Dragon Ball Super, the latest transformation of Toriyama’s seminal franchise, has had its share of ups and downs. Kicking off with roller-coaster production quality and a slew of movie recap episodes, the show first found its stride during the Future Trunks arc. Here, in this “Universe Survival” arc, the Creator and his cronies have constructed a consistently enjoyable Shounen extravaganza.
The sheer volume of fighting showcases in the Tournament of Power has surpassed that of any other arc in the franchise’s history. Unfortunately, the quantity often undershoots the quality. In between the main skirmishes (Ultra Instinct Goku vs. Jiren, Kefla, Ultra Blue Vegeta vs. Toppo, etc.), the show backtracks both visually and narratively.
However, the Super staff always steps up its collective game during the premier fights, adding an ample amount of polish to the flurry of kicks, punches, and energy blasts. Unfortunately, the occasional flashes in the production-value-pan don’t fully vindicate the show from the even layer of mediocrity its settled into since its questionable beginnings–no more ridiculous character model gaffs, but nothing to write home about either.
Here, at the show’s 127th episode, we stand on the cusp of another final battle–Goku, Vegeta, and Android 17 (and kind of Freeza) struggling to wear down Jiren. Since the producers have announced that Super will take a hiatus following the end of the Universe Survival arc (to focus on the new movie), this last push suspends viewers in bittersweet anticipation.
Episode 127 ‒ “The Approaching Wall! The Final Barrier of Hope!!”
Jiren, a hunk of meat devoid of personality, bursts into flames to kick off the latest episode. The dynamic comedy duo, The Zenoh Twins, add their ingenious commentary to the mix, affirming that Jiren has indeed enshrouded himself in fire and they consider this act both cool and exciting. What would we do without them?
Meanwhile, Vegeta continues his unstoppable “Ego Stroke” attack in his shiny new “Ultra Blue” transformation. Based on Jiren’s expression (it never changes), the triangle-headed protagonist’s brute force has little effect. Yet The Harbinger of Purple Justice still compliments Vegeta on his efforts, like a parent praising their two-year-old for using a big-boy potty for the first time.
17 gets his turn. He’s somehow managed to stay relevant, even up to the inevitable and predictable final bout with the big boy. Yes, Android 17, a mid-tier villain from way back in the Android Saga, unable to prevent himself from getting sucked into Imperfect Cell’s tail vacuum–now an OP, A-Team hero, standing toe-to-toe with Goku and Vegeta against the strongest “villain” in the history of the Dragon Ball universe. While one might appreciate the 17 fanservice, one can’t help but balk at the improbability of the whole situation. What kind of training regimen did he concoct in that wildlife reserve? Seven billion reps of bench-pressing a thousand piled up deer carcasses with only his pinkies?
Anyway–I detect an upward trend in visual quality (even with the recycled bits), especially compared to the lackluster Toppo fight (one more “hakai” and I would’ve hakai’d my laptop screen). This includes a well-animated and potentially satisfying Freeza moment that promptly devolves into a humorous beatdown.
With Freeza still (kind of) in the picture, the writers have fogged up the final battle’s picture frame once again. The humiliated frenemy will, of course, try to gum up the works at least one more time once he crawls out of the hole he landed in, but the clock’s ticking. Hopefully, the Golden Goon doesn’t slow up the pacing and subtract from the inevitable Ultra Instinct Goku/Omega Charizard Jiren showdown.
Most surprisingly, Toriyama and his crack team of writers finally decided to give The Mauve Avenger some backstory. Belmod reveals that everyone close to Jiren either abandoned him or died at the hands of an “evil-doer.” Jiren now believes that strength = justice, and emotions mean nothing. A convenient smokescreen for his lack of emotions thus far and the writer’s lack of effort in developing Jiren’s character in any way other than “he’s a monster.”
The episode simultaneously humanizes Jiren and 17–Jiren fights for the past, 17 for the future, both for their families. The android’s self-destructive sacrifice tugs at the heartstrings, but, due to the watered down stakes (obviously everyone’s going to get wished back), it’s hard to get too choked up.
As a longtime Dragon Ball fan, I can’t walk away from Super. Yet the show suffers from battle fatigue at this point, and a late attempt to three-dimensionalize Jiren doesn’t lend the production any extra gravitas. The bread and butter of the show remains in the fights, and, frankly, that’s okay. Let’s hope the last round sparkles and shines even brighter than previous finales.
And, please remember:
~ Don’t Shoot the Messenger