Some Thoughts on Dragonball Super

Artwork courtesy of Toei Animation and Akira Toriyama.

I’ve been watching Dragonball Super on and off throughout its run. I watched a good part of the Future Trunks arc, hoping that the story and action would live up to the potential that was on display. By the end, with Cloud Zamasu, it became clear to me that DBS would never live up to its potential. But I would pop in now and again, hoping that I was wrong, that the show just needed to find its legs. That’s what brought me into the Universe Survival arc, and once again I found myself unmoved by the show. I kept watching though, because I wanted to understand why I didn’t enjoy DBS. There was something I couldn’t put my finger on.

Episode 101 finally crystallized the major problem (for me at least) with DBS: there is no grounding for power in this show. Things just happen, with no regard to their origin or their future consequences. Kale is the personification of this problem. The audience can accept the idea of a Legendary Super Saiyan because that work was done in Dragonball and the Broly movie (which is a cheap trick- the show presumes you have the knowledge of LSS and never does anything to establish what it means within its own narrative). We’ve seen Kale’s first transformation into LSS, and we’ve seen her subsequent transformations. Both times, her transformation was characterized by incredible power and a loss of control. Fine. As unsatisfying as limitless, unexplained power is, there is precedent for that in the Dragonball universe, so I can let that go.

What we don’t see is any process at all which leads to Kale’s ability to CONTROL that power. It just happens. There’s no work, no training, no sacrifice or exploration of her struggles. They barely even pay lip service to the idea of control for her. Why can Kale suddenly control her LSS form? She just can. Power is arbitrary in DBS and responds to arbitrary criteria. There isn’t even consistency in her motivations for transforming; the first two transformations were a response to jealousy, but this one is the result of self-loathing?

Dragonball has always spent a large amount of time showing the process its characters go through to achieve their power. From training with Roshi to King Kai to Piccolo and Gohan to the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, the preparation for combat has been as important as the combat itself. Do you remember how much time DBZ spent laying the groundwork for Gohan to go beyond Super Saiyan? How the other characters tried and failed, and there was a learning process for all of them? DBS jettisons that in favor of power as a thing that just happens, and it feels empty and inconsequential. The fights feel empty and inconsequential as a result, because there’s no tension or drama. Characters can simply pull power out of nowhere, control out of nowhere. There’s no moment when you genuinely wonder, “How will our heroes win?” because you already know the answer: they’ll power up to some new level in a way that’s completely unearned.

It might seem silly to spend this much time deconstructing the issues of DBS, but I think it’s important to think about these things. I’m sure there are many of us watching DBS that are writers and artists, who hope to publish something someday. I’m sure many of us draw inspiration from Dragonball and the other manga/anime we love. There are important story lessons from all of the things Dragonball did right, and the lessons from all the things DBS is doing wrong are just as important.

 

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