We get a new opening, we get a long-running (and as of the moment of writing, still-running) mega-arc instead of the seasonal ones that the Future Trunks, Beerus and Frieza arcs have been, and as of this point, we've exceeded the amount of episodes that the original 'sequel' anime series, Dragon Ball GT, had, and fast approaching the amount of the original Dragon Ball has. (We still have a long way to go before we top Dragon Ball Z's mammoth 291, though)
And such a huge arc, as in true Dragon Ball fashion, ends up with a fuckton of buildup, and a fuckton of controversy around the writing of Goku's character. For the Universal Survival Saga, we'll go on a more episode-to-episode basis, because it ends up being actually far more episodic and serialized at the same time.
Without further ado...
Episode 77: Burning off the stream of smaller arcs (I so detest using the term 'filler' for the very entertaining Krillin, Saiyaman and Hit mini-arcs) we start off with this episode, which opens with... the two Zen'o playing marbles with planets, and the off-hand cosmic horror revelation that they've blown up 202 planets. Which universe is this? What? And boredom seems to be the theme for this episode. Where the Zen'o's are bored, Goku is also bored. He's going through his life, selling the vegetables he's been farming all series long, and we get a love-letter to one of the first fight scenes in DBZ with Goku manhandling a bunch of robbers the way that his long-dead-and-often-forgotten brother Raditz did, only with less fatalities. However, a bullet grazed him, and he notes that just like Krillin did in the previous two-parter, he, too, has gone rusty. He goes off to meet Whis and Beerus, and after a bunch of conversations... he ends up using the button to go to meet Zen'o and remind him of the tournament.
It's so much like Goku, although his sheer blatant ignorance and defiance of Beerus is going to be something that Goku and the Dragon Ball writers will have to deal with for the remainder of the arc. Zen'o (who has completely forgotten) and the Grand Priest decide to do it, and to summon all twelve universes to them. It's a neat little buildup episode, and we get the nice, subtle hint that Beerus, despite his threat to hakai Goku the same way he did Zamasu, doesn't actually have the heart to do it, showing that they do have developed a friendship of sorts. We also get the revelation that Bulma is pregnant with Bulla (or Bra, if we're using the proper and cringey romanization), and some neat scenes with Goten bonding with Goku.
Episode 78: We get to see all the Supreme Kais, Gods of Destruction and the Angels of all 12 universes, and they're... they're cool and well-designed! We've got an elephant god, Tails from Sonic all grown up, Joker and Harley Quinn, a walking ball of fur with eyes, the monster from black lagoon... and is that a robot? None of these end up mattering all that much, especially the angels, but the sheer cacophony of insane designs makes this scene a treat. I can talk about how other anime shows handle the introduction of large amounts of characters at the same time, but DBS is actually doing a neat job. Obviously we're already familiar with universes 6 and 7, plus Gowasu of 10, but grouping characters in roles and sets and making the designs of the gods of destruction as vibrant and distinct as possible makes it a neat shortcut to accepting this potentially overwhelming amount of characters... and it's going to get even more overwhelming with each universe supplying 10 warriors each. While obviously not all of them are going to be prominent and some are just going to be jobbers, it's still quite decent the way that they organize each universe into their own 'themes' and introduce them gradually.
The Zen'o's and the Grand Priest tell the shocked masses of the Tournament of Power, which is going to be held in the World of Void, and that the winner of the tournament is going to get a wish on the Super Dragon Balls... and 'nothing'. Which is to say, Zen'o will destroy all the other universes that lose, and the little buggers note this with the same innocent detachment that they do everything else in their life. And while everyone is still in a state of shock (and Beerus personally blames Goku -- with very good reason) the Future Zen'o, being absent during the Universe 6 Tournament, asks for an exhibition match between Universe 7 and 9 -- a three-on-three, which is going to be the genesis of the first mini-arc of the saga. One of the big complaints I have about this is that, while it's true that Goku doesn't know how far Zen'o is willing to go in his flippant attitude towards universal genocide, Goku doesn't act guilty or horrified. His tone throughout all this and how Shin and Beerus berates him amounts to "oh well, it's a fight and I wanna fight strong guys!" It's very much acceptable and in-character for Goku to be obsessed with his fighty-fight mentality and carefree "ohai Zen-chan" attitude accidentally trigger the insanity that the universal-erasure clause is going to grant (although just as most Dragon Ball arcs the fact that the whole series is built around plot devices used to return people from the dead 90% of the time does make the tension somewhat non-existent), the fact that Goku doesn't feel or look guilty at all makes things fall a bit short. Again, while we'll get the revelation that Goku isn't villainous, an admission of guilt or horror would've definitely gone a long way.
