Saturday, 18 October 2014

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods review

Like most other Canadian or American fans my introduction to Japanese anime and manga was through the Dragon Ball Z TV series. I remember being mesmerized every time the show was on. I didn’t have cable as a child and the only time I could watch it was when we visited my grandma. Lucky for me we visited often. Still, I only caught episodes sporadically here and there and my friends at school would fill me in on the episodes I missed. A few years later I got to watch both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z from start to finish. I loved it. Not just because of the crazy action and the innumerable types of power-ups. That was all good but what differentiated Dragon Ball Z from the rest of the action and brawling anime then and since was the characters and their zany humour. They’re well designed but they’re also individualized more than you were used to seeing in anime of that time period. Looking at a group picture of the main Dragon Ball Z characters you can easily spot your favourite characters because they personalities shine through in the way they’re illustrated. It was the beginning not only of my interest in Akira Toriyama and his body of work but also of manga and anime. Something that I continue to enjoy to this day though with a bit less excitement than I had when I initially started to explore manga.

The story of Battle of Gods takes place near the very end of the series, somewhere around the middle of the ten year jump before the final two chapters of the manga. Buu has been defeated and the Z-Fighters are enjoying their peaceful lives. Many galaxies away Beerus, the God of Destruction, wakes up after 39 years of sleep. He set himself an alarm to wake up because of a prophecy he heard that announced the arrival of a legendary Saiyan warrior. He’s interested in finding the Super Saiyan God and challenging him to a fight. Accompanied by his aid Whis, he makes his way to Earth where he thinks he’ll have his best chance of finding the Super Saiyan God because of the relatively high presence of Saiyans and half-Saiyans. On Earth both new arrivals crash Bulma’s birthday party. Eventually Beerus’s temper gets the better of him and the Z-Fighters are once again Earth’s final line of defence.

I quite liked Battle of Gods. My summary makes it sound like the plot resembles the plot of many other Dragon Ball Z stories. It’s true the series because pretty formulaic. The feel and tone of the movie fits quite nicely with the tone of the series. The focus isn’t on the action, it’s on the character interaction. There is an equal amount of time spent showing the events of the birthday party than there is devoted to the God of Destruction and his search for the Super Saiyan God. Nearly all the heroes of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z show up and it’s delightful to see them spending time together. Emperor Pilaf from Dragon Ball also makes an appearance. With the aid of Mai and Shou he attempts to steal the Dragon Balls to become rich. The goofing around that takes place in the story makes it pretty evident that Akira Toriyama played an active role in the development of the movie.

Unlike most of the previous 17 Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z movies, this one fits nicely in the timeline of the show. It’s not an alternate universe version of characters and stories. It’s set in the same timeline as the series and deals with the same incarnations of the characters we’ve come to know and love. To make things better a lot of the voice actors from the show returned for Battle of Gods. I would have been happy with another movie that didn’t fit with the show, another movie that didn’t “matter” but the fact this this one does fit in and feels like it matters makes it that much more enjoyable to watch. Granted, making a new movie in this franchise is definitively nostalgic but I don’t mind because it does something that the last few movies didn’t focus on. It’s refreshing and it makes it easier to forget the impulse to make yet another movie in this series.

That being said, this isn’t a perfect movie. There are a number of things I didn’t like and would like to see improved in the 19th Dragon Ball Z movie that is already rumoured to be in production. The first thing that comes to mind is that the movie introduces yet another Saiyan transformation form. It’s simply unnecessary at this point. It’s not nearly as exciting or meaningful as it’s intended to be. It also seems an odd choice of fighting technique to hinge a movie on considering how long it’s been since the last movie. I would have been just as happy to see character perform some of their classic techniques instead of being ridiculously outclassed and easily defeated.

I also wasn’t a fan of the animation. It was inconsistent and it didn’t transition well from the more traditional animation to the computer animation. I like how crisp the animation looks but the computer generated stuff just sticks out like a sore thumb. It doesn’t belong. Likewise, the camera angles used in the final battle is a nice touch but it’s too much. In the movie, characters that have spent years watching high speed battles admit to not being able to follow the fight between Beerus and Goku, that’s a problem. If the characters can’t follow the fight how are we, the viewer, supposed to be able to follow along? The animators’ intentions are obviously to provide fans with a fantastic battle scene and I appreciate the effort to show us something we haven’t already seen in the hundreds of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z episodes and previous movies but it fails. It’s flashy, unnecessary and ineffective. I would have preferred a movie made with only a single style of animation. I’m in support of a sleeker looking Dragon Ball Z but preferably something that also keeps the classic feel and look of the series.

Even the villain introduced in the films harkens back to some of Goku’s first adventures. Compared to many of the series’ villains were actually quite evil while others were simply goofy, yet powerful. Beerus falls into the latter category. He’s an antagonist, clearly, but I wouldn’t consider him evil. He’s too much of a buffoon for that and his main interest in the movie is similar to one of Goku’s own personal interest: he just wants to match his fighting strength to another extremely powerful being. For someone called the God of Destruction, destruction doesn’t appear to be on his mind as more than just an afterthought. He’s still threatening and works well as a villain because the movie does take the time to establish him as a threat but Beerus goes around seemingly in an attempt to undo the scriptwriters work and find an opponent to fight.

The movie is quite enjoyable. Most characters have their moments to shine. Oddly enough, my disappointment with this movie lies with the animation and the final battle scenes. You would think that having a new Dragon Ball Z movie would mean a movie with better animation. That’s only partially true as half the movie is very good and the other half is terrible. One of the staples of Dragon Ball Z is the battles and the ones in this movie are good but they’re not nearly as good as I was expecting nor are they as good as what we’ve seen in the series. The new Super Saiyan form is also unnecessary. Those problems aren’t enough to make this a bad movie though because the characters’ interactions, including new characters such as Whis and Beerus. It’s goofy fun and it works because it’s consistent with how we’ve seen the characters before. More importantly, the fighting and action in the series has plateaued, perhaps even on more than one occasion. The story formula of the series has been used to death and it’s nice to see Battle of Gods play around with that, albeit only a little bit. Dragon Ball Z is a classic and loved anime series not only because of the action but because of the characters and their odd-ball personalities. It’s refreshing to see a movie that focuses so much on heroes and villains goofing off. In many ways it feels like a throwback to Dragon Ball where humour was as much a part as the show as epic battles in which the universe hangs in the balance. 

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