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A Lovable Menace: Why Goku Is Easily The Most Unreliable Hero In The 'Dragon Ball' Universe

by Dylan Balde 5 years ago in anime
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Goku's outlandishly unreliable disposition has put others around him in danger more than once, making him the most unreliable hero.

#SonGoku is the #shounen genre's version of Usagi Tsukino — a classic figure in modern-day storytelling, representing an archetype that appeals most to the flawed, human everyman in all of us. And like the common man, despite being much-revered as a hero, #Goku — as a person — is far from perfect.

Like the terrifying, all-powerful deity, Zeno — who coincidentally happens to take a mutual liking to Goku, so I guess birds of the same feather really do flock together — the primary protagonist of the Dragon Ball franchise is ridiculously childish and impulsive, a toddler with the destructive capacity of a god. He might be sweet, adorable, and kind, brave, loyal, and steadfast, but Goku has this disturbing, frightening tendency to not think at all before he acts, to not consult anyone else before he makes universe-threatening decisions, and to prioritize his battle-starved self way above everything and everyone else — even safety, peace, and order. It almost feels like his sense of reason automatically flies out the window the moment something exciting or interesting comes in.

It does not help that he seems to be more attuned to his Saiyan bloodlust for fighting more than all the other existing Saiyans combined; for instance, in the beginning, Vegeta was a bit like him, but over time learned prudence; unlike Goku, both he and his son Trunks are known for efficiently and cleanly getting the job done.

Overall, Goku can be dangerously unpredictable — a scary thought considering he deals with world-leveling figures on a regular basis. If he pisses them off or inspires them to destroy worlds, you die. If he lets the villain live, you also die. If he forgets the thing to seal the villain with in another dimension, well you also die. If you're not part of his universe, sorry to say you're also pretty much expendable. He is fine with letting you die as long as his universe lives. Basically, if you live in the Dragon Ball world, your life is never in your hands, but in Goku's. And as a hero, this makes him unreliable. Even a threat to other beings he fails to be appropriately mindful of.

Probably the only time Beerus attempted to save lives, rather than take them. [Credit: Toei Animation]

Goku's outlandishly childish outlook in life has put others around him in danger more than once. His boundless immaturity — a trait which can easily spell death and disaster for more than just himself in any battle, in a universe where the stakes are often disastrously high — has even pushed Universe 7's God of Destruction, #Beerus, to try to "erase" Goku, who he considers a threat to all universes, not just his own. One participant in the Tournament of Power, Toppo from Universe 11, even considers Goku "evil," and himself a sentry of justice.

Without the constant protection of plot armor for our trusty "good guys," the Z warriors would have been dead — permanently — a long time ago, no thanks to Goku.

Disclaimer: Goku is neither evil nor dumb

A match made in heaven. Literally. [Credit: Toei Animation]

Let's be clear: Goku — as per canon — is a good guy. He would not have been able to ride the Flying Nimbus otherwise, which only accepts passengers of pure heart. Goku's heart is as pure and innocent as a child's, and though he is a clear and present danger to the people around him, he doesn't deliberately mean to be.

Goku isn't dumb or stupid either. That would be oversimplistic. He is naive, like Zeno, not dumb. They both have a vague idea of what the right thing is; they are simply too impulsive, hence they tend to act without thinking completely about the full (and dire!) consequences of their actions. Moreover, Goku has already proven time and again to be a tactical genius in battle.

Goku is simply an irresponsible hero. Or an accidental villain, either or.

Potentially Unsuited as Earth's Chief Defender

About the third time Goku's given this guy a second chance. [Credit: Toei Animation]

  • POINT 1: He refuses to fight with a handicap, or any slight advantage over his opponents whatsoever, and always gives his enemies a second chance (irredeemably dangerous or not).

This might seem honorable or kind-hearted, but in a truly life-or-death scenario — which is always in Dragon Ball — such actions are suicidal. The second you get a clear shot, you're supposed to take it, not let it get a clear shot of you or lose it altogether. What if you giving them a chance is exactly the advantage they needed to later get rid of you?

Eyeball it, just like that. [Captain America: Civil War, Marvel Studios]

This particular trait of Goku's is much contested upon; on the surface, it might seem reckless and stupid, but most of Goku's enemies that he chose to later spare eventually became valuable allies — friends and comrades that would later end up critically turning the tide in countless battles against more powerful villains that could have easily defeated Goku and the team if the others weren't around. Most people would say Goku made the right choices.

