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Dragon Ball Super: Superhero logo treatment Image: Funimation

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Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero character concepts revealed at SDCC 2021

“There’s two ‘supers’ in there, which is great!”

The resurgence of beloved Shonen franchise Dragon Ball is nothing short of a miracle, one worthy of a wish made on the series’ eponymous, glowing spheres. Anime, a medium once difficult and expensive to breach, now dominates everything from trends to the American box office. Dragon Ball’s persistence is largely due to creator Akira Toriyama’s steady hand, which has expanded tales of Goku and his friends into the epic scope of the recent revival. There’s the best-selling fighting game in Dragon Ball FighterZ to a satisfying-yet-nostalgic return to anime and manga with Dragon Ball Super. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the reimagining of once series punchline Broly into an empathetic hero with the smash success of 2019’s feature film Dragon Ball Super: Broly.

The horizon is nothing but blue skies and magic balls if Friday’s 2021 Comic-Con @ Home Dragon Ball Special panel is any indication, which revealed new artwork and character designs for the upcoming and newly named movie Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero.

Before any news or tidbits were revealed, the panel kicked off with those all too familiar guitar chords and the voice of legendary musician Hironobu Kageyama belting out a rendition of Cha-La Head-Cha-La in all its glory. Queue all the nostalgia tingling of waiting for a new episode of Dragon Ball Z to begin.

Hosted by panel MC Sascha, the panel introduced Japanese voice actress and voice of Goku Masako Nozawa, Shueisha and Dragon Ball Super (manga) executive editor Akio Iyoku, and Toei Animation producer Norihiro Hayashida, whose work includes Dragon Ball Super: Broly and the now Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero.

“There’s two ‘supers’ in there, which is great!” Iyoku remarked upon the reveal of the new film title. “We really wanted to emphasize that this movie is all about the superhero vibes. Toriyama is really focusing on the aspects of the superhero this time.” The new title reveal came with a new, never-before-seen teaser of Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero. The short animation featured series star Goku warming up on a three-dimensional franchise logo, before the new film title zoomed into view. While the clip isn’t from the film itself, it does showcase the art and animation direction that the team is going for in the upcoming release.

Goku from the teaser trailer for Dragon Ball Super: Superhero Image: Toei Animation/Funimation

The title and animation preview weren’t the only reveals to be found on the panel. With two of the guests in Iyoku and Hayashida dressed as Goku and on a digital stage backdrop showing the Kame House islands, the group jumped straight into talking about Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, and its planned release date of 2022. Akira Toriyama is once again heavily involved in the creation and production of the film, much in the way that he was with 2019’s Broly film.

“Toriyama has written the original story, script, and also the character designs” affirmed Sascha. “He’s deeply involved in the story structure, of course, the character design, and every detail of the dialog.” Toriyama’s own words were then read on-stage by Iyoku, as the creator addressed the panel and virtual audience in a written note that comes along with his personal avatar doodle that will be familiar to fans of the manga.

An all new movie since Dragon Ball Super: Broly is in the making! Just like the previous movie, I’m heavily leading the story and dialog production for another amazing film. I really shouldn’t talk too much about the plot yet, but be prepared for some extreme and entertaining bouts, which may feature an unexpected character. We’ll be charting through some unexplored territory, in terms of the visual aesthetics to give the audience an amazing ride, so I hope everybody will look forward to the new movie!

Toriyama’s dedication to the franchise and its renewal was a big throughline for the panel, especially in regards to the creator’s direct involvement with the films and new manga series (which is still ongoing.) Compare that to Toriyama at the peak of the popularity of Dragon Ball, who once admitted in an interview that he didn’t oversee any of the creation of the original Broly film, The Legendary Super Saiyan.

“He’s been a big part of the previous movies, such as Battle of Gods, Resurrection F, and of course Broly,” says executive editor Iyoku. “But I can confidently say that he’s invested in this latest movie the most!”

Piccolo’s new look with the cape from Dragon Ball Super: Superhero Image: Toei Animation/Funimation
Piccolo’s new look from Dragon Ball Super: Superhero Image: Toei Animation/Funimation

The panel also revealed official artwork from Super Hero, including character models of Piccolo, but with his iconic cape and without.

