This Dragon Ball Super review contains spoilers
Dragon Ball Super Episode 71
Sometimes the best thing that a series can do is to get some distance away from its main character. It should be beyond clear that Dragon Ball has a severe addiction to Goku and that the character isn’t going anywhere.
That’s a devastating fact for some people to come to terms with and there are plenty of other characters that arguably deserve more time in the spotlight. “Goku Dies!” is far from void of Goku—in fact it still revolves around his character—but the episode positions him as an outsider of sorts and tell its story from someone else’s vantage point. That alone gives this episode such a spark that it’s a powerful reminder of how significant an episode can be when it casts an unexpected character as the hero. The fact that the “hero” in this case is the perma-cool Hit makes it even better.
Dragon Ball Super catapults from the absolute absurdity and surreal impulses of its previous two episodes into what appears to be an extremely dire situation for Goku and his friends. In fact it’s a scenario that’s as dire as they come and it’s a far cry from gag crossovers or baseball games.
A major strength of this installment is how to-the-point it is with its mission. It announces its goal right from the start and then it efficiently follows through with it all, which makes its conclusion all the more brutal in its bluntness. Furthermore, Goku’s execution is just one of several that Hit carries out in this episode.
Even though Hit is familiar with Goku, this is just another day at the job for him. The efficiency and speed at which “Goku Dies!” operates pushes the idea that this episode is more so from Hit’s perspective than it is Goku’s, which creates this feeling of helplessness for the audience.
On the topic of Hit and his home world, I could easily spend a whole lot more time in Universe 6 and even watch an entire episode that’s set over there as a fun detour. This is the closest that the series will get to that, but there’s still a reasonable amount of time spent in Universe 6 and the audience gets to feel a bit like a fish out of (their universe’s) water. Dragon Ball Super doesn’t waste this opportunity and there are plenty of strange-looking creatures and vibrant colors that are thrown at the audience.
“Goku Dies!” works so well because the audience knows how worthy of an adversary Hit is to Goku. The series has allowed the assassin to showcase his skills and intelligence over several episodes and so the reveal that Goku is Hit’s next target has a lot more impact than if this was just some random mercenary.
We know that Hit probably could take out Goku. We’ve even seen it happen before. Not only that, in case there are any people that are new to the party that are jumping in to the series here, the episode wisely begins with Hit pulling off a random assassination on a crime kingpin. It’s a fun little slice of awesomeness that doesn’t feature Goku and Vegeta, which can sometimes be a rarity. That being said, it truly feels like Dragon Ball Super understands how cool of a character Hit is and his opening job plays like a love letter to the Universe 6 character.
At this point it’s clear to the audience how big of a threat Hit is and there’s a deep sense of dread that builds through the installment as a result. Even the typical jovial music takes a backseat to an eerie, foreboding score that accentuates this anxiety. “Goku Dies!” does great things with tension and while this episode doesn’t waste any time, it’s interesting to see which moments are allowed to breathe for dramatic effect. Additionally, other episodes that have this structure to them typically have Goku in on the fact that someone’s out to get him and he’s allowed to properly prepare.
While Goku isn’t entirely in the dark here, the time that would typically go to preparation is instead used to highlight Goku’s futility. It’s a very bleak perspective for Dragon Ball Super, but the episode still pairs Goku’s obliviousness with a certain level of slapstick that provides laughs.
Just as much as “Goku Dies!” plays with tension in smart ways, it also clearly puts the audience’s expectations in its crosshairs, too. Goku’s death is a significant thing and it’s not likely that the series would so brazenly announce it in the episode’s title if it were meant to be for real. So while there is very much an eye rolling factor of deniability here, the episode really wants you to believe that Goku’s actually dead, right down to how it shows his corpse twice in order to hammer the point in.
Of course there’s ultimately going to be some trick that “reverses” Goku’s fate here, but it’s respectable to see that the show lets this storyline spill over into a two-parter and leave the audience on such a downer note. There willbe a happy ending for Goku, but he’s currently cold and stiff as far as this episode is concerned.
Another controversial move that works quite well in terms of the episode’s larger themes is that Goku and Hit really don’t have much of a fight here. There are some opening theatrics, but the whole affair is practically over moments after it gets started (although Hit does get to show off a very cool new technique).
This plays a whole lot better than some lengthy over the top battle before Goku meets his end. It adds to the overwhelming feeling that Goku never had a chance here and that his fate was entirely out of his hands.
It’s also considerably crushing that the individuals that first encounter Goku’s dead body include not only Gohan, but Goten too. It might feel a little more spiteful than usual for the show, but it’s meant to highlight the gravity of this moment. This isn’t just Bulma or Vegeta finding Goku’s dead body; it’s hiskids. It undeniably makes for a powerful conclusion.
In fact, Dragon Ball Super knows that this ending packs such a punch that they also start the episode with this grim glimpse into the future. It’s a rare move for Dragon Ball to do an in media res introduction, but it also helps underscore the significance of this. All of this might technically be “filler,” but it’s the most significant, drastic filler that the show has pulled off.
“Goku Dies!” is an absolute triumph and while it’s obvious that the final events are soon going to be reversed, it doesn’t take away from the impressive way that it presents these events. It’s also a fun, cathartic exercise for those that have really resented Goku this season. The extended time that the episode spends with Hit off in Universe 6 is a highly enjoyable surprise, but it also opens the door for all the different directions that Dragon Ball Super can go off in, for both better or worse.
A one-off episode with Hit and Frost in Universe 6 is one thing, but before you know it you’re getting a two-parter with Botamo. “Goku Dies!” is far from indulgent, but that doesn’t mean that future episodes won’t be. The full enjoyment of this installment will ultimately come down to what follows in next week’s episode, but “Goku Dies!” is a strong beginning to what will hopefully amount to an impressive two-parter.