It wouldn’t be Dragon Ball without an inappropriate cliffhanger and days of waiting, so here we are, wrapping up our recollection from last time. We’re looking at how freakishly the events of our young lives line up to the story arcs of Dragon Ball.
The tones, the themes, the characters, this was a story that lasted far long than most, and like a human, it adapts to the time and its audience.
We left with the Frieza Saga, which transitioned us from early puberty into what is easily the darkest and most destructive of Dragon Ball’s story arcs… the Cell Saga.
Your Angry Teen Years
(I write this with the full-acknowledgment that the Cell Saga aired on Toonami during my angry teens years. It is because of this that I find it the hardest arc to go back to, and I usually just stop here if I binge Dragon Ball Z over a few weekends.)
And you made it. You’re no longer a child. Congratulations. I hope you are happy… but I know you are not, you angry, little puke. You’re a teenager now, nothing but the rough road ahead and the angst that rips apart your immature soul. You best harden yourself now, and also harden those pen lines on your new, edgier character art, and prepare for the worst because of the next few years… well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Upon your entry into these dreadful years, your first inclination is to distance yourself from everything that defined you as a child. You’re no longer a kid, you’re a badass now. You are driven by new motivations, new emotions, and new obstacles to overcome.
To hammer in this new found confidence, you disregard your great achievement like it was just an everyday occurrence? That big game, meh, there will be plenty more. That science fair wasn’t really that good of a project. That intergalactic tyrant? He really wasn’t that strong. You’ll bring him back for an episode or two and kill him without a sweat, just to show that your new focus is where the real awesome is.
Badass Super Saiyans. This is hardcore. This new feeling, this overarching theme of anger and emotions as power, this is the crutch your teenage years. You find something that works, and you stick to it, defining down to your very core. Super Saiyans, everyone seems to like them, everyone seems to accept you as cool now. Time to throw out your soul, throw out your fun, throw out the mystery, and show the world how awesome you are.
After all, soul is for singers, fun is for babies, and mystery is for Sherlock Holmes. Anger, rage, Super Saiyans, getting stronger, and the grunts of masculine muscles slamming into one another, this is what this badass life is all about now.
But with all these hardcore feels, you’ll swiftly find how few outlets you have. If you thought the repetition you felt in your earlier school years were unendurable and boring, prepare to suffer beyond your worst nightmares. The grind of high school brings more battering to your fragile psyche than you’ve ever experienced before. Extracurricular activities, tests, homework reports, greater weight tied to your failures, androids, androids, and androids after androids.
Your life ceases to be a free-flowing story with a goal at the end, and instead, it becomes a series of obstacles that you must overcome.
Study, pass, study, fail, study harder, maybe pass. Train, fight, lose, get angry, level up, fight, win… train, fight, lose, get angry, level up, fight, win.
And just when you feel you’ve found your greatest challenge, your final adversary, life pulls the carpet out from under your feet, revealing ever bigger problems ahead. Got the girl to like you? Great, have fun with the idea of monogamy in high school. Not as exciting as you thought it would be, huh? Pass the test? Good for you, you still have midterms and finals lingering over your head. Beat the chubby robot with a spiky hat? Whatever, he was nothing compared to the old grizzled man who made him… who is pint-sized compared to the twin androids he secretly made… who are also dwarfed by the ultra-secret android he made in a deeper, darker part of his lab… and guess what, that one has four forms!
Android after android after android. Where’s the fun in it all? Where is the cleverness? Remember when you used to dream about the most minute, unimportant facts of life. Remember when you used to get outwitted by a shape-shifting pig? Nope, not anymore. Those days are gone, and now, the only way to improve yourself is lock yourself in a bedroom, where the days feel like years, and get pissed off at the world. After all, anger is the only true way to level up anymore.
Relationships start to take a toll. Your parents? You start to see cracks in their methods, regardless of whether you have loving parents who put too much faith in your ability to perform or you have neglectful parents who resent you when you show the potential to surpass them.
