This Dragon Ball Super review contains spoilers
Dragon Ball Super Episode 52
“Gohan’s a far cry from the warrior that you knew as a boy…”
Dragon Ball Super has been in full-on doom and gloom mood as of late. There have been nihilistic stakes, plenty of deaths, and a villain that has the same face as the series’ must trusted character. Dragon Ball is certainly close to approaching “Darkest Timeline” territory, so the light-hearted antics of “Gohan and ‘Future’ Trunks” couldn’t come at a better time.
The last episode of Dragon Ball Super took a look at Future Trunks’ touching bond with Future Mai and this installment carries on with this enlightening character study. This new entry pivots from Mai and looks at Future Trunks’ connection with Gohan, as the shell-shocked character continues to function as a fantastic foil for these long-running warriors. “Master and Pupil Reunited” is almost an unofficial sequel to the Dragon Ball Z Special, “The History of Trunks.” For the longest time that Special held a sterling reputation in the Dragon Ball community as one of the more powerful, focused stories that the series would ever turn out. The fact that the narrative is set against the bleak wasteland of Future Trunks’ timeline smack dab during the invasion of the Androids only gives it more weight.
Future Trunks learned most of his tricks in battle from an older Gohan, who acted as the budding warrior’s mentor. The story between the two of them is a highly emotional one (it’s not surprising that it also happens to function as the catalyst for Future Trunks’ Super Saiyan transformation), so it’s satisfying, albeit fair reason to be nervous, that the show would attempt to continue that story. It’s also a nice touch that this episode re-animates and extends certain pivotal moments from “The History of Trunks” so that these powerful scenes can be presented in a new, more beautiful light. Admittedly, the grown up version of Gohan that’s apart of Dragon Ball Super may look pretty similar to “Future Gohan,” but they’re entirely different characters.
Future Trunks certainly doesn’t confuse Gohan with his deceased mentor, but it makes sense that spending time with him would trigger some memories. This also acts as a great opportunity for Future Trunks’ to honor the memory of his fallen friend by training alongside Gohan where the two are able to teach each other. Gohan has been looking for an excuse to get back in the fray and show everyone that he still deservers to be taken seriously. Future Trunks’ presence might be exactly what the complacent Saiyan needs. That being said, the look on Future Trunks’ face when he sees that this version of his ruthless leader is a bookworm who prefers frozen yogurt to fisticuffs is priceless.
On this note, “Gohan and ‘Future’ Trunks” makes the differences between these two versions of Gohan as apparent as possible. The installment even embraces its more comedic sensibilities when Future Trunks and Gohan make a trip to the Satan household. Not only does Pan take to the skies and become a humorous obstacle (although it’s not as bad as before), but Gohan even dons the Great Saiyaman garb just to make sure that his time-traveling friend loses any remaining respect that he has for him. Mr. Satan also helps rub in just how domesticated Gohan has become. At one point Future Trunks is stuck watching television with Gohan and his family and his interior monologue screams, What am I doing here with these losers? I travelled through time to save the universe, not watch the local news!
The bulk of this episode is about the series’ examination of where Gohan currently fits in and if he’s able to be an asset to Future Trunks, but there’s still a little more that goes down outside of that. It may not amount to much, but Vegeta gets an exceptional training sequence that highlights that he’s still able to fight and get some work in even though everyone else is currently caught up in a period of preparation. Vegeta also appears to use the death of his “family” in Future Trunks’ timeline as the necessary fuel to push himself to work harder. This small detail goes a long ways as it continues to show that Vegeta has become more sentimental throughout Dragon Ball Super. His heart is growing and it’s great to see that the loss of loved ones has increasingly become his motivation as opposed to the egocentric quest to just be the strongest.
Elsewhere in the Capsule Corporation, Bulma is still hard at work to get that troublesome time machine back in operating order. The episode doesn’t really provide any substantial developments in this area and it looks like it’s still going to be a while before this heap of metal tears through the fabric of space and time. Mai and Shu are both pretty cute here as Bulma’s assistants in the science lab and it also finds a use for these displaced former-villains. Pilaf and his gang have a tendency to float around in the background until the series is in need of a dose of humor or a lighthearted adventure. The arrival of Future Trunks has helped re-focus these characters a little and given them a renewed sense of purpose. They at least know their way around Bulma’s lab at this point and Pilaf and Dr. Briefs as a team is rather adorable. This innocent lab material kicks the episode off and while it’s pleasant enough, it’s a little surprising to see how much time the episode spends here. The very relaxed start to “Master and Pupil Reunited” helps prepare the audience for the fact that this is a slower episode, but it still could have condensed the material.
This is ultimately a kind of a bittersweet installment that really underscores how much Gohan has changed. There’s a lot of ridicule and judgment that gets thrown at him in this entry and even if the message at the end emphasizes that Gohan’s happy with his simple family life, it still feels a little condescending. Piccolo even gets in a few digs at how disappointed he is with his former student. It’s wonderful that Gohan has found some happiness and figured out what he wants, but Dragon Ball isn’t some “slice of life” anime. It’s easy to imagine that the hardcore Gohan fanatics won’t be a fan of this one. In fact, they may borderline hate it.
Oh, and on the topic of fans that are disappointed over the poor treatment of characters, Piccolo and Krillin seriously have more freaking yard work and maintenance this week! The episode even goes out of its way to highlight how miserable Piccolo is with his current lot when Future Trunks drops by to talk to them. Of course Future Trunks can’t bring the two of them along with him because he’s actually off to do something exciting rather than chores that the John Deere company could handle.
“Master and Pupil Reunited” is a bit of a step down in quality over Dragon Ball Super’s recent strong run of episodes, but it still manages to have a lot to say. The trip down memory lane that the show takes with Gohan’s past is a helpful refresher of what the character can do when he’s properly motivated. Furthermore, it’s satisfying to see the series not shy away from darker material, like Future Trunks’ depressing PTSD-induced nightmare. It’s a considerable bummer and later on when Future Trunks flies to meet Gohan he experiences a flash where he sees the thriving city as the ruined hellscape that it is in his timeline. It’s a scene that’s totally unnecessary and easily could be dropped, but it’s maybe my favorite character moment that the show has provided for Future Trunks so far. It perfectly illustrates just how damaged and tired this savior from the future is under all of this bravado. The tears he sheds towards the end over his dead family have real weight behind them and are earned after so much of Future Trunks’ trauma has been shown at this point.
Once “Master and Pupil Reunited” is done with its character dissections and playful romps it can finally progress into more interesting territory. The very final moments of this episode advance the whole Goku Black mystery forward the tiniest bit, but it’s the sort of the cliffhanger that just makes you anxious for the next episode. Goku, Beerus, and Whis touch base in Universe 10 where they find an energy reading that is the same as Goku Black’s. This episode’s hint might be super brief, but there is the reveal of a green Supreme Kai who has a particularly sinister glint in his eyes. And that close-up of his Potara Earing certainly looks awfully familiar, doesn’t it? Much like one of the puzzles in Pan’s love-filled playroom, the pieces of this riddle are slowly coming together.