The Dragon Ball franchise is many things to many people. For some, it’s the show that got them into anime. For others, it's simply a series filled with some of their favorite characters. But even the diehard fans who have watched all the hundreds of episodes, and the hours of movies, and the various dubs of each series, can miss some things in this gigantic franchise.
With Dragon Ball Super bringing many fans back to their nostalgic youth, as well as introducing some first-timers to what they’ve been missing all these years, what better time to address some of the most talked about aspects of the show’s history? Whether you’re a newcomer looking for more insight behind the series, or a longtime fan searching for answers about old rumors, here are the 12 Things You Need to Know About Dragon Ball Z.
12 DRAGON BALL WAS INSPIRED BY JOURNEY TO THE WEST
This point is far from a secret, but to those who don’t know the inspiration for the Dragon Ball franchise, it might be really surprising how much the show borrowed from the classic Chinese story Journey to the West. While in the beginning of the Dragon Ball franchise Goku just appears as a random monkey with no explanation (until Raditz appears, at least), this is actually because he is based off the character of the Monkey King. In Journey to the West, The Monkey King is a playful character, but also a fierce warrior who favors fighting with a staff that can shrink or extend as he needs it to (much like Goku’s Power Pole). The Monkey King becomes part of an unusual group consisting of companions like a monk (kind of like Krillin), and an anthropomorphic pig (much like Oolong) as they go on a pilgrimage together — or in the case of Dragon Ball, a journey to collect the seven dragon balls.
Obviously, the Dragon Ball franchise eventually branched out into its own entity, unless Journey to the West has some lost chapters featuring battles against space aliens and robots. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to learn the inspiration behind the popular franchise.
11 GOKU ONLY KILLS TWO CHARACTERS IN ALL OF DRAGON BALL Z
Considering how reliant Z fighters are on him throughout the series, you’d expect Goku to have a pretty high kill count. He goes up against every major villain in the show, and plays a pivotal role in defeating all of them. And yet, the only characters that Goku can truly lay claim to killing are Babidi’s minion Yakon, and Kid Buu. Even Buu is kind of an iffy one, since he's technically reincarnated as Uub.
Obviously, no one would expect Goku to be as ruthless as Vegeta, who took delight in torturing and killing his opponents early on, but why so few kills for Goku? We see the answer in his first major fight in the series against Raditz: Goku is just too damn merciful for his own good. Kidnap and assault Goku’s son? No biggie, you can still be his buddy. Kill one of his friends? He’ll let you live, but you’re getting a stern warning, mister! Kill every single person in the world and blow up the planet? Fine, he’ll kill you, but he still hopes you come back again some day so he can be friends with you. Suddenly it makes sense why Chi-Chi is so strict with Gohan. Goku really isn’t good at setting boundaries for bad behavior.
10 BATTLE OF GODS WAS THE FIRST CANON DRAGON BALL MOVIE
Many fans know that Battle of Gods served as an official lead in to Dragon Ball Super, but some might be surprised to learn that it’s the first movie in the entire series that actually counts as part of the timeline. That means Bojack, Janemba, and yes, even the beloved Broly, are not part of the main continuity of the show. They’re all as much a what-if scenario as the entirety of Dragon Ball GT. Most of the films wouldn’t even work with the timeline of the show anyway. The Broly movie? It would have had to have taken place during the ten day rest before the Cell Games happened, because that’s the only time period in which Goku is still alive, Gohan is a super saiyan, and Future Trunks is still around.
But maybe some parts of the Dragon Ball franchise being non-canon is a good thing. If all the movies and GT were a part of the main continuity, just imagine how many times poor Frieza has been easily defeated before his return in Resurrection ‘F.’ That might just make him a bigger punching bag than Krillin.
9 THERE WERE ONLY SUPPOSED TO BE TWO ANDROIDS IN THE ANDROID SAGA
Future Trunks certainly had egg on his face when he warned the Z fighters of two androids in the future, but there wound up being six, counting 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, and Cell — plus three more if Super Android 13 were considered canon). But it actually wasn’t Trunks’ fault, as the original plan was for there to be only two.