Your friends? Well, some are worth keeping around, but that camaraderie you felt when you adventured as a kid or when you saved the world from monkey aliens just isn’t there anymore. But why keep them around? I mean, they are old news, and you’re a badass now! You’ve got to fit in with the cool crowd. You gotta get blonde and become a Super Saiyan, because if you’re not a Super Saiyan, you’re not worth the grime on Vegeta’s boots in this unforgiving new world. You will be left behind if you don’t adapt, and likewise, you have no problem leaving behind useless friends who can’t keep up with your badassery.
Your one true friend who stuck around is off busy chasing an emotionally unavailable blonde with a pretty face who treats him like garbage. He says she’s really nice underneath because she toyed and flirted with him once, but you don’t have the heart to tell him that his raging devotion to her is the hormones, not love.
To make it worse, you’re new friends aren’t all that much fun. They wear the same clothes, have the same hairstyle. Maybe your worst rival is now a negative force in your life that you keep around in case times get bad or just want an example that you’re really not all that bad.
Any attempt to break this destructive cycle of feelings and just bask in the innocence of your youth is dismissed as “filler” by other disgruntled teens. And no, failing your driver’s test for the first time wasn’t nearly as fun as Goku failing his.
By the end of these years, you just feel like you can’t take it anymore. The pressures of school, the social obligations, the repetitive fights with indestructible robot after robot, why does life feel so angry and boring! You see a light at the end of the tunnel, but you first have to conquer this twisted, lifeless, cynical abomination of everything you’ve ever known and loved. Your teenage years have warped your once happy view of the world beyond recognition, and your enemy has stolen all of your friend’s abilities and strengths and is using them against you. This enemy is yourself, seeing the world you once loved through clouded judgement, stress, and confusion about the future.
You can continue to be this disgusting representation of yourself, or you can let the child within you finally see the light of day again and blast that abomination into oblivion with and ultimate Kamehameha.
And only then… you are free.
Your College Years
But free to do exactly what? Well, that’s up for you to decide. You body has become accustomed to the hormones within, freeing you from the anger. The dramatic conformity of high school has been left in the dust where it belongs, and you have those marvelous college years ahead of you!
Your life is a blank slate, leaving you free to do as you will with your life.
And immediately, you regress in years with misguided attempts to reconnect with your past. I mean, you don’t exactly know what it means to “grow up” just yet, so you return to your safety zone and just gel for a while. You decorate your new dorm room with posters and trinkets from your youth. You start to eat unhealthy cold pizza every night now that mommy isn’t around to cook your meals anymore. You throw not one but two martial arts tournaments, one with a centipede that tickles you into submission.
I mean, that was hilarious when you were a kid, right?
Your awkward attempts to reconcile your high school years turns foul when you realize that nobody from high school wants to remember you, as they are all in the same boat. You instead start dressing in funny clothes, acting like a goof on campus just because you can, and it all turns out like some weird high school anime.
You rewrite your origin stories, start telling fibs about where you come from. Your friend who has been bald his whole life starts to wear a wig. Your loser friend who was always three steps behind picks up baseball as a hobby. Everyone changes everything in an attempt to appeal to a new crowd of friends.
Biggest of all, you rewrite your canon so that wacky children can now be cool Super Saiyans, and the youths of the world can join in your facade. (And you thought midichlorians were bad.)
Anything goes in the early stage of this life. You have to build yourself as an independent adult, free from conformity, free from adults telling you what to do. Why not?! Throw a bunch of nonsense at the wall and see what sticks! You might just find something you like. That’s how life progresses now, on your own terms, because, who cares!? You’re free!
But are you really? In spite of seeing yourself through this extroverted, free-spirited, refreshing view of life, what have you really done to grow as a person? What steps have you really taken to become an adult? As time goes on, you start to realize… nothing has really changed. You’re still stuck in the same ruts, same routines, same old-fashioned school life. You’re still training away, still getting mad, still leveling up, still fighting, still possessing little motivation to push on besides the latest test or villain of the week.
