Written by Nate Drewett
With the lovable and comedic late 80s anime Dragon Ball coming to an end, creator, Akira Toriyama, set his sights on a grander story… his sequel: Dragon Ball Z. Introducing aliens, shocking twists, and planet obliterating battles, he had his work cut out for him. But he never wavered from what he does best: writing and developing characters. In sticking to his guns, Toriyama decided to take the series’ existing villain, Piccolo, and introduce a new one, Vegeta, with plans to turn both complete embodiments of evil into the most beloved characters in the franchise. These skills of Toriyama are hard to ignore, so let us dive into how this artist has perfected the antihero.
An antihero is often defined as a central character who lacks the characteristics an audience associates with a conventional hero. Despite a flawed exterior, a history of bad decisions, and even a questionable moral code, an antihero is ultimately guided by good intentions. This is a definition that can constantly be revisited to help understand the character of Piccolo.
“An antihero is often defined as a central character who lacks the characteristics an audience associates with a conventional hero. Despite a flawed exterior, a history of bad decisions, and even a questionable moral code, an antihero is ultimately guided by good intentions…”
Piccolo is depicted in the franchise as literal demon spawn, hellbent on killing series’ protagonist, Goku. Truthfully, Piccolo was made a bit too easy to despise… until Dragon Ball Z led Piccolo down entirely new circumstances. Piccolo was soon forced into a partnership with Goku to protect the Earth from a monstrous alien threat. The ensuing allied battle between Piccolo and Goku resulted in both the alien and Goku passing on, with Piccolo, in the aftermath, deciding to kidnap Goku’s son, Gohan, with plans to unleash the child’s untapped potential. However, what was first a sinister act turned sincere as Piccolo, over a series of months training Gohan for the inevitable visit of extraterrestrials, began to show emotion and genuine human attachment towards Gohan. After a battle breaks out with the merciless aliens, Nappa and Vegeta (we will get to him soon), Piccolo sacrifices himself for Gohan, completing his arc and turning him from reviled to cherished.
“Piccolo was made a bit too easy to despise… until Dragon Ball Z led Piccolo down entirely new circumstances…”
Now, seeing that Piccolo already had some development in Dragon Ball, he proved easier to morally “flip”. Vegeta, on the other hand, was a brand-new character, attesting a greater challenge.
Vegeta – boastful, merciless and full of pride with a vengeance to annihilate our protagonist, Goku, and the earth along with him – was an established villain within his first actionable moments. By killing his ally, because he was too weak, it was clear Vegeta was obsessed with power, planning to become the strongest in the universe by any means necessary. Vegeta’s beliefs were tested when fighting Goku, understanding that there were other methods to fighting that he was not aware of, leading Vegeta to abandon his scouter (a piece of technology that the majority of the universe’s fighters utilise).
Vegeta is tested, once again, when realising that Goku has clearly surpassed him by becoming the iconic Super Saiyan. The Saiyan Prince decides that, to complete his goal of strength, it may be fruitful for him to call earth home and rival Goku, rather than be enemies. A back-and-forth friendship (if you want to call it that) ensues between Goku and Vegeta, with clear moral differences that lead to clashes between the pair. Goku, naïve and optimistic, and Vegeta, cynical and merciless, are a contrasted pairing that allows for growing in both characters; a clean parallel. Vegeta’s character growth eventually led to his love for his partner, Bulma, their son, Trunks, the earth and, although he does not admit it, his friends. This love resulted in a last-ditch attempt to eradicate the unstoppable Majin Buu, by deciding to convert all his life force to energy. Vegeta used a “final explosion” to kill himself and take Buu with him.
“These once “villains” slowly flipping their moral compass, all while keeping one coherent goal of trying to achieve unforeseen feats of strength, allow for a character that an audience wants to root for..”
Toriyama proved masterful with Vegeta’s storyline; a character who once killed his own ally because it tarnished his image became developed into an honoured protector who sacrificed himself for a planet he once vowed to destroy.These once “villains” slowly flipping their moral compass, all while keeping one coherent goal of trying to achieve unforeseen feats of strength, allow for a character that an audience wants to root for. Toriyama has written incredible battle scenes, a twisting plot and some of anime’s most iconic moments, but when it comes to character writing, his true genius is unleashed, and it’s on full display with Piccolo and Vegeta.
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