Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
(Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Dragon Ball Z: Battle of the Gods)
It’s safe to say a good majority of people whose hobbies include videogames, comics and anime have at some point in their lives had or still have a “Dragon Ball Phase”.
In the case of North America, it’s often overlooked just how late we got into experiencing Akira Toriyama’s globally beloved franchise; Japan was the first to enjoy the series, first in Manga form (1984-1995) followed by the television series (1989-1996). For the US, it took several attempts to make Dragon Ball into a household name, going as far back as the late ’80s with an unreleased test pilot. For a moment, it looked like the 1996 release of Dragon Ball Z would finally have been the one to help the series break ground in the US, but it would take another three years before Goku and friends finally became a beloved American superhero and a continued marketing blitz of videogames, action figures and a billion remastered DVDs that continues today.
The reason I bring up DBZ’s slow start in the US is because to us, it hasn’t been too long since the last new animated film (released in 2006). For Japan, however, there hasn’t been a new DBZ movie in almost 20 years, barring the occasional TV special or videogame OVA. This is what makes the newest film, Battle of the Gods, a big deal on several levels; for Japan, it’s the first “real” resurrection of the franchise, and for America, it’s our first chance to see Goku tossing Kamehamehas on the big screen.
I recently watched Battle of the Gods during the first day of the limited theatrical showing, going in with a mix between optimism and caution; the movie did gangbusters in Japan, but some of the online commentary was less receptive over the premise of the film.
Speaking as someone who still holds a great fondness over the original series but also sharing the agreement that recent canonical additions like Vegeta’s brother and Bardock being the first ever Super Saiyan felt like poorly written cash-ins that damaged my nostalgia, I found myself grinning ear-to-ear throughout the entirety of this film. I loved it, unequivocally, going so far as to call it my favorite DBZ movie, or at least tied with the first two (Dead Zone and The World’s Strongest, respectively). In many ways, the movie felt like the first proper callback to the original series as well as a reintroduction that sets the stage for a whole new wave of stories (or however many before Toriyama gets bored again).
Here for you now are ten reasons why I loved this movie so much.
One of the immediate complaints I had read from some people who saw the film was that there weren’t enough fight scenes. On the one hand, I can understand the disappointment for those expecting an uninterrupted hour or so of big budget battles that the original TV show’s budget couldn’t pull off, as many of the previous DBZ films had a habit of foregoing character moments to just move right into the action.
With this film, Toriyama clearly wanted to take a different approach, and I stand by fully with his decisions here. On the outset, it’s your typical high-stakes story where an all-powerful bad guy makes his way to Earth with plans to destroy everything, but Toriyama found a way to set aside the inevitable battle while still keeping it relevant to the plot. As I said before, Battle of the Gods serves as a reintroduction to the series, and that chiefly includes its characters. Of course we have Goku and Vegeta taking the reigns as the series’ biggest staples, but ample time was given to allow the “normal” characters like Bulma and the rest of the DB friends and family get a shot at the spotlight (when was the last time Oolong had a speaking role?).
It’s a refreshing slice-of-life moment where everyone is enjoying Bulma’s birthday party, letting their individual character traits loose without being bogged down by fear of the latest universe-destroying villain, while also showing us how much these characters have grown over the course of the original story.
While not everyone may have appreciated the uneven split between dialog and fighting, there’s no arguing that once the fists finally do fly (along with the fighters), it was some of the most beautifully animated action ever seen in the history of the series. The ludicrously huge difference in power between newcomer Beerus and Goku was already exciting enough (a simple neck-chop was enough to take down Goku’s strongest form, Super Saiyan 3), but once Goku was able to fight on (almost) equal grounds with the God of Destruction, things got really exciting. The one thing that really helped make their battle come to life were the sweeping camera angles as the two Gods flew across the world, under its surface and even far above in space. Every punch, teleport and beam attack had an extra amount of power to them, quite similar to the 3D Dragon Ball games like Budokai.
But the truly stand-out moment was when Goku, just mere moments after acquiring his Super Saiyan God form, reverts back to his normal self in the middle of the fight. Yet Goku is unaware of this as he is far too committed to taking down Beerus that he continues to give everything he has and then some. Once the requisite Shonen J-pop song kicked in, the hot-bloodedness of the fight reverberated throughout the entire theater as fans cheered Goku on.
It should also be noted that during one scene, Goku and Beerus actually have their fight in the middle of a crowded city, yet not a single piece of collateral damage or human life is lost. Goku may have been largely influenced by Superman, but after Supes’ recent disregard for civilian crossfire, Goku now stands as a more mindful superhero who knows not to have normal humans involved in his fights.
DBZ movie villains have never been particularly interesting save for Broly, Garlic Jr. and Dr. Wheelo. The majority of them tend to be clones of existing antagonists from the TV series, if not ripping them off wholesale. There was also Turles from the third movie, who was either meant to be inspired from Raditz or the notion of having an Evil Goku.
