Dragon Ball has some of the most iconic, recognizable characters in all of anime. Goku, Gohan, Piccolo, and even the newer characters like Beerus, Whis, Hit, and… *sigh* Jiren are so well-known that people who don’t even watch the show know who they are, or at least what they look like. They stand as pillars of anime, being some of the most beloved (except you, Jiren) characters out there.
But among them all, one character stands well beyond them all. When you ask someone who their favorite Dragon Ball character is, you might get the people who say Gohan or Piccolo. Every once in a blue moon, you might get a Goku fanboy. More often than not, though, you’ll get the same answer. That answer being the proud prince of the Saiyan race: Vegeta.
Name an edgy antihero in anime who rivals the protagonist, chances are that people have compared him to Vegeta. He is the industry standard. People still draw comparisons to him to this day! He is the golden standard for antiheroes, rivals, and Dragon Ball characters!
Today, I’m going to do what every Dragon Ball fan on the internet has already done: break him down and see what makes him tick. Original, I know. But let’s be real: could I call myself a weeb if I didn’t?
The Wound: Pride Cometh Before the Fall
You’d think that the most traumatic thing to happen to Vegeta would be the destruction of his planet. Makes sense, right? That’s his homeworld! His kingdom! When Freeza destroyed it, he took away his family, his future, everything!
Except here’s the thing: Vegeta didn’t care. Like, at all. He’s been a cold-blooded motherfucker since he was a kid! His only reaction was “Ah man, now I’ll never be King Vegeta!” But that begs the question: what was the wound that propelled his character arc?
Well, that’s the interesting thing. We actually see it on-screen. In fact, we see it right here!
When he met Goku, Vegeta firmly believed the only people stronger than him were the Ginyu Force and Freeza. He was a super-elite, after all! The most powerful Saiyan ever born (thank God his dad never told him about Broly)! Sure, Kakarot was stronger than expected. But this would still be easy!
And then he lost. Miserably and embarrisingly. And then Goku came to Namek and completely surpassed him. And then Goku became a Super Saiyan and left him completely in the dust.
Vegeta has been a proud warrior his entire life. Goku stands as a living blow against that pride. A low-class warrior did everything he couldn’t. He crushed the Ginyu Force, became a Super Saiyan, destroyed Freeza, so on and so forth. At every turn of the story, Goku has surpassed Vegeta and left him in his dust. And considering just how far his Napoleon Complex goes, nothing could hurt the prince more.
Although the various villains sure did try.
The Want: The Greatest in the Universe
Before Goku showed up, Vegeta wanted nothing more than to kill Freeza. It was understandable: as far as he was concerned, Freeza was the most powerful force in the universe. It certainly helped that he was the guy that slaughtered the Saiyans. Surpass him and he becomes the strongest! But then Goku showed up, killed Freeza (almost), and became a Super Saiyan. All in, like, one day.
So, how did Vegeta change his goals in life? Simple! He didn’t! If Freeza wasn’t the top dog anymore, then he’d just have to surpass Kakarot! Piece of cake, right? Cause if we know anything about Goku, it’s that he’s super easy to get past!
Just ask Yamcha. Or Krillen. Or Tien. Or Piccolo.
The Lie: Strongest Alone
Here’s Vegeta’s biggest problem: his head is planted so far up his ass that his fecal matter is making decisions for him. Calling him stuck-up and proud doesn’t do it nearly enough justice. Frankly, it’s impressive!
His pride is so over-exaggerated that he prefers to do it all himself. He trains alone, fights alone, so on and so forth. If he had anyone else’s help, it would invalidate any possible achievement he could earn. It’s not like he needs help anyways!
It’s this lone-wolf mentality that continues to screw everyone over throughout the series. He goads Freeza into transforming. He lets Cell absorb 18 and achieve his perfect form. He provokes Goku, thus causing Buu’s resurrection. Because Vegeta only cares about himself, only believes in himself, he constantly causes problems for our heroes.
Granted, he always pays for it. Painfully.
Poor guy just can’t catch a break. Or a W.