How did you let this happen?! You were having so much fun!
You see, you start to realize that growing up isn’t exciting. It isn’t an adventure. Life just always continues as it always has, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t reconnect with those innocent days ever again. You might not be an angry teen anymore, but you certainly aren’t a child either. You can’t disguise your disappointment with wacky ideas or flamboyant character designs. You’re still the same, repetitious, dumb kid who leans on old habits to press on through life. No image shifts, no makeovers, no shift in animation styles will change that.
To compensate upon this realization, you start to make some crazy decisions, one last hurrah before it’s all too late. You pick up experimental dancing, you start piercing your body, you grow out your hair to ridiculous lengths, you get an ill-advised tattoo right on your forehead, the chocolate some weirdo offered you leaves you stoned for half a season, and worst of all, you try this latest trend with your friends called… “Fusion.”
When this doesn’t work out, you realize, you are clearly out of good ideas. Slamming your head into a table to generate flow from your brain, trying to drag out this lifestyle, this manga, for a few more seasons just isn’t going to happen. You’ve been at this game for nearly a decade, and it’s time to wrap it all up. You need release… desperately.
But, how are you going to do that? Well, why not the old-fashioned way? Buckle down, hammer it out, understand what it means to truly grow up. Find your passion, pick a major, go to class, stop trying to be weird. Those ideas you had as a kid, they will help you find your true calling in life. Stick to what you know best, but don’t just accept it at face value. Refine it! Turn it into something bigger, better, something you enjoy seeing.
That Super Saiyan crutch you’ve been leaning on since you entered puberty, that does have the potential to be something great, so long as you don’t abuse it. Turn to it, rely on it to help you close out this chapter of your life. For old time’s sake, rumble with the third form of an ultimate villain for a few dozen episodes, travel to an alien world like you did in the Frieza days, toss in a contrived plan with the Dragon Balls, and why not dig even further into your history and conjure up a giant Spirit Bomb to seal the deal.
You don’t even have to be a Super Saiyan to do that!
You just have to be yourself. Accept that. It might not be original or exciting, but with enough focus, you might just pull off the satisfying end to your school years that you deserve.
Your Early 20’s
And once again… you’re free. This happens to you a lot these days, doesn’t it? But free to do what? Free to take the job you want? Free to date who you want, hang out with who you want? You have no more authority, no more curriculum, essentially, no more rules.
It is here that you learn freedom isn’t a state of being, but rather, freedom is the cause of all stress. With so many decisions to make at once, how can one keep up with all the options? Up until this point in your life, you had the hand of skilled adults and genuinely good writers guiding through your adventures. But now, your life is in your own hands, in the hands of an amateur who doesn’t understand the world you or Goku lives in.
What are you going to do?
There really is no choice. You’re going to have to wing it. Forge your own way through life, string pieces and storylines from your past together, just to survive another season. It might not be as fun anymore because you’re life has taken a serious turn, but why not? What else do you have going for yourself now?
Hunt for the Dragon Balls like you once did, revert to a childhood state once again, fight giant apes and androids. This “sticking to what you know best” worked in college. It will all work out in the end here, won’t it?
Well, no. There is no more ending to your journey now, there is no more goal you just have to survive until. Life has to continue on for a few more decades, and all of a sudden, the journey itself becomes more important than the destination. And you won’t always get the journey right. In fact, you rarely will right now with so little experience.
At this stage in your life, you’re going to fail… a lot. You’re maybe going to take a job that doesn’t work out for you, maybe you’ll buy a house you don’t like, maybe you’ll get married to someone you shouldn’t, maybe you’ll create some unlikable and unmemorable characters, maybe you’ll reintroduce yourself to some long lost friends or rivals who were best left in the past. Anything it takes to keep the show rolling.
