Reviewby Richard Eisenbeis,
Dragon Ball Super: Broly
After decades stuck on a desolate, long-forgotten planet filled with murderous monsters, a Saiyan and his elderly father are finally rescued. Freed from their daily battle for survival, the two set out to get revenge on the son of the man who stranded them there: the Prince of all Saiyans, Vegeta.
At this point, Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball franchise hardly needs any introduction. With hundreds upon hundreds of episodes, over a dozen feature films and specials, and fame the world over, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in America or Japan under the age of 40 who doesn't at least know the name “Goku.” After the recent success of the franchise's anime revival, Dragon Ball Super, it was pretty much a given that we'd be seeing more of our heroes in the near future. Now that time has come with the Japanese release of the new theatrical film Dragon Ball Super: Broly.
Broly is the story of the titular Saiyan, Broly. It shows the events that lead to his father and him becoming stranded on a desolate world, the harsh life they face there, their decades-late rescue, and their first encounter with Dragon Ball's heroes, Goku and Vegeta.
Of course, to many fans of Dragon Ball, this may seem more than a bit familiar. This is because Broly, his father, Paragus, and their quest for revenge on Vegeta has already been told in a movie—namely the eighth Dragon Ball Z film, Dragon Ball Z: Broly - The Legendary Super Saiyan. However, the Dragon Ball Z films by and large exist in their own unique continuities that branch off from the TV series at various points. This means that Broly is completely unknown to the characters of the Dragon Ball Super—until this newest film anyway. And make no mistake, despite the similarities in design and backstory, the Broly we see in Broly is far different from his namesake in the 90s film.
But The Legendary Super Saiyan isn't the only work being reimagined to make this film. The manga Dragon Ball Minus, which follows Goku's father, Bardock, in the days before the destruction of his planet by Frieza, has likewise been adapted as a major part of the prequel section of the film. This, in turn, has the interesting effect of knocking the TV special Dragon Ball Z: Bardock - The Father of Goku out of the main continuity, as well.
Surprisingly, the prequel section of the film takes up a good third of the total run time. It details the circumstances that led to Broly's exile, Goku's journey to earth, and Vegeta's place among the Saiyan elite. It also gives us a clear look at the Saiyan culture under Frieza's oppression.
On the royal side of things, Vegeta's father, the King, chafes under Frieza's rule. He is constantly looking for a way to usurp the fledgling evil emperor. This in turn has left King Vegeta obsessed with his pride, believing that his prodigy should be the one to bring salvation to his people—even if that means casting aside potentially stronger warriors.
On the other side of the coin we see how Bardock, a low-class warrior, lives. He has a wife and family and lives in a small community. This shows us that the Saiyans are more than just warriors—even if Bardok and his wife are far from the most normal of Saiyans themselves.
But while this film does expand upon Goku and Vegeta's origins, there's no doubt that it's Broly's story—not theirs. This Broly, unlike his 90s counterpart, is not a pure evil monster killing for the sake of killing. Rather he is a layered character, with more to him than his brutish exterior.
Broly, when it comes down to it, is a tragedy centered around child abuse. Raised normally, Broly would have become much more like Goku or his alternate universe counterpart Kale—i.e., a generally kind person with a talent for fighting. Instead, he's been tortured into becoming a raging monster.
Paragus' pride for his son became twisted as they remained trapped in exile. He sees his son as a tool for revenge—and when that revenge is complete, the universe will see it is him, not King Vegeta who has the stronger son. He will do anything for that vindication—up to and including torturing his son with a shock collar any time he disobeys.
What really humanizes Broly—and makes the whole thing so much more tragic—is his friendship with two low ranking Frieza soldiers, Cheelai and Lemo. Even after his horrible, abuse-filled life, we clearly see the kind person inside remains. In fact, this, more than the collar, is what allows his father to control him. Despite it all, he still loves his father.
Even as Goku and Vegeta battle Broly, it's hard to root for our heroes. While the fate of the planet is at stake, it's not Broly's fault. Even Goku can see this. Broly has just been broken again and again. Becoming a mindless monster has become his only escape. There is no evil—no intent—just aimless rage.
This makes Broly a different kind of enemy for Goku. He's more an innocent creature than a calculating villain. However, his penchant for destruction is unquestioned, and sometimes, you just have to put a mad dog down.
If there is anyone to blame for the whole situation—well, beyond Paragus, anyway—it is Frieza. In his latest bid for the Dragon Balls, he hoped to nab them, make his wish, and be off Earth before anyone was the wiser. However, once he has Broly in his power, he can't resist letting Paragus take his shot at Vegeta. But like Paragus, Freiza is toying with power he can't hope to control—one that rivals the gods themselves.
While Frieza is basically a side character in this film, he is also the most important character structurally. With his presence, he ties the scenes in the past to the scenes in the present. His role in the narrative then becomes getting all the pieces to where they need to be in order for the story to take place. In other words, he is the one who ties the whole story together.
Speaking of side characters, one of the best things about Broly is its focus. Instead of trying to bring in every character in the Dragon Ball universe for his or her moment of glory, the film basically follows nine characters overall—even with the flashback section included. Outside of them, the other Dragon Ball characters that appear are glorified cameos at best. In fact, the vast majority don't show up in the film at all.
Frankly, this is a good thing. It allows the film to focus on Broly and his circumstances—i.e., the emotional core of the film. And that's exactly how it should be. The film's title is Broly after all.
On the animation side of things, it looks great for the most part, easily living up to the best looking scenes of Dragon Ball Super. A short scene showing the fight between Broly and Goku through Broly's eyes in first person is easily the film's visual highlight.
However, the occasional use of 3D character models does stand out—clashing with not only the typical 2D animation nature of Dragon Ball but with the rest of the film as well. This is especially true in a portion of the film's climactic battle (namely Goku and Vegeta versus Broly). It doesn't look bad, per say, but it is obviously different to the point where it takes you out of the film.
The music is also a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, the film transfers from past to present with an excellent remix of Dragon Ball Z's Cha-La Head-Cha-La. On the other hand, the music for the battles between Broly and our heroes is almost laughable: from time to time, the singer basically just chants the name of whoever is winning the battle at the current moment.
In the end, Dragon Ball Super: Broly feels like an introduction to something greater—the first chapter of a story that is no where near its conclusion. But even on its own, it's a meaningful character piece about a broken man haunted by his abuse-filled past—twisted into something he was never destined to become. Yet, even then, there is hope for him. The only question is will he be able to over come his trauma and embrace this hope before his story ends in destruction—either his own destruction or a that of a world full of innocents.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly was released in Japan on December 14, 2018. It will be released in the US and Canada on January 16, 2019.
Overall : B+
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Turns a one-dimensional villain into a tragic victim of abuse.
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