For Hollywood, January is often a time of losers at the box office — but it can also be full of cinematic surprises. The latest example of that arrived this past week, when Dragon Ball Super: Broly, a film that wasn’t even on many film critics’ radar, made $24 million in its first week of release. That means in just a few days, Dragon Ball Super: Broly became the third all-time highest-grossing anime film in the United States; it now only stands behind the first two Pokémon movies.
For those who aren’t aware, Dragon Ball is a long-running anime franchise consisting of multiple TV shows (Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, the non-canon Dragon Ball GT, and most recently Dragon Ball Super). Broadly, these installments tell the story of Goku, a member of the alien race of Saiyans who was sent to Earth as a baby (Superman-style) to escape the destruction of the Saiyans’ home planet. Blessed with extraordinary strength, Goku has put his skills to use saving the people of his adopted planet from all manner of aliens and demons. Along the way, he’s made several allies and enemies — most notably Vegeta, the Saiyan prince whose resentment of the low-born Goku’s superior skills inspires him to train ever harder, and Frieza, the intergalactic conqueror who destroyed the Saiyan homeworld (which, confusingly, is also called Vegeta). For those who already were aware of all this…well, maybe you’ve already seen Dragon Ball Super: Broly.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly takes place after the events of Super, though familiarity with the events of that series is not required to understand the plot. It turns out that Goku and Vegeta are not the only survivors of the Saiyan race. Another Saiyan named Broly was sent away to a remote planet as a child after the Saiyan king (Vegeta’s father) became fearful of his power potential. In the present day, Broly is discovered by a newly-resurrected Frieza, who sends him to Earth to get his revenge on Vegeta. The character of Broly first appeared in the non-canonical 1993 movie Dragon Ball Z: Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan, but the new film represents his proper entrance into the Dragon Ball canon. Always a fan favorite, Broly now gets the nuanced depiction he deserves.
Chris Sabat, the actor who has long voiced Vegeta in Funimation’s American dub of Dragon Ball, tells EW that he’s not super surprised by the movie’s success since it gives many fans what they’ve wanted for so long.
“I was speculating that it was gonna make a lot of money from the outset,” Sabat says. “It’s such an interesting feature, and it truly did give fans what they had been wanting from the last two movies, which was just the most epic of fighting scenes. That’s really what Dragon Ball fans come for. They gravitate to that show because they love to work out to it, flex their muscles in the mirror, and scream like Vegeta, and this gave them every reason to do that.”
Asked to describe his experience of fan reaction to the movie, Sabat says, “It’s been nuts. I can’t even look at my Twitter right now because it looks like a stock ticker, it just moves by so fast. The cool thing about the Dragon Ball community is they don’t just go see a movie and go home and quietly say to themselves, ‘that’s the best movie I’ve ever seen.’ Dragon Ball fans like to scream their success at the top of their lungs. A lot of these fans have been loving this show since they were 6, and at that time everyone was like, ‘Japanese cartoons are dumb!’ Now they’re vindicated. It’s like check it out, we’re Marvel now.”
Although Dragon Ball Super: Broly is packed wall to wall with epic fight scenes — between Goku and Broly, between Vegeta and Broly, and more — it also comes with a lot of fascinating backstory. The film opens with an extended flashback to Planet Vegeta in the years before its destruction. Viewers see Vegeta’s father, Broly’s father Paragus, and Goku’s father Bardock all make various plans to protect their sons’ futures. It really streamlines some of Dragon Ball’s continuity and provides insight into some characters’ development. Sabat’s personal favorite part is the touching scene in which Bardock tells his wife Gine that they need to send baby Goku to Earth for his own protection.
“My favorite scene in the whole film is the scene with Bardock and Gine,” Sabat says. “There’s something about that conversation between the two of them. In the past, the Saiyans are depicted just as heartless pirates, stealing planets from people. But here’s something about Bardock that was so interesting. Even his wife says in this scene, ‘why are you doing this? Saiyan fathers don’t normally care that much about their children.’ He says, ‘I’ve spent my whole life destroying, I just want to save something for once.’ That was a profound moment for me. All this time I had a hard time believing that Goku became this hero character because…he fell on his head when he was a baby? That was the best explanation. But this lent some credibility to the idea that, in that act of selflessness, Bardock injected this sense of morality into Goku – or maybe it was in his bloodline all along. It really changed the way I felt about Bardock.”
Dragon Ball was originally created by Akira Toriyama, and one reason fans have been so excited for Dragon Ball Super: Broly is that it was written by Toriyama himself. Sabat points out that the film also doubles as an homage to Toriyama’s decades-long work on Dragon Ball. Different parts of the movie are animated like different eras of Dragon Ball, with the final act representing the animation style of the video games that have kept the Dragon Ball franchise alive in the years between new anime material. Though Dragon Ball Super: Broly is the 20th Dragon Ball film, it is only the third made with Toriyama’s direct involvement.
“Back in the day I always had to explain to people, ‘have you heard of Pokémon? It’s like that, but fighting,’” Sabat says. “Which is a terrible description of Dragon Ball Z, but it is from Japan, it was popular with a similar age group, but it was about fighting. Now this is a validation. The last movie [2015’s Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’] made in total what Dragon Ball Super: Broly made on its first day. If they don’t continue Dragon Ball at this point, they crazy! I say that in a silly way, because maybe Akira Toriyama’s tired of it, but clearly we are not tired of it.”
Dragon Ball Super: Broly is in theaters now.