Legacy and the Aging Protagonist: In Defense of Dragon Ball Super

Dragon Ball Super is one of those series that’s incredibly easy to dismiss as an easy cash-in to a long-lived franchise (though honestly, that title belongs moreso to the Dragon Ball Heroes card game). New characters are introduced for the purpose of story-expansion, and new power-ups are invented almost to accompany every new addition to the cast. And yet a good 50+ episodes in, the series has been doing a surprisingly solid job of not only continuing the story from where it left off, but also progressing each character’s arcs, keeping in mind the series’ 30+ years of in-world history to pinpoint where characters currently are emotionally. Not bad for a show about dudes punching alien-dudes until they die or befriend each other.

DBSuper Vegeta v Freeza

r we besties yet? Y/N

With a good chunk of the original cast well into their 40s by the start of Super, it’s only natural for the ol’ gang to begin taking the time to actually mull over what they want out of life—which becomes even more loaded of a question than it already is, considering they exist in a world where multiple tiers of gods exist outside of the tiny slug-man that hangs out in a floating fortress on Earth with an attendant that’s totally not in blackface.

Focusing on series mainstay Goku, it’s interesting to note that as far back as Dragon Ball (pre-Z era), Goku’s been offered a position of godlihood by the Earth’s current god/Kami—Kami himself probably feeling some serious shame after unleashing his literal evil half on the world. A similar scene plays out at the end of Super’s first arc, as the God of Destruction Beerus offers Goku a position after having kept up with him in a sparring match. Goku being Goku turns down the offer both times, but it should be noted that even though both scenes play out the same, Goku’s current position in life plays such a critical unspoken role in each instance.

The first scene ends the final arc in Dragon Ball before a time-skip (filler and Z-centric name-change notwithstanding if we’re going with the anime). And while the arc was the first to feature Goku as a fully grown man and well-trained fighter (I still await the return of the foot-kamehameha), the arc’s final moments still paint him as a starry-eyed young man, his future filled with possibilities that not even marriage can hold back.

goku married gif

“Second I get outta this monkey suit, ahm gonna punch more dudes!”

In contrast, while Goku is nowhere near being some washed up Creed-era Rocky by the time Super rolls around, his number of possibilities do seem narrowed, if only due to him becoming so married to his own passion to fight a stronger opponent. Super episode 17 marks the birth of Pan—Gohan’s daughter, and in turn Goku’s first grandchild. The conversation naturally turns to how Pan should be raised: as a simple civilian, or as a fighter. And while the back-and-forth is played for laughs, the episode eventually ends with Goku beginning his training under Whis—God of Destruction Beerus’ own attendant and master, hinting at how Goku wishes to pursue fighting not only to prove himself to his challengers, but to validate his passion to generations to follow.

DBSuper Pan
Yes, with the introduction of younger characters, as well as characters expanding on the series’ god mythos, it’s interesting to observe how the series pays special attention to the variety of literal god-tiers, universes, and even timelines as is the case with the current arc, each of which relate to one’s own place in the universe (in a very literal sense, in some cases) based on the legacy they’ve left behind and have yet to even consider.

And while the primary allure to the series is still the power-ups and fighting, there are plenty of times in-series when proper character growth based on years of backstories and adventures occurs. Characters like Krillin, who’s openly mocked among fans as being one of the weaker fighters in the group, proves his worth when he alongside other human fighters hold their own against literal hordes of alien invaders. Likewise, Piccolo—a literal devilspawn—is further growing into his role as a stand-in uncle and baby-sitter. Even long-time cast-members in Bulma and Pilaf’s gang are pushing their own intellectual capabilities, Pilaf and co. building on their mecha backgrounds, and Bulma in particular striving for something her future self was only able to reach when faced with a dystopian future.

DBSuper Bulma and Pilaf

The politics behind colleges accepting women and blue devil-dwarf things aren’t worth the time of true creative visionaries like Bulma and emperor Pilaf.

That brings us to Super’s latest batch of episodes, revolving around everyone’s favorite purple blue-haired bishonen: Future Trunks. Thus far, the current arc of Super has been combining all aspects of previous arcs and then some—further expanding on the god hierarchy, alternate dimensions, and the newest addition: branching timelines. Again, we’re met with the theme of character-centric futures based on coming to grips with one’s own role in the world, with time-travel serving as a very transparent means to compare the past and possible future.

Besides the obvious parallels in past/future with Goku and the still-mostly-veiled-in-secrecy “Goku Black,” we’re able to follow the story through the perspective of Future Trunks, who’s only now getting to know the current status quo of the cast now that he’s come back from the future. Super episode 52 in particular does a good job of providing an un-biased (read: “non-fanboy-wanking”) perspective of everyone’s current life trajectory as Trunks touches base with each of his old friends and acquaintances. Having been trained by Gohan in his own timeline, Trunks finds comfort in knowing an alternate version of his master has been able to grow up and pursue a career in the academics—something that would have never been possible in his own timeline. The following episode provides a similar interaction as Krillin introduces Trunks to Artificial Human 18—an enemy and major reason for the dystopian-ness in Trunks’ future timeline, now befriended by all and mother to one in this current timeline.

DBSuper 18 and Trunks

“Don’t sweat it kid… it was another life.”

It’s these small, yet powerful interactions that prove that even with its faults, Dragon Ball Super is familiar enough with its characters and rich history to be willing to expand their story from an introspective stance as well as a (wait for it…) superficial one.

Plus it’s leagues better than GT, so there’s that.


About daemoncorps
Gabe (daemoncorps) has been writing about anime and the like since 2005, but has been babysat by it for much longer. He primarily spends his days distracting himself on twitter or writing for Fandom Post until he realizes he has a weekly webcomic (tapastic.com/series/scramblebouquet) to work on. He also just finished writing his first full-length graphic novel about unemployment (https://tapastic.com/episode/293804).

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