Dragon Ball Super #35
By Akira Toriyama & Toyotarou
The Dragon Ball Super manga’s greatest strength and weakness stem from its pacing. Its abridged recap of the Battle of Gods arc and exclusion of Resurrection ‘F’ makes the series almost impenetrable to any potential new fans. Conversely, many long-time followers of the franchise appreciate its faster, slicker storytelling in contrast to the anime’s often inconsequential padding. Nevertheless, when it comes Super’s new story elements, most particularly its new characters, having that extra time in the anime getting to know them becomes essential to being invested in them. Even so-called filler, like seeing Universe 7 and Universe 6 play with one another in a silly baseball game, allows audiences to enjoy the characters outside of what their role in the story necessitates. Dragon Ball has been around for a long time and fans have had decades’ worth of content to get to know and enjoy their favorite characters from its previous incarnations. Most Super characters have only been around for two years at most, so there isn’t as much material out there featuring them. That’s why, for a character like Hit that will presumably carry over into future installments, it’s important to establish why they are cool, compelling, and most importantly why we should care about them.
So far the manga has been a mixed bag when establishing its newer characters, and “Hit vs Jiren” is an exemplary case. While both Hit and Jiren have been established as rivals to Goku, the latter has been given more characterization and a deeper conflict with Goku. Toyotarou’s version of the Universe 6 Tournament really treated Hit in an undeserved manner. Only the premise of his character was outlined: he’s an assassin for hire, he can skip time like Jojo’s King Crimson, and he’s a seasoned fighter with 1000 years of experience. However, his personality is significantly different. Toyotarou’s Hit is cocky and overconfident, lacking the tactical prowess and stoic composure his anime counterpart attributes to his years of experience. There were additional nuances in Hit’s anime characterization that were imbued through the tired, indifferent world-weariness of Kazuhiro Yamaji’s performance. Like Beerus, Hit was presented as a character with a storied history, someone who built his skillset and power through countless battles over a long period of time. While Goku fights him to a draw on two occasions, it never feels like he’s surpassed him.
Toyotarou’s Hit is not impressive and consequently not interesting. Rather than improving his time-skip or retooling his strategy, he abandons it the minute both Goku and Jiren outwit him. Toyotarou’s decision to underplay Hit’s signature technique does a huge disservice to his character. His ability to manipulate time is the defining feature of his quick and stealthy fighting style, distinguishing from pure power fighters like Goku and Jiren. When Toyotarou makes him shed his battle skirt to fight Jiren, “the old-fashioned way,” he’s almost symbolically shedding what makes him special. His justification to have Hit give up the time-skip to focus on sheer strength just because Goku and Jiren haven each beaten it is flimsy because it doesn’t make sense for the character to do. Hit is a professional hitman, not a martial artist. He doesn’t “fight,” he kills. His battle tactics reflect that. Hit’s move-set is built around speed and precision, blindsiding his enemies and delivering a fatal blow once they’re vulnerable. The time-skip is the most valuable tool in his arsenal because most of his targets are caught off-guard by it and instantaneously dispatched. His career has been built upon refining this technique. So why abandon the skills he’s perfected over hundreds of years? Why not improve them instead? In the anime, Hit outwits foes wise to his trick by using feints and setting up traps to counterattack when they’re off-guard. His strategizing and resourcefulness in turning the tide of a losing battle even when his opponents know his secrets is what makes him so formidable and why he’s regarded as one of the best fighters in all of the twelve universes. Toyotaro undermines this by reducing Hit’s combat to simple kicks and punches, because not only is that a boring choice, it doesn’t emphasize Hit’s strong points as a fighter or character. It doesn’t help make Jiren look any stronger for beating him either, especially since he never visibly beats Hit’s time-skip, as it’s only referenced as an off-screen event. C’mon Toyotarou, show don’t tell!
