A proud warrior race from the Planet Vegeta, the Saiyans lusted only for power and destruction. They had become so powerful that even the great Lord Frieza was concerned for his safety, destroying the entire world in a single blow. A short time later, one of the few Saiyan survivors got knocked out by a rock, and everything changed.
Add the fact that they eat their own body weight in food on a regular basis, and you have a very basic summary of the Saiyan race, but we are still learning new and exciting things about the Saiyans to this day. Dragon Ball Super has shed new light on the bloody history of the Saiyans and their capabilities, as Goku, Vegeta and their half-breed children continue to break through their limitations, while there are little known facts about the race hidden throughout Dragon Ball Z and its movies.
So, with a minor spoiler warning for those waiting for Dragon Ball Super’s English dub, here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Saiyans.
15 “Vegetable People”
It’s common knowledge that full-blooded Saiyans are named for vegetables. Goku’s Saiyan name, Kakarot, is Japanese for carrot, while his brother Raditz’s name derives from radish. Vegeta and his brother Tarble's names make up the actual word "vegetable." Broly is broccoli, Turles is an anagram of lettuce, Nappa is a general term for greens and you get the idea.
Interestingly, the food-related puns started with Frieza, according to Akira Toriyama. The Dragon Ball creator and legendary forgetter of stuff pictured the tyrant as more of a refrigerator, but presumably decided that Frieza was a more suitable title. He named the Saiyans and Ginyu Force after vegetables and dairy products respectively, so as to represent the various food items you might keep in a refrigerator.
In fact, Saiyan is only an English translation, derived from the Japanese term Saiya-jin. Saiya is another anagram, taken from the Japanese word yasai, which actually means vegetable, while jin is a Japanese suffix meaning person. So Saiyans are not just named after vegetables. They are quite literally "vegetable people."
14 The Super Saiyan God Theory
The Saiyans are known for their violent, destructive history, but pure-hearted Saiyans did exist long before baby Goku hit his head on that rock. This is demonstrated by the legend of the original Super Saiyan God, explained briefly by Shenron in the Dragon Ball Z movie Battle of Gods. We know that a righteous Saiyan took up arms against the evil Saiyans, but there is a theory as to who the Super Saiyan God might have been.
Back in the Saiyan saga, King Kai tells Goku that the Guardian of Planet Vegeta destroyed the planet after seeing what his race had become. We later learn that Frieza was responsible for the planet’s destruction, and it is assumed that King Kai lied to Goku to keep him from engaging Frieza. However, it is possible that the Guardian did destroy the original Planet Vegeta.
The Super Saiyan God and the Guardian are similar in their original designs. When the Super Saiyan God failed to wipe out his race when his godly powers expired, he might have created a meteor shower strong enough to destroy himself and the planet.
It is possible that the original Super Saiyan God and the Guardian of Planet Vegeta were the same person, and the Saiyans quick enough to get off the planet he destroyed landed on Planet Tuffle. The planet would later be renamed Planet Vegeta when the evil Saiyans took over and it, in turn, would be destroyed-- this time by Frieza.
13 Saiyan Hair
It has long been considered fact that "a pure Saiyan’s hair does not change from the day he is born." In fact, those words come straight from the Prince of all Saiyans himself, but as it happens, Vegeta knows less about his own race than he thinks.
Nappa is seen with a full head of hair in the TV special Bardock: The Father of Goku; whether or not the special is canon, Toriyama has confirmed that Nappa wasn’t always bald. In the same special, Vegeta is shown to have strands of hair hanging from his forehead, which later turns into his characteristic widow’s peak.
So while it is true that a Saiyan’s hair never grows beyond childhood, nor does it ever change in shape, a Saiyan is completely capable of losing his hair. On average, this happens later in life than when the average human male begins to lose their hair, despite the fact that humans and Saiyans actually have similar average lifespans (Saiyans generally live longer but far more die in battle). Saiyans, as a warrior race, maintain their youth for a longer period of time, but begin to age rapidly once they hit somewhere close to the 50 year mark. Nappa is supposedly in his 50s during the Saiyan arc.
