Superheroes are not a new concept in Dragon Ball. Most notably Gohan himself spent his high school years as a masked hero. Yet, this film is not about him—well, at least not directly. In the years since the Tournament of Power, Gohan has unconsciously pushed his responsibilities onto others. He stopped training because he figures his father and Vegeta will handle any world-endangering threats. Likewise, he focuses on his job to the detriment of his family—counting on Piccolo to do “unimportant things” like training Pan to fight and picking her up after school. And even when Piccolo calls Gohan out on this BS, he is promptly ignored. So when a superhero android shows up to pick a fight with the “Great Demon King Piccolo,” Piccolo knows he’s basically on his own and unable to count on Gohan in a real fight. That said, he hasn’t given up on Gohan; Throughout the film, he is constantly looking for the perfect moment to use this crisis to teach Gohan how to be both a better hero and a better father.
Much of the film follows Piccolo acting totally out of his element—going undercover to get more information on the Red Ribbon Army and trying to figure out a way to power up and keep everyone he cares for safe. It also does a great job of showing the bond between Piccolo and Pan—one that may even be stronger than the one between Piccolo and her father. It’s fantastic character development for a once-central character who is all too often treated as little more than comic relief.
As for the strongest of the usual Dragon Ball cast, the film has a fairly meaty scene showing what causes them to be out of contact. While it definitely has more than its fair share of typical Toriyama humor, the scene also serves as an epilogue to both the Tournament of Power and the Broly film—focusing a bit on the fallout while, at the same time, showing what everyone has learned from their experiences. It also serves as a bit of classic fanservice As we watch Goku and Vegeta beat each other to a pulp in a last-man-standing match where ki-blasts are banned.
And that’s far from the only fanservice in the film. It’s filled with callbacks to the previous Dragon Ball series—especially those involving Piccolo like his ever infamous “clothing beam.” It even has a background cameo that will excite many fans of spin-off Dragon Ball material. We also get Bulma acting as Piccolo’s main avenue of support—which allows for some great scenes between the two. If you’re a longtime Dragon Ball fan, there’s a lot to love here.
That said, the film does have some issues. The final villain of the movie is lackluster to say the least. It is basically just a completely forgettable giant raging monster, even with its nostalgic character design. Likewise, Pan’s character arc in the film—centered around her being unable to fly—feels a bit shoehorned in considering she was able to fly by instinct even before she was able to walk. Lastly, the film falls into the ever-looming pitfall of adding even more transformations into the series. While a new transformation for Piccolo makes sense (it’s been a long time since he had anything like one), the other new transformation seen in the film feels completely unearned.
On the visual side of things, Super Hero marks the first time a Dragon Ball anime has been almost completely 3DCG rather than traditional 2D animation—and it works hard to show why this choice was made. The film is absolutely filled with dynamic shots—especially during fight scenes—that, while possible with traditional animation, would be prohibitively expensive. Moreover, 3D models ensure that the characters’ looks and animation quality remain consistently good throughout the film. And while you can often tell that it’s CG, there are some times (particularly in still shots) when it almost succeeds in fooling you into thinking otherwise. Overall, the quality of the CG is good enough that you won’t notice it at all once the story gets going. As for the music, it is perfectly competent but nothing memorable. There are no bangers like “Ultimate Battle” or “Unmei no Hi” but it gets the job done.
When it comes down to it, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is an above-average Dragon Ball story. It has solid themes and works as a character study of one of its oldest (and most neglected) characters. If you’re just wanting to see Goku and Vegeta punch things, you might be let down by their minimal presence in this film, but if you care about Piccolo and are a longtime fan of Dragon Ball In general, you’ll find a lot to enjoy.