Dragon Ball Super was a bit middling, to say the least. After an incredibly weak start, the series seemed to find its stride with the Goku Black arc, but ended up dedicating an insane amount of time to the surprisingly bland Tournament of Power. With the reveal that the first Super movie would focus on Broly, some fans were naturally skeptical.
Then the movie came out and it was actually fairly incredible. While the story left much to be desired in its second half, Dragon Ball Super: Broly will go down as one of the franchise’s best entries due to its animation alone. Not just that, Broly actually proved that Toriyama was still capable of writing a nuanced story with adequate character development. So long as the action’s not in the way, that is.
For years, Broly was primarily a hulking maniac completely devoid of personality outside of his first appearance. For years, Broly was Dragon Ball’s lowest point, the series at its worst. With the announcement that Super would canonize Broly, it was only natural to assume that he’d be fairly similar in terms of personality.
Instead, Toriyama completely put his own spin on Broly. Rather than a monster, Broly became a kind, young man who couldn’t control his powers. In many respects, he became a lot like Gohan, just a bit more violent and awkward. This kinder Broly allowed audiences to truly understand and sympathize with him.
Going into the film, there was really no indication that Broly would stick around as a character. After all, why would he? He’s in direct opposition to Goku and Vegeta, two characters who, when push comes to shove, do kill their enemies. Goku a bit less so nowadays, but Vegeta is no slouch.
Allowing Broly to survive, however, does widen the series’ scope. Of all the currently present Saiyans, Broly is the only one with enough untapped character potential to justify following. He has a story that should be told and it can only be told if he’s alive and present.
It goes without saying, but Goku saving the day is a pretty safe bet when it comes to Dragon Ball. Even when other characters defeat the arc villains (Gohan and Future Trunks,) Goku always plays a major role in ensuring the heroes win. Why wouldn’t he? He’s the main character after all.
Interestingly, Goku does not save the day here. There isn’t even a day worth saving, to be honest. The climax of the film isn’t whether or not Gogeta will defeat Broly, it’s whether or not Cheelai can wish Broly away from Gogeta in time. It completely flips the script into a climax that’s genuinely unique for Dragon Ball.
On that note, Goku isn’t even the main character of the film. Of the three main leads, he’s the last to be formally introduced. At its core, this is a story about Broly himself. The film follows his birth, his growth, and his first confrontation with the men who will (likely) forever change him: Goku and Vegeta.
This isn’t to say Goku isn’t a main character, but this isn’t his story - far from it. Broly’s also the only character in the film with a clear arc, one that examines his relationship with Paragus, Cheelai, and his fellow Saiyans. Aside from one very important line, Goku sees little in the way of development.
Dragon Ball films have a rival problem. Specifically, whoever the rival character is at the time will get utterly bodied by the main antagonist before Goku shows up to take them head on. This happened to Piccolo, and then happened to Vegeta. Going into Broly, everyone expected Vegeta to fight the titular Saiyan and lose.
When Vegeta decides to fight Broly first, it seems like clear foreshadowing that Vegeta has doomed himself. But he doesn’t lose. Rather, he almost wins outright. Goku has to step in to stop Vegeta from killing Broly. Had Goku left Vegeta to his own devices, he would have defeated Broly pretty much right away.
For the longest time, Goku and Vegeta’s fusions were split between two different “canons” in Dragon Ball. Kind of. Vegetto was the “canon” fusion, he was the character Goku and Vegeta would fuse into during their Toriyama dictated outings. Gogeta was the “non-canon” fusion, the character Toei would use in movies and GT.
Of course, Gogeta is used in a movie here, but he’s used in a Toriyama written film. For the first time in the series, both Vegetto and Gogeta are canon characters. More importantly, this shows audiences that Goku and Vegeta are willing to fuse a bit more often which is a nice change of pace.
Modern Dragon Ball is pretty lacking when it comes to pathos, which is shocking considering how meaningful Battle of Gods was on a narrative and thematic level. After a personal examination of Goku and his ideals, along with what made Dragon Ball the series it was, Super didn’t do much to reflect on itself meaningfully.
Which makes Broly’s prologue all the more surprising. The film opens with 20 or so minutes of pure Saiyan content. Not just that, Saiyan content that focuses on the more emotional and tragic elements of their downfall, their culture. It might not serve much of a narrative purpose, but it’s a somber way of opening the movie that leaves an impact.
It’s hard for the “strongest character” to stay the strongest in Dragon Ball. Every arc raises the stakes and every arc introduces new characters that are meant to push Goku even further. Sooner or later, Beerus was going to meet his match. Frankly, he did with Whis and later with the Omni-King, but that’s beside the point.
Beerus’ role is specifically to be a benchmark that Goku can never reach, but with the reveal that Broly might very well be stronger, it seems unlikely that Beerus will keep Goku below him for much longer. If Broly is going to be a fixture, that means Goku is going to need to be much stronger than a God of Destruction.
Anytime Goku gets a new form, it’s a huge deal. When he finally triggered Ultra Instinct at the Tournament of Power, everyone (rightfully) assumed that this would be the next step of his martial arts journey. Interestingly, however, it turned out that Goku couldn’t trigger Ultra Instinct at will, making it a special case form.
That said, it seemed only fitting that Broly would trigger the form, especially since he’s likely stronger than Jiren. Rather than turning Ultra Instinct to save the day, however, Goku just fuses into Gogeta, never actually using UI. He’s bound to use it again sooner rather than later, but it’s certainly a surprise he didn’t in Super.
Goku’s one big moment in Broly comes at the very end. After watching Broly develop right before his eyes, Goku feels enough Saiyan pride for the first time in his life to call himself “Kakarot.” It’s an enormous moment that’ll likely loom over Goku’s arc for the rest of Super’s run.
At the same time, it’s a rather jarring moment. Goku’s arc in the original series was quite clear: he was a Saiyan from Earth. He embraced his heritage, but never forgot that he was Son Goku first and foremost. It’s entirely possible that Goku will only embrace his Saiyan background even more moving forward. For better and for worse.