Last year, I went to a little get together and encountered a bunch of anime geeks. One geek in particular was a cute guy wearing a Dragon Ball Z shirt designed like Goku’s gi. I chatted him up in the hallway and things got awkward when he started bashing my favorite fighter: Gohan.
“He’s weak!” He said, incredulous that I could ever like him. “No, he’s not. Gohan has lots of strengths,” I argued. He countered my every statement by listing Gohan’s every flaw. The conversation ended cordially. Needless to say, we did not exchange phone numbers.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve had to stand up for “The Chosen One”. But it sticks out in my mind because Gohan is always the one who gets ripped apart the most when fans start ranking the best Z fighters. Why? Because Gohan is perceived as the one fighter who wasted his talents and never really lived up to his full potential.
If you recall the very beginning of DBZ, Gohan gets a lot of screen time. He stars in many filler episodes where he is most remembered for being a big crybaby. Piccolo takes on the responsibility of training him (some might say this quickly transformed into befriending him) and we see Gohan transform from scared little boy to kid warrior. One could also argue that he’s a mama’s boy and cares more about school than fighting. In that case, okay. I see how Gohan can be perceived by some hypermasculine fans as weak.
Genetics can also explain Gohan’s behavior. Since he is only half-Saiyan, he doesn’t have that insatiable desire to fight like Goku, Vegeta and the other full Saiyans. Gohan tends to only ‘snap’ when his friends, family or innocents are in danger. And man, does he SNAP.
I guess it is Gohan’s story arc in the Cell Saga that undermines his quiet strength, but I often use the Cell Saga to explain why I think Gohan is really, really strong and awesome. The Cell Saga is all about Gohan becoming the strongest version of himself to avenge his father’s death at the hands of Cell. He goes Super Saiyan 2 for the first time and ends up saving the world.
Can you guess what my would-be date’s problem was with Gohan in the Cell Saga? His original reluctance to fight Cell at all. If Gohan had only come out swinging from the beginning then maybe, he claimed, he could have taken Gohan more seriously as a fighter.
But you can’t ‘break the cutie’ if you don’t have a cute kid in the first place. By the time we get to the Cell Saga, I think we are supposed to be skeptical of Gohan’s ability to win because we know he doesn’t fight for fun. We know he’s the least experienced fighter in the whole group. Our hero is a nerdy school boy! Even Cell thinks it’s an exaggeration to say Gohan is stronger than him. Until Gohan does the impossible and destroys Cell (and like 20 of his bloodthirsty clones).
And yeah, he does stop fighting later to try and become a normal teenager. That doesn’t mean he’s weak. Gohan can’t travel the universe fighting every day of his life.
So what can be done to change our perspective of the formerly gentle baby fighter? In the beginning he may have started out as weak, but thank goodness for character development. Gohan will never be as fierce and passionate of a warrior as Vegeta. He’ll never seek out an opportunity to fight like his Dad. Gohan is his own unique type of fighter and his own unique type of character. And I don’t know about you, but that’s why I kinda love him.
NOTE: Summer of DBZ will be carrying over into the Fall and Winter! Hooray! That also means a change in frequency. From now on posts will go live on the 3rd Wednesday of the month every month until January because that’s when this series will end.
Leave a comment if you want to talk more about Gohan. Next month, we’re gonna figure out which saga is the best!