Dragon Ball Super #38
By Akira Toriyama & Toyotarou
The accelerated pace of Toyotaro’s Tournament of Power reaches its zenith with chapter 38. With Kale running loose in her legendary Saiyan form, the pretense that the other universes matter is quickly brushed aside as she whittles them away one by one, and only Universes 7, 6, and 11 remain. Toyotaro focuses on the most important characters and plot points that need to be emphasized in the story arc, which are undoubtedly concentrated in those three universes. Yet in execution, Kale easily taking out four universes in a matter of pages undermines the severity of the tournament itself. The Tournament of Power is a survival game in which a universe’s defeat results in their destruction and deaths of untold billions. To see eliminations being treated as a trifle, and erasures little more as a joke, robs tension and drama for the proceedings. Its more efficient storytelling to concentrates on the bigger players and characters, but it robs from the struggle and desperation that should always be on the back of the protagonists’ mind as they face foe after foe under a ticking clock and the threat of extinction.
It’s also a shame to see so many interesting characters and conflicts sidelined for Kale. Back when the Gods of Destruction were first introduced, Quitela was established as Beerus’ rival, and the the bad blood between them was presented as a major subplot going into the tournament. Yet Quitela doesn’t even get to utter a single word when his universe is unceremoniously eliminated. I wondered what Toyotaro’s plan was for Obuni as the last surviving member of the Universe 10 team, since it was curious he wasn’t simply eliminated by Universe 4 alongside his teammates. Unfortunately, it feels like he was only kept around to be a sacrifice so Kale can have the distinction of eliminating half the universes single-handedly. There’s an attempt to create an emotional connection between him and Gowas, but it comes and goes too quick to feel anything about. As far as new characters go, the giant fusion monster Anilaza being beaten in two pages is a funny gag, but it would’ve been nice to get some context for why and how the Universe 3 members could become a creature like it. There’s also a blink-and-miss it gag revealing that Universe 3’s God of Destruction Mosco is actually not a giant robot but a gremlin in a robot suit, which feels like the punchline to a joke never made. Worse still is Kale’s elimination of her own teammates, taking Magetta, Cabba, and the Universe 6 Namekians out of the fight over the course of her rampage. This chapter makes a lot of progress in removing characters from the fight, but in doing so also removes a lot of potentially interesting and entertaining conflicts and ideas in a way that isn’t very satisfying.
That said, the consequences of Kale’s rampage aren’t without their positives in regards to characterizing the strength of certain characters. As disappointing as it is to lose so many universes so quickly, it does a great job to establish Kale as a powerful and dangerous threat for both Universe 7 and Universe 11, since she eliminates more opponents in a mere few minutes than anyone else does in the tournament entirely. When the tables are turned as Universe 11 sees through her shallow and simple minded movements and nearly eliminates her, it creates a great idea of how tactful and tight their teamwork and combative abilities are. This plot development infers Universe 11’s team is much stronger than most of the other universes by the mere fact they can handle Kale with ease. Then, when Kefla easily knocks out half of U11 with cocksure ease, the scope of how much more powerful the fusion of Kale and Caulifla becomes clearly evident. Even then, Jiren’s unbothered reaction to this implies that he’s still above her level. What’s important about these distinctions is that Toyotaro establishes an easily understandable baseline for Kale strength, and uses the reactions of other characters to characterize how much power they have relative to her. These imply how much of a threat characters are to one another, which makes the stakes and danger they pose to our protagonists feel more understandable and pressing. By the end of this chapter, it’s clear exactly how comparable the remaining competitors are in terms of their strength and threat level, making the story’s narrative structure feel more focused in its dramatic escalation.
Even though Kale is the focus of the chapter, Cabbe’s character development makes him its real star. Cabbe was a meek and well-mannered soldier with great potential as a fighter, but held back by his indecisiveness. When he encounters a problem, his first instinct is to ask for help rather than figuring out a solution himself. In the Universe 6 tournament, Vegeta has to prod and push Cabbe to tap into his inner strength and figure out had to become a Super Saiyan. When Cabbe tries to depend on his mentor for a solution to stopping Kale, he accuses him of needing him to hold his hand, and calls him a child. So Cabbe’s plan and sacrifice to save Kale from herself and facilitate the fusion between her and Caulifla is an important moment of maturity for him. Jumping off the ring to grab Kale and throw her back, giving Caulifla a grin and thumbs up as he falls, shows a prideful confidence and willingness to win no matter what that was previously lacking in him. It’s a shame we won’t see more of Cabbe in this tournament, but he leaves the ring having accomplished something important for his team, and shows a satisfying growth of character.
Toyotaro’s art once again makes this chapter quite enjoyable in its own right. There’s a great sense of motion in his use of speed lines as well as the positions and poses of the characters, making the action feel fast-paced and hard-hitting. Toyotaro’s character expressions continue to amaze through the personality of their brutality, particularly facial shots of characters reacting to a painful blow. However, the way Toyotaro draws Kale and Kefla is what really impresses. Their designs are looser and shapelier than the blocky designs Toyotaro’s muscled characters have, yet communicate such a great sense of muscle definition and strength in their simple physiques. It’s a subtle but noticeable change, and it makes me feel like Toyotaro really had fun drawing these characters. The quirky expressions he gives Kefla, in particular her eminently meme-able shrug after knocking out Tupper in one-punch, imbue a lot of personality very quickly with very little. Toyotaro’s always been a good mimic of Toriyama’s and Yamamuro’s designs, but this chapter goes a long way in making it feel like these are truly his designs; interpretations instead of imitations.
Chapter 38 covers so much ground for the Tournament of Power and so radically swerves the direction of the arc that it seems pointless to predict what’ll happen next. Gohan’s presence in the manga is significantly reduced from his already scant screen time in the anime, so his upcoming fight with Kefla should give him some long overdue spotlight. Aside from that, there are only four Universe 11 members remaining, all of which being their strongest and most significant members. Toyotaro could potentially reduce the remaining contestants to the final 8 as presented in the anime, but Muten Roshi still being in the game poses an interesting curve ball. With his opponents from the anime already eliminated and only top tier threats remaining, what role could the Turtle Hermit possibly serve at this point? Toyotaro plays with the characters in interesting ways, and in doing so recaptures the excitement and unpredictably that made keeping up with this arc in the anime both exiting and frustrating. I have no clue what’ll happen next, but I’m confident he’ll do something else I wont expect, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.