If the Dragon Ball Super Anime Returns, What Art Style Might It Use?

Ever since Dragon Ball Super came to an end in March 2018, anticipation of its return has been a constant for the Dragon Ball fanbase. The series concluded with the narrator promising that this would be a short break, and the story of Super continued both in the manga and in movies such as Broly – but four-and-a-half years later, the anime has yet to return.

The release of Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero has reinvigorated interest in a new Dragon Ball Super series, and credible leakers have suggested the show will return in 2023. Speculation around what a new series could entail has been rampant, from what material it might adapt to what the show might look like. Modern Dragon Ball has seen such a wide variety in art styles that there are a number of avenues a Dragon Ball Super sequel could take.

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Why Dragon Ball Super’s Animation Received Backlash While the Films Were Praised

Toei animator Tadayoshi Yamamuro served as the character designer for several of Dragon Ball Z’s ’90s films, with many of his designs being incorporated into the series itself. After televised Dragon Ball came to an end, Yamamuro would spearhead the character designs in promotional material for video games and home releases, continuing the role when Dragon Ball returned with Battle of Gods and Dragon Ball Super.

While Yamamuro’s DBZ designs were iconic, his modern designs were a source of criticism, featuring excessive highlighting and stiffer anatomy. Between these animation-unfriendly designs and a rushed schedule, Dragon Ball Super’s animation quality saw a rough start and was a target of backlash.

For Dragon Ball Super: Broly, Toei Animation sought to refresh Dragon Ball’s visuals, and animator Naohiro Shintani was picked for the film’s character designs. In comparison to Yamamuro’s, Shintani’s designs boasted more natural anatomy, softer features and less complex shading. These were specifically done to be more animation-friendly, allowing Broly‘s animators a greater sense of freedom. Broly received universal acclaim for its visuals, with many hoping Shintani’s designs would be the future of the series.

To the fanbase’s shock, however, the next movie saw another massive visual overhaul. In July 2022, Super Hero was announced to be the first Dragon Ball film to sport a 3DCG visual style. Despite initial skepticism, Super Hero also received praise for its visuals, though whether the CGI look was just a one-off — or is intended to be the future direction of the series — remains to be seen.

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A New Dragon Ball Super Anime Could Go Several Ways Visually

While Toei have worked on CGI on films before, a hypothetical 3DCG Dragon Ball Super follow-up would be the company’s first foray into a full televised CGI production, competing with critically acclaimed shows like Beastars and Land of the Lustrous. Super Hero would thus make for a perfect test launch for Dragon Ball‘s new look ahead of a new series. However, it’s possible that Toei simply chose the look for the film as a result of schedule crunch — with many of their 2D animators working on other projects, Super Hero‘s look could have been a result of an animation team spread too thin.

That may not be an issue for a future television series. Two of Toei’s biggest TV projects, Digimon: Ghost Game and Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai are soon coming to an end, thus alleviating the workload for a future Dragon Ball series. Should Super return in 2D, many fans are hoping Naohiro Shintani will come back as character designer. In terms of a weekly production, his simpler designs would help substantially with ensuring characters stay on model episode to episode, while still allowing for the animators to make the designs more detailed during more intense sequences, like in Broly.

Alternatively, Tadayoshi Yamamuro might return in order to retain consistency between the original Super and its follow-up. Despite not working on Broly or Super Hero, Yamamuro has continued to work for the franchise on Super Dragon Ball Heroes, a monthly animated tie-in to the arcade game of the same name. While fans critical of Yamamuro’s modern approach might be skeptical about his return, his output on Heroes has shown something of a return to form, featuring less excessive shading and character faces more reminiscent of his Z-era work.

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Chikashi Kubota, Super Hero‘s character designer, might be another candidate. Despite Super Hero being predominantly 3D, the film features a traditionally animated prologue recapping the events of the Red Ribbon Army and Cell Sagas, key animated by Kubota. Some have speculated that the sequence could be a trial run for Kubota to handle the design of a full Dragon Ball Super series.

The Red Ribbon Army section features simple designs and fluid animation, while the Cell section highlights key battles from the arc with highly detailed character art. While both segments of the prologue have received praise from the fanbase, which direction Kubota would ultimately go for if given the keys to the series’ character designs is unknown at this point.

Whether the designs for a new Super series would be handled by Yamamuro, Shintani, Kubota or someone else entirely remains to be seen. Hopefully no matter which format the show returns in, it will be able to continue to give fans the eye candy that Broly and Super Hero have already treated them with — and give the animators a much healthier schedule than the original Super.

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