The Dragon Ball franchise is packed to bursting with iconic, memorable moments. Even in its lowest points, from the Buu saga to GT and the worst of Super, fans have found plenty to love. If you asked someone what their favorite scene from the series is, there is no way you’d get the same answer from two different people. Some might cite a brutal Vegeta beatdown. Others might go with a beam struggle. A good many might point out a particularly memorable transformation.
Me? My answer changes every day. Somedays, I might choose when Goku first went Super Saiyan. Or I might choose the first ever wish on the Dragon Balls. I may even answer with the Ultra Instinct reveal! There are just too many scenes to choose from!
Today, I’m going to analyze one of my personal favorites. One that a lot of people tend to gloss over, referring to it as nothing more than a badass moment with some cool music and strong animation. And that scene is, as you’ve likely picked up from the title, Dragon Ball Z’s Final Flash scene.
Let’s set the stage for the scene. Vegeta has let Cell achieve his perfect form and is now reaping the consequences in one of the most thorough and brutal beatdowns in the entire show. In a moment of desperation and blind fury, he charges up everything he has into one massive blast, which he dubs the Final Flash. While the attack certainly does damage, Cell quickly recovers and proceeds to finish wiping the floor with Vegeta’s face.
If you look at this scene on its own, it does seem pretty shallow in terms of substance. Like it’s just a cool way to show off how unbeatable the main villain is. But when you look at it in the grand scale of the arc going forward, it actually has quite a bit of significance. And interestingly, it does exactly the opposite of what most people expect from it.
Because make no mistake. This scene isn’t meant to establish how unkillable Cell is. It’s doing the exact opposite.
Up to this point in DBZ, our heroes would be left in the dust whenever a villain transformed. Just look at Freeza. Literally every time he transformed, he left the others in his dust. He only ever rose to his final form just to show off. None of the characters aside from Goku could even lay a finger on him. Even then, Goku had to transform himself just to stand a chance.
Here, though? Vegeta isn’t left completely behind. He actually does substantial damage! Sure, Cell heals from it. But if Vegeta’s aim had been a bit better, he’d have actually killed Cell right then and there! He only lost because he missed!
This goes a long way in making Cell more interesting in terms of power. Sure, he can still defeat someone of Vegeta’s level with ease. But he is still plenty vulnerable. Unlike other villains of the past, he has a clear weakness: a limit to the punishment he can take. Not only that, but it establishes that Vegeta (and also Trunks, since the two are on equal grounds in terms of power) can hurt Cell.
You know. If they have a whole episode to charge.
Which brings us to the finale. Gohan and Cell are going at it in the biggest beam struggle in the series so far. Gohan is pushing Cell back, but his injuries are punishing him hard. Everyone else is helpless, unable to do anything. Trunks is dead and Vegeta ain’t happy about it. For a moment, all seems lost.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, bam! Vegeta blasts Cell with all his might, knocking him off balance and distracting him. This gives Gohan the opportunity he needs to kill Cell once and for all. One dramatic death later and badabing badaboom, the Cell saga is over.
Now, let’s look at that scene without the Final Flash. Suddenly, it doesn’t make any sense. Before, Vegeta couldn’t do any damage to Cell in his perfect form. If he couldn’t do it then, why can he do it now, even though Cell is so much stronger than before? It would ultimately be chalked up to ‘angry father power up’. Pretty lame.
But because of the Final Flash scene, it makes perfect sense. We know that Vegeta can damage Cell. We know that it takes him time to do it. So, when he jumps in last minute for the save, it isn’t a total deus-ex-machina. It’s a clever, subtle payoff to a clever, subtle setup made earlier in the story.
So, no. The Final Flash isn’t just a flashy (ha ha, puns) attack. It’s a clever little setup that establishes our villain’s vulnerability and keeps Vegeta relevant to the story. It adds a smart bit of depth to the story that makes the Cell saga feel that much more tightly written and intelligent.
Which is surprising, considering that Toriyama was making this shit up as he went.