The Prince of All Saiyans
Warning: The following review contains spoilers for the episode.
If Universe 7 has any hope left, it’s in Goku and Vegeta. The two heroes lay broken before the might of Jiren, but not defeated. Episode 128 is about their unending resolve and how each draws from their values differently to fuel their power. Not all the story moments hit their mark, but those that did had such a great impact that their ramifications will be felt for many episodes to come.
The Prince of all Saiyans has fallen, and while there was a lot of good that came from his scenes, his defeat does leave me a bit disappointed in Super. The Tournament of Power has offered great opportunities to invigorate interest in other characters outside of Goku. Having Goku fall and someone else save Universe 7 would have been a drastic but welcome shift away from the norm that’s been established. Vegeta has had many outstanding moments over the years, but he hasn’t had his time to shine as the hero.
Letting other characters save the day is something Dragon Ball has struggled with. It’s not for lack of development or story, either, as often these other characters are positioned to win the fight, only to lose at the last moment, freeing up Goku to finish the job. One of the rare exceptions to this is when Gohan was allowed to kill Cell, which is now one of the best, most notable moments in all of Dragon Ball. Vegeta’s set up in the Tournament of Power had moments that were screaming for him to win. His arc of inner reflection and emotional growth would have served as an excellent catalyst to propel him to Ultra Instinct levels of power so he could combat Jiren. Instead, Super plays it safe, removes Vegeta from the fight, and will once again push on with Goku as the last hope.
On the plus side, Vegeta’s emotional growth in this episode was fantastic. Standing up, only to get pummeled over and over was inspiring at first and heartbreaking by the end. Super did an excellent job with his inner monologue during the fight, allowing us to watch him shift from prideful Saiyan warrior to sorrow-filled father and friend as he realized he couldn’t keep his promise to protect everyone. It marks a huge moment for his character, and the animation, music, and dialogue all come together in just the right way to make every punch feel worse than the last until he was finally knocked out.
With Vegeta’s exit, Universe 7’s fate comes down to Goku, and to no surprise, he quickly gets beaten. As the final blow is about to land, though, Ultra Instinct activates, both saving him and putting him back on equal ground with Jiren. While Ultra Instinct looks as visually impressive as ever, it’s the reasoning behind him getting it that makes this one of the best recent moments for Goku.
His friends and family have put their trust in him and he has to win. It seems like such a simple thing, but Super has finally given Goku what he needed: a reason to actually fight. Up until now, his motivation has been selfish; he wants to fight the strongest people so that he can grow in strength. While that worked in the short term, it offers no long-term satisfaction or growth. By finally introducing his friends as a source of strength and something worth protecting, and then finally having Goku acknowledge that, it not only makes him far more interesting to watch and root for but makes his spike in power that much more believable. This is something that can be traced back all through Dragon Ball’s history, most notably to the death of Krillin and the unlocking of Super Saiyan. In a similar way, we’re seeing that replicated now and although I am disappointed it took this many episodes to finally make Goku worth rooting for, it’s also a thrill to see Super finally pulling it off.