12 Saiyan Elite
Several times through the series, Vegeta refers to Goku as a “low-class [insert insulting noun here],” but as it happens, Vegeta would probably have treated any other Saiyan in similar fashion, had any more survived Planet Vegeta’s destruction. This is down to the fact that almost the entirety of the Saiyan Army identified as low-class warriors.
Besides his status as the future ruler of the planet, Vegeta was also one of only two elite-level warriors within the Saiyan Army. King Vegeta was the other, and when he led the Army to victory following their 10-year War with the Tuffles, the Saiyans named renamed the planet after their King.
Between low-class and elite, there is another rank of warrior never mentioned throughout the series. The mid-class warriors, of which there were only 10, were Generals in the Saiyan Army and King Vegeta’s advisors. Nappa was one, while several more are seen in the Father of Goku special.
11 Lung Capacity
Goku demonstrates an extremely powerful set of lungs from Dragon Ball, where he can levitate off the ground simply by exhaling in a downward direction, but it's not until Dragon Ball Z that we see the full extent of a Saiyan’s lung capacity.
Both Vegeta and Nappa are seen floating in outer space early on in the Saiyan saga, where the former destroys Planet Arlia at the end of a particularly slow filler episode. This was widely considered a plot hole at the time, as we were told repeatedly that a Saiyan can’t survive in the vacuum of space.
However, many Saiyans have since disproved the theory, or at least proved that they can survive for a limited time without oxygen. Bardock challenges Frieza in space in a brief flashback, but more notably, Goku fights Beerus in Earth’s stratosphere. We assume that Goku does eventually need to resurface, but he fights at full power against the God of Destruction while in Earth’s orbit for a long time.
Goku can also survive underwater for similar time periods, summoning a Spirit Bomb in Super Android 13! while taking the time to plan and launch an underwater Kamehameha at Frieza on Namek.
10 Saiyan Women
Have you ever wondered why Goku and Vegeta, and to some extent Gohan and Trunks, are attracted to such strong-willed and (at times) stubborn women? Well, so has Piccolo, and he got his eureka moment in a recent episode of Dragon Ball Super.
When Vegeta warns Jaco not to try anything with Bulma, the Galactic Patrolman sneers at the idea, and Bulma responds appropriately. As Piccolo watches on, Goku asks Vegeta, “We’ve both got some pretty feisty wives, huh?” Vegeta’s response of “I don’t mind it” is as close the Saiyan Prince has ever come to straight up admitting his love for Bulma, and Goku’s reply of “Now that you mention it, I like Chi-Chi just fine too!” is the biggest compliment he has ever paid his wife.
“It’s your Saiyan blood; Saiyan women were all strong-willed,” explains Vegeta. So we finally get an idea of how Saiyan relationships functioned back in the day, and why Goku, Vegeta and Gohan have been able to make theirs work. Kid Trunks has recently been trying to impress Mai (which is twisted in just about every sense, with Mai being a middle-aged woman wished back to around Trunks’ age), and Mai’s temper and stubbornness also support the theory.
9 Super Saiyan Pan
Pan has shown a consistently high level of potential both in Dragon Ball GT and in Toriyama’s Dragon Ball canon. In the Dragon Ball Z epilogue, she supposedly defeats a teenage Goten at the World Martial Arts Tournament, while baby Pan has already flown into the stratosphere in Super, and only Goku and Vegeta are higher on the GT billing than Gohan and Videl’s daughter. So why has she never turned Super Saiyan?
The theory that it's because she’s only a quarter-Saiyan is shot down by the admittedly non-canon GT movie, A Hero’s Legacy, where Pan’s grandson Goku Jr. is able to transform. The idea that Saiyan women are not warriors, and therefore incapable of the upgrade, can also be disproved by the Bardock special, as well as in the recent Dragon Ball Minus manga, where Goku’s mother Gine is shown to have been a warrior in the Saiyan Army before her transfer to the meat distribution industry.
The underwhelming truth is that Toriyama simply never knew what a female Super Saiyan would look like. Let’s hope he’s figured it out by now, because, according to Toriyama, both Pan and Bulla-- Vegeta’s future daughter-- are capable of transforming if given enough incentive, and there’s plenty of Dragon Ball Super episodes left for those conditions to be met.
