Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball series has been dominating the airwaves for the better part of three decades now. What started out as an ignominious fad for prepubescent teens, quickly turned into a full-blown cultural phenomenon, with Dragon Ball Z – the original anime’s unrestrained sequel – as the franchise’s creative high point.
However, Dragon Ball Z’s propensity for violence, nudity, Western censorship, racial stereotypes, and even more violence has laid a foundation for natural controversy, provoking outrage from parents, critics, and even diehard fans. While the show has always been divisive to one group or another, it’s hard to defend certain moments where things clearly went off the rails.
For this list, we’re taking a look at the DBZ’s most controversial moments that left viewers with their mouths open and with their hands scratching their heads. Though we all have fine memories of Goku blasting away enemies with a kamehameha, there’s no ignoring the instances that were uncomfortable, embarrassing, and just plain crazy.
From nauseating carnage to cringe-inducing jokes and from misogynistic tropes to racial stereotypes, here are the 15 Controversial Things Dragon Ball Z Has Ever Done.
15. Mass Genocide
Let’s get the biggest thing out of the way first: Dragin Ball Z is one cartoon that’s not afraid to kill people off. In fact, its obvious fascination with death has led to mass genocide on more than one occasion. Stars, planets, and entire races have been wiped from existence in a blink of an eye without a second thought.
The first taste of on-screen annihilation comes at the hands of Vegeta, who blows away a fully inhabited planet while on his way to Earth. Even more disturbing is when Frieza decides to wipe out the entire planet of Saiyans, as we’re forced to watch the many citizens scream and stare down their fate in the form of a giant fireball.
14. Yamcha Dies by Suicide Bombing
Cocky, conceded, and a self-professed womanizer, Yamcha was never really anyone’s favorite Z-Fighter. He gets points for having an adorable cat sidekick Puar, but besides that, he’s about as charismatic as a senzu bean.
Still, not even Yamcha deserved to go out the way he did. During the Z-Fighter’s climactic bout with Nappa’s little green goons called the Saibamen, Yamcha steps up to the plate first. Through a series of well-time punches and badly-timed puns, Yamcha easily pummels the spastic gremlin into submission.
Unfortunately, it all goes horribly wrong when the knocked out pygmy grabs hold of Yamcha from behind and unleashes an explosive kamikaze attack. After the dust clears, Yamcha is left huddled in a ditch as a lifeless mess.
It’s a brutal kill that hits home for viewers watching their TV sets where events like these play out on the 6:00 news, rather than your Saturday morning cartoons. On the bright side, it did give DBZ fans some of the best memes in the show’s history.
13. Cell “Drinking” His Victims
Blasted out of airlocks, limbs torn from sockets, impaled by a giant alien; DBZ characters have met their demise in some pretty heinous ways over the show’s nine seasons. Despite the gruesome results, many a fighter in DBZ will go down swinging, but not when it comes to the poor victims of the bio-android Cell.
This metamorphic killer needs energy before he becomes the big, bad bug ready to take on the world. In order to get that energy, he slurps down the insides of his unsuspecting victims like a milkshake through his scorpion-like tail– what a way to go.
Cell shriveling up human civilians to the point that they look like rolled-up tubes of toothpaste are some of the most horrifying moments of DBZ. However, while kids were grossed-out and fascinated, parents were hitting the off buttons on TV remotes and writing strongly worded letters to the folks over at Funimation.
12. Master Roshi is a Sexual Predator
At first glance, Master Roshi seems like your sweet old pop-pop who would give you some sage advice while complaining about his back trouble. Alas, behind those glasses and that toothy grin is a notorious womanizer, an anime lecher, a cantankerous pervert, and dare we say, a sexual predator.
Instead of that sweet grandpa, Roshi is more like that dirty neighbor you’ve heard rumors about who keeps staring at you from the window. Over the run of Dragon Ball, the Turtle Hermit’s libido has gotten more and more out of control to the point where it would rival the likes of Hugh Hefner’s.
On a typical day, Roshi is frequently caught nose-deep in a nudey mag, drooling over the scandalous figures on the front. His actual treatment of the opposite sex is even more deplorable, having fondled and grabbed at more women than fighters Goku has fought.
11. Killa Stereotype
Dragon Ball Z has never been immune to claims of racial insensitivity, and a character like Killa only proves the naysayers right. Showing up during the World Martial Arts Tournament, this obvious stereotype looks like every Blaxploitation film rolled neatly into one anime character. However, truth be told, his appearance is far from the biggest problem.
