A lot of people see Dragon Ball (Z mostly) as that show that is about shouting people, with changing hair colors and three minutes that go on forever and ever. Where the main character sounds like a kid (I am a sub girl) fighting evermore increasingly stupid powerful enemies. Yet this show really isn’t all about power levels and transformations. These are but means to convey the true message that is inside this truely amazing series. Here’s a Kamehameha of love to the face!
A Journey to the West
When Toriyama started the Dragon Ball series , we faced a completely different beast than we did today. In fact the original series that was very loosely based on Journey to the West and mostly Son Wukong in most places only came to the west after it’s sequel became such a success. The original series felt much more contained, never larger than life. It was just about a kid wanting to be the strongest martial artist or find his grandfather’s relic just to find out it was connected to something bigger. It was more lighthearted and the pacing was so much slower. A lot more credible as well. Yet while everyone seems to agree that Dragon Ball Z was a completely different type of beast there is so much they have in common as well. As do all subsequent shows… even GT. In their core all the adventures of Goku and his friends are about a journey and their biggest enemy they face is never the villain of the arc, the worst villain in Dragon Ball is always the heroes themselves.
No no I don’t mean Goku Black or other evil counterparts, even though there are a lot. Dragon Ball in it’s very concept is a show about facing and breaking your limits. From the first world tournament , well .. (or the 21st world tournament if you prefer) up until and even beyond the Tournament of Power, virtually none of the enemies are defeated by simply a straight up fight the real obstacle to overcome is themselves. It’s about a journey of transcendence, to rise above oneself and break your limits. According to Toriyama that journey to surpass yourself just happens to involve a lot of shouting and occasionally changing hairstyles. I wish I could change hairstyles by breaking my limits. I am just not sure about turning british for it though, but maybe that just happens to Sean Schemmel.
Toriyama goes through great length to teach us what it means to break your own limits, it’s a long and arduous journey which is reflected throughout the entire series, but which is most apparent in Dragon Ball Z. When we look at series like Naruto or Bleach for example, training can be somewhat fun and Ichigo managed Bankai in an extremely short time, Naruto can use shadow clones to learn moves faster, and later even spontaneously learns them. While Goku is a savant that can do a Kamehameha in one attempt it never is truly enough. Where Ichigo can learn the final Getsuga while travelling, Goku has to travel Snake Way just to get a chance of training. It’s a long and boring journey that is very uneventful and does not result in direct pay off. We also see this happen during the cell games when Goku and Gohan focus on staying inside their super saiyan forms. First of all, the series establishes that they can not get a result over night, they have to train for at least a year to rise above themselves, and even then it wasn’t enough. Both Goku and Gohan had to let go of their kind heartedness to do what must be done. Resulting in Super Saiyan and Super Saiyan 2 respectively. Sometimes what holds you back.. is you and the only way to break free of it is experiencing pain and loss…well that or a tingly feeling in your back.
This theme that power doesn’t come easy is continued throughout the series. When Gohan is meditating on the planet of the Kai’s or when Goku in GT is forced to accept the being he truly is by reclaiming his tail, a part of him he put away/ learned to ignore a long time ago. Power never comes easy in this universe and almost always feels earned. Sure the Zenkai boosts are convenient, (a saiyan gets stronger when he suffers massive injuries but recovers) through the use of senzu beans and health pods but it’s still a heavy price to pay. Characters suffer defeat oftenly many times before they come out victorious. Even Goku had his fair chair of losses or times that he got downed. Yet the best message that dragon ball sends is that his power should never be gotten through cheating. Plenty of villains have wished, and sometimes even obtained immortality (mostly in the movies though) yet even with the earth in constant danger never has a z-fighter wished for more power. It would be so easy to simply wish for the strength needed to defeat earth and it would most likely not beyond Shenron’s limits yet it barely even got considered throughout the series. That is because this show teaches you to deal with your own problems. Dealing with them may be tedious, it may be a drag and it will not come easy but everyone can do it. No matter where you come from (Namekian, Saiyan, Android and in GT and OG even humans) all can break their limits and achieve new heights.
We dutch have a saying that is called Huisje Boompje Beestje, (Little House, Little Tree, Little Creature) which signifies what we all strive for. Some call it the american dream others talk about that white picket fence. It’s the common happiness, that everyone thinks is the ultimate goal. Get a job and a house, get married, reproduce and possibly get a pet. For many that shared happiness is enough! Toriyama says NO! It is not enough. Everyone has to chase their own dream, not just that shared one. From early in the series we see Goku as an amazingly talented kid that gets offered the option at the common dream. We see it when he meets Chi-chi we see it at how he performs in tournaments and gets a fair bit of price money. In Dragon Ball Z and later it becomes really apparent. Yes it is a meme to call Goku a bad father and maybe he is, but that is because he doesn’t just settle for being a father. He can’t stop dreaming about being stronger just because he had Gohan and now has to give everything up for that. No! Dragon Ball shows it is okay to have wishes of your own, after all had Goku followed the common dream, earth would have been destroyed many times over. Sure it also would have been in danger a lot less but it wouldn’t have stopped the Saiyans from coming and destroying us. Cell would have still awoken in time because Gero was already wronged by kid Goku. Toriyama tells us to fight for our dreams and to get strong enough to seize that. We should not let common sense or setteling get in the way between us and our dreams!