It’s not uncommon to see this stage of your life as a failure. You take things too seriously, your viewpoint becomes a bit hardened, and at the end of the day, these trying times are best left forgotten… unofficial… outside of canon. The choices you make in these early years have little impact on your future, and failure is the greatest teacher of all, or so I’ve heard.
Accept that failure is okay, learn from your mistakes, and move on… or else…
Your Mid-20s Meltdown
Science is starting to show an increase in mental breakdowns in the mid-20s. Young adults are coming into the work force without the social skills, the positive outlook, the self-esteem, or the ambition to succeed, and many of these people suffer because they have been ill-prepared to face the world. You see the reality of it all, understand that you’ve been lied to, that life isn’t going to hand you success and that it’s not going to be as easy as happily ever after.
You can’t handle the truth and start to despair.
Yes, it’s important to fail in your early 20s and learn from those failures, but many are not able to so easily. Victory came so easily to you in life so far that victory seemed inevitable in every situation. These failures begin to take a toll on you, leading to an inevitable breakdown in your mid-20s.
What does this breakdown feel like? First, you start to recollect your life up until that point. You trace your history, go over the steps you’ve taken, try to see where you succeeded and where you failed, but something is missing. The happy times, they don’t come so easily to you. The breaks from your story, it’s like they’ve been erased. All you see is conflict, all you see is the hurdles you overcame to get to this point, the hard fighting, the anger, the constant struggle of life… but why?
Why would you suffer like this constantly without respite, without a break from it all. Where are your happy moments? Where is your filler?
You also start to realize that your biggest achievements don’t have the same impact anymore. They fall into place in your personal history and all line up nicely in order, but they seem hollow. They seem different, washed over. The tests don’t seem all that challenging, the school years don’t inspire you in the same way, your friends and family seem distant, the battles don’t seem as hard fought, victories don’t feel as if they were earned, and the punches and kicks just don’t have that impact anymore that they once did.
You used to be able to take a punch to the face, but looking back at it now, it’s like your enemies where handling you with baby hands.
Is your whole life a lie? Did you just imagine it all? Were your achievements really all that special? Does your history even matter?
Questions like these lead to a dark place, and in those time, it is best to turn to loved ones or professional help to reassure you and set you back on the right path. There is nothing wrong with lingering in the past and reevaluating yourself, but if you do, focus on the reality of your past, not a chopped up version of it. Take the good with the bad, understand that you had flaws, and don’t cop out on your memories… ever!
The sooner you embrace your true self, the sooner you can recover from this emotional meltdown.
Your Nostalgic 30s
And trust me, it will all be fine eventually. You’ll get over that hump, embrace life as it is, and eventually, accept that you just need to continue on and grow like everyone else. Other multimedia properties have found great success by prying on the nostalgia of their now-grown-up fans… and you certainly can too.
Life is full of adventures and original stories for you to find and uncover. There is nothing wrong with living in the past once in a while, but don’t discount the future over blind loyalty to your origins.
Your future is supposed to be exciting! It’s supposed to be fun! It might not always be, but you weren’t lied to as a kid entirely. Life can deliver you pleasure in bits and pieces, so long as you work at it. You’ll definitely show your weaknesses from time to time. Your style may change, your animation might not be as sharp, but you still can rock with the best of them!
Like in your college years, embrace what you do best and just run with it, and the people and fans that matter will follow and cheer you on. Martial arts tournaments, gods, alien planets, old rivals returning for more, and, of course, Super Saiyans. For good or ill, these are now locked into what you’ve become, so just have a bit of fun with it. Again, refine and enjoy!
Who knows, maybe you have your own little Super Saiyan now who can enjoy both your past and your future alongside you.
After all, what’s the point of nostalgic money grabs if you don’t enjoy them with your kids? That’s what the producers wanted you to do when they greenlit Dragon Ball Super.