Dear earthling, this is a series called the Dragon Ball ABC. Every week we take a letter of the alphabet and take a look at a character or a thing with the biggest influence on the Dragon Ball universe we all love. So if you’re into Dragon Ball you better buckle up, because we’re bringing you 26 weeks with peeks into the amazing world of Dragon Ball! Since we’re diving into some of the nitty gritty of Dragon Ball, an obvious spoiler warning applies!
Last week was an easy choice, this week we don't even have a choice. There's no way we could not pick this week's subject character, considering his status in the series and all that. So without further ado, this week we're talking all about Goku!
Since there's plenty of reason to assume that you already know about Goku's history, we'll keep the general description short this time. Goku was born in the year 736 (manga) or 737 (anime). For the sake of this article, we'll stick with the anime timeline (we assume most of you watch the anime instead of reading the manga). Goku was then sent to earth by the Saiyan people with the mission to kill all humans. As a 2 year old infant, he arrives on earth and is found by Grandpa Gohan. While aggressive at first, Goku soon sustains a head injury and with it suffers from an amnesia that makes him forget most of his Saiyan history, including his real name (Kakarot) and his violent nature.
Grandpa Gohan was also the one to introduce Goku to martial arts and after Goku accidentally kills Gohan while in his Ozaru form he continues his training with Master Roshi instead. In fact, Master Roshi was also the one who initially trained Grandpa Gohan.
From there on out, Goku would go on many adventures, fighting many strong opponents and saving many lives in the process. Along the way he would beat and make famous villains such as Yamcha, Vegeta, Frieza, Cell, Majin Buu and more recently Beerus, Hit and Jiren.
So what makes Dragon Ball so popular and in particular, why is Goku such a great protagonist? He's so great that he was kept as the main star, whereas initially the plan was for Gohan to succeed his father after defeating Perfect Cell. Or, as Akira Toriyama put it: “I intended to put Gohan into the leading role,” the creator said. “It didn’t work out. I felt that compared to Goku, he was ultimately not suited for the part.” Of course, it didn't help that Gohan was turned into the utterly ridiculous Great Saiyaman nor that he never really took a liking to fighting, unlike his father. Some research from Gamefaq user Scotty_Rogers also shows that there apparently had been some outrage about Gohan taking over on ancient messaging boards. Next to that Gohan dropped in the popularity polls that accompanied the original weekly manga prints. When it was all said and done, Toriyama failed to establish Gohan as the new protagonist, opting to bring Goku back instead. If this is new to you, try watching the end of the Cell saga and the Buu saga again and notice how you can see it in the series itself.
Back to Goku, there are plenty of reasons to like his personality. He's kind, fun-loving and light hearted and seems like an easy person to be around. His kindness is also reflected in his ability to have mercy, sometimes he appears to be too merciful. Of course, these aren't very warrior-like character traits, something that's represented in his love for fighting and his undying desire to overcome every and all obstacles. Goku has taught many of us that you can both be strong and kind. That you can be respectful, but still out to defeat everyone that challenges you. His personality combines these good traits with bad traits that aren't necessarily all that bad. They're mostly flaws that are easily forgivable. In fact, his sometimes failing ability to use his brain add a layer of goofiness and his stubborness comes forth out of his ability to never give up.
Goku's character is pretty much identical to the core of the Dragon Ball series itself. Mostly lighthearted and fun, with a very occassional side of serious topics or darkness. Looking back at Gohan's failed attempt to take over the series it's easy to see why. Gohan wasn't much of a fighter by nature and that inner demon just does not match with the core of the series. Trying to make Gohan be more lighthearted made him look ridiculous, but trying to make Dragon Ball more mature would've meant going away from what made Dragon Ball popular in the first place.
The very same reason makes Vegeta such a good supporting character. His far more serious and angry character balances out Goku's goofiness. Look at some of the most famous movie or television duos and you'll see exactly the same ingredients. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Woody and Buzz Lightyear or even Bert and Ernie. All of these duos have some lightheartedness and some seriousness mixed into them and it works. Goku's goofiness is so bad he needs a whole bunch of characters to keep him in check (Chi-Chi, Vegeta, Bulma, Piccolo, Beerus all fullfil this role in one way or another).
Next, we have to talk about a very sensitive subject. A subject that, upon mentioning it, is enough to start heated debates among fans. It's Goku's voice acting or rather, Goku's voice actors. Let's start by saying that both Goku's original voice actress, Masako Nozawa, and her English dub counterpart, Sean Schemmel, do amazing jobs voicing Goku. Both have their own style and honestly it really comes down to personal preferences.
Keeping it simple, there are two basic ways to identify if you prefer the Japanese or English voice. On the language side of things first of all, are you native Japanese or English and do you prefer listening to your mother tongue? If yes, choose your own language. Second, do you understand Japanese or English or both? If you don't understand one or the other, or neither, then your options are limited. Third, do you mind reading subtitles or not? Those are the questions you should ask based on language.
Then there's the personality question. Because that is where the big difference lies, Nozawa and Schemmel both represent different main character traits of Goku. Whereas Nozawa's Japanese voice favors the silliness of Goku's character, Schemmel represents the strong fighter side of Goku. From there, the question is simple, why do you watch Dragon Ball? Do you watch because the fights are cool and you like the fighting side or do you watch Dragon Ball because it's fun and it makes you laugh. Personally, I made the transition from the first to the second. Growing up I watched the English dub in the late 90s and early 2000s, primarily because English was the only available option, and I loved the series for the fights and explosions. Then, when a friend reintroduced me to Dragon Ball Super a few years back, I started watching the Japanese and basically fell in love with the funny side of the series. So now the fights are still cool, but to me they are more of a secondary part of the show whereas the humor is the main reason for me to tune in. So next time you hear someone go on about why they hate Masako or Sean, remember that both represent a different way of watching Dragon Ball and that both are great depending on your own preferences. Because at the end of the day we all love the Dragon Ball series and Goku in particular.
What do you think of Goku, his character or his voice actors? Leave a comment or check out the other entries in PlanetGoku's Dragon Ball ABC.
We'll leave you with Goku's very first animated introduction to Dragon Ball fans.
See you next week!