Despite that however, I would argue that Goku has simply gotten lucky most of his enemies (or potential antagonists) rehabilitated, or did not turn on him for too long; Piccolo found his grounding in Gohan during the pre-Saiyan saga, while Vegeta gradually found his in #Bulma and Trunks. Beerus and #Whis found theirs in Earth's food, while Zeno partly found his in Goku. He is also lucky to always have someone save his, and everyone else's, ass during particularly dire situations, as was the case with Future Trunks who disposed of Mecha Frieza in time when Goku could not, and Super Saiyan 2 Gohan with Cell after Goku gave the bio-android a Senzu bean and allowed him an early advantage during battle. Overall, he is fortunate to just simply be strong enough to overpower select opponents he'd spared or allowed to power up in cases when they've gone uncontrollably rogue, like Frieza come DBS's Resurrection F arc and Majin Vegeta during the Buu saga.

Which brings me to my next point.

Good guy Goku. Always with a Senzu bean in hand, even for baddies. [Credit: Toei Animation]

  • POINT 2: He is too nice to his enemies.

I don't deny that Goku is truly compassionate. I admire how he believes everyone, no matter how dreadful or dangerous (initially), deserves a second chance. But there's a limit to that compassion. One can't afford to be so lax when so many other lives, worlds, and universes are at stake. Although Vegeta and Piccolo later reformed, individuals like Frieza and Cell did not and only caused more destruction and damage that could otherwise have been avoided or prevented if Goku had been less, well, nice. Goku's compassion (and tendency toward extreme naivete) is not an absolute good at all, but really more of a double edged sword.

The scene of his worst mistake. [Credit: Toei Animation]

  • POINT 3: He is willing to put his life, and everyone else's lives, in danger without a second thought for a chance to fight powerful and/or interesting opponents.

Goku, being a Saiyan, is battle-hungry by default; he can't help it. Never mind if his opponents are dangerous, or potentially unbeatable. What matters to Goku is the thrill. Ironically, despite his always fighting to achieve peace and normal living for the sake of everyone living on Earth, Goku, by default, seems allergic to peace and normal living. In fact, it seems almost unbearable to him. It's like the Joker not being able to live with a reality where there's no Batman; similarly, Goku is not himself if he's not fighting someone immensely powerful or dangerous, or if his friends are not about to die.

Yes, it really happened. He died. Except it's OK because he did it on purpose. [Credit: Toei Animation]

To sate his bottomless craving for battle, following the Future Trunks / #Zamasu arc, Goku asks to continue training under Whis. He spars with Gohan, Vegeta, even Krillin. In the former's case, to the point of obliterating their family's personal and only legitimate livelihood. But that's not enough. He needs someone strong enough to challenge and push him not just smack against his limits, but beyond them; someone willing to fight seriously, to battle him in full power — like opponents decades before — to the death. So the idiot anonymously calls on the legendary, undefeated multiverse assassin from Universe 6 and orders a hit on himself — with little regard for his own life and the feelings of those that would have been left behind (again) if he didn't happen to survive the fight. And why again? Because he's bored.

Bergamo, and everyone from Universe 9 = the first to die from Goku's temporary stupidity. [Credit: Toei Animation]

Ordering himself assassinated is just the icing on the cake however. Later down the line, Goku poses the idea of hosting the Tournament of Power to #Zeno, and suggests he invite all existing universes to participate, represented by ten of their greatest warriors. Zeno immediately takes interest, but later forgets; Beerus warns Goku against reminding him about the tournament, but the guy just can't keep his mouth shut, or his excitement to himself, and against Beerus's orders, reminds Zeno about it. It's later announced by the Grand Priest that while the reward for winning the Tournament of Power would be a shot at using the Super Dragon Balls, the punishment would be incompatibly severe; every universe that loses will be appropriately erased.

Zeno's momentary amnesia should've been Goku's cue to let it go, but he didn't. And as a result, eight out of twelve universes are now officially on the chopping block. Perhaps Zeno always wanted to get rid of the "weaker" universes because there are simply too many, but it was Goku who literally guided his hand atop all these scores of innocent beings. With this one act, Goku has doomed more beings to death than any of his previous enemies combined.

Instead spends what little time he has to kill time. [Credit: Toei Animation]

  • POINT 4: He doesn't finish world-threatening, easily or potentially murderous, opponents off right away.

Despite already matching Cell in strength, speed, and endurance, Goku holds back from finishing him off so Gohan could have a pass at him. Despite already being strong enough to get rid of Fat #Buu (roughly, by his own admission), Goku holds back so two little kids could do the job for him. He later claims he did so because he wants the boys to learn something. And of course, despite already being more than powerful enough to kill Frieza after he had already been severely weakened, he decides not to for a while so Frieza could use the time to power up.

