Published on August 23rd, 2015 | by C. B. W. Caswell0
Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F Review — Why Dragon Ball Z can’t survive in the new era of anime
I hate a lot of the guys that go to my gym. Not for any particular swagger they have, or that they’re rude (I can say from experience that Canadian politeness infects even our buffest of bros), but just that they’re bigger than me. And it’s threatening. This one day I’m deadlifting beside this black guy so big I could wear him like an exo-suit, and he’s draped in one of those wispy tank-tops that’s small enough to keep getting stuck inside the crack of his pecs. He leans back and stretches, revealing what’s printed on the tank: Training to beat Goku. Or at least Krillin.
Dragon Ball Z is this weird hallmark of culture that’s shared among a wide variety of people in their mid-twenties (for the tumblrites enraged at my mention of the guy’s race, I wanted to point out how DBZ spans cultural gaps you might not typically expect, especially if you grew up in the primarily Chinese north-end of your city, like I did). One of those shared experiences was Friday nights watching YTV, betting with friends on whether or not Goku would survive the destruction of planet Namek at the hands of Frieza. Another was having the sweet taste of last week’s episode on your lips — the one where where Goku was finally, FINALLY about to achieve Super Saiyan form — only to turn into salt when you tune in and see Chichi calling for Gohan in the middle of the forest. I can still remember the dim but exponentially growing horror that, yes, we are again back at the top of the series and will need to wait about six months to get back to where we were.
Going into Resurrection F, I had that same question we all had at 8:59 pm every Friday when we were 12 years old: am I about to be hugely disappointed?
Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, in the grand scope of cinema every Dragon Ball movie is shit — the pace is hurried, there’s no character development, the soundtracks are a weird mashup of orchestral strings and J-metal, they never advance the series, and the writers have to fit dialogue into whatever the mouth flapping gives opportunity for. The series itself isn’t exactly inspired, either (between the sensu beans, Shenron wishes, Saiyans getting stronger when they’re severely hurt, and now, as of this movie, time travel, there are so many deus ex machinas that the show is practically polytheistic). I say this not to piss people off but to show that I’m coming at this as the movie it is: a beat’em-up dressed in nostalgia that’s teasing what might be coming with the series’ own resurrection, since DBZ is restarting from the point where Buu was killed.
So if you managed to get past that polytheism joke, let’s dive right in.
Plot Summary – Spoilers
One of Frieza’s henchman brings Frieza back with the Dragon Balls. Frieza is awakened, wants revenge, and decides to actually train — which apparently he’s never done before — to take on Goku. Meanwhile Goku and Vegeta are getting trained by Whis, a new character introduced in the last movie, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, who is the…handler, I guess, of Lord Birus, God of Destruction of our universe. Frieza comes to lay siege to Earth with a few thousand soldiers, who are held at bay by Krillin, Gohan, Piccolo, Tien, a space policeman from some other movie or something, and thank-our-stars Master Roshi. After his forces are depleted, Frieza lays waste to the crew when he joins in the battle, at least until Goku and Vegeta come back from training. Goku doesn’t even need to fight Frieza in Super Saiyan form to kick his ass, but Frieza reveals that training has given him a new ultimate form. Frieza turns into Nicki Minaj, or Gold Frieza, and gives Goku a run for his money. However, Goku and Vegeta know that Frieza is burning through his power too quickly because he isn’t used to the new form. Vegeta beats up Frieza until he can’t hold on to his faaaaabulous new form, at which point Frieza throws a Hail Mary and blows up the Earth, which the audience gets to watch in detail. Whis and Birus have been watching the fight and decide because they like Earth desserts (this isn’t me making a joke, this is plot) that they will reverse time to three minutes before Frieza blows up the world. Goku comes in and Kamehames Frieza into parts so small he can only be defined as a concept, and then credits roll.
Spoilers end. Plot-wise anyway.
Here’s what the movie did right:
- The pacing was actually quite good. You got some intro fodder, saw some old characters, ramped up into the big fight, the fight gets bigger, then climaxes. There wasn’t a lot of time wasted on side characters or introducing people you don’t care about.
- Master Roshi gets to fight. I have verified with professional sources and statistics that that aspect alone made the movie like-a-bajillion dollars.
- The mixture of illustration and CGI is genuinely impressive. The transitions between them can actually take a second for you to realize there’s been a switch.
- Some of the jokes showed a certain self-awareness, which I always appreciate in anime.
- The most important point: there were some hints that Goku and Vegeta might actually have some character development. While training, Whis — who is potentially the strongest person in the universe — points out that Goku can be too relaxed and careless in battle, while Vegeta can overthink things, and that the perfect warrior lies somewhere between them. This comes back later when Goku passes up an opportunity to kill Frieza, allowing Frieza to make a comeback. There’s also a fair amount of teasing that Goku and Vegeta would be unstoppable if they would work together, but since both refuse to return to Gogeta, this could mean they develop some other technique. All of this to say, there’s potential for some power and character advancement.