In a retrospective interview, creator Akira Toriyama revealed that 19 and 20 were in fact supposed to the main antagonists for the saga, but his former editor didn’t find them intimidating due to 19 being pudgy, and 20 being an old man. So then Toriyama brought out 17 and 18, but was again critiqued, this time having his characters called bratty kids. So finally he brought out Cell, whose first form was called ugly, thus leading to his first transformation. Then Cell’s second form was called stupid as well, so he transformed again into Perfect Cell. That’s one harsh editor, and it’s crazy to think how much his comments repeatedly changed the course of the series. Thankfully though, for the better, as the Cell Saga may not have even happened without him.
8 MANY OF THE CHARACTERS ARE NAMED AFTER PUNS
This is probably common knowledge to devout fans of the series, but casual viewers might not realize that many of the characters in the series have pretty silly inspirations behind their names. For instance, all the pure-blooded Saiyan characters in the series share the theme of being named after vegetables. Vegeta is an obvious one, since his name even looks like the word vegetable, but then we have Raditz whose name is derived from radish, and Kakarot which is made to sound like carrot.
It’s unclear why the characters were named like this, other than as a fun insider’s joke. Though as the years went on the joke really became more overt. Frieza’s somewhat cold-related name is a theme shared by his brother Cooler, and his father King Cold. Real subtle. Then Bulma’s family all have underwear related puns, so her and Vegeta’s daughter is actually named Bra in some dubs. The most blatant example comes from Master Roshi in The Legendary Super Saiyan movie, where the Saiyans being named after vegetables is openly remarked upon by Roshi when he mistakenly refers to Broly as Broccoli.
7 VEGETA WAS NEVER INTENDED TO BE A HERO
As hard as it might be to picture Dragon Ball Z without Vegeta, he was originally only supposed to be a one-off villain. It’s unclear when Vegeta’s end was supposed to come since he gets defeated in battle numerous times, but there’s no doubt that if he was meant to die, his loss to Frieza would have been the latest he was going to stick around.
Fan popularity saved the saiyan prince, allowing him to finally ascend to the level of Super Saiyan and develop a kinder side once Bulma and Trunks became a part of his life. We would have missed out on so many great moments if Vegeta had been cut down earlier, including the culmination of his rivalry with Goku when he became Majin Vegeta. It’s crazy to think that one of the strongest characters in the series, and one of the most popular, was ever thought to be so disposable.
6 SONIC THE HEDGEHOG APPEARS TO HAVE STRONG INSPIRATIONS FROM DRAGON BALL Z
Fans of both series have been making the comparisons for decades now, but it really is shocking how much the Sonic franchise has increasingly come to resemble Dragon Ball Z. The most obvious parallels are the transformations. Goku is capable of turning into a super saiyan, where his hair turns gold and spikier, and his eyes change color. Sonic is capable of turning into Super Sonic, where his quills become gold and spikier, and his eyes change color. At first, this transformation was limited to each series' respective protagonist. Then we learned every male saiyan can transform as well. And every male hedgehog now has a super transformation in the Sonic games.
It gets even more eerily similar. The Z fighters are regularly in search of the seven dragon balls that can grant a variety of powers, but scatter after each use. Sonic and crew are regularly in search of the seven chaos emeralds which also grant powers and then scatter across the world. Each series also has the character more comfortable as a nerd than a fighter: Gohan and Tails. Piccolo and Knuckles? Both start out as antagonists, but wind up becoming secluded but valued allies. Vegeta and Shadow? Both angsty antagonists from outer space who wind up becoming the protagonist’s friend and main counterpart. Future Trunks and Silver? Both time travel from apocalyptic futures to try and avert disaster. Chi-Chi and Amy? Both start out single-mindedly wanting the protagonist to marry them.
With so many similarities, there’s no way Sonic Team wasn’t at least a little inspired by Dragon Ball Z. And now that Dragon Ball Super is on the air, hopefully it can give Sega some good inspiration to avoid making any more games like Sonic Boom.
5 GOHAN WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE MAIN CHARACTER AFTER THE CELL SAGA
With the way the series was built up, this point certainly makes sense. Right from the first fight with Raditz, Gohan was shown as having an incredible underlying power waiting to be unleashed. This only came to the forefront more as the series went on, until we reached the Cell saga, where Goku finally deferred to his son, and was even killed off, leaving Gohan as the only one capable of saving the day. So going into the Buu saga, it made sense that it would be Gohan taking the reins.
