The modern-day trend of lone wolf and cub stories has achieved an all-new form in Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero. The movie, about how Piccolo is the father who stepped up to rear Gohan and his daughter Pan, just made U.S. box office history by getting the widest U.S. release of any anime ever while raking in a modest $20 million in its opening weekend. Naturally, Kotaku’s resident Dragon Ball Z fans couldn’t stop at ranking the series’ 22 feature-length films without discussing why Super Hero had our eyes overflowing with happy tears.
Ethan Gach: So how many DBZ t-shirts did you see at your viewing? Before we even got into the theater we walked by a 2003 Ford Focus with a Cell Saga windshield reflector and some guy in the lobby was making TikToks while wearing a Saiyan scouter.
Isaiah Colbert: My theater made it exceedingly clear who was here for Dragon Ball Z and which moviegoers were normal human beings. At the doors were horrifying pop-figure artwork of Goku, Vegeta, Gohan, and Piccolo to set the tone, and the concessions area had a bunch of loitering anime shirt-wearing dudes talking about the Super manga. I actually embarrassed myself thinking someone dared show up wearing Midoriya’s hero fit from My Hero Academia but it turns out they just really like wearing bold colors.
Ethan: Did you see it in IMAX?
Isaiah: Yep yep. I made sure not to buy it in 4DX for fear of my spine’s alignment. Sitting through the trailers was a trip because while watching Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer trailer, I overheard folks debating whether Dragon Ball GT was canon or not. I don’t think those two topics have ever been in the same vicinity. So DBS has that going for it.
Ethan: The camera was wild in this movie. Thankfully we were in the very back row and I only felt queasy once. There were some real Michael Bay edits on the fight scenes. But overall it’s the most fun I’ve ever had seeing Dragon Ball in theaters (i.e. since Battle of the Gods released).
Isaiah: For sure, I made the mistake of sitting kinda close during Broly in IMAX at Navy Pier. Nothing like not having to turn your neck whenever folks are blitzing across the screen. I’ll say one thing though, I wasn’t expecting this movie to give me big Despicable Me vibes while also throwing in some Shin Godzilla for good measure. Did anyone clap in your theater because I definitely popped off at one point.
Ethan: I wanted them to! But they barely did. My group was probably the loudest in the theater. We lapped up every moment of fan service and asked for seconds. For those reading at home, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero follows Piccolo’s quest to re-awaken Gohan’s inner fighter by helping the Red Ribbon Army 2.0 capture Pan, laying the groundwork for a showdown with two new androids made by Dr. Gero’s grandson.
Isaiah: I messaged my friends after the movie to tell them that it’s basically Piccolo’s granpappy adventures and that they need to go see it. What I liked most about the film, aside from feeding me all the Piccolo/Pan/Gohan familial scenes I could ever ask for, is how much attention it paid to its lesser-known lore factoids like Dr. Gero’s wife being Android 21 from Dragon Ball FighterZ, Android 16 being their son, and Piccolo basically being a plant creature. Also I loved how the movie answered niggling questions like why games differentiate teen and adult Gohan the way they do when the ages don’t match up. My friends didn’t like how silly the movie was but its silliness made it shoot up right to the top of my rankings for Dragon Ball movies.
Ethan: I actually felt like it was one of the less silly modern Dragon Ball movies. Like you said there’s a ton of deep in-the-weeds factoids and there were definitely cheers in my theater when Piccolo made the aside about how Saiyan growth spurts. A lot of that felt extremely geared toward DBZ old-heads whose memories of the series peaked with the Cell Saga on Toonami, and have since spent way more time watching Team Four Star abridged renditions than any of the original episodes. But then when the Ki blasts started flying it was all business.
Isaiah: For sure. This film, much like the Fast and Furious franchise, was about family. While some folks bemoaned the slice-of-life snail’s pace of early Super, Super Hero had the kind of content I’ve been begging for which is just to show me what their everyday lives are like. We got a taste of that during the Great Saiyaman arc in the early Buu Saga but things regressed back to world-ending stakes with Goku and crew. And if you aren’t a fan of slice-of-life DBZ, the film also gave you some more Goku, Vegeta, and Broly content to tithe you over until they’re inevitable next film.
The film also got a lot of good, genuine laughs out of me when fists weren’t flying. The running joke of Bulma’s vain misuse of the dragon balls and everyone’s commentary on it was just perfect. It ain’t trickin’ if you got it. I was wondering how as the series went on she kept looking as young as the Saiyans. Plus any time Pan and Piccolo shared a scene was downright adorable.
Ethan: Alright, let’s dig into some spoilers before we go. I absolutely lost it when Magenta, voiced by Charles Martinet, aka Mario, repeatedly shot Dr. Hedo. Anyone following along closely remembered his comment about injecting his skin to make it stronger than alloy, so it didn’t really fulfill any plot purpose. The Dragon Ball folks literally just wanted to pretend to murk a kid on the big screen.
Isaiah: He didn’t just shoot Dr. Hedo, he obeyed Zombieland rules and double-tapped him. Also, holy crap was this film just Dragon Ball AF come to life. DBZ fans are the worst when it comes to spoilers for this movie so I walked into it knowing about Cell and that there’d be new forms for Piccolo and Gohan, but what I didn’t expect was for the final act to have Cell Max and Piccolo in a giant kaiju battle. The year 2022 is a fever dream. Ultra Instinct Shaggy in MultiVersus and Gohan Blanco, memes from Super’s Tournament of Power arc, are now real and I don’t know what to do with myself.
Ethan: Me, my friends, and clearly so many others, have been waiting decades for Piccolo to get the new form he deserves. Orange Piccolo might not be canon, but I lost my mind when it happened. And look, we may have gone to the bar beforehand, and then gotten tall boys in the theater—the kid behind the counter pouring our seven pints was also wearing a DBZ tee and started the series with Kai—but I didn’t go to the bathroom once, and when Gohan finally unleashes his “Kamehameha or whatever” and it turned out to be a Special Beam Cannon tears welled up in my eyes and I started texting everyone I knew.
Isaiah: The fact that he’s been practicing that for years! That got me. This film was phenomenal because it decided to lower the stakes instead of making it just another movie about a cosmic threat. I hope the series pivots into giving other characters time on the silver screen with their own intimate little theatrical adventures. As soon as the credits (and after credits) hit I immediately started workshopping the next DBS film in my head. So hear me out: Dragon Ball Super goes full Kamen Rider and follows Jaco and Pan on an early Dragon Ball-type adventure across Earth and space with Pan as Great Saiyagirl (title pending). That way Piccolo can get a break from his grandpa duties and flesh out Bulma’s older sister Tights who’s been going on adventures with Jaco while Dragon Ball has been going on. My emails are open, Toei and Toriyama.
Ethan: I’ll see you at the premiere in 2026!