This chapter is frustrating from a narrative perspective because the concept of Hit vs. Jiren is emotionally weightless in Toyotarou’s manga. Hit fighting Jiren is a meaningful event because Hit’s fought Goku to a draw before so we know he’s really strong. His purpose in the tournament is to job against Jiren to emphasize how strong he is, ideally making Goku look even more impressive when he surpasses his limits and beats him later on. It feels like Toyotaro understands that Goku and Hit fighting Jiren together is something fans would enjoy seeing. Having two rivals teaming up against a stronger foe is a Dragon Ball tradition, and it helps establish the Jiren as a big deal since it implies that even together they’re not strong enough to beat him. While that’d be perfectly enjoyable if readers had a reason to care about Hit, Toyotaro never gives them a good one. Goku and Hit’s relationship in the manga is just built around wanting to fight each other again, and little more. However, Hit’s fight with Goku was short and mostly involved Goku outwitting all his strategies and laying way more blows than he took. While it still ends in a draw, the manga’s version of the fight makes Goku feel like he has the upper hand through the entire exchange. Hit might not have been beaten, but it never felt like Goku was struggling to beat him either. So the prospect of their rematch just isn’t very interesting, because the fight itself was already so one-sided it’s difficult to buy it’d be more compelling in a different setting. More importantly, Hit isn’t defined as a character outside of his relationship with Goku. There’s no exploration of his personal goals, or what he’s fighting for in the tournament. His existence in the manga is just being a rival that wants to fight Goku again, and that’s just not enough to make him interesting.
Anime viewers were given more reasons to be invested in Goku and Hit’s relationship. The anime emphasizes that Hit is attracted to Goku’s fighting spirit and dedication to self-improvement. As an anti-social recluse who hasn’t had to exert effort in a fight or people to care about in a long time, Hit was metaphorically stuck in time. He had no ambitions for the future and was only interested in doing his job and getting paid. By beating the time-skip he took for granted as unbeatable, Goku inspired him to break his own limits and improve the efficacy of his techniques. Even then, he wasn’t particularly passionate about fighting Goku again, because he’s a killer, not a martial artist. It was only after their second fight, when he learned that Goku went out of his way to put a hit on himself and put his life in danger for the sake of their rematch, that he became invested in defeating him as both a professional obligation and a personal goal. Hit doesn’t simply want to fight Goku again, he wants to finish the job his employer requested and kill his target, which makes sense for someone so duty-driven and professionally-minded. Yet Hit respects Goku because he was willing to sacrifice himself to achieve his goals, a mindset he internalizes.
Hit’s elimination in the anime’s Tournament of Power isn’t momentous because it shows how strong Jiren was, but because it was the tragic culmination of Hit’s character arc up to that point. Whereas he fought simply for a reward in the Universe 6 Tournament, Hit fights in the tournament to protect his universe. He challenges Jiren and tries to eliminate him because he recognizes he’s the biggest threat to Universe 6’s survival and feels duty-bound to do what he can to ensure his teams’ victory. He takes on a leadership role for his teammates, saving Caulifla from elimination and encouraging them to fight for their universe’s sake. For the first time, Hit fought as part of a team and for someone besides himself. He was willing to take Jiren down with him if that was what it took. His elimination signals a turning point for the arc, as a low-point for both Universes 7 and 6. Both their aces have lost to Jiren as the tournament reaches its half-way point, forcing them into an inevitable do-or-die confrontation with each other. Yet in spite of the odds against them, Universe 6 fights on reinvigorated, inspired by Hit’s efforts and not wanting his sacrifice to go to waste. So while Hit loses to Jiren in both versions, the anime provides an emotional through-line the manga sadly lacks. Hit doesn’t have a relationship with his team in the manga, and his elimination happens within the first couple minutes of the tournament, so it doesn’t have any profound impact on the story outside of emphasizing Jiren’s might. Anime Hit wasn’t in the Tournament of Power just to be a jobber; he was his own character with a fully-formed character arc. He had more relevance to Super’s story outside of this one plot point that Toyotaro shallowly replicates.
