There are just a few days left until the final episode of DRAGON BALL SUPER. With the sudden realization that the treasured anime series might be coming to an end, fans are scrambling to see more of their favorite series. The hype over the action-filled conclusion of the Tournament of Power arc is even slowing streaming servers with sheer numbers. In some countries, screenings of new SUPER episodes are at concert halls and stadiums with thousands of fans gathering at once. We know that SUPER still has more in store for the future, but no matter how the anime may change, the soul of the series will always live on through eager fans.

DRAGON BALL SUPER started decades ago in 1984 with the manga DRAGON BALL. In that first series, young Son Goku meets a teenage girl, Bulma. The two set off on an adventure to summon a mythical dragon and have a wish granted. From there, Goku travels and meets tons of people. After constant training and the acquisition of new allies, Goku becomes a protector of Earth and starts a family. Everything since then centers around Goku and his Z Fighter friends as they fight to protect humanity and save the world.

DRAGON BALL as a franchise has spawned hundreds of manga chapters and anime episodes, tons of video games, and countless battles. As we move forward from SUPER into the next form of the series, we want to look back on it. In this article, I’ll be talking about some of the good and bad of the series. DRAGON BALL SUPER is quite different from the first series DRAGON BALL and its sequel DRAGON BALL Z.

Goku, Vegeta, Piccolo, Majin Buu, and Monika in DRAGON BALL SUPER
Just a few of the Z Fighters | Image: Crunchyroll

An Evolving Type of Story

Since meeting the character Yamcha back in his days as a thief, Son Goku has always turned enemies into friends. The original adventures in DRAGON BALL lacked the massive battles and universe shattering powers of DRAGON BALL SUPER. Before Goku was an adult, the show had much more of a gentle pace. Fans of DRAGON BALL creator Akira Toriyama’s other work will know that he includes elements of humor and gags in his manga. Especially with series like DR. SLUMP, humor was a much bigger focus than action. This is the nature of the early arcs of DRAGON BALL.

A 14 year old Goku walks around with a large hill in the background.
A young, carefree Goku as he appears in DRAGON BALL | Image: Funimation

Goku is a lot less serious of a character and even more childish than he acts in SUPER. Having grown up apart from society for his entire childhood, he knows nothing of modern technology. A lot of what made DRAGON BALL enjoyable was exploring the world alongside Goku. The technology is greater than what we have in the real world, and the power mechanics of DRAGON BALL weren’t quite clear that early in the series. Goku was simply a fight-loving simpleton protecting his friends as he traveled. It wasn’t until the very end of the series that characters began to even die.

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From Dragon Ball Hunting to Godly Battles

The transition from DRAGON BALL’s style to DRAGON BALL SUPER almost mirrors protagonist Goku’s growth. In the early years of the DRAGON BALL anime back in 1986, adventures started simple and involved a lot of childish comedy. As Goku grew up, the childish comedy certainly stayed, but it was a lot more sporadic. DRAGON BALL evolved into a true shonen series, and things like death began to happen on a regular basis. Goku’s enemies got stronger too, and their motivations considerably more devious. By the end of DRAGON BALL, Goku was strong enough to handle most earthly threats, but the groundwork for an action-centric series had been laid out.

DRAGON BALL Z built from this setup and practically transformed the series. The reason so many people look fondly on DRAGON BALL Z even when they’ve never seen DRAGON BALL is that the series was radically different from its predecessors. Battles were wilder, fighters were stronger, and combat became meaningful. For SUPER, that transition was amplified to include new universes, powers, and even entirely new timelines! DRAGON BALL SUPER tried to revolutionize the series just like its predecessor. While it created absolutely incredible moments in the series, SUPER did overall suffer from rushing and careless storytelling.

Rushing into New Forms

DRAGON BALL SUPER attempted to build off of things that fans love the most. Namely, this included transformations and attacks. Fans are always extremely excited to see new Super Saiyan forms and energy combos. Goku might spend 10 minutes screaming into the sky, lightning crackling around him before a transformation even began. Heroes and villains literally sit back and allow each other to transform or power up to 100%. SUPER introduced many new transformations, but the speed and way in which they did so often felt rushed.