The Funimation dub made the bizarre change to have all of Killa’s lines come across as inaudible gibberish. We’re not kidding; subtitles are almost required here. It wouldn’t be such a problem had he simply had a line or two, but Killa shows up a lot and even has to deliver some lengthy exposition that turns into indecipherable jive.
You could make the case that Funimation was simply poking fun of all major athletes who sound like they’re mumbling in interviews, but you have to wonder why there weren’t any other meatheads at the tourney that talked like Mr. T gave Boomhauer speech lessons.
10. Vegeta Sacrifices Himself
When we first met infamous blowhard Vegeta, Prince of the Saiyans (a title that doesn’t amount to much), he was a ruthless alien hell-bent on conquering Earth and destroying everyone in his way. Over the course of the series, Vegeta becomes the reluctant ally of the Z-Fighters, even taking an Earthling– Bulma– for his bride and having a child– Trunks.
During the Buu Saga, when all hope seems lost, Vegeta makes the decision to sacrifice himself to defeat the evil pink menace. After a tearful farewell to his son, he uses his last bit of energy to take out Buu, even though the attack doesn’t go as planned.
This moment left a lot of Z fans perplexed, mostly because, throughout the series, Vegeta seemed to only care about one thing: himself. Though it’s a nice moment of growth for the character, giving him a well-rounded arc, it does seem to come out of left field and stands as one of the more shocking deaths in the series.
9. Piccolo Destroys the Moon
Along with insane amounts of violence, DBZ-– and to a higher degree, Dragon Ball Super-– is notorious for its wanton amounts of destruction. Over the series’ run, buildings have been pummeled, cities have been decimated, and entire planets have been blown to smithereens.
One of the earliest overblown acts of violence happens in the very first season, when Piccolo makes the brilliant decision to blow up Earth’s moon. After realizing that Gohan is able to transform into a giant ape by the moonlight, destroying the astronomical body seemed like the best possible option to Piccolo.
Of course, if Earth’s moon was actually destroyed, it would spell disaster for the human race: ocean currents would change, the planet’s rotation would be completely off, and there would be cataclysmic seasonal changes.
However, in the world of DBZ, there doesn’t seem to be any repercussions at all, and Piccolo goes on thinking that blowing up Earth’s moon was no big deal, even when it should have resulted in complete chaos.
8. Buu Wipes Out the Human Race
As if blowing up the moon wasn’t bad enough, Dragon Ball Z does the inevitable in its final season by completely destroying Earth and all of its inhabitants. Talk about a downer of a moment.
After transforming into his most powerful form, Buu decides to administer the coup de grace to the pesky human race, conjuring up the most energy blasts he can muster and launching them straight for Planet Earth. To the audiences’ shock, the blasts actually land, and after years of space aliens and evil robots making empty threats, Buu finally delivers on his promise of destroying the entire human race.
By this point in the show, audience members had come to expect Goku to continually save the day when it comes to Earth’s safety. To say it was surprising when he utterly fails at his job is an understatement. Later on, to add insult to injury, Kid Buu decides to finish the job, and blows up the uninhabited planet Earth.
7. Frieza Impales Krillin and Licks His Blood
Ah, poor Krillin. Over his tenure on DBZ, the little guy has been continuously pummeled and killed more times than we care to remember. However, of all the nasty things that has happened to Goku’s little buddy, the one involving Frieza is probably the worst.
After making his transformation from annoying pipsqueak to towering goliath, Frieza purposely toys with our heroes until he decides on his next victim: Krillin. The monster quickly flies up to his prey and impales the Z-Fighter on one of his freakishly long horns, but he doesn’t stop there.
After skewering poor Krillin on his forehead, Frieza licks the blood trickling down from his victim in a sickening display of pure ecstasy. The scene lingers on the horrifying act for an uncomfortable amount of time as Gohan, Vegeta, and the viewer watch in horror.
6. Hercule’s Japanese Name is Mr. Satan
As the self-proclaimed greatest martial artist in the world, Hercule is like a bad joke that just won’t seem to end. Ever since his introduction in the Cell Games, this cocky windbag has been annoying Z-Fighters and audiences alike with his foolhardy attitude and laughable fighting moves, which might explain his peculiar Japanese name.
