Reviewby Sam Leach,
Dragon Ball Super
Blu-Ray - Parts 5 & 6
Future Trunks, thought to have have finally secured a life of peace after the long battle against the Androids, has returned to the past with a brand new enemy on his tail, a mysterious figure named “Goku Black,” who bears a striking resemblance to our favorite hero. What is this man's true identity? And why does the road to unraveling this mystery take us through such a tangled web of time travel, alternate universes, and conspiracies among gods?
One of Dragon Ball's more distinctive quirks is how stakes routinely escalate so high that our heroes end up standing toe-to-toe with gods and even befriending them like it's no big deal. Our understanding of the universe's divine hierarchy has changed a lot over the years (or has just been straight-up retconned), but the consistent theme remains that no matter how important you're supposed to be, Goku's eventually going to invite you to dinner.
That's where I think this arc's true villain, Zamasu, has the most to offer. He's a Supreme Kai in training who has nothing but spite for mortal beings. In his mind, the gods aren't doing enough to keep the universe righteous, so he begins plotting to reform the system in his own image. The character who we're originally introduced to as Goku Black, the evil doppelganger who might as well have a villainous goatee to bring this Star Trek plotline all the way home, is revealed to be a version of Zamasu from another timeline who used the Dragon Balls to swap bodies with Goku. Now Black and yet another timeline's Zamasu are working together to terrorize the future. The long story short is that Zamasu has basically married himself because he is the best god with the best ideas, and anybody who says otherwise Just Doesn't Get It, Man.
I think he's a good villain because he's at odds with the nature of the series itself. A world where a mortal can be buddy-buddy with gods? That's exactly the kind of thing he finds infuriating, even if he can't resist taking a nip of that Saiyan combat prowess for himself. Dragon Ball Super has never been an amazingly written show, but you can tell that it's trying to have something interesting to say. The fact that our heroes can overpower gods is a product of this franchise's ever-shifting internal logic. The moment the title “god” actually means anything is the moment Goku stops having ceilings to break, and that's what Zamasu is trying to accomplish.
However, while we commonly refer to this storyline as the “Future Trunks arc”, Trunks is by far the weakest element at play. His presence feels like a boring grasp at fanservice, and the focus on time travel both makes the plot immensely convoluted and divides the stakes between multiple timelines. There are alternate universes in this series, and all the universes coexist with the parallel timelines that get created. If you kill a god, supposedly he stays dead in all timelines, but wait! Not if he's wearing a time ring, you see! Not to mention that most of the action takes place in Trunks' post-apocalyptic future timeline, even though it's hard to care about the secondary characters who live there. The show tries to add some heart with a Trunks and Mai romance subplot, but that's riddled with time travel age gap weirdness and never made much sense anyway.
The Part Five Blu-ray set covers the bulk of this arc, and Part Six wraps it up before settling back into Super's more sitcom-y antics. As far as the more humorous side of this show goes, this batch contains some of the more memorable episodes, such as the Dr. Slump crossover and the Great Saiyaman Hollywood movie arc, but ultimately I think my Dragon Ball lovin' heart prefers the silly melodrama, as equally fraught with issues as that approach might be. This sitcom stuff gets old fast.
Production values continue to be a sore spot for this series, and while there isn't anything especially ghastly in this stretch of episodes, it's just too hard to go back to Super as a TV show in a post-Broly world. The super clean art style looks very plastic and artificial, and only on rare occasions like the climax of the Zamasu fight is the animation ever good enough to make the most of it. Toward the end of these episodes, they start adding Instagram filters to soften the visuals up, which is a bizarre choice that doesn't completely work, but I do prefer it to the hyper-smoothness.
Features-wise, the Part Five set sports a ‘Coffee Break with Mai and Trunks’, which is a coffee shop chat between Colleen Clinkenbeard and Eric Vale, and Part Six has your standard voice actor interviews with Sonny Strait, Matthew Mercer, and Kyle Hebert. Funimation's English dub continues to get the job done; all of Super's returning cast continue to fit snugly into their roles, but we're far enough into the Dragon Ball revival era that the novelty of the series with modern dubbing standards has worn off. It's the Dr. Slump episode that presents the most intrigue, since the show pays a considerable homage to a fellow Akira Toriyama series that never had much presence in the United States. It's surreal to hear a crisp English dub of that '80s anime opening, however I'm not sold on R. Bruce Eliot's Senbei Norimaki. It just sounds wrong to me.
I think each Dragon Ball Super original arc is just a smidge better than the last. The Future Trunks arc is better than the Universe 6 tournament, and the Tournament of Power (beginning at the end of these sets) is better than Future Trunks. The Trunks/Goku Black stuff is the most Super has allowed itself to be a shameless soap opera and play with the conventions of the franchise beyond sarcastic humor. It actually wants to have some fun stringing the audience along through its twisted plot, and even if it can be vacuous at times, that's an element I always thought was missing from Super's earlier endeavors.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B
+ Fun soap opera melodrama, includes some of the better comedy episodes of the series
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