Dragon Ball Super
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 128 of
Dragon Ball Super ?
Universe 7 may only have one opponent left in the Tournament of Power, but that doesn't make their chances any better. As of 17's destruction last week, we're down to three fighters left between Goku, Vegeta, and an out-of-sight Frieza who conveniently doesn't get brought up at all in this episode as everybody keeps their eyes on the Saiyans. Goku's still recovering, so now it's up to Vegeta to make his stand in a final effort to change the course of battle.
This ends up being the most effective role Vegeta has played in the tournament yet, not because he succeeds, but quite the opposite. He gets his ass absolutely kicked. The amount of time that Super has dwelled on Vegeta's motivation to win always fell on deaf ears for me, because I didn't think there was anything interesting left to mine from the character that would feel honest to the story. But a teary-eyed Vegeta humbled by defeat? That's always been my jam.
The whole first half of the episode is Vegeta, too weak to summon the usual transformations, doing his absolute best to keep fighting, and Jiren effortlessly punking him every step of the way. Everything's gone quiet, the bombastic music has settled for the time being, and we just get to stir in Vegeta's emotions as he tries and tries and tries again. I see a common frustration among fans that Goku always being the hero who saves the day in the end cheapens the value of the other characters, but that's never how I've felt. Vegeta completely fails to contribute to the Jiren fight at the end of the day, but seeing him take his position as Goku's number two in stride reflects much more growth than winning ever would. The Saiyan prince's noble goals aren't what make him strong at the end of the day, but they are what make us like him.
So after an admirable attempt, Vegeta is the next to get knocked out of the ring, using his last breath to send Goku his remaining energy. Goku isn't in much better shape, but he sticks it out long enough to re-activate Ultra Instinct at the last possible moment, and the second half of the episode gets to ramp the excitement back up. I loved the reveal of Ultra Instinct this week, where Goku suddenly dodges Jiren's punch, but the signs of the transformation don't show right away. He has to slowly turn to the audience before we can see his eyes, and his hair just sort of rises organically. The music really goes a long way for this episode, carrying us from the somberness of Vegeta's fight to the aggressive vengeance of Goku's.
Another common fan complaint that I think a sharp episode like this does a good job combating is the criticism that Jiren is a bland antagonist. You can't really argue that he's much more than ridiculously strong and stoic, but I think the time has come for us to take back intensely stoic cool dudes. I don't think his role in the story is to be a fully-realized character (so I can take or leave his generic backstory), because he's fantastic at being an impenetrable wall that the other characters are forced to react to. He's like a force of nature, and we're watching all the other characters drop like flies around him. He probably wouldn't have been up to snuff in Akira Toriyama's run, but given the fanfic-y nature of Super, there's a lot of chemistry.
We're now down to two fighters left on the Universe 7 team with two minutes on the clock for the tournament. I've been fairly up and down on this final stretch of episodes, but this one hit my buttons. I finally found myself invested in Vegeta during this arc, and the story moves forward with a tone that really hammers home the impossible power of our final opponent. As we plow forward into the final Goku vs. Jiren fight (and whatever the hell Frieza's up to right now), things are picking up considerably, and I'm looking forward to seeing this series go out with a bang.
Dragon Ball Super is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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