AUTHOR’S NOTE: This blog post was written in 2011, two years before Battle of Gods and four years before Dragon Ball Super. It’s a little rough around the edges in terms of writing, but I’m still happy with the overall approach and general points being made here!
You heard the hesitancy as we started discussing it on Episode #0262 of our podcast over at Daizenshuu EX — there is yet another transformation on the horizon for a character that never received it during the course of the series.
Say it with me: “Who the mother eff-in’ eff cares…?!”
As more and more news trickled out though, and especially up through this week with reading about the first “Episode of Bardock” chapter, I have really come around on this.
Think to a couple years back when this “new transformation” revival all began (acknowledging that we had a few prior examples such as Yamhan in DragonBall Z / Budokai 2):
We were introduced to Super Saiyan 3 Broli via Dragon Battlers and Raging Blast. Even in the home console game, he had absolutely no story — you spent the twenty stars to unlock a new stage to fight the character, and that was that. There was nothing special about it at all. The form simply existed, as-is, with no context. He was hyped up in promotional videos for the game, so that’s something… I guess?
The same thing happened the same year with Super Saiyan 3 Vegeta — we got an introduction via Dragon Battlers, followed by inclusion in Raging Blast with no contextual story to even frame the darn thing, once again obtaining the character by purchasing a stage with twenty stars (and completing said stage). SSJ3 Vegeta was just another slot on the character select screen. I mean, the stage essentially starts with Vegeta saying, “OK, here I am with Super Saiyan 3! Let’s fight!” and ends with the narrator saying, “Yep, all the Super Saiyan 3 characters just fought, and people like to get stronger!” Could there possibly be any less to it…?
Even if you did care about another couple characters getting such a powerful transformation (one whose point was, arguably, the fact that not everyone could do it), I can’t fathom how anyone could possibly get “Super Excited” about it without that key word there: context. Why did they transform? How did it happen? Was it an accident, or did they work toward it? When in the time line would this transformation happen? Is it just assumed that their target was Goku?
Toss this year’s Super Saiyan 3 (Future) Trunks from DragonBall Heroes into the mix, and you have one giant, steaming, smelly pile of apathy coming from this jaded, old fan.
Like I said earlier though, things are a little different with Super Saiyan Bardock. While he was first revealed as a new card and character for DragonBall Heroes in Japanese arcades (something so far removed that most English-speaking fans will never have the opportunity to experience it), it kept building from there. Next up was word that there would be a special manga presentation in V-Jump. Then Naho Ooishi (of DragonBall SD and the Jump Super Anime Tour manga adaptation) was going to be involved with it. Then it was going to be a three-part short story involving Bardock that ties in the new form from the arcade game. Then the Bardock TV special, along with the Trunks TV special, from DragonBall Z were finally going to be released as individual DVDs in Japan, previously only ever being available as extras within the two DBZ Dragon Box sets released back in 2003.
It was suddenly all Bardock all the time. He had his opportunities to shine here and there (for example, as one of the extra unlockable characters in Burst Limit alongside Broli), but it was never in a leading role like this.
This was an all-out assault crossing over to different media, providing opportunities for different types of fans to finally get engaged on a deeper level. Card collectors could pick up the card. Arcade dwellers could add him to their arsenal. Manga fans had a new story to read. Re-releasing the TV special lets the anime fans get caught up with the back-history (or in the case of younger fans, see it for the first time!).
This is a fantastic step toward extending the franchise and getting fans excited again. Up until now, everything has been developed and sectioned off into its own little silo with little-to-no cross over. Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans was included in Raging Blast 2, sure, but its assets were all still just within the one game (such as including Hatchihyack as a playable character). All of the new story bits have been introduced in DragonBall Online, sure, but they are again all within the one game. The closest may have been the Jump Super Anime Tour special, which was legally streamed (in various subtitle languages!) online, received a two-part manga adaptation (albeit released only just the one time, so if you missed it you lost your one and only chance), and had Tarble included as a playable character two years later in Raging Blast 2. Maybe the closest example of true merchandise extension so far were the two SSJ3 figures released under the DragonBall Kai Banpresto HSCF label:
(images courtesy our buddy Raithos)
Those examples have all felt like afterthoughts, though. The fact that “Episode of Bardock” is being treated as a “sequel” to the original anime story and has elements being spat out to so many other areas is a great sign. There is a clear amount of effort being put into this: new characters, new names (complete with puns!), research on proper locations that these events might take place in, etc. It is all being done right from the start, too, as opposed to tossing something out (such as a figure) later on down the road. Assuming they start off this way and continue with new items to enhance this story (a scenario in Game Project Age 2011 perhaps? a SSJ Bardock figure, of course? a re-release of all Ooishi-drawn manga in compilation form a year from now, maybe?), then we know they are on to something!
These companies (specifically Toei / Shueisha / Namco-Bandai) are finally realizing that their tactics need to change. With merchandise sales for the franchise decreasing year-over-year since 2007 (7.9 billion yen in fiscal 2007 to 2.7 billion yen in fiscal 2011), something had to give.
They are on the right track — Bardock and some back-history is a great place to start. Keep in mind that this is not about using something as minor as “Episode of Bardock” (and its associated releases) to bring the franchise back to the sales levels of 2007 (never mind the 90s), but rather about keeping it alive at all instead of fading into complete obscurity again until a third wave comes along a few years from now. It will be fun to see if they have a plan to sustain the franchise, or just got lucky with this one.