Dragon Ball Super
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 88 of
Dragon Ball Super ?
The assumed goal of this recruitment arc is for the show to spend a little time with each of the ten fighters who will make up the Universe 7 team. Some of them have gotten standalone scenes, some of them have gotten two-parters, but as of this week, we've now confronted at least eight of the ten fighters, with Roshi and Tenshinhan (I might start calling him "Tien" if that's what the subtitles are going with) looking to get their episode next week. In theory I can roll with this, but the Android 17 episode a couple weeks ago reminded me that, oh yeah, we can ask for this show to be slightly above filler-quality, and now that we've been reminded, the following episodes are a little tough to pull much conversation out of.
For me, the most exciting part of this episode comes from Cabba returning to his home planet in Universe 6 to gather more Saiyan fighters at Champa's request. We see him discuss some issues with his mentor, but ultimately it leads to the tease of a character named Caulifla, a.k.a. the Saiyan girl who's most likely to be that female, alt-world version of Broly from the promotional material. I like seeing this alternate universe version of the Saiyans who are still alive with their own sense of community and warrior culture, and the tease that the toughest of the tough among them is this teenage(?) girl who sits on a throne and eats meat like she's some kind of punk-rock barbarian queen is super cool.
That's a fairly small portion of the episode, however, and the heart this week is meant to come from Gohan and Piccolo, who are going through their own training regime. The two of them remaining close throughout this upcoming tournament makes sense since their father/son-style relationship runs all the way back to the beginning of the DBZ era, but this also drums up the same problems I was having when we saw Gohan and Krillin spar. I just don't buy the life lessons that Dragon Ball Super keeps wanting Gohan to learn at this point in the story.
Gohan's thing throughout the franchise has been that he's a softhearted nerd at his core, but he's had several instances where he's the most powerful being in the universe thanks to his unique chemistry of human and Saiyan genes that give him a "chosen one" edge. First it was when he went Super Saiyan 2 to defeat Cell, then it was when the Elder Kai unlocked his full potential during the Buu arc (which has been colloquially known as "Mystic" Gohan). After each of those events, he slipped back in strength the moment he returned to his peaceful life without training, allowing the other characters to surpass him in strength. He just doesn't have that fighter's menace that the others do. All of that stuff works for me narratively, but then it starts to get weird in Super.
Both of his sparring sessions with Krillin and Piccolo end on a note of humility. "I still have so much to learn," etc., and then we've got Piccolo telling him he's too arrogant and therefore underestimates his opponents. "Arrogant" just doesn't feel like an accurate description of a character who's routinely prioritizing kindness and scholarly learning over fighting. There do exist examples of Gohan getting a little too confident for his own good during the times when he was peaking, but they were ultimately tiny moments, and I like to think he's a guy who learns from his mistakes. I get that people want to see Dragon Ball pull back a little from constant brawn vs. brawn fights, but getting more cerebral also requires more interesting writing. You can't sell me on the strongest, fastest, smartest fighter in the universe having to re-learn things that seem this obvious.
Other than my own gripes as to how the Gohan stuff is handled, this episode works fairly well. We see Gohan re-unlocking his Mystic form, though I never really thought of it as a form to begin with. There's still plenty of good action in the Gohan vs. Piccolo stuff, and it continues to be refreshing to see the other universes preparing for the tournament as well. It looks like we're finally nearing the end of this recruitment arc (knock on wood), and I'll be happy to see it over with. We've certainly had our highlights, and none of these episodes have been bad enough to warrant significant criticism. Even the animation has kept pretty solid since I started writing these reviews, so there's not a lot to complain about there. I just want to move on at this point.
Dragon Ball Super is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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