Anyway, this episode mostly deals with recruitment. Vegeta refuses to go because Bulma is giving birth, and Goku ends up recruiting Gohan and Majin Buu (Mr. Satan tags along). Gohan's recruitment is pretty neat and helps to wrap up the slow and gradual development he's been getting throughout Super, and so far only these handful of characters know about the universal erasure clause. The episode ends with a huge, elaborate scene of all the gods arriving on the world of void, and Goku continuing to be carefree towards Zen-chan, and ends up being painted as the villain -- or as the heel, to use a wrestling term -- as being the one who suggested the Tournament of Power to Zen'o.
And their enemy is Universe 9 -- led by their god of destruction
Episode 79: It's just the fight between Majin Buu and Basil, and the Universe 9 wolf-man is just... well, he just kicks and kicks and shoots hadokens out of his feet. Roh's a pretty hilarious and hammy bastard, and I do like him. Of course, Buu, having spent the entirety of the previous episode being beaten up, is none worse for the wear. Trust me -- I sat through the Buu Saga. The mochi-devil-genie-man is indestructible... and because Goku and Satan told him to 'play', Buu thinks it's all just a game, even when Basil powers up with a random berry, and he's just bouncing around, happily acting with a hole in his chest... until Basil's blast causes a chunk of rubble to hit Mr. Satan. Buu's instinct is to go help Satan (awww) but Satan tells him to finish the fight. Which causes Buu to open his eyes and, well, we all know what happens when Buu takes an interest in something: complete smackdown! "You're strong... but I'm even stronger!" It's been one of the simultaneously most badass and most irritatingly overused catchphrases Buu has back in DBZ, but rooting for Buu this time around is really an amazing feeling as Buu unleashes a Majin Kamehameha that completely blows up Basil. No deaths, though -- it's a tournament. That's 1-0 for our guys, although I did feel that the Universe 9 wolf-men ended up being very one-note.
Episode 80: Gohan vesus Lavender, this time around, with Lavender being the short, rabid-looking scrawny orange bastard. And Lavender is just a psychotic animal, charging around and cackling like a hyena. I do like this fight as well, although again, it does feel pretty one-note. Lavender's whole shtick is combining the fact that apparently Universe 9 wolf-people doesn't have a detectable ki level, and then he blinds Gohan with a purple poison mist-aura thing. Everyone wants to give Gohan a Senzu bean, but Goku and Gohan treats this as a training more so than anything. It's time to show off how much Gohan improved after being a jobber throughout the first two arcs of Super, right? Not exactly... but at the same time, yes. See, Gohan doesn't actually win the battle, but gets a draw. But on the other hand, he shows off that he is intelligent and battle-hardened enough to dodge all of the subsequent attacks from Lavender while blind, unleashes his Super Saiyan form, we get a good old-fashioned beam struggle, and Gohan actually knocks out Lavender with a wrestling move (did he learn it from Mr. Satan?)... but the poison gets spread too fast by the Super Saiyan form. Shame about that, but while I was pretty disappointed in Gohan drawing against an honestly unimpressive warrior (seriously, none of the wolf-men from Universe 9 felt like a threat) it at least allowed him to show off his skills, as well as lead to an eventual training sequence with Piccolo and Goku a couple of episodes down the line.
This episode also has the Grand Priest interrupt the proceedings to confirm the rules of the Tournament of Power, again reiterating that losing universes are destroyed. He also tells us that the Tournament of Power is just an entertaining way for the Zen'o's to destroy the universes with an 'average mortal level' lower than 7. Which means that the twin universes 1 and 12, as well as 5 and 8, are exempt from the Tournament of Power. Apparently Universe 9's average mortal level is the lowest at 1.86, and Universe 7 is at 3.18. With Beerus, Majin Buu and Frieza blowing up planets wily-nily, it kinda makes sense that the mortal levels in our universe is pretty low. Whis actually calls out Beerus on sleeping most of the time as why the mortal level is low, and Beerus lays the blame on the very passive "let mortals develop on their own pace" Shin. Of course, this sort of makes Goku's fuck-up more tolerable since this way one of the universes that are going to be wiped out has the potential to survive... but at the same time, it's caused by dumb luck and provocating the Zen'o's is a dumb-shit move in the first place. Oh, and we get the big revelation that... the angels don't get erased with their respective universes, but the gods do. Huh.
