If you know anything about anime then you certainly know what Dragon Ball is, even if you aren’t a fan of it (which is a shocking statement, in my completely biased opinion). Dragon Ball is the second-highest grossing manga of all time, surpassed only by One Piece, and I would confidently say that the anime that spawned from it is responsible for bringing Japanese animation to the rest of the world. Dragon Ball is to Japan what shows like Friends, Seinfeld, and M*A*S*H are to the U.S.; hugely popular and influential in its time. Even if you don’t like those types of shows you still know what they are, and whenever I have to explain the concept of anime to someone with no knowledge or interest in the genre I am usually able to create a sense of understanding by saying “Like Dragon Ball Z, that anime about the people that yell a lot and get yellow hair.” “Oh yeah,” they always say. Of course they do.
The Dragon Ball IP spans so many titles and media that it’s difficult to keep track. But today we’re talking about anime, and of this Dragon Ball has three series, 18 (so far, with a 19th on the way) released theatrical films, four TV specials, two “festival shorts”, and two OVAs (though according to Wikipedia there is a third OVA attached to the game Dragon Ball Xenoverse). Two educational videos in Japan even feature the cast of DBZ giving information on fire and traffic safety.
One of those theatrical films was released just in 2013, and the English dub was released last year. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods is the first theatrical release for the Dragon Ball series in 17 years, and this makes it kind of a big deal. It is also the first theatrical film that meant to exist within the establish canon of the series. With the other 17 films the developers essentially took a snapshot of some point in the series, noted the relative power levels, abilities, and locations of the Z Fighters in that moment, and then told a story with those constraints. For example, the 15th movie Fusion Reborn takes place sometime between Gohan returning to Earth after gaining his new Mystic transformation and Goku gaining his life back from Old Kai, a moment of time that is maybe an hour and a half long. Goku was busy on Supreme Kai’s planet at the time (while in the film he is fighting in the Other World Tournament), and Super Buu was a very constant threat on Earth. So you can see how the film does not fit into the continuity. Battle of Gods, however, is set a year or so after the Buu Saga ends, and does fit into the canon. It’s meant to be a de factor continuation of the manga series, rather than a side story. Dragon Ball GT, by the way, is also a side story and does not fit within the continuity of the manga. I’m sure some of you are probably overjoyed to hear that.
With these sorts of reviews I want to try and be as fair to everyone as possible. As such, I’ll begin with a more vague, non-spoiler review and then use big bold letters to make it clear when the weighted clothes are coming off and the spoilers begin. So keep an eye out if you don’t want anything ruined for you.
I would give this movie a solid 5/7 dragon balls, which roughly translates to a 7/10 if you don’t have a calculator handy. The humor is a constant throughout, something that the Dragon Ball series is not a stranger to. However, at times I felt it was a bit heavy and distracted from the moment. A lot of the movie seems to be played for laughs, and more than once I found myself asking why the film would focus on some unnecessary situation for so long.
That was not an uncommon thought during my viewing; quite a bit of the film felt unnecessary to the story I think they were trying to tell. I rather enjoyed the film as a whole, but there was a strong sense of padding in a few sections. Subplots and, particularly, random nonsense became the focal point of the action far too often, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the creators had enough content for a 30-45 minute long story but needed to extend it past an hour to justify the theatrical release. You may find yourself wondering “what’s the point of this?” on more than one occasion while watching. However, this is a series that is well known not to take itself seriously at times, so perhaps I’m nitpicking a bit. I do feel like I could chop up the film a bit and remove a decent amount of footage while still keeping a coherent and interesting narrative, though now I wonder how much of the past films could receive the same treatment.
