There is no doubt that Dragon Ball is a world-wide phenomenon. Outside of the original manga, there have been several TV series in addition to the many original video animations.
But beyond all that, there have been 17 Dragon Ball movies released in Japanese theaters since 1986. However, it has been almost 17 years since the last of these, The Path to Power, graced the silver screen back in 1996. But now, after all that time comes a new Dragon Ball movie, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods. And while it is neither a deep or profound movie, it is definitely a fun one. [*Note: Minor spoilers to follow.]
Good — A Celebration of All Things Dragon Ball
While past Dragon Ball movies, especially the DBZ movies, have been action-based, Battle of Gods is far more focused on giving lighthearted comedic moments than focusing on an impending threat and their invading army of evil. This is largely due to the setting of the film: Bulma's birthday party. This location is a great excuse to have everyone gathered together in one place.
Even Emperor Pilaf and his gang from the original series are featured in the film as they execute their latest attempt to get their hands on the Dragon Balls (mainly to reverse their last wish which ended with them all de-aged into the single digits).
All in all, most characters get at least a line or two and the vast majority of the movie is just fanservice moments as the people at the party enjoy themselves.
Good — A Bad Guy Far Beyond Any Faced Before
The main villain of the film is Bills. And unlike the enemies of past films, he is a legitimate god that makes King Kai and the Supreme Kai look like nothing in comparison. More than that, though, Bills is a god of destruction who, in between thirty-year cat naps, emerges to destroy a few planets seemingly at random.
Unlike most DBZ villains, Bills is actually quite likable. His shaved cat character design makes him equal parts humorous and threatening. Moreover, he isn't evil, rather he is just doing his job and is very bored by it. So when he dreams of the existence of a “Super Saiyan God” he is excited for the challenge. However, he is so far beyond the villains of the past that he defeats even Super Saiyan 3 Goku in mere seconds. And after he comes across Bulma's birthday in his search for more Saiyans, he is content to simply enjoy the party for hours—including showing off his break dancing skills—before everything escalates into a fight.
In fact, a fun subplot of the movie is continually watching Vegeta debase himself at the party to keep the god happy, with only Vegeta himself being aware of how far overly matched everyone actually is. [To avoid major spoilers, skip to the next section.]
But perhaps the best part of the film is how Bills is handled. In every other iteration of Dragon Ball Z, Goku would lose early on, and then come back stronger than ever to beat the baddie by a narrow margin. However, in Battle of Gods, even the new Super Saiyan God form isn't enough to overpower Bills. In fact, Bills walks away the unquestioned winner of the fight, which is a great thing to have happen as it is a complete reversal of the standard DBZ formula.
Good — Amazingly Beautiful Fights
If anything, Battle of Gods provides a stark contrast to how much animation has changed since the early 90s. New cg animation techniques allow for camera shots that would have been costly and prohibitively difficult in hand-drawn animation. But more than that, the changes in animation technology allow for what are easily the most beautiful fights in all of Dragon Ball. The final battle between Goku and Bills demonstrates this perfectly with chase cameras following the two of them as they corkscrew and twist through the sky. It really is visually stunning.
Mixed — Did We Really Need Another Super Saiyan Form?
Let me be blunt here. After Super Saiyan, Ascended Super Saiyan, Ultra Super Saiyan, Full Power Super Saiyan, Legendary Super Saiyan, Super Saiyan 2, Super Saiyan 3, Super Saiyan 4 and all the various forms of fusions, did we really need a new kind of transformation?
Transformation, as a way to power up, is already an overused concept in Dragon Ball. So while some will be excited to see this new form in action, others will no doubt be annoyed that, once again, learning a new transformation is the only hope for victory.
In the end, I really enjoyed watching Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods. It was a great nostalgic trip from beginning to end. The comedic moments were not only funny but also true to the series, and the fight scenes were excellent one and all. But make no mistake, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods is pure, unmitigated fanservice. However, Battle of Gods is one of those films that prove “fanservice” isn't always a dirty word. If you have ever seen anything Dragon Ball and liked it, you will probably enjoy this movie even if your tastes in anime have long since moved on.
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods was released in Japanese theaters on March 30, 2013. There is currently no word on an international release.
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