Vegeta stands confidently after transforming into a Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan
There are too many versions of Super Saiyan to count | Image: Crunchyroll

When DRAGON BALL SUPER first aired, there were already two new transformations from the jump. The first, Super Saiyan God, was revealed in the movie DRAGON BALL Z: BATTLE OF GODS. Rather than a power that a single Saiyan could achieve on their own, this form needed the energy of others to transform. The form had a collaborative potential that was quickly dashed away with another new transformation.

Introducing new forms, often just for Goku, shifted most battles toward a one-on-one focus. Usually, an arc would have tons of fights. Goku’s friends would fight alongside him against a villain and that villain’s henchmen. It wasn’t until the end of an arc where the action became one-on-one. Side characters’ roles seem even less important in SUPER. Super Saiyan God would have forced Goku and Vegeta to bring others into crucial fights. However, a shiny new transformation immediately replaced the old one. Then, weeks later, a new one replaced that.

For comparison, Goku didn’t become a Super Saiyan until episode 94 of DRAGON BALL Z. SUPER is only 131 episodes long. The amount of action grew in SUPER, but it felt like transformations became mere tools for shock value.

Power Scaling

I love DRAGON BALL SUPER, I really do. But this is where this anime really messes up. Every time Goku or Vegeta gets a new power-up, those who they fight get stronger too. Antagonists are almost always new to an arc, so the explanations for their power are allowed to be somewhat vague. But in order to keep the older, weaker characters relevant then, SUPER lazily grants boosts in power to side characters with no explanation.

Hit stands ready for combat.
Assassin Hit of Universe 6 has 1000 years of training and a strength that’s easy to conceptualize | Image: Crunchyroll

This is a losing battle. Rather than fixing the root of the problem, SUPER slaps on a bandage via bad power scaling. Because of this, there’s a massive asymmetry of information with regard to powers. Fighters that haven’t trained for years in the story are somehow up to speed again. Goku and Vegeta improve at a rate far too high relative to their comrades.

DRAGON BALL SUPER tries too hard to create and set up a ton of jaw-dropping fights. While I’m excited to see a very underused character like Android 18 fight, the moment is ruined when her strength seems unreasonable. Initially, my biggest fears for the series were about animation quality. Now, I’m worried that poor power scaling might make it impossible to simultaneously create foes for Goku and keep weak characters involved. Too many super strong antagonists exist, and Goku is becoming so powerful that literal Gods of Destruction are fearful of his abilities. Very soon he’s going to run out of people that can possibly compete with him. It’s hard to understand how the human characters of Earth can stay relevant when every other new character has God-level powers. Hopefully, future arcs are able to catch this and fix it.

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Villains that Lack Context

One of the more recent issues is the way new characters are added. It was quite sometime before the reason that new villains felt shallow became clear. With the Tournament of Power, nearly every antagonist was from a new universe. Had the show put time and detail into the structure of these other universes, things would’ve felt less rushed. Additionally, SUPER attempts to make villains needlessly complex toward the end.

DRAGON BALL has always had villains with relatively simple goals. For DRAGON BALL Z enemies like Cell, Buu, or Frieza, it was just dominating the world. Nothing deep needed there. Even a goal like “find the dragon balls” is pretty simple and easy to get behind. Arguably, the Zamasu saga is the one-time DRAGON BALL SUPER created a complex character that actually worked. This is because, in the case of Zamasu, the development and context of the mechanisms around Supreme Kai’s and Gods already existed. Because of that, it didn’t seem weird for there to be a narcissist rebel within that system since we already understood it in the first place. Plots need to either build from things people already understand or use exposition better. At the speed SUPER progresses, there’s never any time to explain new enemies and their universe in detail.

Jiren stands silently as Goku undergoes yet another transformation.
For an opponent as strong and plot-defining as Jiren, some degree of character backstory is important. But what the show presents is a very basic backstory with little meaning | Image: Crunchyroll

For an antagonist as important as Jiren, his backstory felt odd and shallow. His life story is like a diet version of Sasuke’s from NARUTO. In future arcs, SUPER will hopefully do well to grow existing concepts out into the new world. This way, they can explore new plots without abandoning old characters and fights.