8 War with the Tuffles
The Saiyan’s war with the Tuffles is explained in thorough detail in the Saiyan saga. King Kai tells Goku the story of how the two races once shared the planet. The city-dwelling Tuffles and the Saiyan outcasts clashed over territory, with Tuffle technology and Saiyan might making for an even battle, until a full moon rose and the Tuffles were wiped out in a single night.
However, the origins of the war differ depending on who you ask. The GT villain and Tuffle parasite Baby concurs with King Kai’s version of events, insisting that the Saiyans attacked the Tuffles in cold blood. Vegeta, meanwhile, suggests that the Tuffles used their advanced weaponry to enslave the Saiyans.
Additionally, the Tuffles’ defeat played a major role in both the evolution of the series and of the Saiyan race. They left behind the scouters and blasters that would later reach Frieza and his forces, while the Saiyans learned to use the Tuffle technology, becoming more calculated and less mindlessly destructive over the years.
7 Universe 6
The Saiyans of Universe 6 underwent a similar evolution, but their world was never wiped out by Frieza, and so their potential as protectors rather than destroyers was fully realized. Though still a warrior race, the parallel universe Saiyans are known as the Heroes of Justice, and act of their own free will to combat evil rather than serve it.
The only known Saiyan from Universe 6 is Cabba, who wears armor similar to that of the Universe 7 Saiyans before Frieza’s reign, as a reminder of what might have become of Vegeta had Frieza not intervened. Cabba also explains to Vegeta that as heroes, the Universe 6 Saiyans no longer require their Great Ape forms, and that they lost their tails to evolution too.
The one advantage to being a Universe 7 Saiyan is the various Super Saiyan forms. During his fight with Cabba, Vegeta threatens to destroy his counterpart’s Saiyan planet, Sadala, which causes Cabba to turn Super Saiyan for the first time. Vegeta turns Super Saiyan Blue and defeats Cabba comfortably, promising him that with enough training and Saiyan pride, he can reach the same level.
6 Saiyan Tails
The Saiyans’ tails are considered one of the biggest inconsistencies in the Dragon Ball saga, and also the source of a Saiyan’s true power. In Dragon Ball, Goku states that he feels far stronger with his tail when it conveniently grows back during a World Martial Arts Tournament round, and Dragon Ball GT's Goku struggles to maintain even his base Super Saiyan form until his tail grows back.
The tails are a source of great importance early on in the series, but Vegeta’s tail is swiftly removed, and while the half-Saiyan Gohan does have a tail, it is removed and grows back twice. The other half-Saiyans (Trunks, Goten, Pan, and Bulla) never have tails to begin with.
Toriyama has given no good reason for why the other half-breeds are never seen with tails, although Cabba is recent proof that Saiyans would eventually have outgrown their tails anyway. It was thought that the creator simply forgot about Saiyan tails, or that they were removed at birth. As it turns out, Toriyama just didn’t know how Saiyans dressed themselves around their tail, so he wrote them out of the series without an explanation.
Mimicry is rarely brought up by name, but it has been employed by the majority of the main Dragon Ball characters, while the Saiyans have shown complete mastery of the ability to mimic techniques after seeing them performed only once.
Goku learns the Kamehameha technique through mimicry, having witnessed Master Roshi using the energy blast to extinguish Fire Mountain. He also picks up various forms of martial arts from Roshi at the 21st World Martial Arts Tournament, without ever being trained to use them. At the same tournament a year later, Goku mimics King Chappa’s Eight-Arm Fist technique to combat Tien’s Four Witches.
Fast-forward to Dragon Ball Z, where Vegeta mimics Krillin’s Destructo Disk to cut off Great Ape Gohan’s tail, while he copies the Earthlings’ ability to sense energy almost instantly.
We have seen mimicry used as recently as the latest Dragon Ball Super saga, with Goku Black raising his level by mimicking the Saiyans. Though technically not a Saiyan himself (rather a Kai in Goku’s body), Goku Black becomes more powerful whenever he copies Goku’s attacks. He transforms into the self-titled Super Saiyan Rosé to battle his namesake’s Super Saiyan Blue form, thus proving the Saiyans’ innate mastery of mimicry.
