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ANIME REVIEW: “Dragon Ball Z: The Battle of the Gods”

ANIME REVIEW: "Dragon Ball Z: The Battle of the Gods"

If cartoons were illicit substances, Dragon Ball would be a gateway drug. For decades, this hit
franchise, which focuses on rigorous martial arts training, friendship and slugfests
with evil aliens, has introduced millions of boys to the pleasures of anime
adventure series. Their loyalty doesn’t fade over the years: The first Dragon Ball feature in 17 years, Dragon Ball Z: The Battle of the Gods
(2013) was a huge hit in Japan, selling over one million tickets in just six
days.

One of the most popular franchises in anime history, Dragon Ball began in 1984 as a manga by
Akira Toriyama that appeared in the boys’ magazine Shonen Jump. Three different adaptations ran on TV: Dragon Ball (1986), Dragon Ball Z (1989), and Dragon
Ball GT
(1996) for a total of more than 500 episodes. The popular
characters also appeared in 13 theatrical films.

The hero of the saga is Goku, a “Saiyan” from the planet
Vegeta who commands super-human strength. He trains ferociously to improve his martial
arts techniques and takes on bullies and bad guys of every stripe. Although no
one would mistake him for Phi Beta Kappa material, Goku is as honorable, dedicated
and straightforward a hero as anyone could hope to be rescued by. As the story
progressed, Toriyama expanded the cast to include Vegeta, another Saiyan;
Goku’s wife and son, Chichi and Gohan; the lecherous sensei Master Roshi and numerous other humans, aliens and human-alien
mixtures who make up the redoubtable cadre known as  “the Z Fighters.”

Toriyama reunites the familiar cast in the new film, once
again centering the story on Goku (Sean Schemmel, reprising his TV role). When
he awakens from a decades-long slumber, Beerus, the feline God of Destruction
(Jason Douglas), decides to investigate a vague prophecy about a “Super-Saiyan
God,” whose fighting power might rival his own. Beerus’ destructive abilities
terrify even King Kai, one of the rulers of the Next World.

Beerus, whose design is modeled on ancient Egyptian cat statues,
finds his way to Earth–and Goku. Arriving at a birthday party for Vegeta’s
human wife, the hot-tempered inventor-entrepreneur Bulma, Beerus is initially
welcomed as a guest. He’s delighted with Earth food, especially sushi. But
misunderstandings lead to a fight that pits the Beerus against Goku. Even Super
Saiyan attacks have little impact on Beerus, and Goku is forced to draw on the
powers of his friends and family to attain the divine strength he needs. (He did
something similar at end of Season Nine of Dragon
Ball Z
to take out the monster Maijin Buu.)

Although the fate of the Earth rests on their duel, Goku
feels unsatisfied: The awesome powers he now commands are a gift, not the
product of training and inner strength. Beerus recognizes a kindred spirit in
the mighty warrior, and the battle ends with the planet intact and the
combatants respectfully acknowledging each other’s nobility and strength.

Director Masahiro Hosoda and his crew wisely keep the
animation flat, limited and hand-drawn, aside from a few flashy CG effects. Battle of the Gods brings back not only
the familiar look, but the slapstick comedy, character relationships, outsized
meals, and, of course, the over-scaled martial arts battles of the TV series.
In short, the new film delivers everything millions of Dragon Ball fans remember and want to see again. 

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