Top Ten Misused Dragon Ball Characters
Hey kids, you know what time it is? Dragon Ball time. Yes, another article on the internet discussing the most popular anime franchise of all-time. This piece isn’t a glorification of all that is Dragon Ball, nor is it a repudiation of all that is Dragon Ball because both of those topics have been done to death. This is, instead, an analysis of characters present in the show’s extensive canon that, for whatever reason, were given the short end of the stick in terms of character development, on-screen presence, fighting ability, and/or fight scenes. Within this list, characters who may have been doomed by the fandom, forgotten by Toriyama, or damned by the pen holders’ biases are all ranked. Some characters may have been left off that deserved some more time, but this list holds some of the truly underrepresented and unappreciated members of the show’s history.
The daughter of Gohan and Videl, Pan appeared in the final episode of Dragon Ball Z and is one of the three main characters of Dragon Ball GT. Seems impressive until one remembers how almost unanimously hated Dragon Ball GT was and how her presence did absolutely nothing for the canon. Pan was the descendent of Goku and Hercule. She was by far the strongest female in the series by the end of GT and yet, she was mishandled so grossly that it seems that writers had it out for her. She’s the only character with Saiyan blood that doesn’t go Super Saiyan after the concept is introduced, this includes Goku Jr. and Vegeta Jr. As stated by numerous source she had the power level for it and she has numerous opportunities to transcend and become a part of the legend, but she never does.
It’s easy to forget about Pan because gender politics in Dragon Ball aren’t entirely that nuanced, but it’s a shame that the daughter of Mystic Super Saiyan Gohan who took after her Grandfather Goku and trained with him was never more than a decoy protagonist for the Dragon Ball: Goku is Terrible (Ba dum Tish).
9. Piccolo Jr. (Kamiccolo)
For never was a story of more woe Than this of Kami and his other, Piccolo.
Piccolo Jr., commonly known as just Piccolo, has been around since Dragon Ball. In his previous incarnation, he was dead set on global domination having defeated Tien, Chiaotzu, Muten Roshi and Kami. He even killed the Eternal Dragon and was responsible for Krillin’s first death. He was that evil.
Piccolo Jr. was the reincarnation of King Piccolo and was the last antagonist of Dragon Ball. In Dragon Ball Z, Piccolo gained redemption by training Gohan, and eventually sacrificing himself for him. When Piccolo returns from King Kai’s planet, he serves as a mentor and primary father-figure of Gohan. He is consistently shown to be the strongest non-Saiyan hero in the show’s canon. Unfortunately, this means little because by the Majin Buu arc, being non-Saiyan was equivalent to being a marshmallow in hot-cocoa.
The only role he was given any respect in was as a teacher, and then later as the Guardian of HFIL. The position is fitting in a cruel sense. For all the powers he had, Piccolo was never given the chance to rival Goku after DragonBall. After fusing with Nail, he held off 2nd stage Frieza, pushing him to transform into a Xenomorph. After fusing with Kami, he was as strong as Android 17 and Imperfect Cell, stronger than Vegeta, with the competence to get the mission of saving the world accomplished; however, he never was the trigger-man.
Piccolo did get the first victory for Earth in the Saiyan arc, defeating Raditz, and he routinely got kills in the movies, usually taking out the henchmen of the main villain. However, he would then be defeated either because Gohan was about to die or he simply wasn’t strong enough to cut it. Even in the Lord Slug movie where he’s more than enough to decimate the henchmen, he is relegated to supporter. This would be fine if not for his previously stated competency and the nature of Dragon Ball Z.
Unlike Dragon Ball, Goku never gets the kill. More so when Goku does defeat a foe, it’s with a bevy of support from other characters with him being the focal point of power. Not to take away from Goku but at times he functions as nothing more than a plot device to bail out everyone not as a particularly effective leader, or strategist, which were roles Piccolo thrived in. He was more than capable of being that focal point for the others or a counterpoint for Goku. There was even a point where he was considered for the Majin powers in the Majin Arc, which would’ve been a much better choice than Vegeta, if only for the fact that it seems Piccolo would desire the power to defeat his chief rival. At the least, it would’ve been better than the role he actually played in that arc (Statue, Teacher, Food, Useless in that order).
