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‘Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero’ Review: Remarkably, This One’s Not Just for the Fans

The franchise's umpteenth installment aspires to "pure lizard-brain fan service fun" but is somehow accessible too.

"Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero"

“Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero”

Crunchyroll

Even Super Saiyans have superhero fatigue.

At this point, with 20 feature films and a gajillion episodes of various anime series spanning one of the biggest animation franchises in the world, any further installment of “Dragon Ball” is going to be, as they say, for the fans. “Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero” — the 21st “Dragon Ball” film, the second “Dragon Ball Super” film, and the first to use primarily 3-D computer animation — is exactly that, chock-full of popcorn nostalgia and fan favorite characters and villains and power moves exactly like what any fan of the long-running saga is looking for.

That’s not to say that “Super Hero” is hostile to any newcomers, however. Hardcore fans will understand what’s going on pretty much immediately, but there’s enough clever (and funny!) setup in the first 20 minutes even for those of us who haven’t watched a “Dragon Ball” property in a [redacted] number of years.

Green-skinned Namekian Piccolo is hanging out on Earth helping Gohan, iconic Goku’s intellectual Saiyan son, train his daughter Pan in the fine art of power ups, warcraft, and delivering flying kicks. His schooling is interrupted by the arrival of an android warrior claiming to be a superhero, sent by the new and improved Red Ribbon Army to eradicate any extraterrestrial threats to the planet. The “superheroes,” caped and jumpsuited Gamma 1 and Gamma 2, were created by the diminutive Dr. Hedo, the grandson of villain Dr. Gero, who is now working with the Red Ribbon’s leaders Commander Magenta and Staff Officer Carmine, whose car is outfitted with a domed sunshield to accommodate his giant pouf of hair.

Piccolo battles Gamma 2 and then infiltrates the Red Ribbon headquarters, learning the true reason why everyone is going after Gohan and his family — and discovers an even more sinister plan to bring back a classic villain. It’s time for Gohan to quickly figure out how to balance his intellectual pursuits with being an all-powerful alien dad. Cue many battle sequences consisting of muscly dudes screaming at each other while their hair stands on end, as is tradition.

“Super Hero” takes a slightly new approach to “Dragon Ball” in a number of ways. First, there’s the animation, a decision made by director Tetsuro Kodama: computer generated and fluid in three dimensions yet styled to evoke the classic lines and angular body shapes of the anime. Whether or not audience members respond favorably to this change is up to personal preference, but it looks pretty great for 3D masquerading as 2D, and adds a unique slick quality to the fight scenes.

Then there’s the fact that, unlike most of “Dragon Ball,” this film follows Piccolo and Gohan as protagonists instead of the usual suspects Gohan’s dad Goku and their erstwhile enemy Vegeta — who, along with new Saiyan family member Broly, spend the whole movie on Beerus’ planet eating ice cream and sparring with each other while trying not to destroy everything they touch. There’s a winking, self-aware humor to the proceedings that balances the warriors’ ultra-serious conversations about fighting and honor.

The release even coincides with the Fortnite Dragon Ball event, during which players can play as the iconic characters and make Batman and Morty from Rick and Morty do the fusion dance and power up emotes. Pure lizard-brain fan service fun, which is exactly what “Super Hero” is aiming for, while also, perhaps, getting in on its share of pop culture’s superhero fatigue with its Ultraman-styled android villains flying around in capes and delivering irritating punchlines. Who needs mutants and metahumans when we’ve already got guys with a million muscles in a single arm harnessing the power of pure energy to deliver Super Ghost Kamikaze Attacks?

Grade: B

A Crunchyroll release, “Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero” is now in theaters.

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