Toyotarou’s storytelling is clumsy even with his original ideas. Jiren not remembering Goku’s name because he doesn’t acknowledge him as a worthy foe had a lot of potential as a through-line for their rivalry. It’s rare to see the normally aloof Goku so frustrated by not having someone’s respect, and it presented an opportunity for Toyotaro to give Goku a more personal goal: earning Jiren’s respect. Unfortunately, the concept is weakly resolved when Jiren calls Goku by name after being surprised he figured out how he beat Hit. It’s a waste to have this potentially interesting personal conflict resolved within a single chapter, and considering how straightforward and obvious Jiren’s plan was, it’s not a satisfying payoff. Goku’s reasoning for not joining in Hit’s plan to take out Jiren is also just as flimsy as Hit abandoning his time-skip. Goku claims he wants to beat Jiren alone but needs to break his limits first. He was perfectly fine fighting alongside Hit earlier in the chapter, so this decision seemingly comes out of nowhere. Additionally, if fighting Jiren is his goal, why is he willing to let Hit eliminate him first? What seems like a reasonable excuse at his first glance totally breaks apart upon scrutiny. It’s hard not to feel like Toyotaro wrote himself into a corner, and just quickly came up with something to force Hit to fight and lose one-on-one against Jiren, without really thinking through the consistency of the story. Similarly inconsistent is Hit’s claim that he saved Goku from getting ringed out to repay his debt from the Universe 6 Tournament, despite having done and said so prior back when he threw his fight with Monaka. Toriyama’s Dragon Ball may be infamous for inconsistencies fans have accepted with a shrug, but that doesn’t make them permissible in Toyotarou’s hands either.
This chapter’s best quality is its action sequences, which are some of Toyotarou’s best so far. He uses panels framed from a character’s point of view to great effect, particularly during the sequence where Goku eyes a defeated Hit. The panels narrow down from a wide shot featuring Jiren striking a damaging blow to a close-up of Hit flat on the floor. After cutting back to Goku’s reaction the following panel is a close-up of Hit’s face, indicating where Goku’s focus shifts. Toyotaro uses close-ups well in general, particularly during two of the chapter’s most pivotal moments. The first is when Jiren closes in to hit Goku only for his fist to stop just short of his face, which is a great dramatic beat to signal Hit’s return to the fray. The second is when Toyotaro provides a close-up of the bottom half of Jiren’s face, drawing attention to him taking a breath before his counterattack. This serves as an understated but ominous moment that in just two panels slows down the pace of the fight to let Jiren’s superior power sink in. While these suspenseful moments stand out the most, the punches look good too. Though Toyotarou’s omission of Hit’s time-skip means its unique broken-glass aesthetic is absent, Hit’s fight is at least well-choreographed and the blows look hard-hitting. The gut-punch Hit gives Jiren is sold with some great impact and speed lines, a big and powerful “POW” sound effect, and the way Jiren’s pupils contract upon the receiving the hit says a whole lot without needing a close up on his face. I particularly like the pair of panels depicting Jiren blocking Goku’s punches with his right arm and Hit’s kicks with his left simultaneously while standing still. It’s perhaps the single most effective sequence in the chapter in establishing Jiren’s strength. Though the explosive, boldly outlined and blood-spattered impact blast indicating the contact Jiren’s uppercut made to Hit’s face as he’s sent flying high with a large “DOOM” sound effect flanking his trajectory is effectively brutal too. Like Tenshinhan in the last chapter, Toyotaro knows how to draw a battered face, and Hit’s pain and confusion can be palatably felt through his wincing eyes and bruised chin. The fights here were so excellently drawn that it makes me both excited to see how Toyotaro will depict Goku and Jiren’s final confrontation and disappointed that this artwork of quality was in service of an unsatisfying narrative.
The Dragon Ball Super manga usually shines when it’s telling its story differently from the anime. Where it fails here is in trying to emphasize a fight that only has significance to viewers of the anime. Hit isn’t as important or developed a character in the manga as he was in the anime, so his fight with Jiren didn’t necessitate a full chapter. Hit is popular in the fandom, so I can understand wanting to give his big fight focus and depict Goku and Hit fight Jiren together, which the anime didn’t do. Unfortunately, this fight is unlikely to satisfy Hit fans because the manga’s interpretation of the character lacks the qualities that make him compelling and his fighting style unique. The only role he served was to make Jiren look strong by comparison, a task which Toyotaro could’ve easily done in fewer pages. Unlike in the anime, it doesn’t feel like anything was accomplished or lost in Hit’s elimination. If anything, it just made this chapter feel kind of superfluous, like filler. Which understandably doesn’t inspire much enthusiasm from me as a Dragon Ball fan.