Poor Vegeta; here’s a character whose function was his down fall. He was used as a rival to Goku. Intelligent where Goku was uneducated, malicious where Goku was honest. He was the rival Goku had in Piccolo, but with more edge.
So, why is he on this list? Well, that has to do with the concept of the wharf effect. What plagues every action themed form of media is the credibility of the villain. If Goku takes on Puff the Magic Dragon, no one tunes in because it’s going to be a beat down. Now if Puff has killed Krillin, almost killed Piccolo and throughly beaten another character, then he’s a threat. Vegeta is, more often than not, that other character. A lot is made of Goku never killing the big bosses in DBZ until Majin Buu, but even more than Goku, the only people Vegeta killed were Frieza’s grunts (including the elite mooks Cui, Dodoria, Zarbon, all of the Ginyu force), innocent civilians, Android 19, and Pui Pui. Not exactly a who’s who of casualties.
On numerous occasions, Vegeta is utilized more similarly to Krillin: a measuring stick for the enemy threat rather than a viable opponent for the enemy. For example in the film, “The Return Of Cooler,” Vegeta shows up to save Goku. He then proceeds to be knocked about and embarrassed. He gets in a few good shots, but he’s nothing more than support for Goku–not an equal. It’s quite reminiscent of Krillin’s function in Dragon Ball. Both showed up as rivals to Goku, and both were more powerful than Goku. But over the course of the series, Goku eventually surpassed them and left them in the dust. In every part of the show, it was driven home that Vegeta, for all of his training and all of his effort, was inferior to Goku. And that’s just terrible.
Tienshinhan was superior to Goku in a way few other characters were shown to be. Tien was a student from the rival school to Master Roshi’s. Trained by Master Shen and Mercenary Tao, Tien was a mirror image of Goku in many ways. He was a vicious fighter and brutal in his execution. While Goku had the Kamehameha, Tien had the Dodonpa Ray. Goku had the After Image technique, and Tien had the ability to make clones of himself. Where Goku had the Mad Monkey Attack, Tien had the Volleyball Technique.
Tien had Goku beat in technique and early ability and truly was a great antithesis to Goku. Then Goku went to train with Kami, and came back far ahead of everyone else. He blew Tien away with little more effort than he used to defeat Chi-Chi. So Tien trained, went to Kami’s Lookout to train some more, and fought the Saiyans. And died.
What was worse about Tien’s death than Yamcha’s and even Chiaotzu’s is the fact that Tien is shown on numerous occasions to be the Goku of humans. His life was devoted to getting stronger and better, but his story had no pay off. He got no closure. He is often forgotten about in the collections of characters not even appearing in many of the movies.
His crowning achievement in the show’s extensive library is being the three-eyed guy who stalled Cell with his life force for a few minutes. That’s not a legacy I’d wish upon my worst enemy, let alone the guy whose quest for redemption included fighting for mankind’s survival in the King Piccolo arc, who trained harder than most of the main cast aside from Vegeta and Goku. A place he would’ve fit in perfectly was the ending of Z and maybe a run in GT. Hell, he had a better case than Vegeta to go Majin. His fight versus Super Buu showed that his courage hadn’t waned even in his advanced years, so for him to be relegated to forgettable support bald guy is unnecessarily cruel to Tien, whose only flaw in the series seems to be his humanity(?).
Hey, guys, Yamcha made the list…. and then he died. Ha!
Poor Yamcha, the first of to fall victim to the “can’t keep up syndrome” of DBZ characters. Yamcha, for all of his training, for all his natural talent, was never good enough to crack the quarterfinals of the World Martial Arts Tournament. First losing to Master Roshi (disguised as Jackie Chun), then losing to Tien (Getting his leg broken in the process), and then losing to Kami.