But Beerus is a fresh new take on DBZ villains, movie or otherwise. His destructive nature fueled by childish tantrums is similar to Majin Buu, but his status an established God makes him less of a destructive force of nature and more like a deity with entitlement issues. From a visual standpoint, Beerus may not be as outwardly opposing as previous foes (but then again the most dangerous characters seldom are), but watching him in motion is a real treat; inspired by Toriyama’s pet cat, his lackadaisical animations mixed with the aura of a stereotypical kung-fu sensei are both humorous and impressive. Though his existence is somewhat shoehorned into the already-bloated DBZ lore, the way previously stoic characters like Vegeta’s father and Shenron cower at the mere mention of his name (the latter resulting in probably the funniest moment in the whole movie) do an entertaining job in billing Beerus as the single most powerful character yet in the franchise (until you learn the true identity of his partner Weiss).
Like Buu, dealing with Beerus is also like dealing with a live bomb; you can attempt to reason with him, even befriend him, but one wrong move and he could destroy the entire planet on the most fleeting of whims. As the film progresses, however, we learn that despite his title as a Destroyer, he also acts as a teacher who sees Goku as a potential student he can train into the ultimate opponent.
In other words, Beerus was less like this:
and more like this:
Who would have ever thought we would be praising Funimation now as the undisputed showrunner of English-dubbed Anime? In the early days of DBZ’s distribution on Cartoon Network (the final venue that would ultimately lead to its mainstream recognition in North America beyond bootleg-buying otaku), the company was heavily criticized for its poor performance in voice actors, generic synthesized soundtracks and utterly painful dialog that did not even come close to the original script. Yet once the company started localizing other shows such as Blue Gender and Yu Yu Hakusho, Funimation quickly turned the negative opinions around…except where Dragon Ball Z was still concerned. Ironically, even the original Dragon Ball series received a far better treatment, while Funimation’s most popular and most profitable series would continue to go through a number of re-releases and remasters, each new release getting closer and closer to the quality of their other shows but still missing the mark in various ways.
It wasn’t until Dragon Ball Z Kai that Funimation had at long last released a dubbed DBZ that the majority of fans could be proud of. That level of quality reached by the company continues on with Battle of Gods, featuring one of the funniest and best written scripts released in a long while. While the original script for the film was already filled with humorous quips, the localization team went the extra mile with their polish; similarly, the same dubbed actors who were despised for so long have come a long way into assimilating the roles they were given so many years ago, to the point that people now look forward to Sean Schemmel and Christopher Sabat lending their chops as Goku and Vegeta, respectively (as well as Piccolo, Yamcha, Shenron and a dozen other characters in Sabat’s case). Schemmel in particular has also asserted himself as the definitive English voice for Goku, with one spectator sitting alongside me commenting how his deafening roar of Goku’s trademark Kamehameha “gave chills”.
As mentioned before, Battle of the Gods is a much funnier and light-hearted take on the Dragon Ball Z universe, to the point that it intentionally works towards bringing the series closer to its original Dragon Ball roots. Nothing hits this point home more than the return of Emperor Pilaf and his loyal-yet-equally-incompetent henchmen Shuu and Mai.
As both the only comic relief and surviving villain in the series, Pilaf was criminally unused during the DBZ series, with his return in Dragon Ball GT a sad and pandering disappointment, just like the rest of that series. Fortunately, his appearance in this film is both a welcome return as well as a way of essentially writing GT out of canonical existence (unless he were to have his age reverted back, which at this point would be both unlikely and pointless).
Nevertheless, it was a joy watching Pilaf bungle his way into trying to nab the Dragon Balls again, even resorting to some of the classic jokes that made him such a likeable character way back in the DB series (a reference to poop jokes as well as Mai’s out of touch prudence regarding romance make their way here). His outburst regarding the unnecessary display of Trunks’ flying ability almost feels like a subtle jab at the series as a whole. I can only hope Pilaf and his dimwitted duo become a continued presence in the next film.
Vegeta has always been one of those characters with a fanbase that tends to be as aggravating as they are enormous. The Saiyan Prince may have never been able to surpass his rival Goku in a fight, but he’s actually managed to upstage the heroic protagonist once or twice in the fan polls. Even Toriyama has admitted more often than not that he was basically forced to give Vegeta an equal share in the spotlight due to his immense popularity…which was probably why he delighted in making Vegeta the butt of many jokes during this movie. Guess how the fans reacted.
The thing is, as amusing as it was watching Vegeta prostrate himself in an attempt to keep Beerus’ planet-destroying temper in check, it all paid off in showing us just how far he’s come as an actual character. In the past, Vegeta’s stubborn pride would often lead to his downfall, as he would always engage against foes far stronger than he was without caring about who would get hurt in the crossfire. In this film, he has matured enough that he knows right from the start that he wouldn’t stand a chance against Beerus, and his humiliating attempts to keep the peace during Bulma’s birthday party demonstrated how much he cared about protecting the Earth, his family and friends. Even Goku himself said how much he respected Vegeta for putting aside his pride for the greater good.
