Dragon Ball Super
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 86 of
Dragon Ball Super ?
Man, where has this episode been hiding? Last week, I was starting to feel the fatigue of this recruitment mini-arc setting up the Tournament of Power, especially since it seems we still have a ways to go before the series decides that it's spent enough time dragging its feet. However, if more episodes were like this, it would never even occur to me to complain.
This week, the center of attention falls on Goku's quest to get Android 17 onto Universe 7's ten-man squad for the tournament. Nobody's heard much of what 17's been up to since the end of DBZ's Cell arc, but he's still alive and kicking, and he'd be as good a pick as anybody for a challenge that requires immense fighting ability. With Dende's help, Goku is able to track him down, and we learn that he's spent all these years starting a family and taking over a job protecting wildlife from poachers. After helping him fight off a mini-army of tanks, Goku is able to get 17 into a sparring match to see just how much stronger he's gotten since we last saw him.
Part of what really clicks with me is that a character like No. 17 is way more convincing as a potential fighter against the upcoming foes. I don't believe in absolute by-the-number power levels, but I do think the gulf in strength between Goku-type guys and Krillin is a lot more damning than the show does. 17 and 18, however, are cyborgs designed to have near-unlimited power, so when 17 says he's been training and getting stronger, you believe that means something. Goku and 17's sparring match is also a lot of fun, taking place in front of a glowing sunset and featuring a ton of great action animation that demonstrates a phenomenal sense of power and momentum even in its most unpolished moments. This is going to be an episode that people will point to as one of the visual highlights of the series.
Both in action and fanservice ("this is for the fans" fanservice, not T&A), this episode is what I wanted Dragon Ball Super to be from the beginning. We've got conversations and details behind the logistics of No. 17's daily life, but we've also got Dende letting Goku in on the existence of a young boy with genius martial arts ability. Fans know that this child is Uub, the good-natured human reincarnation of the evil Majin Buu that Goku wished for at the end of DBZ. Goku will go on to meet Uub in the epilogue chapters of the DB/DBZ manga, so this reveal has a slight beginning-of-the-end vibe for Super, since we know that that's where this portion of the story concludes.
I love this episode because it takes itself more seriously than usual, grabbing onto what we love about the franchise (at least the Z era) and continuing it in a way that feels modernized, but not disposable. I think if there's one big problem I have with recent Toei stuff, it's how much their flaws seem designed to be brushed off with "Well it doesn't matter. It's for kids." But just because it's for kids doesn't mean it has to feel juvenile. That was never what got me into this series in the first place. This episode doesn't feel like it's mostly for kids, it feels like it's for anybody who thinks Dragon Ball is cool. It made me feel like a teenager again, which I can only imagine is what the show has been trying to do from the get-go, but it's been a rocky road getting there.
At a point where I should be bored to death of this recruitment arc, I'm feeling totally okay with the fact that this looks like a two-parter devoted to recruiting one character. No. 17 isn't swayed by the prize money lie that Goku has been using for the other characters, but the eventual hint that there are greater consequences changes the story. The concern from there is whether or not 17 can find a suitable replacement to take care of his island while he's gone. The episode ends with a tease that even aliens are after 17's animals now, so it's going to be tough to convince him to leave the island, even for one tournament.
Dragon Ball Super is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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