Released: 24th January
Seen: 29th January
In 1984, Akira Toriyama created the first Dragon Ball comic and started a multimedia franchise that has survived for three decades. Multiple TV series, specials, video games and manga comics have been made. It even got turned into a live-action film that we won’t talk about in any great detail because I can’t bring myself to acknowledge the existence of that film any more than I need to. This series is older than I am… and I am sad to say, I barely watched it. Sure, I watched a few episodes of the Dragon Ball Z series when it aired because it was usually on while I was eating breakfast before going to school and it was a bright colourful distraction but I was never really a huge fan of the show. My only memory of Dragon Ball Z is the theme tune that literally everyone in my generation had hammered violently into our heads because it was obscenely catchy. In fact, I’m not even that big an anime fan. My limit with anime was watching Deathnote about 5 years after the TV series ended, and of High School Of The Dead, which is the stupidest zombie-related thing that I’ve ever seen in my entire life and I’m very much including (Insert topical political reference here). I am, in no way, the target audience for this film SO, this film presents an interesting question that I hope I’m able to address… can a person who doesn’t know anything about the series, or indeed this entire genre, still get something of value out of this film adaptation?
Oh, a major piece of info, I watched the dubbed version of this film. I do not know if a subbed version is showing near me so I cannot tell if that changes anything about it.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly is set during the Dragon Ball Super series, shortly after the Universe Survival Saga in the series (I have no idea what ANY of that means, but it’s important information to some so here it is). We begin on Planet Vegeta, a world full of a race known as Saiyan’s who are basically slaves under the rule of King Cold. King Cold has decided to give up his crown to his son, Frieza, and because Frieza is the pettiest creature in the universe, the idea that the Saiyan’s might rise against him is enough for him to destroy their homeworld but not before two young Saiyan children are sent to different planets. One, Broly, is sent onto an uninhabitable planet by the jealous King Vegeta who fears that Broly might be more powerful than his son (Who is also named Vegeta). The other, Goku, is sent to earth by his parent’s who hope he’ll grow up on a farm and might as well pack him with a blue onesie and a red cape because the obvious reference is obvious. Years later, Frieza goes hunting down the Dragon Balls, happens upon Broly who is now basically a wall of destruction and decides to use him to finish off the remaining Saiyans… It’s a lot.
When it comes to movies based on TV series, I have a personal rule. Indeed, it’s a rule that I generally have for films but especially for ones that are adaptations of previous works… “If I need supplemental material to understand your film, your film is bad”. Simple rule, really. This, of course, doesn’t mean that my experience can’t be improved by looking up the supplemental material, but if I need it to even grasp the basic storyline that you’re trying to tell me then we have a major problem. My biggest concern walking into this movie was that I was going to be lost on details like who everyone was or what their motivations were, basic stuff that would make it hard to follow. What impressed me was that Dragon Ball Super: Broly made sure that was never an issue, it didn’t let the new people fall behind while still giving the old fans the kind of experience that they wanted.
One of the elements of the plot that really works well for me was the idea of the sins of the father being brought upon the sons, a repeated idea that pushed the central conflict of the film. The battle between Broly and Vegeta is, according to my brother who actually watched the show, something that was a part of previous films and is a key bit of canonical history. A lesser film might’ve assumed the audience knew that but this one was able to make the scene giving that key piece of information easily digestible, fun to watch and made sure to remind the audience of how important that piece of info was before we get to the gigantic fight scene that takes up a solid third of the movie. You know why the main characters are fighting, you know why the fight has to be something massive and you get a glimpse into how long this has been festering with everyone involved so when it finally comes time for the fight itself, it feels earned.
The bulk of this film is really dedicated to the amazing fight against Broly that is so well paced that it should be studied. It’s a brilliant back and forth between a super powerful wild man who has no discipline of any kind and two well-disciplined fighters who slowly progress through power levels. While I’m assured by my brother that each level means something important, as a non-fan I could tell that just from how they animated it. You can see each character slowly getting stronger as the fight goes on, punctuated by a bright burst of colour and an obvious increase in the intensity of the battle. While I might not know the specific terms, even I was aware that red hair was more powerful than yellow, blue hair was better than red, these moments were powerful and so easy to understand that I never really felt like I was losing anything by not having watched the hundreds of hours of TV that’d come before this. It also has some fun moments cutting back to Frieza in order to break the tension just a little because Frieza is literally the pettiest villain of them all and I kind of love him.
What pulled this down for me, considerably, are those strobe lights that I have railed against before. At least here they almost make sense, it’s a large number of explosions and lasers and I can’t think of any other way to animate that, but there were some moments at the end that felt a little much for that. I also have to bring up the worries with the animation. It’s very clear that the bulk of the time and budget went on the battle scenes, money well spent because so many of those shots are so impressive that you can just see the hyperactive excitement on the animators face while they drew every line that we see. This means that there are probably some corners to be cut in order to keep the budget down, and some of those seem to be in the wide shots where a character will suddenly be missing their face. This seems to be a problem of showing something that is used to a TV screen and projecting it 20 feet high. Even the biggest TV screen imaginable cannot compare to the size of a cinema screen so there were some moments when a character will be far back and just not have a face, it’s a weird thing that I can only assume is part of the regular style but considering the manner that this film is being viewed, it stood out. Same with the still frames, a traditional anime element, that do sometimes work well because they’ve been so specifically drawn that you barely need the characters to move in order to get the message across, and then there are times when it just feels like they wanted to draw 4 frames and call it a day.
For the majority of the time, the film works well on its own. It’s a good self-contained story of revenge and how the need for it can eat a person up and ruin their lives before they even get their revenge. It doesn’t need the rest of the series to support it. If anything this might be a good way to introduce people to the franchise so they can get a taste of the style and tone of the show. You can walk into this film blind and find a lot to enjoy; it makes me eager to look up things that I’ve missed which might be the highest compliment that I can give a film like this.