In the modern-day anime world, Dragon Ball Z has a bit of a reputation for being campy and outdated. The younger generation is usually quick to make the usual jokes: it takes 20 episodes for a character to power-up, the deaths are “meaningless”, and the power level system makes no sense. What they don’t realize is that, behind the corniness that DBZ is all-to-often remembered for today, the show has had some genuinely heart-wrenching and agonizing moments, events that deeply affected viewers when they first saw them back in the day.
People can poke fun about the fact that DBZ characters are killed and then shrug off death like they’re getting splinters removed, but this hasn’t always been the case. Sure, sometimes it took a number of episodes to get to the good stuff, but that was the point, there was building tension, we were getting to know the characters, and in plenty of cases, all that wait led to some of the most mind-breaking moments in anime. Old-school fans know exactly what we’re talking about, and just in case you forgot, we’re here to remind you. So sit back, and strap in — here’s 15 Times Dragon Ball Z Ruined Your Life.
15 Goku Reveals that Gohan and Vegeta are Dead
It may seem a bit hasty to start the list with death right off the bat, but to be fair, we are talking about Dragon Ball Z here. During the Majin Buu Saga, the jolly pink nightmare wasted little time in causing mayhem and destruction to anyone unlucky enough to cross his path. Sure enough, the Z Warriors did their best to defend the Earth against the overgrown bubblegum monster, and before long, Goku was tasked with telling everyone that Gohan and Vegeta had been killed in the process.
As expected, Bulma and Chi-Chi didn't take this very well, with the former screaming her husband's name, and the latter completely passing out after hearing the news. That being said, if the scene wasn't edited with strangely humorous cuts — and if Goku himself wasn't already dead while giving the bad news — then it might have ranked higher.
14 Vegeta makes an awful decision
If there's one thing we've learned from DBZ, it's that the main baddie going through a transformation is never a good sign. We saw it with Frieza, and we'd see it later with Majin Buu— but for some reason during the Cell Saga, Vegeta would completely fail to recognize this dangerous supervillain trope.
Cell needs to absorb Androids 17 and 18 in order to reach his "perfect" form, but by the time he comes up against Vegeta and his son Trunks (who have been extensively training in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber), he's only managed to consume 17, leaving him too weak to even put up a fight. So, does Vegeta destroy Cell right then and there, saving everyone a world of trouble? Of course not! The arrogant prince instead thinks it's a good idea to let Cell find and absorb 18, so that he can prove he's stronger than the super-powered bug. Of course, as anyone could have predicted, Vegeta ends up getting his butt handed to him by the newly upgraded supervillain.
13 Goku Gives Up
While Vegeta's actions during the Cell Saga were thoroughly stupid, it really wasn't that surprising coming from the conceited Saiyan. Goku, however, ends up doing something during his battle with Cell that no one could have expected; neither his friends, nor the fans watching. While our orange-clad hero puts up a great fight at first, he suddenly powers down just as things started to get good. Then, the unexpected: Goku gives up.
Goku, the same person whose entire life is dedicated to fighting people stronger than him and doing his best to overcome the odds, the same person sworn to protect the innocent from the tyranny of evil — just throwing in the towel without giving it his all? Even though we find out that he planned all along for his son Gohan to defeat Cell instead, this is a decision that just doesn't add up to this day. Especially with what happens to Gohan later on...
12 When Krillin Dying Actually Meant Something
There's no easy way of putting it: Krillin has a tendency to... well, die. He's died so many times, in fact, that it's basically become a meme within the Dragon Ball Z fandom. While the ability to wish someone back to life would seemingly defeat any weight to characters dying in DBZ, there was actually a time when it had more of an impact. Flashing back to the Frieza Saga provides us with a great example.
At this point in the series, Krillin had already been wished back to life once as a kid during the events of Dragon Ball, and as far as anyone knew, Shenron was only able to revive the same person once. That's why when Frieza decided to literally explode the small warrior from the inside out, we were all pretty shocked. As far as Goku knew, his best friend was dead for good, which turned out to be the perfect trigger for his emotionally furious transformation into a Super Saiyan. It was a sad moment for Krillin fans everywhere. (Until he was later resurrected via some deus ex machina loophole, but let's forget about that.)
11 Cell Kills Android 16
Dr. Gero is a heartless mad scientist who has a vendetta against Goku for dismantling the Red Ribbon Army when he was only a child. Because of this, Gero spent years constructing various androids to destroy him. While many of Gero's androids have proven to be quite deadly (Android 13, and the bio-organic Cell), some of them turned out surprisingly peaceful, with the best example of this being the benevolent Android 16.
