Dragon Ball Super
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 127 of
Dragon Ball Super ?
I suppose it was only a matter of time before we got Jiren's tragic backstory, since his secret wish was being alluded to throughout the whole arc. But Dragon Ball has never been a flashback-heavy series, so I was never confident of what form that thread would take. It turns out that when Jiren was a child, his family was killed by an unnamed supervillain, and then he went on to train with a mentor and make friends who fought together (not unlike some other people we know), before the villain came back and killed all of them too, leaving Jiren with nothing to believe in other than strength.
If that had turned out to be the entirety of Jiren's story, it would be pretty underwhelming, but this episode has a lot going for it beyond that. On top of fantastic action, we're offered a ton of variety between the fighting, the backstory, and a finale with a twist up its sleeve. The last few episodes left a lot to be desired animation-wise, but this week all the characters come out looking good. Goku, Vegeta, and Android 17 are all teaming up against Jiren, who has the upper hand on just about everybody. We get to see packed three-on-ones, and then watch the fight organically trade between each fighter without the adrenaline missing a beat. Also, Vegeta's new Super Saiyan Blue form while shirtless is a surprisingly good look for him.
Frieza gets a chance at Jiren as well, now with a bruised ego and looking much more emotionally invested than before, although the fight is brief before the show switches back over to 17, who ends up being the heart of the episode. We're back to the original problem of the show vaguely gesturing at themes that don't make much sense, but where this goes is honestly surprising. There's some pondering over who's actually the more human of the two: stoic Jiren who let his friends' deaths destroy his beliefs or the cybernetic villain-turned-hero 17. It's at this point that I wish the franchise had ever gone more in-depth into 17 and 18's backstories, since we know they were human teenagers at one point before adapting to become Androids, but the logistics behind how much Dr. Gero's tampering affected their current human lives is left unclear. I'm sure Akira Toriyama's given the deets in interviews or something, but I always thought it was weird that 17 and 18, who are still technically humans underneath it all, still go by their Android names. I don't know, I'm overthinking this.
Anyway, this all culminates in a showdown between Jiren and 17, where 17's philosophizing seems to strike a nerve with Universe 11's star fighter. Jiren's unleashing an especially powerful attack that risks destroying the entire arena, and 17 sacrifices himself creating a barrier so that Goku and Vegeta can survive and get a few more seconds to rest before they have to fight again. Now when I say "sacrifice", I mean he literally blows himself up and dies. The Tournament of Power's rule about killing always seemed like an awfully convenient caveat to keep our main characters from getting offed by much stronger opponents, but it was also made clear earlier in the arc that if somebody self-destructs, there are no penalties for their opponent, and now we get to see that rule put into action. 17 doesn't end up on the bench next to his sister, nor does he get deleted by Zen-Oh. He's just dead.
Now that raises the usual question about how the Super Dragon Balls, the prize for the winning universe, are going to factor in by the end. I feel confident that Universe 7 will win and wish all the deleted universes back into existence, but would that wish count for 17? The only reason I'm concerned is that I think 17 is one of the few characters who wasn't seen in the epilogue of DBZ, so Super is under no obligation to make sure he survives the series. I could be wrong, but it's a possibility I'm entertaining. 17 ended up being one of the coolest characters in this show. I remember his episode being by far my favorite of that interminable recruitment arc before the tournament, so seeing his character go out in a blaze of glory is getting to me more than I expected.
This is far from a perfect episode, since you could nitpick Jiren's backstory or the thematic logic the show tries to draw between 17 and Jiren, but it remains thrilling all the same. The action's back to that level of energy I look for, and for the first time in the tournament, there's something that actually threatens the status quo. The fight with Jiren is getting desperate, and you can see the toll it's starting to take on our main characters. Good stuff.
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