Screen & Page: Summon the Super Saiyan God In ‘Dragon Ball Super’
Most anime is adapted from manga, often produced by the manga publisher to raise awareness and sell it overseas. But what about the anime shows or film that go the other way, adapted from the screen to the page? How do those works hold up, and what changes or stays the same? That’s what Screen & Page aims to explore.
Today, we're talking about the much-hyped, very welcome return of Goku and friends, Dragon Ball Super! Finally legally available in North America, this sequel reunites Goku, Gohan, Piccolo and the rest of the Z Warriors in a show that's just as fun and suspenseful as its predecessor.
Dragon Ball Super is touted as a sequel both to the worldwide phenomenon Dragon Ball Z and the original Dragon Ball manga, and a replacement for the much-derided anime Dragon Ball GT. It's actually an "interquel," set between the final two episodes/chapters of Z's Buu Saga, but "sequel" is easier to market, so there ya go.
This new Dragon Ball era began in 2013 with Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, the first film in the franchise's history to have original mangaka Akira Toriyama's involvement. Directed by Masahiro Hosoda from a screenplay by Yusuke Watanabe and a story by Toriyama and animated by Toei Animation (who've animated Goku since 1986), Battle of Gods is half extended-reunion movie with Goku and friends, half action movie involving the arrival of Beerus, God of Destruction --- who, to quote Goku, "looks like a big hairless cat" --- and his companion Whis, to challenge Goku.
Gods is fun, but the comedy's a bit airless if you're unfamiliar with the pre-Z Dragon Ball (which most Americans are). More successful is 2015's leaner follow-up film, Resurrection 'F' --- directed by Tadayoshi Yamamuro from a screenplay by Toriyama --- which brings back Z's first (and the franchise's best) villain, Frieza, for revenge against Goku and pals. With some incredible action animation and great gags (especially the reveal of what hell is for someone calling himself 'Evil Emperor'), it's the best kind of crowd-pleasing blockbuster.
Given the films' success, Dragon Ball Super's 2015 premiere was inevitable. Directed by Kimitoshi Chioka, Morio Hatano & Kōhei Hatano from screenplays credited to Toriyama, the show's first two arcs retell Gods & 'F' with major and minor differences. For example, instead of Bulma's birthday party taking place at her house, it's on a cruise ship. There are also more moments exploring what everyone's been up to since Z; Goku, for example, is a radish farmer.
After its 'F' adaptation wraps up, Super dives into original stories, with the reveal of Beerus' twin brother, Champa; of planet-sized "Super Dragon Balls"; and of a multiversal fighting tournament, as well as a really solid arc involving an evil AU version of Goku known as Goku Black.
Like its sister shows, Super is compulsively watchable with great characters and solid-to-amazing fight scenes. However, it's not a binge-watch. When marathoned, the multi-episode fights become a slog, and the animation errors (off-model drawings, reused shots, etc.) stick out a lot more. On a week-to-week basis --- as can now be seen in English on Adult Swim --- it's a whole lot of fun.
Welcome back, Goku. We missed you.
Besides planning the anime's story and new character designs, Toriyama also provides plot breakdowns to mangaka Toyotarou, who scripts and draws manga chapters for Shueisha's monthly V Jump magazine.
A lot of the monthly manga adaptations we've covered here have either expanded on their source material or compressed it due to page constraints. Toyotarou does the latter, retelling Battle of Gods in four chapters and skipping Resurrection 'F' entirely (as that was covered in a three-chapter manga he did that hasn't been published in English as of this writing).
Still, Toyotarou knows how to emulate Toriyama's pencils, and his storytelling strengths serve the story well, both in expertly selling a gag and in staging a dynamic action scene.
An advantage of the manga being shorter than the show is that the chapters are a lot easier to marathon through. Toyotarou also changes up the flow of events for suspense's sake, which works. For example, Champa appears from the beginning, which builds up his goofiness and menace.
For probably the first time in the history of this column, I can't really declare one version of Dragon Ball Super better than the other. They're both a lot of fun, with characters as beloved and multi-layered as anybody from Earth-616 or the DCU. Whatever way you take it in, Super is well worth diving into.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my gravity room training...
Dragon Ball Super is available to stream subtitled on Crunchyroll and Daisuki, and is simulcast on Saturdays on both Crunchyroll and FunimationNow. The English-language dub currently airs Saturday nights at 8 & 11:30 PM EST on Adult Swim and is available on their website. According to a Funimation spokesperson, no home video releases are currently planned.
The Dragon Ball Super manga is available on VIZ Media's website with new chapters uploaded twice a month. Print volumes will be published starting in May 2017.