While the designs are classic in their look, Iyoku and Hayashida joked with the panel MC about a “drastic change” in Piccolo’s designs, which includes a change of shading on the Namekian’s telltale shoulders. Typically pink in the television series, he now sports a yellow shade along his upper-arms, along with a new shade of red on his sash, where it was blue in the original series.

“It’s the same color as in the manga, which is why I didn’t notice!” said Sascha, pointing this out as yet another clue towards Akira Toriyama’s eye for detail.

Pan in a kindergarten uniform from Dragon Ball Super: Superhero Image: Toei Animation/Funimation

The next new design was of a slightly older Pan, the daughter of Gohan and Videl. In the Dragon Ball Super series and previous film Pan was still very much a toddler, but now sports a Kindergarten uniform. This alludes to the idea that the new film jumps ahead in time a number of years. Iyoku referred to Pan as “an integral part of the new movie.”

The new design reveals continued, with Krillin in an updated police uniform, showcasing a bright yellow and purple design that is very much different from the classic uniform he wore in Dragon Ball Super. The panel also showed how Krillin has undergone a subtle design change, now featuring black pupils over white sclera, a change from the skin-tone look of his eyes in past versions.

Krillin in his police uniform from Dragon Ball Super: Superhero Image: Toei Animation/Funimation

The host moved things along to begin discussing the worldbuilding and art design of Earth in the new film, specifically asking Hayashida to extol the team’s design philosophy. “We paid a lot of attention to detail this time,” he said against new art concepts of Piccolo’s house, sitting atop a mountain at the foot of a lake and lush greenery. The art panel provided by Toriyama was one of the first-ever looks at where exactly Piccolo lives. His house is similar to the Namekian house designs found during the Namek and Frieza sagas from Dragon Ball Z, featuring large, bulbous windows and a white exterior.

Upon realizing that Piccolo’s house features a mailbox, Nozawa remarked that “some of my coworkers would say, “Piccolo doesn’t send mail, so he doesn’t need a mailbox!” a comment that had the panelists cracking up. “We talk about things like that during recording,” she said. The panel teased that we’ll see what the inside of Piccolo’s house looks like in the film, finally bringing the fantasies of anime nerds everywhere to life.

A closer view of Piccolo’s house from Dragon Ball Super: Superhero Image: Toei Animation/Funimation
Piccolo’s house from Dragon Ball Super: Superhero Image: Toei Animation/Funimation

The Piccolo art reveal got the panelists talking about the intrigue of Dragon Ball and anime in general. “There are many different worlds we can visit in anime that we normally can’t in our own world,” Nozawa said, “and I think that’s one of the greatest things about it.” The discussion hit on the varied locales and worlds of Dragon Ball; whether it’s lush jungles, arid mountain tops, or literally the reaches of space, the series has never limited itself in the way that some of its contemporaries have in the past. Sitting on a stage made to look like the iconic Kame House, Sascha said he just wanted to open the door and jump in, much to the approval of the entire panel.

On a more serious note about the production of the new film, Toryiama found himself grilled a bit over his commitment to the new film, with Iyoku saying “As we make more movies, Toriyama-sensei’s involvement gets deeper. He was deeply involved in the last movie Broly’ as well, but he’s even more invested this time.” The producer remarked that even as script writing was being finished on Broly that Toriyama was already on to this newest project despite the then-current film still being in post-production.

“I feel like Toriyama-sensei is always challenging us to do something new,” Hayashida said. “Even with the same characters he slightly changes something about them,” referring to the seemingly slight design choices in Piccolo, Krillin, and surely other characters to come.

And speaking of other characters, the panel also offered up the first original character design for the new film, with a piece of art done by Toriyama himself of a grey alien decked out in a cape and uniform befitting some kind of corpsman. The panelists were mum about the name or origins of this character, but mentioned that this was one of a number of pieces of artwork by Toriyama that they typically wouldn’t show to the public.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero new character art Image: Toei Animation

Overall, the panelists were remiss to not be able to bring this news to fans directly in San Diego, but they ended the panel by gushing with excitement for Super Hero. The project appears to be a true labor of love for Akirya Toriyama, with his energy tying the project together.

“My challenge is to assemble a team that can make it all a reality,” said Iyoku. “Toriyama-sensei has been so invested in the creation of this movie and has been pouring everything he’s got into it, so we are trying to match his energy to create the best product we possibly can.”

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is set for release in 2022.