Visually I think the film is amazing. The animation is beautifully done, with crisp lines and bold colors that seem to bring out the best in the series. The original Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z anime were made in the late 80s and early 90s, and they suffer a bit from muted colors and odd proportions in some places. That may be an unpopular opinion; I think most fans have a habit of donning their nostalgia goggles in regards to the original series. I’m sure plenty of people prefer the gritty animation, but I personally love modern depictions of Goku and the other Z Fighters because of how clean it is. The film also uses a lot of 3D CGI alongside the 2D animation. In some places it works well and looks good, but more often than not it’s glaringly obvious and noticeably out of place, ruining what would otherwise have been a beautiful shot or great fight scene. Your opinion may differ, but I personally don’t like CGI in anime unless they can blend it seamlessly with the rest of the film (as a comparison I feel the Rebuild of Evangelion series does this rather well).
The fights are also entertaining, and some of their outcomes elicited an audible “wow” just from the shear implication. We get a few new and interesting concepts to the series as well. Actually, with that said I think it’s time that we power up to the next level. Be careful, as there will be some spoilery pictures below, and if you want to be spoiler free you should probably just stop reading here. So be warned…
As I mentioned earlier the film seems to have a decent amount of unnecessary padding attached to it. Emperor Pilaf, Shu, and Mai all show up sometime around the middle of the film, crashing a birthday party being held in honor of Bulma and searching for the Dragon Balls (as usual). They are also, inexplicably, children. Now this could be my foggy memory, but I do not recall them ever wishing to be kids at any point prior to this, and in fact in GT they were all pretty old. So being kids is quite random, as far as I’m concerned, and the only explanation for their ages is an offhanded comment by Mai about Pilaf “wishing [they] were young again” with the dragon balls. Worse, the entire point of Pilaf and his gang being there seems to be to create a contrived reason to reveal the existence of Pan (Gohan and Videl’s daughter from Dragon Ball GT) and bring Beerus close to being ticked off. You see, after some wacky shenanigans Mai drop a stolen Dragon Ball in front of everyone, pulls out a gun and takes Trunks “hostage” (you should be laughing), and Pilaf tries to order a ransom for his safety. Gohan, apparently drunk off his ass, puts on his Great Saiyaman outfit and convinces Mai to shoot him. Which she does. And Gohan effortlessly blocks every single bullet. And we then find out that one of the bullets ricocheted into Videl’s leg. And when Dende goes to fix it he and Videl have a quick whispered conversation about how she’s pregnant.
Meanwhile, Beerus is pissed that a bunch of adults were basically laughing at the antics of a few children with a gun and seems ready to blow the planet. So, Vegeta jumps up on stage and dances around like a fool, singing about the upcoming bingo raffle in an attempt to distract Beerus from his frustration. I have to hand it to Vegeta; he has definitely mellowed out and swallows his pride numerous times for the sake of the Earth. It’s almost out of character, but he definitely seems to be a stand-up guy nowadays. I wonder why he couldn’t have taken the time to explain to everyone that Beerus is not one to be messed with, but I’ll look the other way for any chance to see Vegeta acting like a clown. Fortunately, Beerus seems amused at the display and moves on to get some more food.
The whole scene is just… odd. I mean as I said humor is part of DB and always has been, but this just threw me for a loop. I feel like there were much less contrived ways for Pan to be revealed to the audience (which does become an important plot point later). Ways that wouldn’t take 30 minutes. Maybe she could have been nauseous while being away from the group, and when Dende goes over to ask if she’s okay they have their quick conversation. Boom; all done in 20 seconds. Then Beerus could have been pissed off by literally anything else. The scene as it stands just screams for attention and, in my opinion, distracts from the rest of the film.
And by the way, for some ungodly reason neither Bulma nor Krillin, Yamcha, Oolong, or Puar recognize Pilaf. The entire scene plays out with all the Z Fighters thinking Mai is Trunks’ girlfriend and Pilaf and Shu are her friends. I mean, granted he’s a kid now, but Pilaf is pretty distinctive looking and is wearing a very similar hat to what he had worn in Dragon Ball. Even Goku, in GT, recognizes an older Pilaf after a few minutes of talking with him. And Bulma, who is supposed to be an extremely intelligent scientist, can’t put it together? Apparently they were drinking some really strong stuff.
