In the aftermath of the Zamasu arc I’ve found myself thinking a lot about what a better villain would be, and what generally makes a good Dragon Ball villain. Not a baddy, but a villain; a King Piccolo, Raditz, Vegeta, Freeza, Cell, Buu, or Beerus. I’ve come to the conclusion that almost all the best villains in the franchise are linked by a very specific theme that runs through the franchise as a whole, fatherhood.
But before we get into the villains, I’d like to go over the significance of fatherhood in general in Dragon Ball, starting with Goku in the original series. When we first meet Goku, he’s an orphan. Yet throughout the story he meets several older men who act as mentors to him, starting with perhaps the most important person in his life, Grandpa Gohan. Gohan took the wild saiyan boy and turned him into a good (though rude and pretty dumb) kid. While fans know Goku isn’t exactly a moral role model, he is at least a good guy, and all of that comes from his first father figure, Gohan.
Next came Master Roshi. Also not a role model, but he is the most significant mentor for Goku in terms of physical discipline and endurance. Plus he taught him the Kamehameha, a move that has since defined family and fatherly ties with the Father Son Kamehameha, Family Kamehameha, and Grandfather Granddaughter Kamehameha.
Finally, there is Kami, Goku’s greatest tutor to this point, and the one that shows him how important he is to the world. Kami gives Goku his place in the word, as the guardian of Earth. The real guardian; the one that actually does stuff.
I don’t think these together add up to some grand message about the aspects of raising the child. I don’t even think Toriyama really intended for these themes to be so prevalent. Rather, I expect it’s something that was at the back of his mind, and ended up in his work without him really thinking about it. If you know much about Toriyama, you know planning isn’t his MO. It’s clearly something that was on Toriyama’s mind to some degree throughout the decade he spent working on Dragon Ball, and it only gets stronger in the Z portion of the series.
In the very first episode/chapter of Z, Goku shows up and we learn that he is now a father. His first fight is to rescue his son, who shares the name of Goku’s first father figure, Gohan. Gohan is then kidnapped by Kami’s son-in-law, Piccolo, who becomes Gohan’s closest father figure in Goku’s absence.
In the Cell arc we see a comparison of parenting styles between how Goku treats Gohan, and how Vegeta treats Trunks. We don’t see what goes on between Vegeta and Trunks in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, but when they come out Vegeta focuses on how strong he has become. We get the impression that Vegeta really didn’t think about his son’s training, he just used him to make himself stronger. This is pretty much confirmed when Cell mocks Trunks’ powered up form by saying even Vegeta probably knew about the form, but wasn’t stupid enough to use it. In that whole year together, Vegeta didn’t teach Trunks something that was apparently obvious among fighters.
On the other hand, we see Goku explicitly warn Gohan against using this form. In their training, Goku spends the first three months trying to get Gohan Super Saiyan’d. At first this seems to just be so Goku can have a viable training partner, but when Goku calls upon his son for the final fight with Cell, it becomes clear that Goku recognized Gohan’s potential and was trying to bring it out. Vegeta trained with Trunks for Vegeta. Goku trained with Gohan for Gohan.
The role of the the patriarch (not patriarchy; put down the pitchforks) becomes the final point of Dragon Ball Z, with Vegeta finally showing his care for Trunks at the end of the Cell arc, and letting love for his family win over Babidi’s mind control in his sacrifice during the Buu arc.
With all that background, let’s look at the villains.
Demon King Piccolo was the father of the Piccolo we all know and love, who was hatched as an orphan. While Piccolo Sr.’s death is often seen as the climax of Dragon Ball, I always found the fight with Piccolo Jr. the real finale.
Raditz, while not much of a major villain, was the first of Z and the one that changed the scale of the franchise. He and Goku shared a father, who we’re lead to believe wasn’t all that loving. Perhaps that’s just Saiyan culture, but Raditz didn’t have the figures in his life that Goku did, and Raditz turned out to be a dick. While Raditz doesn’t stick around long enough to hold a big place in the story, it’s worth noting that his relationship with his brother and nephew isn’t exactly familial. For Gohan, Piccolo is closer family than Raditz. Perhaps “Blood is thicker than water,” shouldn’t be taken for granted.
As for Vegeta, along with his Napolean complex, he’s got some father issues. The reason the title Prince of all Saiyans means so much to him when King is up for grabs is that the difference between Prince and King by that point is pretty moot. King of all two saiyans? What’s even the point? But strength among saiyans is (thought to be) hereditary, and social class is based on strength. Prince alone is enough to indicate his royal, and thus elite, status. But all this gets turned on its head when the low-class Kakarot shows him up. Vegeta’s daddy issues are tied right in with his Kakatot issues.
As for Freeza, I think TFS put it best, “You ask why I’m so bad, Well, it’s mostly to impress my dad.” To some extent, Cooler represents this too, but from a somewhat colder, more jealous perspective.