While intimidating in size and demeanor, 16 is actually a mechanical sweetheart, having a keen interest in nature, and avoiding general conflict at all costs. He would end up defecting and joining the Z Warriors during their fight with Cell, but this would only end in tragedy. A seriously wounded 16 would give Gohan an emotional speech, convincing him to let go and release the anger needed to fight, and right after, Cell would deliver the killing blow, smashing his head and destroying him for good. The saddest part about this is that since 16 is a full-on machine, so it's impossible for him to be wished back, making him one of the only characters in the series to have truly died.
10 A Dying Vegeta Confides to Goku
Goku has a long history of turning people who were once his enemies into some of his closest allies (Yamcha, Tien, and Piccolo to name a few), but for a long while, it just didn't seem like that would be the case with Vegeta. For the bulk of the first two DBZ sagas, the Saiyan Prince seemed doomed to be an antagonist forever. That is until he was brought to the brink of death by the tyrannical Frieza.
As Vegeta slowly succumbs to his wounds, he begins revealing his backstory to Goku. The history of the Saiyan people, and how Frieza enslaved them all, before bringing their entire race to virtual extinction. He spills his guts to his former enemy, and with tears in his eyes, he explains that it's Frieza fault that he ended up so villainous, begging Goku to destroy him so that he doesn't do the same thing to anyone else. To see the normally dispassionate Vegeta so broken down was simply heart-wrenching.
9 Goku Left to Die on Namek
By the time Goku finally gains the upper hand during his battle with Frieza on Namek, countless have died, and the planet itself is nearing its end. Luckily, all of Goku's comrades, and Frieza's victims (or would-be victims), are sent away safely to Earth, while the Super Saiyan finishes the job by himself. By the time the fight is finally over, there's just one problem — our hero is stuck on an exploding planet.
Although we've seen Goku get out of many sticky situations before, this wasn't a simple matter of overcoming a strong opponent, or figuring out an enemy's weakness; this was being stuck on a dying planet, with no means of escape. While viewers everywhere waited tensely for Goku to find his way out, by the time the smoke cleared, it was revealed that the legendary Saiyan couldn't make it out in time. We of course would find out later that he did actually make it out alive somehow, but it still doesn't change how devastated kids everywhere were when they thought their favorite hero suffered a horrible fate.
8 Goku's Heart Virus
Out of the frying pan and into the fire; after finally making his way home from the explosive result of the Frieza Saga, Goku just can't seem to catch a break. A mysterious young man with awesome hair -- who we later find out is Vegeta's son from the future -- warns the Z Fighters that there's a pair of deadly androids coming to kill them all and take over the Earth. He also reveals that Goku catches a deadly heart virus, and is unable to assist during the attack. What's worse, the virus actually kills him.
Fans who were relieved to discover that Goku was able to evacuate planet Namek in time now had to face the fact that the greatest warrior on Earth, the same warrior who has defeated countless powerful enemies and overcome impossible odds, was somehow susceptible to a simple virus. After all he's been through, that's the thing destined to kill Goku? The idea of it was absurd, it was unexpected, and most of all, it was terrifying.
7 Goku Refuses to be Revived
By the end of the Cell Saga, a lot of things had changed. For one, Goku wasn't the big hero who had single-handedly saved the day by the end of it, and two— they now had the ability to wish the same person back from death more than once. Since Goku had sacrificed his life during the battle with Cell, this meant he could return to the world of the living no problem. Except, he didn't want to.
If you were watching following the show up to this point, you didn't believe your ears. After all of that, escaping Namek at the last second, and surviving a heart virus that was destined to kill him, Goku was just going to purposely stay dead? His logic was that he felt that he just attracted bad guys, and that the world would be more peaceful without him. Although fans were quick to see the flaws in this line of thinking, we knew the real reason Goku didn't want to return. His time as Earth's greatest defender was done, and this was his passing of the torch. Now, it was Gohan's time...
6 Gohan Turns Into a Wimp
...except that it wasn't. Truthfully, while Goku was indeed the main protagonist of the Dragon Ball series, and was portrayed as the strongest fighter during most of Dragon Ball Z, there's many early signs that suggested that Gohan was supposed to eventually take over the role as main hero. During the first major conflict of DBZ, a toddler-sized Gohan is able to knock out the domineering Raditz with a single angry headbutt, and all the way up to the Cell Games, we can see that even Goku has realized his son's true potential.
Unfortunately, after the Cell Saga, things take a complete nosedive for the half-Saiyan, and all of this amounts to nothing. Chi-Chi forces Gohan to focus on his "studies", forcing him to neglect his training and weaken over time. Although he would get a few highlights during the Buu Saga while fighting Super Buu, his father ends up returning to steal the spotlight once again. We were promised an adult Gohan that was on the same level, or higher, than Goku. Instead, we got the Great Saiyaman. What a waste.
