Dragon Ball Super: Broly
2019, PG, 100 min. Directed by Tatsuya Nagamine. Voices by Sean Schemmel, Christopher Sabat, Vic Mignogna, Chris Ayres, Sonny Strait, Emily Neves, Monica Rial, Kara Edwards.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Jan. 11, 2019
Few anime have had a more consistent and determined fanbase than Dragon Ball: almost 33 years; multiple TV, theatrical, manga, card, and video game iterations; and a seemingly endless and complicated continuity.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly is the 20th film in the series, and dedicated fans (of which there are plenty, of the kind that will wonder if we truly get to see a glimpse of Goku in "Ultra Instinct" state) will undoubtedly be excited. Yet for newcomers what should have been a jumping-on point is like smashing into a brick wall. Not sure of what's a dragon ball, or where's Vegeta, or what's the difference between Planet Vegeta, King Vegeta, and Prince Vegeta IV, or why exactly archvillain Frieza wants to be exactly five centimeters taller? There are no signposts here, and every time you think you might be getting thrown a narrative bone, forget it.
So what's going on? The Saiyans (a species of intergalactic, all-conquering space apes) become enslaved by the Frieza Force – then evil cosmic dictator Frieza (Ayres) destroys the Saiyan homeworld as the only possible threat to his dominance. Years later, two of the survivors, amiable Goku (Schemmel) and spoiled prince in exile Vegeta (Sabat) are on Earth, when Broly (Mignogna) appears as one of Frieza's henchmen. Another Saiyan, he'd been exiled by Vegeta's father as a baby because his own power levels were exceeding Vegeta's, so his father, Paragus (Clarke), rears him to be the tool of his vengeance.
If that sounds complicated, that's because it is – not least since Broly has appeared in previous Dragon Ball films, but they weren't in continuity, so this is the first time that it's counted. Plus, that's before getting into any of the dozens of supporting characters who turn up for a spit and a cough. Will hardened Dragon Ballers be satisfied with directionless cameos from key figures like Piccolo and Bulma? Hopefully. Yet if this film is not for them, then it's hard to tell exactly who DBS: Broly is aimed at. The underlying narrative theme of sons who become greater – and better – men than their fathers is underdeveloped. Meanwhile, the animation feels oddly dated, as the decision to give visual continuity to three and a half decades of storytelling re-enforces this as fan service. Still, with this many fans, is that a problem?
As for the rest of us, as Cheelai says, "I basically don't understand a single thing you've said this whole time."