The Culture around DRAGON BALL

This criticism may come off as harsh sometimes, especially since the bar for SUPER seems so high. The good parts don’t get talked about because they’re so ingrained in the series that they don’t seem worth mentioning anymore. After all, the only reason people feel the need to hold DRAGON BALL SUPER to such a high standard is because fans know how great it can become.

I know that, with some elbow grease, SUPER can replicate the thematic quality of some of DRAGON BALL Z’s best scenes. The memories of Vegeta abandoning his pride to strike Cell from behind and help Gohan save the world, or Goku’s anger as Frieza killed Krillin, or Majin Buu casually wiping out every human on Earth in seconds are things I’ll never forget. I don’t have that moment yet in SUPER. Even so, those classic moments from years ago live on.

At the beginning of SUPER when episodes were just rehashed scenes from the movies and the animation sucked, fans stayed. After the absolute dumpster fire that was the DRAGON BALL GT series, fans stayed. Hundreds of memes about DRAGON BALL get shared on a daily basis. The show is so integrated into Western culture that even non-anime fans love Goku. Rappers even write lyrics about him! It’s such a quintessential series that watching it doesn’t even feel like watching an anime. That’s how deep the roots run. DRAGON BALL will always be criticized, but it will certainly also always be loved.

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So What’s the Good?

The best part of DRAGON BALL SUPER is, without a doubt, how distinctly pumped up it gets me. Little moments like an energy blast getting casually knocked away or Goku closing his eyes as he unlocks new power light a fire in fans too. You can literally feel the excitement through your screen. While SUPER doesn’t accomplish this feeling every single episode, when they do get it they do a damn good job. The biggest fights have the best animation, and any time there’s a one-week hiatus, fans rest assured that the next fight will have double the work put into it.

An Ultra Instinct boosted Goku punches Jiren in the face so hard that the combatant's face compresses.
Moments like Jiren getting absolutely smacked will always keep me watching | Image: Crunchyroll

For me, this will always be what dragged me back to the show every week even if I was disappointed in a prior episode. I live to see the conclusion of an epic battle, then I come back for more. What SUPER does better than every iteration of the series before it is create indescribably brilliant prize fights. Even if the story leading up to Goku vs Jiren is kinda meh, I can patiently wait it out because I know that last fight will be badass.

In this regard, when someone says DRAGON BALL SUPER isn’t good, they don’t mean to say they don’t like it. They probably don’t mean to say it’s not worth watching either. A bad episode of SUPER is one that doesn’t live up to the absurdly high expectation of fans. And even then, an arc that’s only 75% perfect is still of higher quality than most other action anime out there.

Job Well Done for DRAGON BALL SUPER

Ultimately, DRAGON BALL SUPER has some faults, but the title matchups are better than ever. SUPER isn’t perfect, but really, when has DRAGON BALL ever needed to be? Anime doesn’t have to be extraordinarily good for people to watch it. What makes SUPER a show that needs to keep going is the momentum of DRAGON BALL. The straightforward formula of high stakes action and hype moments has almost infinite applications. In terms of keeping DRAGON BALL going, SUPER has made a name for itself as a series to stick with.

The fiery hot souls of Goku and friends will never die. With the upcoming end of SUPER and brand new teasers for the movie, their adventures don’t seem to be nearing an end. I for one am extremely excited for the next form of the series. One avenue I can’t wait to see explored is the structure of the other universes. SUPER has introduced interesting ideas about how Gods of Destruction form bonds with mortals and affect the hegemony of empires. The politics nerd in me would love to see Goku and friends travel to every universe. Plus, now that we know about more Saiyans in Universe 6, we’ll finally get a chance to see what their warrior culture really looks like.

What do you want to see in the next saga? New characters? New universes? Even more transformations? Let us know in the comments!

Featured image from Crunchyroll.

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