But the real standout moment was the temporary power boost Vegeta gained after witnessing Bulma on the receiving end of Beerus’ wrath. It brings to mind how in the past, Vegeta would often display the greatest amount of strength during the times he chose to fight for someone else’s sake, rather than his own. By choosing to fight for the sake of the woman he loved, Vegeta was able to surpass even Goku, if just for a brief moment. In fact, it’s been a bit of an overlooked tradition in the DBZ series for characters to obtain a tremendous boost in power while someone precious to them was either injured or killed. With this act, Vegeta has finally realized the most important thing that can drive him to reach the strongest heights.
Though hardly surprising, Akira Toriyama has frequently admitted that he doesn’t consider himself an expert in writing romance. This can explain why Chichi is able to have an extremely high powerlevel in patience while her husband ditches her for a few years to train, or how Vegeta went from regarding Bulma in the same manner he regarded all Earthlings (i.e.: inferior vermin) to suddenly having a child with her during convenient time-skip. For the most part this isn’t a big deal, as many fans don’t go into DBZ for the romantic subplots.
And yet, Battle of the Gods did have a few brief-yet-surprisingly touching moments, almost as if Toriyama is trying to finally make up for the shortcoming. Vegeta’s simultaneously touching/badass moment was already listed above, but there was also the revelation that Videl was pregnant with Gohan’s child (who we know at this point will one day emerge as Pan, Goku’s granddaughter who hopefully won’t be wearing a loli midriff in her next redesign), leading to a heartfelt embrace from the two young lovers as well as an approving Champion of Earth (if there’s one thing the movie desperately needed more of, it was Mr. Satan).
There is even a short moment between Goku and Chichi; during Goku’s losing battle against Beerus, his wife’s image appears in his subconscious, followed by the rest of his friends and family. In typical fashion, this gives Goku one final spur of strength to allow him to finish the fight. Once again, it’s a brief, almost insignificant moment, but it was still nice to know that Goku still keeps a special place in his heart for his wife, separate from even his own children. The Trunks/Mai dynamic is currently under debate on whether it can be considered cute or creepy, but the hilarious banter between the two can still be considered endearing.
For a series known to keep romantic moments like this in the back-burner, it’s an appreciated inclusion.
But if you really want to talk about love, you need only to have attended one of the theatrical showings for the week to witness the large turnout of people publicly demonstrating their love for Goku and friends.
As with any theatrical showing, there’s always the risk of sitting alongside obnoxious moviegoers. In my case, however, the experience of watching DBZ on the big screen was even more enjoyable thanks to the applause and optimism surrounding me during the entirety of the film. People cheered for almost every moment both old and new: Great Saiyaman, the Gotenks Fusion Dance, Goku’s new Super Saiyan God form, Vegeta’s burst of strength…the only thing sorely missing was Goku making a Spirit Bomb, as I would have liked to have seen everyone raise their hands in the air to give Goku the nonexistent energy he needed.
As with the Sony E3 conference, which I also saw in theaters this year, a room filled with cheering fans really helps to raise the hype of an already-anticipated event. I hope to get the chance to attend both events in public again next year.
As I mentioned before, Battle of the Gods was a great love letter to fans, with the greatest nostalgic moment occurring during the film’s credits sequence.
What else is there to say? It’s such a simple concept, but also simply effective.
The biggest complaint I’ve read from people regarding Battle of the Gods is that, in the end, Goku is unable to defeat Beerus. He humbly accepts defeat, which thankfully does not result in the Earth’s destruction. Instead, Beerus offers to challenge Goku again, while also reminding him that he is just one out of twelve powerful Gods, and not even the strongest being in Goku’s universe (that would be his teacher Weiss, who briefly demonstrates his own ludicrous power by knocking out Beerus during one wasabi-fueled hissy fit).
First, let me say how convenient it is for so many people to forget that this isn’t the first time Goku gave up on defeating a powerful enemy. Secondly, consider the implications from his climactic battle with Beerus: One of Goku’s fondest desires was to continue reaching new heights, to keep on finding opponents who could give him a challenge. By the start of this film, we can get a sense that Goku had considered himself unmatched at this point, offering to “take it easy” on Beerus despite his introduction as someone Goku would stand no chance against in a fight. Even when obtaining the necessary power to stand up to him as a Super Saiyan God, Goku states his dissatisfaction with his new form, since he was unable to reach that level of power on his own.
At this point, Beerus acts as a teacher to Goku (whether this was his original intention from the beginning is up for debate), lecturing him on the dangers of pride while assuring him that possessing the power of a Super Saiyan God for just an instant was enough to train his body to adapt on its own. Seeing how Goku spent the majority of the fight taking on Beerus with his own existing power rather than the one he just gained, we can see that Super Saiyan God was just the first step, not the end result.
Lastly, the best part about Goku’s encounter with Beerus is that he now has a new goal to reach; just as he was defeated by his former teacher Master Roshi (posing as Jackie Chun in Dragon Ball), Goku now learns that he has not obtained the title of the most powerful fighter yet. With more Gods on the horizon, the possibilities have now opened up both for Goku and the fans. It is uncertain how many new movies Toriyama is planning, but Battle of the Gods definitely paved the way for a new generation of stories to get excited about.
In short, this is Goku’s Rocky 1. The rematch, and the fights to follow, will be something to watch indeed.