The Dragon Ball Super: Broly movie was released in U.S. theaters on January 16th and it’s a triumph of the art of fanservice. As such, the twentieth Dragon Ball film and the first Dragon Ball Super-branded one is easily the greatest so far.
When we think of fanservice, anime fans tend to think of gratuitous sexualization, suspiciously erotic camera angles, and superfluously titillating situations. Make no mistake, Dragon Ball Super: Broly gives you more than enough of its new character, hot green alien babe Cheelai’s fine bubble butt in her tight spats. But I’m talking about a broader definition of fanservice that includes references to fan-favorite characters and tropes, stories and fights.
Broly is a story Dragon Ball fans already know. The 1993 film Dragon Ball Z: Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan introduced the character, and we saw him again in Broly – Second Coming and Bio-Broly in 1994. The character Broly has long been appreciated for expanding the lore of the Saiyan race, and just being a big, strong, badass Super Saiyan who makes for some exciting fights with Goku and Vegeta. Just bringing this character back into the Dragon Ball lore is a bit of fanservice, but to have a fully canonized movie, written and supervised by franchise creator Akira Toriyama himself is an extra special treat.
The film is peppered with references to older Dragon Ball properties, particularly the ones most popular with fans that feature beloved villain Frieza or the titular Broly. Goku’s parents Bardock and Gine (who has not previously appeared in anime) play out their tragic story. And as much as the movie is focused on reminiscing about fan-favorite Dragon Ball Z moments, it doesn’t forget it’s a Dragon Ball Super vehicle. Super favorite Lord Beerus makes his appearances and gets plenty of laughs. Calm and cool angel Whis has a chance to show off his power as one capable of training a destroyer god.
Broly’s three acts give us a history of the Saiyans’ relationship with Frieza, the politics of the Saiyans carried into the present by Goku, Vegeta, and Broly, and most importantly give us the title character’s story arc. Indeed, Dragon Ball Super: Broly is a movie about Broly much more than it is about Goku or Vegeta fighting him.
The Legendary Super Saiyan is portrayed as a highly sympathetic character, and a lot of screen time is devoted to developing Broly’s relationship with his father Paragus, which is complicated enough to be interesting while simple enough it doesn’t dominate the film. That dynamic then contrasts with Cheelai and Lemo, a bouncy young delinquent and jaded old veteran newly introduced in the film. The two form a surrogate family for Broly, who previously knew nothing but battle and his harsh father.
While that may sound deep and meaningful, it primarily serves to add gravitas to some of the most beautiful and visually impressive fights I’ve ever seen in an anime. Broly clashing with Vegeta, Goku, Frieza, and others looks smooth, slick, and impactful, featuring the best use of 3D mixed with hand animation in the industry to date. Toriyama knows the core of Dragon Ball is epic martial arts fight scenes interspersed with hugely destructive energy attacks, and in Broly he’s served up battles so awesome I couldn’t suppress my awe in the theater.
Whether or not a Dragon Ball fan should see this film is not a question. The 101 solid minutes of service I got as a Dragon Ball fan left me a little dehydrated. The question is whether someone who doesn’t appreciate the franchise can still enjoy the movie, and I’m afraid I must answer that question with another question:
How do you feel about downright gorgeous animation and a staggeringly round alien girl butt in your face?
Screenshots via Dragon Ball Wiki