He spent nearly all of his time in Dragon Ball Z either dead, dying, or generally being useless. He failed in every aspect of being a rival, and was forgotten almost completely in GT. How does this happen? His fall from grace was harsh and sheer and it made little sense for the character. He’s shown to be a genuine friend of Goku and a very competent leader. During his training on Kami’s Lookout, he’s shown to be courageous and even before he gets blown up, he is an effective leader and brave through and through. What could be the point of having him become a comedy act who fails to even remain relevant?
Yamcha’s appearance in the Android saga, where he is broken after his defeat at the hands of Dr. Gero, does at least give the character some measure of closure as he recognized in canon that he would never catch up, However, it’s a bitter pill when looked at in regards to the character’s legacy. At present, Yamcha has reached a memetic status through his sheer lack of success. Goku’s first ever rival panned out to be nothing more than Disappointment the Character.
Quick, name a villain Goku helped to defeat. Now name one that didn’t come back to haunt him. No, filler doesn’t count.
Raditz, as the brother of Goku, had nothing at all. He wasn’t similar enough to Goku to be a cautionary tale. In universe, he was the butt of jokes even from his Saiyan comrades. But one has to wonder why. The character of Raditz wasn’t just buried; he was erased. There are no mentions of him in any of the flashbacks. Even when Goku acknowledged his Saiyan heritage, Raditz is only present for half a second.
After his first onscreen death, Raditz was gone from the canon. Why is this? Was he not of Bardock’s Super Saiyan lineage? Did he not share Vegeta’s pride for their race? He even had a blood tie to the main family. Was he so worthless that not even Gohan would remember him? Apparently so. Goten never has any interaction with the guy and may not even know he had an uncle Raditz, though looking at the in-show interpretation of Goku, it would be a surprise if Goten knew anyone he didn’t directly meet.
Raditz could’ve been revived in numerous scenarios and could’ve had a redemption story in the Saiyan Arc. Goku even visited HFIL in the anime, but somehow didn’t run across his brother. That’s not a fair shake for Raditz, as he was shown in a sympathetic light. He could’ve at least been an asset in the Saiyan Arc after it’s revealed that Vegeta and Nappa never even cared about him. At worst, the character gets an extra chance to show, “Hey, I’m always going to be be evil.” It would’ve worked fine, though at this point, one can only speculate. Raditz is dead and for the most part forgotten, and nothing short of canon overhaul will change that.
4. Android 18
Probably the most popular female in the franchise outside of Bulma, there is no question about Android 18’s misuse. She’s shown on numerous occasions to have retained her Android powers even in GT. The lack of her presence in many situations draws cries of sexism inherent in the show, but more than that, it shows how biased towards Saiyans Toriyama was at that point.
Even without the ability to grow in power level, 18 was shown to be superior to a Super Saiyan. Even so, in the Buu arc, she’s a non-combatant. Her entire life as a fighter is ended by her relationship with Krillin. She becomes a mother, and even though she’s the strongest woman shown in the Dragon Ball Z series, she only has one serious fight in the main series after the Cell arc against Super 17, in which she showed that she was more than capable.
In canon, she fights in the World Martial Arts tournament to get money for her family and job to Hercule/Mr. Satan. She does get a bit of relief in the movies Bio-Broly and Battle of The Gods, which is nice, but it’s a far cry from what is deserving of an immortal (according to Dr. Gero), ever-powerful battle android. A perfect chance for Android 18 to be viable in the main series would have been to have her present in the fight versus Majin Buu. Her energy was infinite and she could’ve proven to be more than effective in the fight. Far more than Gohan, who completely quit and thus had trouble even fighting Dabura, who had a power level equal to Cell.
The fact she was ignored to such an extent within the main series is a travesty because she not only remained the most powerful woman, she was one of the most powerful fighters that wasn’t a Saiyan. Then again, maybe that’s why she was forgotten: because she wasn’t a Saiyan.
2 & 3. Trunks and Goten
These guys. Oh boy, what can be said for them. Goten’s function as a character was never even utilized. From his introduction in the last arc of Z to the entire run of GT, Goten was shown to be powerful, but he was never even deemed a viable successor to Goku.
