A Look Back on the Troubled Yet Iconic Dragon Ball Super

On March 25, 2018, Dragon Ball Super came to an end after 131 episodes. Discussion of its finale lead to DBS trending at the number-three worldwide spot on Twitter, and multiple municipal governments in a half dozen Latin American countries sponsored public viewings of the final two episodes—some places drawing more than 10,000 attendees.

People love Dragon Ball. And as a hardcore fan of the franchise myself, I thought now would be the perfect time to go back and look at the journey we’ve taken with the series.

Poster featuring Goku and the team from Universe 7

Promotional poster for the Universe Survival arc, Toei Animation Studios

The Fandom’s Journey with Dragon Ball Super

Spring 2015 was an exciting time to be a Dragon Ball fan. Resurrection F had blasted its way through theaters and was so successful in Japan it kept Furious 7 out of the number-one spot at the box office. Toei’s new cut of Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball Kai, was coming to end, and there was nothing to fill the Sunday-morning 9:00 a.m. time slot. Series creator Akira Toriyama was on board to write the general story, so Dragon Ball Super’s production started two months before its release date of July 5, 2015.

On paper that sounds fine, but normal anime preproduction is anywhere from six months to a year. For Dragon Ball Super to receive only two short months of prep time meant every single aspect of the series would be rushed. Because the franchise is a heavy action one, it didn’t take long for production to collapse in on itself. If you’re curious about the finer details of this breakdown, I recommend watching Anime Ajay’s videos Dragon Ball Super Production Issues Explained” and “Is Dragon Ball Super’s Animation Cheaply Made? for further information.

The first two arcs of Dragon Ball Super were simply retellings of the previous two Dragon Ball movies, which frustrated fans. In theory, a movie retelling could’ve given lots of new information, with time to sit in the details, but mostly people felt they were watching a stretched-out version of something they’d already seen. The animation looked worse, the story seemed worse, and the hype the fandom first felt had almost dissipated.

After the Resurrection F movie retelling arc finished, fans finally got a taste of what new Dragon Ball Super content was going to look like. Animation was improving, and it seemed like Dragon Ball Super’s biggest contribution to the franchise would be its expanded lore. There were multiple universes revealed and even a set of Dragon Balls the size of planets. The arc’s focus was a tournament with a parallel universe, and the prize would be those Super Dragon Balls.

poster featuring the teams from universe 6 and 7

Promo for the Universe 6 Tournament arc, Toei Animation Studios

The expansion of lore was the logical step for the next phase of Dragon Ball storytelling. With multiple universes in the mix, there seemed to be no limit to the types of stories Dragon Ball could tell. The Universe 6 Tournament arc took full advantage of the lore expansion by introducing Universe 6 Saiyans. Even if the arc itself dipped in quality or didn’t reach its full potential, Vegeta versus Cabba is a series highlight. Along with powering up and reaching new forms, mentorship of a young new Saiyan meant there would be an emotional stake exclusive to DBS.

Nothing, however, could’ve prepared the fandom for the announcement of Future Trunks’s long-awaited return and the presence of someone we’d instantly become curious about: Goku Black. Toei’s writing for Goku Black hinged on the mystery of his true identity, and I think this changed how the fandom consumed Dragon Ball Super. In addition to watching episodes each week, we waited with bated breath for Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine information scans and for the community translators to tell us what they said. Each episode and each writeup brought us one step closer to solving the mystery of Goku Black’s identity. Dragon Ball YouTubers also became part of what it meant to be a Dragon Ball fan, and each one had something special to contribute. Since the Dragon Ball content creators knew each other and regularly collaborated, it created an extra sense of community. After years of misinformation, we finally knew who the reliable sources were.

promotional poster featuring Future Trunks, Mai, and Goku Black

Promotional poster of the Future Trunks arc, Toei Animation Studios

Dragon Ball is a unique fandom in that it encompasses people from all over the globe but is still small enough that many fans have few real-life acquaintances who follow the franchise. This drove fans, including me, to seek places online to talk about it. Being part of the fandom was, and is, a multiplatform and multilingual experience. Older fans and newer fans alike were watching the same version of Dragon Ball Super, and in a fandom heavily divided on version loyalty, this was a big deal.

The middle of the Future Trunks arc saw animator Naotoshi Shida’s first contribution to the series, an official Dragon Ball simulcast, and the announcement of the English dub. The mystery surrounding Goku Black was solved, and it felt like a good payoff for the months of speculation. Toei would also bring its best animators on board for the climatic and controversial episode 66, which saw the return of fan favorite Vegetto—but not in the way the community had hoped for.

After the Future Trunks arc wrapped up, Toei took another opportunity to step away from the action and aired a series of slice-of-life episodes. Regardless of how the fandom felt about the actual DBS arcs, these episodes were almost always met with approval as the hilarity was reminiscent of Toriyama’s odd humor and famous Z filler episodes like “the one where Goku learns how to drive.”

The Universe Survival arc began in 2017, and it pitted multiple universes against one other in an all-out battle royale. The losers would face total erasure by the Omni-King, and the winner got a wish from the Super Dragon Balls. Everyone expected this arc to be long because it got its own opening song, but nobody could’ve predicted it would last a full year. The series had a new look and new series directors, and animation quality had improved. Discussions began to revolve around how good the series was looking instead of how poorly a scene was animated—the production that had crippled the series had improved. But it still wasn’t sustainable; fan favorite YuYu Takahashi revealed he only had three weeks to animate his portion of episode 114, when action animators are normally given six to eight weeks. With a new Dragon Ball movie in the pipeline, Toei Animation studios made the wise decision to end production of Dragon Ball Super and wrap up the series with the conclusion of the Universe Survival arc.

What the Series Has Meant to Me

Production issues aside, there’s a lot about Dragon Ball Super I didn’t like. For one, it felt as though it was struggling with its identity. Did it want to be as serious as Z? As lighthearted as the original Dragon Ball anime? What does it look like to tell a Dragon Ball story in modern times? How do you progress characters that have been around for 30 years? In particular, Goku felt like a caricature of himself during many moments of Super, and this writing style persisted until the end. Character-driven moments were eclipsed by the absurd amount of transformations, and DBS didn’t do a good job of explaining those transformations. I also felt the series didn’t even try to keep power gaps between characters reasonable, going for what looked the coolest instead of what made sense.

DBS also gave me moments of pure euphoria. The anticipation for each episode during the Future Trunks arc was painful in the best way. Goku Black continues to be one of my favorite characters across the franchise, and I ate up the additional lore. Many other characters introduced in the show are memorable and dynamic and have the potential for continued story. The series had some animation lows, but its highs were better than anything shown in other installments of the franchise. I loved learning about the process of animation and getting the opportunity to directly compliment writers and animators of the series directly via Twitter.

It’s also because of Dragon Ball Super I met new people online. From my first DBS chat that started over two years ago to the moderation team on DBZ Amino, I’ve made good friends and talk with them almost daily. It’s been a lot of fun. Despite the issues Super’s had, it succeeded in ways most shows only dream of. Fandom is powerful, and Dragon Ball’s fandom is a force to be reckoned with.

The Future of Dragon Ball

Even though Super has ended, the future is bright. Toei animation already released a teaser for the movie that features glorious animation and a fresh new character design. The studio’s care of the movie thus far shows that they want to treat the franchise with the love it deserves. Dragon Ball might be off the air for now, but all of us are hopeful it’ll return. If and when it does, I firmly believe Dragon Ball will come back better than ever.

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