“Do you all remember the name of the Red Ribbon Army?” It’s the first of many lines of explanatory dialogue in ‘Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero’, the latest action-fantasy anime adaptation-expansion of the mega-popular ‘Dragon Ball’ manga comics.
This first line of voiceover narration also inadvertently prepares viewers for the complexity of the film.
Some table setting dialogue explains who the Red Ribbon Army (bad guys) are and why they’re back. The son of the founder of the Red Pharmaceutical Company, Magenta (voiced by Volcano Ota in the Japanese version and Charles Martinet in the English dub), wants to take over the world. But soon enough, this fairly straightforward beat-em-up show, which pits heroic aliens against villainous robots, becomes a celebration of “Dragon Ball,” a decades-old anime institution.
Fans of the “Dragon Ball” and “Dragon Ball Z” anime will likely be the perfect audience for the references to the Frieza Force (evil warrior aliens), fusion special attacks (two guys become one guy), and senzu beans (resembling to edamame fruit which, when eaten, gives you superhuman energy). But open-minded viewers might also enjoy “Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero,” given its playful dialogue and dynamic fight scenes. So if you can focus on what sets this film apart from others like it – primarily its well-rehearsed synthesis of light-hearted action drama and well-rehearsed fan service – you might still have fun watching it.
“Dragon Ball Hero: Super Hero” begins tellingly with a pre-title credit to original “Dragon Ball” manga creator Akira Toriyama, who scripted this new movie and provided his character designs. The lovable, kid-friendly quirks that define Toriyama’s characters are the real reason to watch ‘Dragon Ball Hero: Super Hero’, as its storyline often highlights the deep shoal of supporting and main characters that were introduced and developed over the years. course of several Sequels, spin-offs and adaptations of “Dragon Ball”.
Thankfully, the film’s plot isn’t hard to follow – despite frequent disruptive subplots, which expand the narrative to include even more fan-favorite references and cameos. The bulk of the film follows the likeable Second Channel hero Piccolo (Toshio Furukawa/Christopher Sabat) as he prepares to battle Magenta and a new trio of super-powered robots: Gamma 1 (Hiroshi Kamiya/Aleks Le), Gamma 2 (Mamoru Miyano/Zeno Robinson) and the super strong Cell Max (Norio Wakamoto/Dameon Clarke).
Only “Dragon Ball” fans will care about the ties these villains have to their predecessors, not even the endearingly naive Dr. Hedo (Miyu Irino/Zach Aguilar), the grandson of the original Red Ribbon Company killer robots. Luckily, the Gamma Twins’ retro uniforms still look cool, and Gamma 2 also sometimes gets into a good line of dialogue during its otherwise limited interactions with Piccolo.
“Dragon Ball Hero: Super Hero” is mostly about Piccolo’s quest to rally all of his former allies, some of whom have kept themselves in better fighting shape than others. The main protagonists Goku (Masako Nozawa/Sean Schemmel) and Vegeta (Ryu Horikawa/Sabat) take their places in the back to welcome other relatively minor heroes, like Gohan (Nozawa/Kyle Hebert), Goku’s carefree son, and Pan (Yuko Minaguchi/Jeannie Tirado), Gohan’s precocious three-year-old daughter. Several other secondary characters appear here and there, if only to help Piccolo move on to the next plot point.
Uninitiated viewers will likely be dazzled by over-the-top fight scenes, which feature an impressive combination of computer graphics and hand-drawn animation. These climactic sets also feature compelling action choreography and plenty of shocking and impressive property damage, mostly from dueling laser beams and energy blasts.
The action scenes also feel like a fitting extension of the original “Dragon Ball” and “Dragon Ball Z” anime series in the sense that they repeatedly stop and start piling up – you guessed it – a few additional secondary characters and plot twists. So these visually overwhelming brawls of epic proportions might not always make sense narratively – especially the tangents involving senzu beans and the wish-granting Dragon Balls – but most of them carry their fruits in an emotionally satisfying way.
Toriyama’s script didn’t include detailed descriptions of the film’s major settings, but his in-depth understanding of its many characters helps anchor and give emotional weight to this film’s otherwise over-the-top narrative. Those close to Goku and Gohan take the plot further than anyone else, which goes without saying given that Gohan’s family has traditionally been the focus of Toriyama’s stories. But even minor characters, like Krillin (Mayumi Tanaka/Sonny Strait) and Dr. Beerus (Koichi Yamadera/Jason Douglas) can show up in a throwaway scene or two.
So, in short, existing franchise fans are likely to get the most out of “Dragon Ball Hero: Super Hero” because they’re more likely to care, for example, when Goten (Masako Nozawa/Robert McCollum) and Trunks ( Takeshi Kusao/Eric Vale) uses a fusion attack to fight Cell Max. Diehard fans will also be the only ones to understand the allusive references to Piccolo’s villainous past, when he fought Goku and had a split personality. Still, while this new “Dragon Ball” spinoff might not be everything for all viewers, it’s also an exciting showcase for Toriyama’s beloved characters.
“Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero” opens in US theaters on August 19.