4 Super Saiyan is Impure
A Saiyan transforms into his SSJ state when overcome with a moment of pure emotion-- generally anger, as in the case of Goku and Bardock-- or desperation, which resulted in Vegeta, Gohan and Future Trunks’ transformations. Due to the intense emotion needed to fuel the power up, a Super Saiyan is unable to maintain any purity he might have in his base form.
Goku, for example, is entirely pure. He is completely immune to Spike the Devil Man’s Devilmite Beam (which feeds upon a person’s impurity), and he is deemed worthy of riding the Nimbus cloud and of using the Spirit Bomb, but none of this makes his resistant to Super Saiyan impurity.
As seen in his battles with Super Android 13 and Kid Buu, Goku is unable to maintain a Spirit Bomb in his Super Saiyan state. During the latter, he only turns Super Saiyan once he has launched the ball at Kid Buu. In the movie, he passes out after transforming, waking up and absorbing the ball instead, as Krillin explains that Goku’s heart is too tainted by the violent history of the Super Saiyan form.
3 Light Speed
A Saiyan possess far greater reflexes than your average human even from birth, but Goku, Vegeta and the rest surpass "great reflexes" and enter the realms of invisibility even early on in Dragon Ball Z. Calculating their exact speed is literally impossible, as it is never stated outright, and there are plenty of inconsistencies; Goku in his Super Saiyan Blue form, for example, is unable to react to a bullet from a common blaster in Resurrection F.
Goku is already at somewhere close to Mach 30 when he completes Snake Way in the Saiyan arc, based on how quickly he is able to complete the 1 million kilometre pathway. Now, Goku’s Super Saiyan transformation multiplies his base form by 50, so even if Goku had become a Super Saiyan as early as the Saiyan arc, he would already have been able to travel at almost three times the speed of light.
That’s long before Super Saiyans 2, 3 and God, so even attempting to work out the potential speeds of Beerus, Whis, and Hit isn’t worth thinking about. Even taking into account inconsistencies, controversies and the question as to why Instant Transmission even exists, a base form Super Saiyan is still faster than light.
2 Red vs. Blue
Fans of the anime can often be found arguing over which comes out on top; Super Saiyan God (renamed Red for the purposes of this entry) or Super Saiyan Blue, but the manga actually answers the question pretty definitively.
During the multiverse tournament, Goku initially fights Hit in his Red form, which he can still access at will, before “powering up” into his Blue state. Beerus and Whis comment that even at 10% full power, Super Saiyan Blue Vegeta is only slightly weaker than Super Saiyan Red Goku at maximum strength (a fact we misinterpreted in a previous list entry).
So Super Saiyan Blue is a massive upgrade in power, at least in the manga, despite the fact that the Red form harnesses the power of six pure-hearted Saiyans. There are benefits to Super Saiyan Red, however. During his battle with Beerus, which is extended further in Dragon Ball Super, the God of Destruction plants a hand through Goku’s chest, but Goku’s godly ki manifests itself over the wound and restores him to 100%. Simply put: having access to both forms can’t hurt.
1 Golden Hair
Long before Red and Blue, before Gods of Destruction and Kings of Everything (for those who haven’t seen Super; that’s a thing now), there was the good old-fashioned Super Saiyan form, built up through an entire saga and making for one of the most iconic moments in anime history. A Saiyan reaches the Super Saiyan milestone through equal anger and purity, but the blond hair and blue eyes combination is not a question of how, but why.
When coming up with the Super Saiyan design, Akira Toriyama settled for blond hair and blue eyes, partly to ensure that the transformation was visually apparent to his readers, but mostly to save himself the trouble of having to color in Goku’s hair and eyes on every page. Over time, Super Saiyan became less of a milestone and more of a certainty, but in hindsight, Toriyama was never one to make life harder for himself; it’s no wonder that more or less every other Saiyan in the series swiftly follows Goku’s lead.
Are they any thing else Dragon Ball fans need to know about Saiyans? Let us know in the comments!