Now, in the Cell saga, we do see Vegeta learn to work with and love others. When Cell kills Trunks, he flies into a fatherly fury. When Gohan risks his life to protect him, he swallows his pride and fights to aide him. He does learn his lesson.
However, as we see in the Buu saga, he is still a very egostical, selfish man. He willingly gives himself to Babidi in order to force Goku into fighting him. But it’s at this point that it’s clear he’s starting to change. His new loving, nature is at odds with his old one. At this point, he has a bit of an identity crisis.
Luckily, he has a revelation at the end of the arc that helps him through it.
The Need: You Are Number One
Vegeta spent a huge chunk of his life chasing Goku’s shadow. But every time he thought he was getting close, he looked up and found that Kakarot was already a thousand miles away. No matter how hard he tried, how hard he trained, he could never catch up to him. Nothing he did ever worked.
For a long time, he tried to figure out the reason for it. He thought it was because Goku had a family and friends to fight for. But when he found himself with the same thing, his strength didn’t increase. Goku was still leagues ahead of him. So, what’s the answer? What was he doing wrong?
Well, the answer was really quite simple. Goku didn’t fight to prove anything. He didn’t fight to kill, or even to win. He did so because he loved it. The only person that Goku wanted to defeat was himself. It was a pure-hearted love, and through it, he’s found unimaginable power.
Upon realizing this, Vegeta finally finds peace. He realizes that Goku has something that he doesn’t. That he can never replicate. When that happens, he comes to peace with his place. He finally gives up on chasing Goku and decides to train for himself. Not for any other reason. Only to improve on himself.
With that revelation, Vegeta became a much happier man. He became closer to his wife and son and became a proper defender of the Earth. Up to this point, he’s always been fighting for himself. But with that weight lifted from his shoulders, he can finally move on and become a true hero. By giving up on chasing Goku, he can finally live for himself.
Or at least, he should have. But then he got a sequel. And no, I don’t mean GT. He was barely even in that one.
Dragon Ball Super: The Hollow Sequel
When Dragon Ball Super came about, everyone at Toei Animation went into full panic mode. “Shit,” they said, “what do we do?! How do we write a sequel to Vegeta’s character arc?! WHAT DO WE DO WITH THIS CHARACTER?!” and the answer they came up with was the same as many DBZ fans: just pretend that the Buu saga didn’t happen!
Every Gohan fan in the world wishes they could do that.
In the first few episodes of Super, it’s clear that the writers hit the rewind button on Vegeta’s character. He once again considered himself Goku’s rival, despite having accepted his place in the world at the end of the prior series. Can’t have any drama if he doesn’t have any problems!
Vegeta’s arc in Super is practically the same as it was in Z. Only, you know, without all the stuff that made it compelling. Why should I be hit emotionally when he decides to fight for others when he’s been doing that the whole series? Why should I care that he’s decided to stop comparing himself to Goku when he already did that? Why should I care about a dollar-store DBZ character arc when I already have an actual DBZ arc?!
It’s not like you can’t work with Vegeta. Before he became a true hero, he did a lot of terrible things to a lot of people! How does Vegeta handle the regret of those actions? How do they come back to haunt him? How does he come to peace with the person he used to be? That could make for an incredible character arc! Plus, you can fit it right in with his interactions with the Universe 6 Saiyans in the Universe 6 Tournament and Tournament of Power arcs! Hell, you could even play it into the Goku Black arc!
But no. They just did DBZ Vegeta again, but worse. They basically just turned him into Goku’s sidekick. No, not his partner. His sidekick.
I can think of no greater sleight against the Saiyan Prince.
While the character hasn’t been enjoying the same glory in recent days as he did before, it’s still undeniable that Vegeta is a phenomenal character. He’s easily the most complex and interesting member of the cast, at least from Z. This guy is the fan-favorite for a good reason!
Aside from the fact that people just really like asshole characters. Just look at Bakugo!
Out of all the characters in Super, this is the one I have the least hope for. He still has some strong moments, sure, but I don’t think the writers understand him enough to make him even half as compelling as he used to be. As far as they’re concerned, he’s just a tool for some cheap fanservice and a quick fight before Goku wraps shit up.
I’m so sorry Vegeta. You deserve so much better. But you probably won’t get it.