5 Future Trunks Finds Gohan's Dead Body
This is one of the only entries that takes place outside of the main series, but it's here for a good reason. The History of Trunks is a TV special which focuses on the Future Trunks who warns the Z Warriors about the deadly androids. It takes place in an alternate future, where the heart virus kills Goku and all of his friends are dead. The only ones left to defend the Earth are a grown-up Gohan (who happens to be missing an arm), and a teenaged Trunks.
Having grown up in what's basically an apocalyptic wasteland, Gohan is not only a mentor to Trunks, but also his lone companion. He does his best to train Trunks so that he can defend himself, but insists that the young Saiyan stay behind while he deal with the robotic twins himself. By the time Trunks arrives on the scene, it's too late. His teacher — his only friend in a world gone to hell, is dead. (Yeah, it makes us want to cry too.)
4 Piccolo's Sacrifice
For those of you that haven't watched the original Dragon Ball, there's a thing or two you have to learn about Piccolo. He wasn't always the kind, righteous sage that he is later on in DBZ. In his original form as King Piccolo, he was truly evil, and even when he regenerated into a younger form, he was still a bad guy, hell-bent on getting revenge and killing Goku.
Fast-forward to the very beginning of DBZ, and Piccolo hasn't really changed much -- that is, until he meets Gohan. After Goku dies during their reluctant team-up against Radditz, Piccolo takes it upon himself to train Gohan for their upcoming battle with the other Saiyans. It's during this time that he forms a bond with someone for the first time in his life, and that's why he ends up taking an energy-charged bullet for the small half-Saiyan. This is the selfless act which officially transitioned Piccolo from antagonist to hero, and his final words speak for themselves. "You're like the son I never had, I'm proud of you. Goodbye my friend."
3 Bee Gets Shot
It's odd to think that an entry involving Hercule would rank so high on a list like this, but believe us, it deserves it. While the Z Warriors were off training and trying to figure out their next plan of attack on Majin Buu, Hercule was pressured to do something about it. What started off was an idiotic mission to trick and kill Buu with ineffective explosives and poisons, somehow turned into Buu and Hercule finding a little puppy and the three of them forming a friendship together.
This could have easily been the end of Buu's massacre, but of course, things can never be that easy. As it so happens, some insane gunman decides to shoot Bee while Buu and Hercule are playing fetch with him, mortally wounding the poor dog. Buu is thankfully able to heal Bee before he succumbs to the gunshot, but the impact of the scene is still incredibly sickening. Nothing ruins your week more than animal cruelty on your favorite TV show.
2 Vegeta's Redemption
There's hardly anyone else in the series that had as long and dynamic of a character arc than Vegeta. After settling down and having a kid, you'd think that Vegeta would have finally been set straight as a force of good. Babidi had other plans, however, when he spread his malevolent influences to the prince, turning him into the more powerful, and much more sinister, Majin Vegeta.
His years of built up jealousy and rage finally boiling over, Vegeta gives his all to try to defeat his long-time rival Goku in combat, paying no mind to any casualties that may occur in the wake of their battle. While this at first seems like the return of the old evil Vegeta, things take a sudden turn when he decides to face off against Majin Buu himself, leaving Goku behind. As one final attempt to redeem himself, Vegeta sacrifices himself in an enormous attack in an attempt to eradicate the villain -- finally confessing that his sacrifice is done to protect his beloved family, Bulma and Trunks. This noble act is amplified by the fact that Piccolo admitted to Vegeta that he was likely going to end up in Hell after dying.
1 Bardock and the Extinction of the Saiyan Race
In the end, he may not be the most powerful baddie around, but there's compelling argument as to why Frieza may just be the best Dragon Ball Z villain of all time. While many villains claim to set their sights on world domination, or simple mass destruction, Frieza actually puts his money where his mouth is. Not only has he taken over entire planets, but he's openly responsible for the extinction of at least one alien race in particular: the Saiyans.
Bardock - The Father of Goku goes in depth about the story that Vegeta tells Goku about the fall of the Saiyans, and the role Goku's father took in fighting against it. The whole thing plays like a Shakespearean tragedy, with the viewer growing ever closer to Bardock as he discovers Frieza's wicked plans, and loses his closest friends in the process. We grasp onto the desperate hope that he might somehow succeed in thwarting the space tyrant, even though we all know how it will end. While the story itself is an amazing piece of DBZ lore, it's also one of the most depressing and bittersweet experiences that the show has to offer. We salute you, Bardock.
Dragon Ball Z is all fun and games until it hits you with some unexpected feels. Do you remember any other times DBZ ruined your day? Let us know in the comments!