And then the Great Saiyaman saga happened. It was vexing why Gohan was immediately turned into comic relief, and a lot of fans didn’t like this version of Goku’s son. But Akira Toriyama didn’t take the spotlight off Gohan due to fan reaction, but simply because he didn’t feel Gohan made for a good protagonist. This was made no clearer than all the time spent building to Mystic Gohan, only for him to be absorbed and later killed so Goku had to save the day once again.
4 THE ANDROID SAGA APPEARS TO DRAW HEAVY INSPIRATION FROM THE TERMINATOR FILMS
Fighting robots are nothing new to anime or fictional stories in general. So if the android saga of Dragon Ball Z had simply had the Z fighters going against a few androids, the Terminator comparisons would be slight, but nothing more than dozens of other shows have already done with the topic. But the saga kicks off with a time traveler from an apocalyptic future warning that machines are going to kill off humanity unless that future is averted. That’s pretty much a synopsis of the earlier Terminator films right there.
The comparisons only increase as we get a look into the timeline of Future Trunks, where Future Gohan is leading a John Connor-style resistance against the androids as they pick off the last remnants of humanity. And if you need further proof that the story was a deliberate homage, in the first Terminator, a T-800 is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor on May 12. When Future Trunks goes back in time to warn the Z fighters of the androids, he gives them the date they can expect the attack to begin: May 12.
3 THE VOICE ACTORS HAVE PASSED OUT FROM DOING SCREAMS FOR THE SHOW
The Dragon Ball franchise is infamous for its long and loud screams that last upwards of five minutes just to fill time for when the anime was trying not to catch up with the manga. We can only imagine how strained and sore the throats of the voice actors are after one of those scenes, but we know for sure it can have health effects. Sean Schemmel, the voice actor behind Goku, has said on multiple Q&A panels that he has actually lost consciousness from screaming during a power up transformation sequence.
Contrary to what you might think, it wasn’t the super saiyan 3 transformation that caused Schemmel to pass out. He has clarified in Q&A videos that it was actually the super saiyan 4 transformation in GT that had him waking up on the floor. And by the sound of it, losing consciousness during intense scenes wasn’t some freak occurrence. Supposedly other voice actors on the show have had similar experiences. Talk about going all in on a role.
2 THE FIRST FIGHT BETWEEN GOKU AND FRIEZA WAS THE LONGEST FIGHT IN AN ANIME
Looking at the nearly twenty episodes it took for this fight to resolve, it’s probably not hard to believe this one. Frieza’s infamous five minute warning proved to be a miscalculation of several hours. From the time that Goku and Frieza first squared off on Namek until Goku finally left his opponent for dead, close to four hours of screen time had been devoted to the battle. And the truly sad part is Goku didn’t even get the job done. Future Trunks wound up officially getting the credit for that kill after a brief encounter with the space tyrant.
When people think of the original Dragon Ball Z being dragged out and overloaded with filler, this fight is the moment that comes to mind. While it’s cool that Dragon Ball Z broke a record with one of its fights, some of the best battles in the series are the ones that are quick and hard hitting. When Goku and Frieza clash again in Resurrection ‘F,’ it’s not the new transformations alone that make the fight special. It’s seeing two rivals finally have the fast-paced, satisfying struggle that so many of us were probably hoping for when they clashed back in the ‘90s.
1 THERE ARE NO FEMALE SUPER SAIYANS BECAUSE AKIRA TORIYAMA COULDN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO DRAW THEM
One of the most glaring aspects of the entire Dragon Ball franchise is the dearth of powerful female characters in the series. It’s understandable in the case of Bulma and Chi-Chi, but what about the female Saiyans? We’ve seen with Goten and Trunks that each generation of Saiyans taps into their strength more easily than their parents. So how come Vegeta and Bulma’s daughter Bra (or Bulla, for us English speakers) doesn’t go Super Saiyan when she’s angry? Or especially Pan, who is shown being extremely strong at the end of Z, and continues to be a warrior in GT?
Apparently the reason why the female saiyans never ascend is simply because Dragon Ball’s creator Akira Toriyama couldn’t decide how they should look. Maybe it’s because the women usually have long hair and he worried it would just look like a Super Saiyan 3? It’s honestly a silly excuse for the women to not have a more powerful role, especially when the transformations are in the video games and provide a pretty decent template for how female Super Saiyans could look. Hopefully it’s something we see at some point in Super.
Can you think of anything else that Dragon Ball Z fans might not know about the series? Make sure to let us know in the comments!