After a lot of much deserved maligning among fans and casual viewers alike, Dragon Ball Super in my humble opinion, is no longer terrible. Does it have its flaws? Oh hell ya. It takes more than a few episodes to change that, however it now has something it hadn’t previously: Hope. There is now hope for the future of this series and its place within the franchise. While it will almost certainly never reach the heights achieved by its predecessor Dragon Ball Z, it may yet save itself from the depths of what it replaces Dragon Ball GT.
When discussing Dragon Ball Super and people’s feelings towards it, I think we have to really understand why people feel the way they do. Personally, I think it stems from what people hoped Dragon Ball Super was going to be. When announced it was the continuation of Dragon Ball Z, the first TV animation within the Dragon Ball franchise in nearly a decade, it was something fans and curious onlookers both wanted to see.
However there was one snag: the two Dragon Ball movies that had recently proceeded the series. Battle of Gods which is the first of the two movies, was advertised almost the same way as Super - the first Dragon Ball animation in years designed and written by Akira Toriyama himself. The fact it was supervised and some characters were designed by Toriyama lent the films a sense of legitimacy that previous movies in the franchise never possessed. This granted them a kind of canon status with the fans who considered them “real” Dragon Ball.
This legitimacy and coupled with their quality (well Battle of Gods at least), the movies quickly got fans excited about Dragon Ball again. Therefore when Dragon Ball Super was announced, expectations were obviously high. However they were quickly pulled back down to Earth once it became clear Dragon Ball Super was to be what fans loathed most of all: Filler, and inconsistent filler at that.
Now one asks how can Super be filler if it was always to be an original series? Simple. The idea fans had, and in many ways, were told by the studio that Battle of Gods and Resurrection F’ were the new canon as a way of invalidating GT. Therefore when Super was shown for at least a few episodes (ended up being about 27 episodes) to be recaps or a way of entering the movies in the official anime canon, people were outraged. Damn it, we wanted NEW Dragon Ball not transformations we’ve seen before and battles we couldn’t care less about.
However fans were willing to put up with this as long is it was entertaining. Instead we received a very mixed bag of episodes featuring some of the worst animation the series has ever seen at times, making people long for the era of the Saiyan Saga... beyond that however was something much worse for fans. The total degradation of popular characters.
Most fans continue to point to Gohan as the worst example of this, where he is either a side character in the Beerus God of Destruction Arc or one of the most ineffectual Z Fighters in the Resurrection of Frieza Arc. He can barely even transform into a Super Saiyan, something so easy it was shown CHILDREN can do it. To fans this was heresy, as Gohan at the end of the Buu Saga was widely regarded as the single strongest non-fusion character in the entire series, only outclassed by Vegitto.
The only explanation given was that he hadn’t trained since then, and 18 months is a long time. This just makes matters worse as again, like most fillers, goes against the established canon. Gohan previously, during the much longer seven year skip between Cell and Buu, could not only easily reach Super Saiyan but he could reach the second stage as well, albeit in a much weaker state as stated by Vegeta at the time. In short everything fans loathed but tolerated about the original series was back and in a big way.
However since moving into new territory there is a distinct feeling of things getting better. With the movement to a classic Dragon Ball trope in the Universal Tournament we’re seeing something from Super we haven’t been getting previously: entertaining material. Ya go figure. Being fun makes for a better viewing experience. For fans of Z this may be a shock but to long time fans who watched Dragon Ball this is a return to form for the series by imitating the Tenchi Budokai tournaments of old.
Why is this exciting now? Because it’s finally new material. Yes after 27 episodes, Super is finally living up to its promise. It finally feels like what everyone had previously been waiting for a new adventure for Goku and his friends. Furthermore its building on the success’ of its previous arcs.
Unlike the Freiza Resurrection Arc which built on nostalgia, this builds upon Beerus and the new information of multiple universes. With the revelation that our Earth only exists in Universe 7, it opens the possibility of greater fighters throughout the other universes, giving Goku and Vegeta new challenges. By setting up a tournament it allows fans to feel safe and familiar while simultaneously giving us something new as the door is flung open.
Interestingly, the writers are very much drawing on the mirror universe idea with a few of the new foes drawing heavily upon the old. Hilariously one foe was a carbon copy of Freiza except he was good... okay spoilers he wasn’t, he was totally a dick. However watching Vegeta man-handle a Freiza look alike was one of the most satisfying moments in the entire series. In a sense it gave the character closure that in Universe 7 he was never able to do. Beyond that, it was quintessential Vegeta. There was no mischaracterization here. We got to see somebody bow to the Prince and for fans of the character. It was a long time coming.
Now this isn’t to say all is rosy, as there is the issue of Goku and Vegeta clearly being stronger than almost every one of their opponents in only basic Super Saiyan. Considering they have forms in Super Saiyan Blue that are more powerful to the magnitude of hundreds of thousands, it can feel a little annoying. Of course this fits with their characters where they prefer to have a good fight, even if it means effectively fighting with one hand tied behind their backs.
However what makes it good is the mystery of the whole thing. Who is good, who is bad? Who is strong, who is weak? We have theories but we don’t know. After two cours of material where we knew how it would end, the viewer is finally treated to something that makes you want to tune in next week, not to see if it’ll finally end, but to see what happens next. Personally, while it’s not my favorite anime on TV I can’t imagine missing it for too long as it’s too much fun.
So while a lot of the flaws of the series still remain and the likelihood of it reaching the heights of its predecessors are low, it’s now a worthy successor to Z. Indeed for the first time I’m confident in advising fans of Dragon Ball to watch Super instead of fearing it may leave a bad taste in their mouths like GT was often known to do. In the end I say: fans of Dragon Ball keep your heads held high. We finally have something good to say about Super.