Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods (Movie Review)

Here’s a fact for you: Dragon Ball has been around for thirty-one years. Akira Toriyama’s franchise now spans forty-two manga volumes, five anime series, countless video games and nineteen films (excluding the appalling live-action Dragonball Evolution). Most of the films - despite having been dubbed - have never been released in the UK… but someone must’ve made a wish on Shenron in the past year, because that’s beginning to change. Resurrection F, the latest film in the franchise, is coming to the UK this October courtesy of Manga Entertainment - but before that came another film which marked some big firsts for the series. In 2013 Toei Animation produced the first Dragon Ball Z film in seventeen years and the first to be treated as canon. Today I’m going to review that film: Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods!

Released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK last year, Battle of Gods picks up six months after the finale of DBZ (the Buu Saga). Bulma has invited the Z-Fighters to her birthday party - but two Saiyans are nowhere to be seen. Goku’s training in the Other World with King Kai, while her husband Vegeta’s too absorbed in his intensive training to join the celebrations. Meanwhile, a new threat awakens (literally) in the form of Beerus; a feline God of Destruction who would fit in nicely with the gods of Ancient Egypt. Having dreamt about a being called a “Super Saiyan God”, and found out about Goku’s victory over Frieza, Beerus comes to our neck of the universe to find him. The threat comes from his immense power and a hair-trigger temper - Lord Beerus is the strongest being in the universe and liable to destroy a planet at the slightest provocation. What results is a tense, comedic and even nostalgic struggle to keep him from destroying Earth.

From the start, BoG has a lot to live up to. You’re more likely to enjoy the film if you’ve been with the franchise since DBZ - but unlike most anime films, it attempts to cater to newcomers as well as fans. Flashbacks from as far back as the original DB are weaved into the story to bring us up to speed. In another change from the norm, the film was written not as a stand-alone adventure, but a whole new chapter in the series’ canon. Akira Toriyama penned the story and supervised the script, ensuring it remains true to the spirit of the franchise. That said, however… newcomer and veteran alike are in for a surprise.

Although bursting with familiar faces and in-jokes, the highlight of the film for me was Beerus. As a fan who watched DBZ when it debuted on Toonami, I had my doubts about him before seeing the film. No doubt the idea of a cat-god stronger than a Super Saiyan 3 sounds like something out of an awful fanfiction - but Beerus isn’t that. In fact, to call him a villain would be an insult. Unlike DBZ’s villains, Beerus isn’t driven by evil intentions. It’s established early on that he destroys planets simply because he has to; it’s his job to maintain balance in the universe. When he isn’t on the job, he’s more than happy to kick back, gorge himself and mingle with the locals - provided nothing upsets him. He even provides some of the funniest moments in the film both on and off the battlefield. It makes a change to have such an antagonist, especially in DB, but anyone who tired of its villains after Frieza will welcome it. I even found Lord Beerus likeable despite the trouble he causes later on for Goku and co.. Topping off his character is a great vocal performance by Jason Douglas (the voice of Gildarts Clive in Fairy Tail).

Fans will be pleased to know old faces have their moments in the spotlight too. Almost everyone from Master Roshi to Android 18 makes an appearance. However, most are only bit parts - an hour and twenty-five minutes is only so much time. Thankfully, several key characters from the franchise are given subplots to break up the tension. The first follows Vegeta who, in Goku’s absence, has his work cut out protecting the party from Beerus. But purists beware - this isn’t the Saiyan Prince of old. He enters the story as surly as ever, but the moment Beerus arrives, he casts all pride aside to keep the cat-god in a good mood. Some fans will frown upon the lengths he goes to achieve this… but for all intents and purposes, it holds true with the series’ more comedic elements, and more crucially, Vegeta’s change of heart after the Buu Saga. The second subplot runs separately from the main plot, but may bring a smile to those who joined the franchise from the start - Emperor Pilaf, a villain from the original DB, returns with his cohorts Mai and Shu. Their antics provide nostalgia and comic relief for older fans, but newcomers and those who came aboard with DBZ may find their scenes distracting. Me, I felt like I was watching snippets of a filler arc when Pilaf’s gang were onscreen. I was thankful when the focus shifted back to what made DBZ famous in the first place: fast paced, super-charged fighting.

Although Battle of Gods focusses more on comedy than combat, the fight scenes we get are bigger and faster than they’ve ever been. The first battle doesn’t come till fifteen minutes in, but when it does it hits hard and fast in classic DBZ fashion. The difference is it’s backed by 21st century animation and an even bigger budget. The film combines traditional hand-drawn animation with CGI, and although the blending of the two isn’t always perfect, the results are consistently gorgeous whether the pace moves fast or slow. DBZ veterans will be pleased to see their favourite attacks given a modern makeover, and the finale between Goku and Beerus will amaze fans old and new. Just bear in mind they run much faster than the standard DBZ battle - a given for the shift in format from television series to an eighty-five minute film.

The film was released straight to DVD and Blu-ray last November - but whatever format you choose, you’ll get the same content. Both include the theatrical cut of the film and a special extended edition, which are each given their own disc in the DVD edition. The extended cut is twenty minutes longer, with the new footage consisting of a new opening recapping the entire franchise, extensions to the action and additional comedic moments. The new introduction will be good news for newcomers, but whether the film benefits from the other extensions will be up to personal taste. Despite being a fan of extended cuts, I found myself preferring the theatrical cut of Battle of Gods to the extended one. The additional scenes offer more time with the supporting cast (especially Pilaf, Dende and Android 18), but slow down the pace and break up the flow of the action. The theatrical cut, in contrast, runs smooth and swift from start to finish. Again, it’s up to personal choice which version is better - but both have the original Japanese audio (and English subtitles) and a stellar dub by Funimation. Both the DVD and Blu-ray also come with two behind-the-scenes features with the cast at Funimation. They run for half an hour altogether, but do a good job covering who plays who and giving us a glimpse of their work in the recording booth. Despite the shortness, it’s a testament to Funimation’s work on DBZ to see them at work and loving it.

Whether you’re a long-time fan or new to Dragon Ball Z, Battle of Gods aims to have something for everyone. While not as action-heavy as DBZ, it preserves the tone and spirit of the franchise and supplements it with top-notch animation, an excellent dub and, most importantly, Akira Toriyama’s seal of approval.

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