Dragon Ball Super Episode 81
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 81 of
Dragon Ball Super ?
I certainly spoke too soon last week when I assumed that the responsibility of the Tournament of Power had been lifted from Goku's shoulders. Since it was revealed that Zen-Oh intended on destroying most of the universes anyway, the tournament's tone seemed to change for a brief moment, but that's not how the other universes saw it. Bergamo, Goku's opponent in the exhibition match, opens the episode by doing what nobody else has had the guts to do: request that Zen-Oh rescind his plan to destroy the losing universes. It's a dramatic gesture in the face of the highest and most fickle being.
This highlights something I had been excited to see: a reminder that these other universes are, in fact, entire other universes, which surely have their own stories of heroes and villains. When this exhibition match started, this trio of wolf brothers, the warriors of Universe 9, seemed a little too much like fodder to represent the best of an entire universe, but now Bergamo is here to shine some humanity on them through an emotional speech to the audience. He's a hero with pathos, and in this scenario, Goku is the bad guy by all accounts.
Akira Toriyama has mentioned in the past that he doesn't see Goku as a deliberately heroic character. Goku's always been about getting stronger, and saving people has been more of a lucky consequence of that. This arc of Dragon Ball Super has made it clear just how much it wants to lean into that idea, as Zen-Oh grants Bergamo's request to ditch the universe-erasing rule of the tournament, but only if he and Universe 9 can win the exhibition match against Goku, who has no intention of holding back (and if he did, it would result in a boring fight that would cause Zen-Oh to erase him anyway). The scenario where Goku is the Villain with a capital V is made abundantly clear, and this is how all of his opponents in the upcoming tournament will see him. Not that he seems to mind too much.
The Goku vs. Bergamo fight itself starts out as a sight to behold. Instead of the usual nonsense flurry of punches, blocks, and dodges (not that I dislike that style), there's distinct choreography this time, and it looks great. The animation-intensive fighting only lasts for a few minutes, however, before Bergamo is displaying his ability to grow in size and strength as a result of absorbing blows. This half of the fight lost me a little bit, because I could immediately see where it was going. It reminded me of the Yakon fight (hey, anybody remember Yakon?) from the Buu arc, where Goku defeated a power-absorbing enemy by making him too big and strong until he did himself in. The same principle applies here, though it was cool to see Goku go Super Saiyan Blue in front of an audience baffled to see the power of a god coming from a mortal.
After Goku's victory, we finally get a rundown of what the actual Tournament of Power is going to look like. As opposed to being a single fight at a time like the exhibition, this tournament will be a battle royale on a massive stadium. All the competing universe will put forth ten fighters, and the match will have a time limit of 100 taks (about 48 minutes). This time limit is interesting to me because it makes me wonder how many episodes they intend to draw out of it. Even if they drag it out in classic DBZ fashion, that doesn't seem like enough time to get a proper arc's worth out of it, unless there's something extra planned after the tournament itself. Another rule of the tournament I found interesting is that the fighters are not allowed to kill, which would explain why all the promotional material includes earth fighters like Roshi and Krillin.
This episode validates a lot of what I ask for out of DB Super. It's using its innate self-awareness to say something interesting, and even more importantly. it finds strong, emotional motivations for the characters (in this case, the other universes) that don't feel phoned in. When Bergamo is making his plea to Zen-Oh and the rest of the audience, it feels genuine. We have a chance to see the other universes' sides of this conflict, and we can't begrudge them in the slightest for targeting Goku as the bad guy. In fact, that just makes the tournament to come all the more fresh and exciting. Everything this arc is setting out to do works great.
Dragon Ball Super is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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