Future Trunks, was granted the Android arc to show up, kill Frieza, save Goku’s life, have daddy-issues, die, come back, and then leave. Trunks in the main-canon is shown as a partner for Goten who’s a little better, a little more polished and way smarter.
Honestly, the dynamic of Trunks and Goten might be better seen in an entirely different anime. Hunter X Hunter is what Dragon Ball GT could’ve been, which is to say, there is an ensemble cast that the deuteragonists, Gon and Killua, interact with while Gon chases the dream of meeting his absentee father. Goten and Trunks even share similarities in appearance and personality with the protagonists of HxH; it’s hard to imagine their dynamic without seeing overt commonalities.
Goten and Trunks were perhaps held down due to not only being the offspring of the two most powerful heroes, but also being on the tail end of DBZ and being younger than Gohan. Nothing they did affected the plot outside of stalling for their fathers to win. Gohan, at least, defeated his boss. The closest Trunks and Goten got was defeating Bio-Broly, with aid from Krillin and 18. Goten did get to defeat Broly when he reappeared, but that was just treading ground his Dad already walked on.
Goten never got to be his own fighter. He was looked at as Mini-Goku and treated as such, even in GT. This makes no sense, however, because unlike Gohan, Goten has access to the Super Saiyan form at an early age and actually trained with his father on a consistent basis. Trunks also trained with his father, in high gravity training, plus he inherited Bulma’s smarts. With this in mind, the fact that the franchise didn’t at least give them a spin-off just adds to the perception that their existences were by and by unnecessary.
Honorable Mentions (and reasons they weren’t included):
6. Krillin (Marries Android 18, gets to beat Goku before GT ends, has a kid; that’s a good life.)
5. Chi-Chi (Even though she was the most powerful woman in the world at her introduction, she just wanted to be a house wife.)
4. Nappa (Everything said for Raditz applies to Vegeta and Nappa. He at least has DBZ:Abridged)
3. Launch (Who?)
2. Videl (Pan=Videl=Chi-Chi)
1. Uub (Last victim of Not Being A Saiyan Syndrome)
Alas poor Gohan, I knew him, Krillin, a fellow of infinite misused potential.
From the inception of Dragon Ball Z, Gohan was the heir apparent to Goku. Even so, Gohan stayed in a perpetual state of underdevelopment. His character was defined by his biracial make-up and Goku building him up. Goku hyped his son up. Raditz saw the potential. Piccolo saw it. His rage was the deciding factor in many fights including Frieza and Cell.
How could a character with everything going for him in-universe fail so hard? Well, it’s been attributed on many occasions to the fan base. Due to heavy fan backlash when Toriyama attempted to have him assume the mantle, Gohan remained a crushing disappointment. Many people list Gohan as their favorite character; he is, after all, the one who defeated Cell, and transcended being a Super-Saiyan and became a mystic. He was the guy–for all of the conclusion of the Cell Arc.
Even in the movies, Gohan is supposed to be better than his father. He’s a minor target for Turles and contributes to his defeat, he defeats Broly with Goten and destroys Bojack by himself. Yet, for whatever reason he was never deemed fit for the throne that was all but forced upon him.
His period as Great Saiyaman was met with derision by most of the fanbase, but was another possible platform for him to be the main character; however, as cited by numerous sources, Toriyama once again capitulated to his fanbase and downplayed Gohan to the point that he was a joke character. His “fight” vs. Super Buu is evidence of that. He was never accepted by the fans, and thus the show that was meant to be his never became his. His story became the b-plot and he was relegated to being a relief pitcher after being the clutch closer for Cell.
No amount of extra material could fix the damage to the character, and aside from a continuity reboot a la DC’s New 52, there is no redemption for Gohan. He’s not even a has-been by the time GT rolls around; Gohan exists as a never-was. He never truly surpassed his father despite being stronger and better written. The brass ring was never obtainable for him and the goal posts were ever shifting. Gohan wasn’t a failure due to any one flaw–he was doomed by a wide range of flaws tied to the show’s concept and for this reason, there should be no question that he was the most misused character in the Dragon Ball franchise.
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