It's always a different reason every time. Sometimes he just wants a fair fight. Sometimes he's just looking to maybe spice things up, make the battle more exciting, more interesting. Sometimes he's just holding off so others could have a shot at the prize. But the most widely agreed explanation is actually more straightforward.

The first real threat from 'Dragon Ball Super'... which Goku initially treated like a sparring partner. [Credit: Toei Animation]

  • POINT 5: He doesn't fight seriously at first.

The first several minutes to an hour are usually all play and games for Goku — lighthearted sparring matches, to a certain extent. When he first meets Beerus and the God of Destruction threatens to blow up his planet, he doesn't even try to kill him despite the obvious danger he posed. When he first meets Goku Black in the present timeline, and Zamasu in Universe 10, he also treats their first meetings as nothing more than friendly fighting — when he could just as easily have turned serious from the start. And during the #ResurrectionF arc, he is defeated before #GoldenFrieza could be killed.

It's the same in #DragonBallZ. Goku barely plays serious against Perfect Cell. He refuses to try seriously attacking Fat Buu and jump in for the kill. He spends the first several minutes of his Super Saiyan battle with Frieza dawdling about and testing his body.

With Goku, it's only if the stakes are suddenly elevated that he actually starts acknowledging reality and fighting seriously. He is probably just trying to gauge his opponents' power and skill levels (and varying move sets) before acting on anything permanent, but again in a life-or-death scenario where time is always crucial, this can easily tip over and become perilous for everyone involved. True, warming up will only take a minute, but what if by then it's already too late?

Well-intentioned, but risky. [Credit: Toei Animation]

  • POINT 6: He is often willing to risk everything — even safety and lives — on a gamble, or a test / act of faith.

Every time Goku spares an enemy, or allows others to fight in his place even though they might not be ready, Goku is operating completely on a bet. With himself. He could easily work on something more definitive, more secure, but he doesn't. Whatever his reasons might be, it can never justify his frequently putting everyone else's lives in danger. Nobody asked him to risk the universes in a gamble, or risk his son's life in an act of faith; looking at Goku this way, it can be argued he's not actually being fair or compassionate, but selfish. It's just not right to play with other people's lives like that. He might be playing fair with his enemy, or himself, but he's doing everyone else a great disservice. What if the next time he fails, he can no longer turn to the Dragon Balls for help?

  • POINT 7: He can be negligent during times of relative peace.

It's important to point out that the #DragonBallSuper version of Goku is significantly more reckless and selfish than the original series, #DBZ, and #DBGT Goku; the old Goku was more vigilant. He was smarter and also more sensitive of other people's lives. Perhaps he tends to go lax during times of peace? Maybe because he's already gotten so strong, he's become complacent, and is now less considerate of other beings' lives and individual feelings, because he feels with the guy he is now, there's no threat he can't possibly fix or get rid of?

Goku is basically the #anime and #manga equivalent of the gunslinger who bluffs his way through a duel because he doesn't think his opponent will shoot, or can shoot properly — and yet in the end someone he cares about still gets shot. Goku tends to be overly optimistic, even overconfident, in battle; he routinely underestimates his opponents and all the potential threats that come his way.

Despite his often fatal character flaws however, it is precisely those flaws that make Goku's story a compelling one. Son Goku is not capable of solving his and the world's problems by himself. Like the next guy, or you and me, he needs help. He needs rest. He even gets heart attacks! He needs friends, and comrades; to sometimes take a break and fall back so others could grow and have a chance. But more importantly, so he doesn't have to feel like every problem out there is eternally his to fix. Anyone who's ever tried to take on the world all by himself knows how emotionally and physically demanding that could be; the loneliness that comes with the pressure of having to bear that sort of immense responsibility is not just difficult, it's depressing. And not even the eternally happy-go-lucky Goku can handle the loneliness of "forced perfection" without the support and assistance of someone else. Remember Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1? Peter Quill shared the burden of the Power Stone with his teammates so he didn't have to feel alone in his responsibilities. It's the same with Goku.

That's what friends are for, right? [Credit: Toei Animation]

And that's the lesson they're teaching us with Dragon Ball. That no matter how perfect you might seem, you'll still need friends. You'll still screw up somewhere. And no matter how awful a person you might be right now, you can still be redeemed — if you really want to.


About the author

Dylan Balde

Secretly Dead and Strange, writes for a living. Moonlights as a cat-obsessed dork and innocuously wrapped human nitroglycerin. My life is an everyday Westchester incident. 💀 @dylanbalde

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