Dragon Ball Super has elevated and escalated the threats within the Dragon Ball universe, to the point where Goku and his friends have fought impossibly powerful figures from across the multiverse. But, with that rising threat comes even higher rewards, as the franchise works better now than it has in ages.
One particular arc of the series, the Tournament of Power, is the single greatest arc in the history of Dragon Ball – showcasing all the strengths of the franchise in one storyline.
The Tournament of Power arc – otherwise known as the Universe Survival Saga – centers around a multiversal challenge presented to fighters from across the twelve core universes by their respective godly figures. This includes the core Dragon Ball Universe, which is designated as Universe 7. The twelve teams are then thrown into a massive battle-ring, with eliminations determined by fighters being knocked off the floating terrain. The prize for the winning team is a wish from Super Shenron, the most powerful wish-granting dragon in the multiverse. Losing, though, will result in the erasure of not only the team but their entire reality from existence.
Goku recruits a team – Gohan, Vegeta, Piccolo, Krillen, Android 18, Android 17, Tien, Master Roshi and Frieza – from his home of Universe 7 to fight alongside him in the massive battle royale. But, while some of the other teams prove to be incapable of keeping up with Goku and his allies, there are major threats in the forms of the teams from Universe 3, a largely robotic force, Universe 6, which has the powerful alternate universe Saiyans Kale, Cabba and Caulifla, and most notably Universe 11 – the Pride Troopers, a group of superheroes from across their home galaxy. The Pride Troopers show themselves as more than capable of forcing the Universe 7 team to give it their all just to stay in the fight.
Because the Tournament features multiple fighters, the story arc isn’t entirely focused on Goku and his ever-increasing power levels. In fact, plenty of attention is paid to the supporting heroes, especially in the build-up to the event itself. Gohan and Krillin reexamine the people they’ve become so they can readily accept their full potential – Gohan is even named the strategic leader of the team. Even Frieza, formerly a straight-forward and haughty villain, developments as he reluctantly comes to terms with his partnership with Goku and company. While most of the team is wiped out in quick succession, the arc still finds room for the kind of genuine character growth that’s absent from other fight-heavy sagas of the series.
But that’s not to say the arc skimps on action. The arc has some genuinely terrific fight sequences. The fluid animation of Dragon Ball Super has never been more impressive, especially when unique threats like Ribrianne appear or Goku unlocks Ultra-Instinct. Every battle is an impressively coordinated display of power and Universe 7’s team often must be as clever as they are strong in order to survive. There are different strategies and fighting styles, and many of Universe 7’s opponents turn out to be crafty in their own right.
For a series that can lose sight of the stakes, the Tournament of Power saga thrives by keeping them in full view and taking them to the ultimate level. By risking entire realities – and actually wiping some out – nearly unstoppable characters like Goku are given a genuine threat to overcome. The danger is more real and present than ever before. And, fittingly, when the heroes finally overcome everything thrown their way, it truly feels like a victory. It’s not a massive transformation that wins the heroes the day or a last-minute special technique – although Goku’s Ultra-Instinct technique does play a vital role.
In the end, it’s former enemies uniting to save the day that spares Universe 7. Goku and Frieza – the biggest hero and the biggest villain of the franchise – actually work together to defeat a common threat. Trusting their fellow fighter is what defines the universe, and developing that trust – even between former enemies – is a long-standing theme of Dragon Ball as a whole. The Universal Survival Saga features some of the best character work in the show, some of the franchises’ best fights and reaffirms the most important elements of the franchise – rising above who you are and coming together to defeat the worst the world can throw at you. It’s a perfect Dragon Ball story.
The Universal Survival Saga – aka the Tournament of Power – is the Dragon Ball franchise at it's absolute best.