While Western audiences know this doofus as Hercule, the character’s name in the original Japanese anime is “Mr. Satan.” Due to its connection to the biblical Satan, the name was deemed too offensive, and was changed for the Funimation dub to Hercule due to its connection with classical Greek mythology.
According to creators, “Mr. Satan” was meant to be the fighter’s actual ring name, and that his first name would be something as ordinary as “Mark.” Apparently, the folks at Funimation thought that would be too confusing, and gave the martial arts champion a title that sounds like a ‘80s pro-wrestler instead.
5. The Various Nudity
When it comes to cartoon nudity, what is and isn’t permitted varies greatly on the country that’s airing the content. While showing an occasional butt shot in America is just peachy-keen, anything full frontal is a definite no-no. Japanese standards are a bit different, and Dragon Ball Z tended to unleash the dragon on more than one occasion.
The original string of Dragon Ball episodes had several scenes of a kid Goku baring it all, and even one instance where Bulma was shown completely topless. Dragon Ball Z carried the torch of full-frontal nudity by having several instances of Gohan being totally naked. You know what they say; like father, like son.
Of course, when it came time to broadcast these episodes for daytime American audiences, edits were done, like adding a crudely drawn piece of clothing to ensure that viewers wouldn’t be exposed to anyone’s dragon balls.
4. American Broadcast Censorship
In the late 1990s, anime was no longer a niche market for Western audiences. Thanks to shows like Pokémon and Sailor Moon, Japanese cartoons were becoming more and more popular overseas. Noticing the trend, American broadcasting companies began buying up the rights to any accessible anime that could get their hands on and the first name on that list was Dragon Ball Z.
Unfortunately, DBZ proved to be way too violent for daytime children’s television – that tends to happen when you have scenes of characters impaling other characters with their head horns. As a result, numerous edits and cuts had to be made to reduce the bloody violence and occasional scenes of nudity.
Along with cutting out the blood and gore, edits were also done to change beer into water, removing cigarettes, and hastily drawing in a bush or two to hide Gohan’s frequently-on-displayed private parts.
3. Oolong’s Obsession with Panties
Typically speaking, talking cartoon pigs are pretty harmless; Porky Pig is a stuttering optimist and Piglet is a timid pipsqueak afraid of his own shadow. However, Dragon Ball Z is not your typical children’s show and Oolong is not your typical cartoon pig.
Along with being able to shapeshift, Oolong has one other particular hobby that separates him from other animated swine: collecting women’s underpants.
That’s right; this pig has a thing for ladies’ undergarments that borders on the obsessive. It’s a running gag on DBZ that Oolong is frequently trying to further his collection of panties, which can be a little jarring for people who are used to a Porky-Pig-like demeanor.
2. Hitler aka “The Dictator”
If you thought a cartoon swine collecting women’s underpants was controversial, you haven’t seen anything yet.
Dragon Ball Z is no stranger to basing some of their characters on real life personalities. Most of the time it’s a just harmless bit of fun meant as a casual wind to the audience, but we have no idea what Toriyama and the rest of the gang were thinking when they decided to introduce the Führer himself, Adolf Hitler, into the world of DBZ.
Referred to as “The Dictator,” this controversial character made his first and only appearance in the 12th DBZ movie Fusion Reborn. After the barrier between life and death has been destroyed, Earth comes under siege by an army of undead rogues and scoundrels.
Among the past villains like Frieza and Cell, a zombified gang of Nazis tag along for the mayhem, with an anime version of Hitler leading the pack.
1. Mr. Popo Blackface Controversy
We know what you’re thinking: what could be more controversial than an animated Hitler rising up from the dead? The answer would be Mr. Popo, one of the friendliest guys on DBZ, who, ironically, has been accused of being a “blackface” caricature.
For those of you scratching your heads, blackface was a form of theatrical makeup used by white performers to appear black. It was primarily used in minstrel shows in the early 19th century, and while it was bizarrely deemed as entertainment back then, now it is obviously considered racist and offensive.
Along with fellow anime character Jynx from the Pokémon franchise, Mr. Popo has been accused of being a blackface cartoon distortion, and has taken some flak from fans and critics of the series.
Due to the backlash, Mr. Popo’s skin color was changed for the 2010 reissuing of the anime Dragon Ball Kai, in which his black complexion was altered to blue. Other than that, surprisingly, Mr. Popo’s dark skin has remained the same, and has raised a few eyebrows along with it.
Can you think of any other controversial things that have happened throughout Dragon Ball Z‘s run? Let us know in the comments!
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