Dragon Ball Super
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 79 of
Dragon Ball Super ?
Dragon Ball Super runs the gamut of strengths and weaknesses. It's self-aware for better and worse, it jumps back and forth between breaths of fresh air and stale filler writing, it rarely looks great, but manages to remind us just often enough that Toei does have an A-game. However, just out of reach from the jaded side of my heart is one quality that will never fail to put a smile on my face: those moments when the show just feels like a kid smashing their action figures together, going nuts as they string a story together out of their mismatched characters.
That idea gets a near literal interpretation with this multi-universe survival tournament. All the fighters are coming from different planes of existence that have their own rules and logic. In this current exhibition fight, the opposing team is a trio of man-wolves from Universe 9 whose energy source is undetectable to our heroes, simply because they're just that fundamentally different from what we normally face. The 'toy box of action figures' metaphor also extends pretty healthily to our Universe 7 team, considering that our guys consist of two musclebound adult men and a fat pink genie with candy powers.
Last week left off in the middle of Buu's fight with his opponent, Basil. We hadn't gotten to see Buu fight back yet, and right off the bat, this episode is quick to dish out the action. There's a lot of classic DBZ-style fighting here: the fast-paced punching and dodging, lots of stylish pummeling, and so on. This characteristic of the series has always been interesting to me because it's both exceptionally exciting to watch and yet there's virtually no real choreography to admire. It's the anime equivalent of white-noise shaky cam action, and yet there manages to be something incredibly magnetic about it on a good day (like today). This is an episode that thoroughly captures "standard" Dragon Ball-style fight animation at its most fun, however basic it might be. Sometimes there's just a fire in this show's eye, and you can tell that the staff are having more fun than usual.
On the more cerebral side of things, there are increasing hints that the show wants to address Goku's moral compass. Though Goku often fits the Superman mold in the hearts of many, the actual text of the series has always presented him as more selfish. Between him and Vegeta, Saiyan nature has historically prolonged world-threatening conflicts in the name of a good fight too many times to count. Even though everybody learned to trust Goku a long time ago, not only does the current scenario threaten the lives of Goku's loved ones, but the heroes' victory also ensures the destruction of the other universes. But it's okay, because no one we know lives there.
And it's true. Despite how obviously fed up everybody else is with his nonsense, Goku keeps admiring the potential strength of his opponents. "I'm excited. There are guys that our norm doesn't apply to." The rules of this tournament so far are on the whims of Zen-Oh, who seems perfectly willing to set forth the destruction of existence if it means keeping this exciting new idea of a tournament entertaining. There are two paths that I can think of the story taking: one where Goku's actions have consequences and his selfishness is challenged sincerely (the framing so far feels a lot more sinister than usual), or one where Goku and Zen-Oh's mutual perspective, as dark and twisted as it may be, ends up being the key to saving the day. So far, we're only getting soft glimpses of what the writers might be thinking here, but I'd be thrilled to learn that they really are being as thematically ambitious as I'm imagining.
This show works for me a lot more when there's a bigger story in motion. I should be rolling my eyes at the fact that the arc is being extended by a warm-up exhibition that will require us to get through at least three fights (this episode is mostly all Buu vs. Basil) before the actual proper tournament starts, but I'm eating it right up. I love seeing shonen fight anime take the long road. There's something about it that just gets my imagination flowing. On top of that, Buu's fight itself is simple, covering a lot of the basics you might expect from a fight of this nature, but the speed and energy of the action itself is top-notch. This is the Dragon Ball I find fun.
Dragon Ball Super is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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