This has been bothering me for a long time. So, may as well do it now.
As of me writing this, chapter 61 of the Dragon Ball Super manga just came out. And personally, I kinda… hated it. Sure, Vegeta got some decently badass moments. But to me, it was a perfect encapsulation of the terrible writing Super is known for. And the terrible, boring paneling of the manga. Honestly, it’s nothing new.
But to me, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was in reading this chapter that I finally came to accept that Toyotaro and Toei Animation don’t understand the series’ many beloved characters. Least of all our lead: Goku.
Which is odd. Because Goku really isn’t a complicated character!
In Dragon Ball Super, Goku is a combat-obsessed meat-head. All he wants is to fight strong guys, regardless of the consequences. He’s got the intelligence of a four-year-old, the appetite of a hippo, and the combative drive of a wild animal. Every now and then, he’ll show a bit of heart, just to remind you that he is, in fact, a nice person.
Except here’s the thing. If you’re familiar with the original series, you’ll know that there’s so much more to Goku’s character. Well, not much more. But the details they omit are crucial to his character!
Son Goku wasn’t just a mindless combat machine with a big stomach. He didn’t just seek out a fight wherever it was, regardless of the context or consequence. He enjoyed fighting for the sport of it. If the stakes were low, with only pride on the line, then Goku let himself enjoy the battle! That’s why he loved the World Martial Arts Tournament so much in the original series! He wanted to test his skills against the best because that’s what he thought was fun!
However, there were many years between tournaments. And in those times, Goku had various adventures where he ran into some truly terrible people. The Red Ribbon Army, King Piccolo, and then, later in life, the Saiyans, Freeza, so on and so forth. Goku often had to use his super-human abilities to fight off evil and save the day.
Here’s the thing. Goku never did it for the sake of being a hero. Often, it was because they were either actively attacking him or they hurt/killed someone he cared about. He went after King Piccolo after he killed Krillin. He fought Freeza with everything he had after he killed Vegeta, then later Krillin (poor bastard just can’t catch a break). Goku isn’t like Superman, where he does the right thing because it is the right thing. He does the right thing because it just happens to be the right thing.
Though he is mature enough to understand the difference between right and wrong. Which is another thing: Goku wasn’t bright, but he wasn’t a bumbling moron. He never forgot anything of critical importance (unless he was critically injured, like the time he lost the Nyoibo after killing King Piccolo). If he knew he needed it, he had it.
And I get the feeling you already know what scene I’m gonna bring up later. All in due time.
Now, here’s the big one. In a fight to the death, Goku did take the battle seriously. If he knew the stakes, like in his battle with Vegeta, he gave it his all. But he couldn’t help but get a little excited, due to his Saiyan heritage. However, that excitement wasn’t his pure motivation for fighting. It’s certainly a factor; when he first heard of Freeza, he was more excited than anything.
But then Freeza started killing his friends.
Let me ask you this: at what point in his battle with Freeza, Cell, or even Majin Buu, did Goku seem excited? Did he ever sit there, grinning, and thinking about how excited he was? No! He was too busy trying to kill the bad guy! He was too angry when he fought Freeza, too focused with Cell, and too desperate against Buu! That excitement was like a little voice in the back of Goku’s mind. Sure, he knew the stakes! But a part of him was still having fun!
Did you get all that? Paints a pretty clear picture, doesn’t it? Now, let’s go back to Super Goku.
In practically every scene where Goku’s about to fight the bad guy, he says “Man, I’m super excited!” Forget the context, that doesn’t matter! Is his entire universe at stake? Is he fighting a literal God that might blow up his planet? Or is he going up against a Namekian-devouring goat man? None of that is important! They’re strong and that’s all that matters! Hell, in chapter 61, he straight-up says that he just wants to fight strong people!
And then there’s his intelligence. Old Goku wasn’t bright, but he wasn’t incompetent. But Super Goku? I’m amazed he hasn’t choked on his own tongue yet! The dude’s entire plan to defeat Zamasu was the Mafuba but he forgot the only component he needed for the technique! He knows exactly how strong his opponent is and how important it is that he can stop him. But he just… forgot.
I can’t tell who the writers think is dumber. Goku or the audience.
Now, every now and then, there are signs that the old Goku is still there. At the end of the Tournament of Power, Goku finally goes back to being himself when he convinces Freeza to work with him and take Jiren down to save their universe. In the Broly movie, Goku is pretty much exactly as he should be: childish, excitable, serious, and kind (funny how that happens in the one movie written by Toriyama himself). But right when you think the writers have finally figured it out, they go right back to their old shit.
Here’s the troubling thing. When I talk to people who haven’t seen Dragon Ball (pretty much everyone in my friend group, with two exceptions), they think of Goku as Super Goku. They don’t know what his actual character is like. But I can forgive them because they haven’t seen any Dragon Ball and they don’t claim to be knowledgable on it. And they especially don’t write a fucking sequel series to it!
Seriously, Toyotaro and Toei Animation have seen Dragon Ball, right? Right?
Honestly, I don’t know if I can keep going with modern Dragon Ball. The stories they have to tell are just so repetitive, boring, and pointless. All the classic characters I loved have either become hollow shells of their former selves or have just been forgotten. And that’s all before I mention how the manga paneling sucks and the anime doesn’t show any signs of returning.
A long time ago, I wrote an article about how the ending of the Broly movie is the perfect place to end the Dragon Ball story. And I stand by that to this day. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it is the ending. Unless the Super manga somehow manages to completely turn it around at some point and start taking some interesting, successful risks, I’m done.
When I first discovered Dragon Ball way back in middle school, I fell in love with it because of Goku. But the sad truth of it is: this isn’t Goku. That character, who’s adventures completely changed my life forever, is gone. And since none of the others are picking up the slack, I feel no reason to stick around.
Unless they bring Broly back as a new main character. I might stick around for a while if that happens.
Oh yeah, here’s that article I mentioned earlier.