Here’s the problem, and I’m going to use a metaphor from the movie to explain the issue.
Vegeta is about to fight Frieza, and Frieza is overconfident, beaking off about how easily he bested Vegeta back on planet Namek. Vegeta snaps into the new level of Super Saiyan, explaining that a lot has happened since Frieza died. Then, Frieza gets whomped.
Similarly, a lot has changed in anime since Dragon Ball Z went off air. Most of the popular series still use the Dragon Ball model of plot development, most notably Bleach and Naruto (protagonist has Form/Weapon X, antagonist has similar Form/Weapon X, pro. comes up with Form/Weapon Y, beats antagonist, next ant. has something like Form/Weapon Y, pro. has to come up with Form/Weapon Z, etc.). However, these new series have expanded on this format and used all of the buffalo.
For one thing, every character in Bleach and Naruto has their own power. In Dragon Ball, energy beams are completely ubiquitous, and while some characters have different forms (read: colours) of beams, they all do the same thing (I’m going to take this opportunity to mention how much I miss Vegeta’s Galick Gun. It was purple with black lightning, and while Galick was a translation of Garlic gun it was still unassailably cooler than something like Final Flash, which was yellow — the most unimaginative colour you could possibly choose for a beam). In Bleach, every character not only has a different weapon, but the powers are specific to each character and develop in their own way, making it so there’s actually a reason to be a fan of different characters and to be excited by their development.
Not only does the difference in weapons provide some variety, but it can be used as a metaphorical device for that character. In Naruto, when Sasuke is infected with the Cursed Seal — if you’re just a Dragon Ball fan and don’t actually watch other modern anime, I’m so, so sorry for the confusion you must be feeling — his transformation into a demonic form is not only a different power but visually displays how he embraces accepting hatred as his motivating force.
Goku turns blue now. Not because he’s sad or anything. That’s just the colour they picked.
Dragon Ball Z can’t survive as a series if it stays true to form (pun intended). Without picking up on what its predecessors have done — specifically, splitting the point-of-view with lesser-seen characters to generate more world-building, varying up the powers so they are both unique and metaphorical, creating enemies that are not only a physical threat but also emotional and character threats as well — Dragon Ball Z will just be a reboot of that old series we all used to like.
So why write an overly verbose review of a movie I knew was going to be subpar, when I could be writing about more meaningful stuff, like what the cat meant in Inside Llewyn Davis? Because I’d really like this new Dragon Ball Z to succeed.
When Dragon Ball Z started, it was a big deal for fans of the original Dragon Ball because it was a huge shift to the Dragon Ball universe: It wasn’t fantasy anymore but full-blown sci-fi. Goku was an alien, there were other worlds, and the series really opened up in terms of possibilities. It even had some emotional development, like in the Cell arc where we got to see the difference between Goku and Vegeta not by their power levels but how they interacted with their sons. Who doesn’t remember when Gohan finally destroys Cell by himself? Or when Vegeta goes Majin, and the pain he has trying to disconnect himself from his wife and son to regain his pride?
After developing a palate to appreciate films like There Will Be Blood and Birdman, it seems too ridiculous to talk about something like the Majin arc having any real meaning. But that arc resonated with me because it became an opportunity to talk about a real issue — understanding what you as an individual should pursue to be happy, following what you are built for and not cramming yourself into a mould because someone told you it’s what you should do, and reexamining the things you really want, ALL OF WHICH are practical lessons people deal with in their twenties. Like many of the best cartoons you grow up with, the laser fights were just the sugar coating to attract young audiences, after which a cartoon becomes a platform to discuss real issues. Dragon Ball Z was that for a lot of people. Even buff gym guys that have everything figured out.
And it would be so easy to change the formula. It’s not like they have to create new characters: Everyone already has their own fan favourite. Who doesn’t want to see Krillin actually win a tough fight? Who doesn’t want Yamcha to do…something, anything? Developing new abilities, expanding on the ones they currently have. Krillin’s been throwing the same damn Destructo disc for twenty years now.
What about an arc where Goku is constantly instructing Gohan on how to fight and correcting him, and Gohan finally has enough and realizes he has to go beyond Goku, so he trains with Vegeta?
What if, in this movie, Vegeta didn’t sit on the sidelines the entire fight, and instead broke in with rage, realizing he was finally strong enough to beat Frieza to oblivion and avenge his entire race? Then Frieza could take on his new form, still beat Vegeta, and then Goku could step in to finish it off?
Anime has become more complex now, and the kids these days have been spoiled with character development and metaphor. It’s time for Dragon Ball Z to find a new form — something a little less Super, and a little more Smart.