Plus, that moment in the battle where all of these characters get to show off their signature moves once again is all sorts of wonderful.
As all of this assessing of power is going on, the episode does shine a light on the fact that bringing along the likes of Chiaotzu (and presumably Yamcha) would be kind of pointless. On the other hand, excluding Goten and Trunks feels sort of bonkers. Yes, they’re children, but they’re also two more Super Saiyans that the Earth has at their disposal. Thankfully, Goten and Trunks’ time on the sidelines is ultimately a brief one, with them both jumping into the fray by the end of the episode.
One of the larger discussion points of this episode is likely going to be the series’ treatment of Gohan. Much like the episode’s title warns its audience, this installment begins to turn Gohan into a punching bag for the Frieza Force. Dragon Ball Super can’t be an easy viewing experience for those that are Gohan fans. Dragon Ball Z seemed to take great interest in weaving the tale that Goku’s offspring might very well end up being the most powerful being in the universe. The series’ final arc even saw Gohan elevating himself to “Mystic Gohan” and achieving a new tier of power that would have him operating at a degree of strength which has never been seen before. That’s not who Gohan is now. In the interim time between Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super, Gohan threw away his martial arts gi for a graduation cap and gown. Accordingly, Gohan is now exceedingly out of practice and at the bottom of the fighting barrel as a result. As a result, it might be pure torture for some people when Gohan isn’t able to decimate Frieza’s entire army singlehandedly, or that someone like Tagoma is so easily capable of defeating him.
Some people might take exception to the flashbacks that occur in this episode that call back to Krillin’s death at the hands of Frieza, as well as the titan’s memories over a pre-teen Gohan. I viewed these as welcome juxtapositions to how much has changed over the course of these two series. Coming face-to-face with such an important enemy from the past is obviously going to drag up some old, unpleasant memories. The audience hasn’t forgotten these things, so to see the characters getting caught up in it too is a small, but useful touch to the narrative.
During this reunion, Frieza’s line to Krillin regarding their former skirmish, “No matter the number of times you’re revived, I’ll simply kill you again and again” is effectively bad-ass. This situation could have acted as the perfect opportunity for Krillin to get some round character development and overcome a major obstacle from his past (curiously, this does eventually happen in the series, just not for another 60 episodes…). Instead, Krillin merely gets to bide his time with Frieza’s men. It’s not exactly a glowing redemption for the character. That being said, it’s not as if Krillin suffered PTSD after his death or was constantly waking up screaming to Frieza’s face. The mental ramifications of battle is something that Dragon Ball has never been too interested in exploring and I suppose this exchange taking place at all is the series’ way of doing something with the idea. Krillin’s response to Frieza picking on him is essentially clamming up and breaking under the pressure. However, it’s not long before he realizes that these guys are no match for him, even if he is being outnumbered.
During all of this Frieza quickly clues in to the fact that quantity does not always overrule quality, so he turns to his top men to rectify the situation. On that note, this episode also offers up more of the growing power struggle within the ranks of Frieza’s army. Sorbet, the leader of the army, turns to Shisami for help, but then something genuinely surprising happens. Before Shisami gets the chance to make much of an impression, the bitter Tagoma executes not only him, but nearly pulls off a doubleheader with Gohan in the process. Just like that, Tagoma is able to get Frieza’s attention and he’s told that once they finish wiping out the planet, he’ll have a cushy position at the head of the Frieza Force (not to mention his very own planet). We’re also shown that Tagoma is the one that’s been training with Frieza for these past four months, so it’s understandable that Frieza’s sparring partner would gain a hefty boost of strength in the process.
Tagoma seems to run around with a personality not unlike the first glimpses that we saw of Vegeta. He’s brash, power-hungry, and infinitely determined to be the best. It’s an attitude that might be an asset to Frieza’s army, but one that’s also going to make quite the opponent for these guys in the next episode. Hopefully Vegeta will return in time so he can show Tagoma what true arrogance really looks like.
There have been a lot of placeholder episodes of Dragon Ball Super lately, as well as installments that have merely helped set up the pieces for what’s to come next. “Start of Vengeance” is a little better in that regard, but it’s still not hard to view this episode as a “piece of a piece of a fight.” It’s at least helpful that these episodes aren’t simply replicating every beat of Resurrection ‘F’, but rather, are branching off in new directions and finding fresh material to expand on, too. The entry’s heavy embracing of action helps it fly by, but by the time that the credits roll it doesn’t really feel like much has happened at all. Sure, Gohan’s life is now laying in the balance and the next episode sets its sights on Frieza’s Tagoma as its target, but this all still feels like prologue. Until Goku and Vegeta arrive back on Earth, this is all just a pretty distraction until Frieza becomes the one that is actually doing the fighting here.
But next week marks the glorious, unexpected return of Frog Ginyu, so Goku and Vegeta can take their time.