Can Dragon Ball ever shake the ghost of Goku?

With Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero in cinemas, the series could finally be evolving again. Can it survive without its flagship hero

Goku in Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

I do not have any problem with Goku, in fact, I really like him. I want this on the record before I get anyone sending me angry emails and pictures of their concept for Kakarot transforming into Super Saiyan 5. What I don’t like are stagnant characters, and that’s where Goku has been for a while. Too popular a character to retire, and so he must learn the same lessons repeatedly while gaining fancier transformations to make new toys.

While I love Dragon Ball in every form, my favourite anime series is Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. It has an arc; things move so quickly, characters learn their lessons, and the ending brings it together beautifully. Dragon Ball has had four different endings so far, over a dozen movies, and now Dragon Ball Super is getting its own films that inhabit that particular continuity.

They’ve been wonderful so far, and Dragon Ball Super: Broly was a visually astonishing film that recaptured much of the raw energy and creative battling that enraptured so many of us when we watched DBZ as teens. But Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero? We are getting into really, really exciting territory here.

If you didn’t already know, the anime movie Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero finally pumps the breaks on the universal ascension of the Saiyans, which culminated in the Universal Tournament arc where Goku used the Ultra Instinct technique to beat universe 11’s stalwart saviour, Jiren. The manga is even further than that, as Goku finally learns to master Ultra Instinct and Vegeta unleashes the power of the gods with his own transformation Ultra Ego.

Time to stream: How to watch Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

This is all great, thematically a lot of these transformations suit these characters, particularly Vegeta getting to let his destructive side out and capitalising on his Saiyan pride. But both the anime and the manga are suffering from a similar issue, these characters have done this before.

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Goku tapped into his Saiyan pride to unlock the original Super Saiyan, a similar process unleashed Super Saiyan 4 in both Goku and Vegeta. Super Saiyan God tapped into Saiyan legend and sold a million new red-haired toys in the process.

I’m under no illusions as to what Dragon Ball is, it’s marketing for toys and figures, which is fine. Look I’m a Pokémon fan as well, sometimes you’ve got to ride the waves of capitalism if you ever want to have some fun. But for me, personally, I’ve seen the same ebb and flow of power with the flagship Saiyans, the same mastering of techniques, and the occasional new hair colour but very little growth. Goku doesn’t seem to learn much, even in the Moro arc of the manga taking such pity on his opponent that he gave them a sensu bean, and nearly destroyed the Earth.

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Now, let’s switch gears. Dragon Ball is too big to end, we’re getting another season of the anime at some point and these characters will be in it. But if we just get another enemy that looks like Cell (or is god-forbid either Cell or Frieza resurrected again), Goku fights them and wins, takes pity on them, and then is beaten because of his kindness only to unlock a new and more powerful form? Boo. That stinks. Get new material. Yes it’s pretty much all of shonen stories, but Dragon Ball has so many great characters, ideas, and a universe of lore to pull from.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero instead focuses on Goku’s son, Gohan. While Goku, Vegeta, and Broly are training on Beerus’ planet, the Red Ribbon army resurface after years of secrecy only to kidnap Gohan’s daughter Pan. With nobody else to help, Gohan and Piccolo face the Red Ribbon army’s newest threat, two androids called Gamma 1 and Gamma 2. No Goku, no Vegeta, and no room for the same story ad neaseum. I also don’t want that exact story but just with Gohan, we can do better here people.

Gohan fighting in Dragon Ball Super Super Hero

What we have here is a chance for a passing of the torch, the one we should have got after the original Cell saga, but Goku’s popularity scuppered, leaving both Goku and Gohan languishing in character development, constantly flitting between disappointing and sometimes frustratingly bad choices. Gohan stops training constantly, despite learning repeatedly that he could be the strongest in the universe, so is this finally the push he needs?

If, in my perfect world, Goku and Vegeta were put out to pasture, becoming deities of their universe after a particularly challenging enemy, what would the future be? It would be the highly intelligent Gohan, using his power and his smarts to explore the universe with his daughter, help people, and perhaps even work with Trunks and the Capsule Corporation to create new technologies?

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Yes, I’ve just described Dragon Ball GT, but good. But that was another situation where Toei were so desperate to cling onto the ghost of Goku, that they literally regressed his character back to a child.

I hope Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is a sign that other stories can be told in a universe with so much potential. Characters like Gohan are the perfect eyes through which to explore it, and it’s about time that our boy learnt his lessons, permanently. Character arcs just feel good, seeing someone learn a lesson is satisfying and seeing the consequence of that over time? Perfecto, Bellissimo, can’t get enough.

Gohan powering up in Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

I think it’s time Goku grew up, grew old, and gracefully handed the baton to his deserving son, before he learnt his own lessons for good. There’s no question in my mind that Dragon Ball will continue, but will the flashy visuals of Broly be enough if they can only recycle the past? Well, I look forward to finding out exactly what the future of Dragon Ball could look like.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is out in cinemas now. For more anime fun, here are our guides to One Piece characters ranked and Naruto characters ranked.