One of the things that’s always bugged me about the Dragon Ball series is how the leveling up system works. When it was just a matter of rumors of Super Saiyans existing and numbers on power scouters, it was silly enough to work within the show’s confines. All that really bugged me then was the protracted lengths of the battles.
But once they went beyond Super Saiyans and into all sorts of other levels and whatever else, things went beyond pulpy goofiness and into the realm of medieval theology. The nuances between different Saiyan levels and different forms of the various villains became akin to old theologians debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It’s a sort of minutia that tries to rationalize the need to “get stronger.” It makes the abstract into something concrete, yet in doing so makes it even more abstract. It’s absurd, but not really in a way that meshes with the charming absurdity that’s at the heart of the Dragon Ball series.
One of the things that struck me about the new Broly movie is how it actually shows some of the differences in these levels. When Goku’s hair turns red (a transformation I’m not the least bit informed about, but I’m assuming is a new “level” past regular Super Saiyan), he begins to take on a defensive style that’s more about countering Broly’s moves than the usual raw force and laser shooting. It was a form that was different for reasons other than a change in aesthetics and making it easier to punch the other guy. I’m sure some episodes of the show have gone into that, but it was my first time seeing it, and it was pretty cool. All of that abstraction was wrapping back around to something tangible, and for a series that’s as visceral as Dragon Ball, the tangible is what works.
It’s the smaller touches that ultimately made me enjoy this movie. I’m not much invested in seeing this formerly “non-canon” character be brought into the Dragon Ball universe proper, and the history of the Saiyans and Frieza and all that just isn’t my bag. All of that is going to play awesomely with the series’ fans, and that’s cool, but that ain’t me.
One of my favorite parts of the movie deals with the two new Freiza Force goons, Chirai and Remo. They’re small time crooks, especially compared to what we usually see from these guys. Chirai’s on the run from the government after stealing some stuff, and she’s crashing with the Force as a way to hide out from the law. Remo’s a “lifer,” having been a crook for as long as he can remember. They make for a fun pair. Her youthful edge and eagerness plays well with his “just trying to get by” attitude. She’s the sort to pick fights, he’s the sort to deescalate if possible. They look out for each other. They know they’re in way over their heads, especially once their new friend Broly shows his true potential in his fight with Goku and Vegeta, but they also know they have nowhere else they’d really fit in.
They’re characters very much in the vein of Bulma or Mr. Satan– peeps who totally fit the vibe of the show, but don’t really mesh with the actual story— or at least not since the series shifted once it went into Z mode. While the narrative’s moved away from these sorts of characters for the most part, we still get to hang out with them enough that it makes the whole thing a lot more interesting for me. I’d love a spinoff movie or a few episodes of Super when it inevitably returns (I really don’t see it actually ending despite having an appropriate finale a little while back) where Chirai and Remo get into some low level heist that goes south and their mark somehow ends up tying into some bigger scheme involving Mega Saiyan Beans or something like that. That way, they get to have fun for a few episodes and then stick around on the sidelines once their deal is over.
Or you could just have them return when they make another Broly movie, but that isn’t nearly as interesting.
Yeah, all the Broly stuff is alright. It works best when dealing with how his father pushes him to become stronger, which inevitably backfires. Given their relative close releases, it works well as a companion piece with Creed II, where Dragon pushes his son to reclaim the glory he lost after losing to Rocky in Rocky IV. It’s all about forcing others sins onto easy scapegoats– his hatred for Vegeta for Vegeta’s father’s attempt to get rid of Broly– and for hoisting your own upon your offspring in order to carry on animosities you cannot get over on your own.
The actual big showdown is pretty well executed. There’s a cool POV sequence where we see Goku get beat on through Broly’s eyes, and the shift from arctic cold to lava pits is pretty rad. It all goes on a little too long and gets a little repetitive, and I really don’t care about the Gogeta fusion stuff (although the accompanying song is legit awesome), but in the context of how Dragon Ball functions, it’s all well made.
All of that said, the genuinely best part of the movie may be how Bulma and Freiza’s intentions for the Dragon Balls are juxtaposed with one another. Bulma’s been collecting them, and Freiza sends some of his lesser goons to steal them, because they both want to wish for incredibly minor and petty physical alterations. Bulma wants to look younger, but only about five years younger. She just wants people to think she’s taking better care of herself and to not arouse suspicions she got work done. Freiza wants to be taller, but only about five centimeters taller. He wants to give everyone the appearance that he’s still growing, rather than making it obvious he did something out of the ordinary to grow like that.
That’s why we got this big fight. Yeah, Broly and his father were banished. Yeah, Chirai and Remo found them and recruited them to the Freiza Force. There’s all of this myth-making and destiny and revenge floating about, but the only reason why Freiza goes to Earth in the first place is because he wants to be just a little taller, and the only reason why it was so easy for him to get the Dragon Balls and trigger this battle at the right time and place is because Bulma already had most of them because she wants to be just a little younger.
Earth was nearly destroyed because of the most petty form of vanity.