We should push ourselves to our full hearts content.
Yet the mangaka also tells us that even if we get our dream, we gotta keep dreaming even bigger. By chasing our desire, we keep moving, we stay on our journey. If I manage to get healthy enough to get an income again, I should strive for a job I would like better still. If I find the job I would like to do for the rest of my life or get filthy rich through sheer luck , I can make sure I spend that money in ways to make me happy. If I bought everything I want I should desire more. Because it’s that ambition to get something that I can not have at this time that I am pushed to strive for that I become a better version of myself. In a much more invisible way , I transform. I am not sure if Goku turning arian was the best way to convey this message but in a way Toriyama chased his own happiness when he made Super Saiyan. The design stems from his wish not to spend as much time colouring in Goku’s hair. He wanted to be quicker and he made that happen by pushing his story to the next level. Goku is more than a saiyan, more than a hero he is unlimited potential embodied. He is a perfect symbol of what we should strive for. We should always be chasing our own dreams, we should not be bound by the white picket fence because it’s better for our children or pet.
If it is your dream to make others happy than chase that dream, if it’s your dream to have children than go find your significant other, but never stop dreaming. When you have children, you can still learn to play the piano,you could finally build the model planes you wanted or even pick up crochet or whatever. Whatever you do, make sure you have something to face, something to fight for. This is why Goku keeps wanting to fight stronger opponents, but also why he keeps most of his enemies alive and befriends them. When there is no strife in your life, no conflict, you can be perfectly content, but you have way less possibility to grow. You can choose to stay away from that friend who doesn’t like your new boyfriend or girlfriend because they do not matter for your picket white fence goal. You wouldn’t really miss the negativity. Yet you would rob yourself of a chance to lead a fuller live. Balancing that friend and your love may be hard but it will make stronger socially, it might make you better in terms of time management it might make you a better friend, who fights for those dear to them. This series tells us to keep fighting no matter what!
Erase the Universe
There is a saying that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all which is true. Yet suddenly when we have that love, all forward motion seems to stop. It seems that is better to give up dreaming and growing than to have lost a love. You have to turn down that promotion so your daughter can stay with her friends, you have to stay close to your family even if you would be happier elsewhere. There is something very twisted about that logic to me. For love should be about happiness. If it is your desire is to be the best blogger in the world and I mean if i’s truly your desire than your loved one should never ask you to give this up. We should encourage each other to grow but that grow will come with risks. Again this risk is always depicted in Dragon Ball. When reaching Super Saiyan for the first time Goku almost lost himself. His marriage is under constant pressure from all the time he spends training. Many people call the relation with Goku and his family unhealthy yet at the same time Chi-Chi allows her man so much she does in fact accept that he is like that. She might not be happy about it but life isn’t a fairy tale. There’s always things about the other you do not like. Like how Goku doesn’t like how Chi-Chi can get obsessed with careers and money but still allows her to have these desires and dreams and at least somewhat tries to support her in that. Goku is always in motion as should we be. Yet when you are walking or running towards your new dream, there is always the risking of being tripped over. The further we get along in our development, the bigger steps we have to take.. which increases the chance of tripping.
When Goku fought Frieza he nearly lost himself, when facing Cell he risked the bond with his son, and the entire earth on a chance, and when he had no strong opponents left to fight he hired Hit to kill him (in which hit succeeded) only to risk the entire universe just for a chance to fight someone even stronger. When chasing our dreams first we might just upset our parents with our next dream we may upset our love and in the next phase Arceus forbid we may even upset our offspring. Who knows if we push ourselves far enough we might even disappoint everyone. Yet if I learned anything about your dreams and own happiness is that it is always worth the risk. If you are a transgender, wanting to transition, keep fighting! Don’t settle for the next best thing .. by just dressing up on sundays. If you are gay, don’t keep that side hidden. Take the risk losing over it, fight your fights. Goku never stopped and neither should we. Only by fighting for what we truly want and keep that up we can become bigger than ourselves. There is a Super Saiyan inside all of us even if the world outside may not always recognise it. If you fight for what you want and keep growing, even if it takes you longer than you’d hope or isn’t as pleasant as you want, one day you will see that golden warrior in the mirror.