In Defense of Broly

This week saw the reveal of more information on the upcoming Dragon Ball Super theatrical film, which is to be released this December in Japanese theaters. Ever since the teaser for this film was posted online back in May, fans have speculated as to the identity of the mysterious Saiyan who appeared in the trailer opposite Goku. The most prevalent theory was that it was Yamoshi, the original Super Saiyan God. But this past Monday, July 9, Toei Animation officially confirmed the character as Broly, one of the biggest base-breaking characters in all of Dragon Ball.

Suffice it to say, reception to this announcement has not been entirely warm. For every positive reaction, there seems to be two or three negative responses to the news.

I can definitely understand why some fans would loathe the very idea of Broly being given any more screen time, let alone being made canonical (more on that later). He has already had three theatrical films to his name (Broly, the Legendary Super SaiyanBroly: Second Coming; and Bio-Broly), with each successive installment garnering more lukewarm reception than the last. The main idea behind his character, that he is the “true” Legendary Super Saiyan, has continued to lose significance over time as the Super Saiyan form has become more of a prerequisite for main characters over the course of Dragon Ball Z (not to mention the franchise’s infamous power creep). And, of course, his infamously mocked motivation for wanting to kill Goku (he cried in the pod next to Broly when they were infants and has held a grudge ever since) combined with his continued Flanderization over the decades.

For uninitiated, “Flanderization” is what happens when a character in a fictional work gradually becomes more defined by a sole characteristic or trait to the point where they hardly resemble what they originally were. The name of this trope comes from The Simpsons‘ character Ned Flanders, who was conceived and indeed introduced as a courteous neighbor and father to his children who also went to church by his own volition, where he paid attention to the sermons and gospel. This was done for the sake of contrasting him with Homer, but over time he became increasingly ludicrous in how obsessively devout he was in regards to his faith and how it commanded the lives of him and his family.

Similarly, in his inaugural film, Broly was a sadist who took pleasure in the suffering of others. He reveled in physical and emotional torture. When his father’s slave force ends up before him, he sarcastically taunts the lot of them for their lack of bravery before turning to gaze upon their planet up in the sky, saying:

“I notice that you love to look up in the sky at your silly, old planet. You’re probably dreaming you could go back there some day. But it’s just a dream!”

He turns around, slinging a sickly, green ki blast at the lot of powerless, pint-sized slaves, who are frozen with fear. But before it reaches them, it careens off the ground before them and flies into the sky. Moments later, the confused slaves see their home world explode, wiped from existence in a flash as the madman who destroyed it so effortlessly laughs at and continues taunting them.

Broly was not just some mindless beast in his first film. He was self-aware, calling himself “a true freak” when Piccolo rhetorically asked if his modus operandi involved prioritizing children when it came to carnage. He was not oblivious to his father, Paragus, and his plan to have the planet they were on destroyed with Vegeta on it; he just did not care, implying that he would survive the destruction regardless. And, of course, there was the aforementioned sadism which is strewn throughout the film.

Of course, the weakest aspect of Broly’s character in the first film is his motivation. If anything, the grudge against Goku feels as though it was a mandate from Toei to keep Goku the main focus. The focus of Broly’s wrath should have been squarely on Vegeta, as it was in the case of Paragus. There was a clear reason why Paragus wanted to kill Vegeta: his father, the King of the Saiyans, declared his infant son to be a mutant based on his monstrously high power level of 10,000 at birth, and ordered the baby Broly to be executed via a dagger through the abdomen with Paragus joining him for arguing with his king. Broly and Paragus survived, and Broly tapped into his latent abilities and saved them both from Frieza’s genocide of the Saiyans later that day. King Vegeta was dead, but Paragus felt that he could still exact his revenge by killing his heir. It only stands to reason that Broly would hold this same line of thinking, even if he was absolutely mad by the time he was a teenager.

Unfortunately, practically all of Broly’s more interesting characteristics were stripped away in the sequel, Broly: Second Coming. Outside of screaming “Kakarot!” every minute or so, his only other line is “Not until you lie dead at my feet,” at the end of the film, which comes off as more of a lame one-liner than a genuine threat (Vic Mignogna’s delivery of the line certainly does not help matters in this case). All he does is fight like a beast, and even then mostly in his standard Super Saiyan form, which at the time was interesting to see given that in the first film this form was restrained and as such had a unique appearance, but because Goten, Trunks, and Videl did not know anything about who he was or where he came from and were just fighting to stay alive, the film was a slog until Gohan showed up. Even then, it still felt dragged out because they both waited before fully powering up. The film was a boring drag, and it was not even an hour long.

Then there is Bio-Broly, which is not only worse than its predecessor in the eyes of many but does not even feature the real Broly, as he had died at the end of the previous film. Instead, it has a clone who, after being covered in corrosive bio-fluid, more resembled Swamp Thing than a Saiyan.

The video games have done little for the character, as well. Practically every portrayal of Broly in the realm of gaming has defaulted to his basic blood knight personality with a healthy (read: unhealthy) dose of “Kakarot!!!” thrown in for good measure. The fact that he is often treated as a highlight in many games certainly has not helped public opinion, especially when he has been expected to be a playable character in most every game since 2004’s Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3. The Raging Blast duology went even further, giving him a new transformation, Legendary Super Saiyan 3. And the less said about Broly God from the Universal Studios Japan 4D movie attraction, the better.

While I do unironically like Broly, I was not quite sure how to feel when he was confirmed to be the subject of the upcoming film, which is also meant to follow up and continue the story following the Tournament of Power which capped off the anime earlier this year. I was a bit excited to see him return, but also did not see such a prospect as necessary in the least bit.

That was when I read Akira Toriyama’s comments on the matter.

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Based on his comments, it seems that the Broly we will be getting in this new movie will be Toriyama’s take on the character, i.e. not the same version of him from the old movies. This is somewhat reflected in the bits of his new design which have been revealed, both in the trailer and on the poster. Toriyama also calls his Broly “more fascinating”, implying that he is retooling the character in order to fit the story he wants to tell.

Beyond Broly, the movie will also be exploring the “history of the Saiyans” as well as involving the Frieza Force, which Toriyama says will have “a major connection to everything.” Based on these nuggets of information, it seems that, despite the movie’s title being Dragon Ball Super: Broly, the eponymous (and infamous) character may just be a cog in the metaphorical story machine. Possibly a major cog, but maybe not the sole focus.

We currently do not know how Toriyama plans to use or characterize Broly in the film, but if he went back to how his character acted in his first movie and got rid of his poorly-conceptualized grudge against Goku, about 50% of the task of improving him for the better would be complete, in my opinion. Only time will tell.

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