Old anime series don't die nowadays. If you are truly cynical you could say that a lot of new series are just retreads of ones from the 80's and 90's, just repackaged for modern audiences and sensibilities. But often they actually are the originals, either being constantly updated for each generation (such as Mobile Suit Gundam or Pokémon) or resurrected many years after their original run ended (like Sailor Moon or Neon Genesis Evangelion). However, some old series just never go away.
Dragon Ball has kept going long after both the anime and manga series ended with a constant run of video games and tie-in merchandise. With continual international exposure from re-runs of the anime and dozens of games released on every console from the NES to the PS4 the series has remained in the public consciousness, with the anime eventually being resurrected in a revised and remastered form 13 years after it finished airing. But this series - Dragon Ball Z Kai - is largely just Dragon Ball Z with some filler cut out and some occasional new animation, for something new we have to look to Dragon Ball Z Battle of Gods.
The 2013 film Dragon Ball Z Battle of
Gods is the eighteenth (!) theatrical outing for Goku and co, coming no less
than 17 years after the last one. Set during the time skip at the end of
the Dragon Ball Z storyline, the film sees the Earth undergoing the first
prolonged period of peace for some time. The majority of the characters
are getting ready to enjoy Bulma's birthday party whilst both Goku and Vegeta
train, but unbeknownst to all of them an ancient power has returned that
threatens the safety of the galaxy. Beerus, the god of destruction, has
awoken after his 38 year slumber to check on the progress of his champion Frieza,
and is surprised to hear of his defeat at the hands of Son Goku. Beerus is
the most powerful being in the universe, a terrifying deity who awakens
periodically to lay waste to world after world before growing weary and
returning to rest. This time his awakening has brought with it a
premonition, Beerus dreamt of fighting a 'Super Saiyan God', a being who could
become his arch rival, and after hearing of Frieza's fate decides to head to
Earth to see if it's Goku. There are only two choices for Earth's heroes -
either they produce the Super Saiyan God or the entire solar system will be
destroyed. The problem is that no-one has ever heard of one...
On paper it sounds no different than the previous Dragon Ball Z films (or much of the series for that matter) - everything's fine, then an enemy turns up that is more powerful than the last one and everyone has to push past their limits to save the world. But unlike the previous films this one has the direct input of Dragon Ball's original creator Akira Toriyama, making it not only canonical but also much more in line with the style of the manga. The result is a Dragon Ball fan's dream, with all of the characters you know and love plus plenty
of references and nods to past events. The story is largely perfunctory, an excuse to basically see Goku and co in action again, but unlike the latter parts of the series it manages to recapture both the action of Dragon Ball Z and the humour of Dragon Ball without feeling cheap doing it. Both Beerus and his attendant Whis are great characters who both offer something new to the franchise, Beerus is a god of destruction who boasts power far in excess of Goku and his companions, but unlike former antagonists he is not evil. In many ways he has a mentality to match his feline looks, he's curious, a little lazy, playful, easily bored and has a tendency to lash out when he's annoyed - which is a bit of a problem when he can destroy a planet on a whim. Whis meanwhile is an oddity, a slightly effete observer who seems pretty harmless yet is able to rebuke and mock Beerus seemingly without any fear of his immense power. The two are a different challenge to Goku, they're threatening the Earth but not with any malice, in fact they're there simply because that's where the remaining Saiyans are.
Considering it was only released in 2013 it goes without saying that this film
is by far the best looking part of the franchise, with crystal-clear visuals
blending the animation almost seamlessly with CG effects. The characters
(except for the seemingly never aging Saiyans) are all redesigned, but look
closer to their Dragon Ball Z iterations than their older GT
versions. The gags come thick and fast and so does the action,
particularly in the director's cut which, with 20mins of additional material,
feels far more rounded and complete than the theatrical version. There are
more gags, a better intro and several additional moments of dialogue that
explain some aspects of the story a little better, and it's great that both
versions are included. The film's main strength is that it does what
Dragon Ball GT failed to do, widening the scope of the story whilst
successfully blending the franchise's comedic roots with its action-packed
legacy. There are tonnes of familiar characters crammed in from across the
franchise, plenty of references to past events and some fantastic action scenes,
but it doesn't feel like some kind of desperate nostalgia-fest. The film
actually moves things on, introducing fresh challenges for the characters, and
demonstrating that they can't always rely on Goku alone. Several
characters have their moments in different ways, with Vegeta in particular
taking centre stage for a good portion of the film as he swallows his pride to
protect his family and friends. The blend of slapstick, action and humour
that ensues is Toriyama at his best, and the story as a whole - familiar though
it may be - represents a return to form for a franchise that really started
losing its way after the Cell saga.
The film's main flaw is the same that affects pretty much every spin-off from a long running franchise - it's very much aimed at fans. The director's cut does include a montage of past events at the start but there's no explanation as to who most of the characters are or how they know each other. There are also a few moments of grand cheese, but to be honest they kind of work in the context of the film. Fans of the series will find very little new in Dragon Ball Z Battle of Gods, we have the same old characters taking on another new
enemy who threatens to destroy the world after all, but the beauty is in the execution. It may have a story that exists solely to set up a boss fight, it may have the same characters taking centre stage once again, it may even be cheesy and have a few jokes that fall flat, but it's Dragon Ball Z.
Dragon Ball Z has never been high art, it's never boasted complex characters or carefully crafted storylines that build over the course of several seasons. Dragon Ball Z has always been blockbuster entertainment, a fun, action-packed guilty pleasure that has the power to make you shout YES! at the screen, then pause and rewind just so you can watch Vegeta do something awesome again. Dragon Ball Z Battle of Gods is Dragon Ball Z. It has everything you want from the franchise, it mixes comedy and action with consummate ease and provides great entertainment throughout. Whilst it brings little new to the franchise on paper, in practise it breathes new life into it, widening its scope by introducing new worlds and giving the characters new motivation. It makes it seem like there are still stories to tell, rather than just retreading old ground there are new places the characters can go and new barriers to break. Dragon Ball Z Battle of Gods is not likely to win new fans as it relies too much on knowledge of the franchise, but for existing fans it lives up to the expectations. This is Dragon Ball Z, that should be all you need to know.
This is a bit of an odd one extras-wise. The DVD, Blu-Ray
and Blu-Ray Collector's Edition all come with both the Theatrical and Director's
cut of the film, but for the Blu-Ray that's all you get. The DVD comes
with on-disc extras in the form of a couple of voice actor featurettes, textless
closing song and the US trailer, and the featurettes are also included on a
bonus DVD in the Collector's Edition (yes, that's a bonus DVD, not a Blu-Ray).
The Collector's Edition also comes with four art cards and an 'o-card' slipcase.
So all in all a bit of a mixed bag, the extras aren't bad but it's a shame
they're not on the standard Blu-Ray edition. However, considering you get
the Director's Cut of the film in all versions I'm not going to complain too