Cell is one the fence. Most of the criticism levelled at him is about his personality being basically Freeza 2.0… except not Cooler… and not mechs Freeza- wait, shit, he is a bio android! Aaaanyway, I’ve never found Cell that similar to Freeza. Sure, in his final form he’s similarly smug, but what Dragon Ball villain isn’t smug? Vegeta was smug, Nappa was smug, Krillan in Dragon Ball was smug; they’re not all Freeza. The real weakness of Cell is his lack of thematic purpose, and I say purpose to also include motive. Why is he here? What does he represent? What does he add to the story other than a challenge? It’s not that he’s too similar to Freeza, it’s that he doesn’t have enough to distinguish him from Freeza; he didn’t bring anything new.
There is some argument that Gero, being a father figure to all the androids, inherently forms the interesting theme here. But that’s not explored with Cell. 17 gets of a touch of it when he commits patricide. But the thematic star of these villains is Android 16, and who the hell cares about Android 16?
Android 16 was modelled after Gero’s son, who was killed working for the Red Ribbon Army, which was subsequently defeated by Goku in Dragon Ball. It’s because of him that Gero created androids 13-19, plus Cell, to kill Goku. So the real thematic core of the arc, at least among the villains, comes from an old man who was killed a few chapters in. Huh… maybe Toriyama’s editors did ruin the Android Saga.
Finally we have Buu. While Babidi and Bibadi can both be called father figures to him, it’s never explored. As a result, Buu, other than being damn intimidating, is not that interesting. Majin Buu, being very childlike, gives a lot of ways to explore this theme, but the series doesn’t actually do it until Buu is introduced to Mr. Satan. Satan, while not strictly patriarchal to Buu, is a parental figure. Interesting coincidence that he’s also the single parent of Videl. He turns Majin Buu from a short tempered brat into a good (though rude and pretty dumb) kid. That’s right, Mr. Satan is Buu’s Grandpa Gohan.
I think it’s important to note that while Majin Buu is generally favourably remembered, Super Buu is more of Cell situation, and Kid Buu is basically an overpowered Sibaman. Also, in the original Japanese, “Kid Buu” is actually “Pure Buu”. That doesn’t disallow readers from interpreting the name as they see fit, but it is background information to take into account.
All of this gives me the impression that Toriyama cares a lot about the family unit, particularly the role of a father in a son’s life, but also the son in the father’s life and the Satan in the fat pink monster’s life. These relationships don’t have to be biological; most aren’t and in fact Raditz shows blood can be pretty thin.
If this is getting a little sensitive and socially iffy for you, good. Dragon Ball is art. It expresses real ideas, and that should make people a little uncomfortable. And this next one tips it to where even I take some issue with Toriyama’s message.
While so far this as largely focused on the male side of the family unit, Dragon Ball also has a number of female characters. My favourite for a long time was Android 18. To borrow a phrase, “She’s so cool.” At least she was.
As a villain she was intimidating as hell, making a mockery of the Saiyan Prince. But as a good guy, she’s gotten the same treatment as all of Dragon Ball’s female characters, generic mommy-ization. That line, “He’s co cool,” tore my heart out while watching Resurrection of F, because it meant she was no longer going to be a fighter. And what turned her from evil to good in the first place was falling in love with Krillin and finding her place in the family unit. For better or worse, this is in line with the philosophy of Dragon Ball.
The biggest bads of Dragon Ball all have some kind of father issue, so perhaps a new villain should be tied to that. Except, there is one last big bad to consider.
I’ve said before that Super is its own entity, and shouldn’t be compelled to follow in Dragon Ball‘s, Z‘s, or GT‘s footsteps. Especially given the time gap, things on such a deep thematic level can change; whatever motivated Toriyama to put all this stuff in there in the first place might not be in him anymore. And in place of fatherhood, Super has a somewhat more obvious theme, Gods. I mean, it’s right there in the OP. And Beerus, a character with no parents that we yet know of, was a great villain anyway, while he was a villain. Zamasu, for better or worse, also captures this Godly theme.
But Super is still so young and not enough has been said on this to say where the Godhood theme is going, so it’s hard to say what future villains should be like to add on this.
So, with all that in mind, I am finally ready to say that my recommended villain for Super to introduce is… Towa. With her connections to the demon realm there is certainly something God-like to her. She’s not a Kai, so that whole pantheon is not being overplayed. And since she hasn’t appeared in the cannon anime yet the writers could redefine her in such a way that best fits what they’re going for.
But, like I said, we don’t really know Super‘s position on Gods yet, so it is only part of why I’m looking at Towa. The biggest asset of hers, thematically, is that she brings something to the table that none of the previous villains, or even main characters to any deep degree, have; motherhood. She creates the android Mira.
Given that Mira is an android, it gives opportunity for 17 and 18, fresh off their multiverse tournament appearance, to get involved, and with 18 the motherhood theme can be carried over to the good guys. Dragon Ball now has four characters who are mothers, and of them only Bulma has done anything other than mothering, despite the fact that 18 is the strongest human, Videl is The Great Saiyaman 2, and Chi-Chi once cut a T-rex’s head off then vaporized the body.
I’m not saying this has to be all about the girls; I don’t think Dragon Ball is capable of a new Ghostbusters. But at least some of these characters can be involved in ways that serve both fan service (not necessarily the distasteful kind… though I do kinda miss that adolescent tendency of the original series) and thematic purpose.
Towa and Mira are still intimidating villains, and a lot can be done with them in the main series. I would welcome their introduction.
Don’t Lose Your Way