Let’s talk about God of Destruction, Beerus. He’s actually one of my favorite DBZ villains, primarily because he’s not even a villain. Early on, King Kai explains to Goku that calling Beerus evil would be incorrect. True, he is the God of Destruction, but creation cannot exist without destruction, and it is simply Beerus’ job to fulfill that requirement. He keeps balance within the universe, and that’s certainly not evil. Really, he’s more like a neutral god, just one whose neutral nature is to destroy things indiscriminately. Beerus is actually not overly violent or aggressive until he’s angered, and the film presents him as a well-enough guy even from the beginning. For example, we hear from the various Kais that Beerus is waking. I expected a scene with some kind of reverse-mummification process, perhaps showing Beerus being roused from his dark slumber through evil magics or the breaking of a divine seal. Instead he just sleepily shuffles out of bed and puts on a fluffy white bathrobe and eats breakfast, groaning about wanting five more minutes to rest. Certainly not the type of opening you’d expect from a great evil. And I think the film does an adequate job of showing that Beerus isn’t out for mindless bloodshed.
However, Battle of Gods nearly broke a very basic rule of storytelling; in general you want to show the audience something, rather than tell them about it. Telling your audience that someone is powerful or wise or intelligent without actually showing this trait in action leads to distrust in your viewers. You can get an Informed Ability (be warned if you click that link; I am not responsible for any time wasted on TV Tropes). By showing these traits in action the author allows their readers to come to a conclusion about the character on their own, justifying the claim that the character is a master hacker, or the best composer, or whatever. There aren’t many things worse than a character that is said to be one thing but actually acts entirely differently. The film does a good job of telling us that Beerus is feared. All of the Kais, Vegeta and his father, and even Shenron lose control of their bowels at the mere mention of him. But we don’t get to see how powerful he is until he arrives on King Kai’s planet and spars with Goku, who immediately powers up to SSJ3, fails to even touch Beerus (never mind hurt him), and gets knocked unconscious with two light taps from Beerus. Goku, the most powerful good guy in the series and our main protagonist, looks like Yamcha compared to Beerus. I audibly cried out “holy shit” when Goku went down. That is powerful.
Beerus never gets a scratch on him during the entire film. Though Goku (and Vegeta) both get their chance to shine and get a number of decent hits in Beerus never actually gets hurt. Even after Goku ascends to godhood, absorbs its power, and unleashes a Super Saiyan-powered Kamemahema the God of Destruction is able to shrug the blast off. With zero visual damage to his body. Despite Beerus’ shocked cry of fear when the Wave is released.
And what is truly shocking is Whis’ line at the end of the film. After everything that has transpired, including the knowledge that Whis is actually stronger than Beerus, we find out that Goku had almost forced Beerus to use 70% of his power. Even if Beerus was using 69% of his strength, that means Goku had literally no chance against him even as a Super Saiyan God. I believe Akira Toriyama has stated that if Goku is a 6, Beerus is a 10. And Whis, by the way, is a 15. We’ve seen plenty of powerups over the course of the series, each new enemy being stronger than the last. But Beerus and Whis may very well represent the pinnacle of the series. They are so far beyond the protagonists that all you can do is hope they stay on your side. Remember, GT is considered a side story and no longer fits into the canon of the series, so beings like Omega Shenron, SSJ4 Gogeta, or Goku after fusing with the dragon balls are not longer the strongest beings we’ve seen. Not technically (though I would love to see a hypothetical battle between SSJ4 Gogeta and Beerus).
Of course, Beerus and Whis being the pinnacle may prove to be false as well. Beerus states in the film that he is the God of Destruction in their universe, and the strongest there, but there are twelve universes in total. And there are even stronger beings residing in some of those universes. Based on this knowledge, Whis appears to be an extra-dimensional being himself. We may very well get to see a new film showcasing some of these other beings, so powerful that I don’t know how to justify Goku or the others successfully battling them. Indeed, it almost seems like the series is drawing a wall for itself, and I fear what it will do in order to get over that wall.
Despite those fears Battle of Gods is a great addition to the series, and definitely worth a viewing for any Dragon Ball fan.