In the span of a month I’ve driven through the deep south and moved an apartment of stuff from coastal Virginia to west Tennessee and am planning a move to Georgia. My parents have been along for the ride (apologies for going ghost on you, Iggles!) and I was reminded of the many ways we are a great yet dysfunctional family.
Family is a big deal in DBZ. Characters literally die for their families. Likewise, families risk everything for their fighter. We get to watch the evolution of Goku as a father, the surprise start of Bulma’s family and some of our favorite characters settle down and have kids. These animated families are just as dysfunctional as our own – if not more.
There’s debate in the fandom over which fighter is the best dad (Vegeta or Goku? I vote Vegeta), which mom is the least annoying (Bulma? Chi-Chi? Videl?) and if Gohan would have been better off with Piccolo as a dad (Probably!). I’m sure we’ve all had similar conversations about our own aunts, cousins and close family friends. Except it’s easy to pass judgement on Chi-Chi’s parenting style when there’s zero chance of your own son going off to save the world from killer Androids.
Fans, myself included, tend to view the family dynamics in DBZ through the lens of real-life experiences. Of course, by today’s standards Goku would be an absent father and shunned as such. In the DBZ universe, Goku isn’t absent. He’s always present in the narrative even after death. We see him missing his family on Snake Way. We see him training extra hard to protect them from his enemies. As a superpowered man with superpowered problems, we should all cut Goku some slack. Checking Gohan’s homework is always going to take a backseat to saving the world.
Likewise, the DBZ fandom looks at hookups and the eventual products of those hookups with some romanticism. The internet is covered with DBZ couple fanart that ranges from “could be canon” to “totally out of character.” DBZ is not a romance. Creator Akira Toriyama has said himself that he’s no good at romance (Question 6). And honestly, there’s nothing romantic about naming your daughter after your ex-girlfriend (I’m looking at you, Krillian!) or your husband vanishing for several months or years to fight God knows who.
All fiction in a way is a form of escapism. By glossing over the unsavory parts of the Z fighter’s family dynamics, we’re allowed to love it without guilt. Put too much thought into the Brief family structure, for example, and it becomes difficult to view Vegeta as this epic manly man when he’s living off his wife’s fortune. He’s even harder to stomach when you think about how harsh he is with Bulma. Vegeta tends to get a pass though because everybody loves that scene with Kid Trunks in the gravity chamber. It has everything: Parenting! Action! Humor! Shirtless Vegeta!
Plus – how can anyone say Vegeta doesn’t love his son after watching this?
The male characters in Dragonball Z are multifaceted (I wish the same could be said for the women) and in turn produce complex families with complex family dynamics. Fans get a taste of every combination imaginable.
There’s an evil take on sibling rivalry with Goku and Raditz, Gohan getting kidnapped by his Uncle Raditz, Chi-Chi’s reluctant entrance into single motherhood, the age gap between Gohan and Goten, the difference a father figure makes in a boy’s life when comparing Future Trunks to Kid Trunks and (my personal favorite) how Bulma turned the “Prince of All Saiyans” into a stay-at-home Dad.
My own family dysfunction has nothing on these people. And like a soap opera, DBZ is fun to watch because it’s other people and their families being the dysfunctional ones for a change.
What is Summer of DBZ? Hi, Iggles! I’m Melody and I will be analyzing Dragon Ball Z, it’s themes, tropes, characters and more every weekend all summer long (or all autumn lol). Feel free to leave a comment if you want to talk more about the DBZ families! Next week, I’ll expand on family talk with a specific look at the mother-son relationships on the show.
Featured image source: Vegeta Family Restored by kingvegito