Episode 81: The final match in the exhibition between universes 7 and 9 is Goku versus MachGaogamon. I mean Bergamo. Bergamo paints Goku as, well, a villain and a heel, working up the crowd. They can't blame Zen'o, but they can very well fucking blame Goku, and Bergamo paints Goku as a villain who wants to break the peace between the universes and doom the world, and then asks Zen'o to rescind the rule if Bergamo wins... and Zen'o says that, sure, why not... but threatens to erase universe 7 if Goku doesn't give it his all. Again, while Goku fighting seriously and beating Bergamo isn't something that is a surprise and definitely expected, the lack of guilt on Goku's behaviour kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Bergamo's ability is apparently taking hits and absorbing the force and becomes bigger and stronger the more he is hit. Which is neat and all, but it ends up being kind of a boring fight compared to the tenser Gohan-vs-Lavender or Buu-vs-Basil battles. Goku pulls off a Super Saiyan Blue/Kaioken combo and just beam-struggles with Bergamo to victory. All the whole "oh my god he has the power of a god" surprises all the gods of destruction present, and the Tournament of Power is, of course, still on.
The Grand Priest then tells the rules of the tournament -- each universe will supply 10 fighters each, and no killing is allowed. It's a survival match and victory is gained by knocking opponents off the ring. Weapons and flight are prohibited, and the match will run for 48 minutes. Which, in Dragon-Ball land, probably will last like 3 years or some shit. And as teh Grand Priest is about to dismiss everyone present... a dude from Universe 11, who was cloaked throughout the entire exhibition match, jumps onto the ring and challenges Goku...
Episode 82: And the dude is Toppo, which feels so much cooler and Dragon Ball-y er than the silly wolf-people. Toppo is a giant man with giant arms and a walrus-esque mustache, and he introduces himself as a "God of Destruction Candidate", apparently being in training to succeed Belmod, the clown-esque god of destruction, as a god of destruction. He is a member of the Pride Troopers, a superhero team (!) in his universe, and he will not stand by while a villain like Goku wreaks havoc. So while the Trio des Dangers are there to show off that Goku, Gohan and Buu are badasses, Toppo is the Nappa to their Saibamen. Toppo simply overwhelms Goku with sheer strength, fighting on par with Goku's Super Saiyan Blue form, although we get a very cool instant-transmission-kamehameha deal. The two seem evenly matched, but the Grand Priest pops in and stops the battle before they are about to power up. It's a pretty neat foreshadowing and instantly makes me love Toppo -- how can you not? He's like a tokusentai-superhero hybrid, and he looks like a jolly big walrus man!
As the Grand Priest dismisses everyone and tells them to return in like 3 days or around that, Toppo tells the 'villain' Goku that he's not even the strongest person in the Pride Troopers -- there is one that ranks above him, and also apparently stronger than a god of destruction: Jiren. Oooh, mysterious! Or, y'know, the dude with a Pride Trooper outfit that has the most screentime atatatatatatatata-ing with Goku on the opening. Still, it's pretty awesome hype buildup, and as someone who went into Super relatively blind (I certainly wasn't spoiled by anything in the Universe Survival Saga from video games or whatever) it's a neat delight.
So sadly, we're going to put off the actual Tournament of Power, because we're going to have a mini-arc of Goku recruiting everyone. I get why we needed these series of episodes (which I'll be reviewing separately) but at the same time... jeez. Still, the exhibition matches are pretty cool, highlighting Universe 9 and 11 as known quantities, and slowly doling out the rules about the Tournament of Power while ever-so-slowly trying to make the other universes have an identity of their own. Overall, a very neat little mini-arc that leads into the massive behemoth that is the Tournament of Power, with my only real complaint being Goku's attitude... and even then it doesn't really take me out of the story all that much, and while the wolf-men were somewhat disappointing, the actual execution of the fights are pretty much A-game, especially in depicting Buu's wacky abilities and Toppo's JUSTICE FLASH attacks.