Any Dragon Ball fan will tell you that the Buu Saga has its problems. Its tone and pacing vary wildly throughout the arc as Akira Toriyama tried to lean more heavily into the comedy writing that he always loved. But as inconsistent as the story becomes, I will always love the Great Saiyaman episodes. They’re goofy and silly and give us a perfect insight into the character of Gohan.
I always love the characters in Dragon Ball that don’t get the same love as the rest of the cast, so let’s take a look at what makes the Great Saiyaman one of Dragon Ball’s best character arcs.
The tonal shift is important
Perhaps the biggest complaint about the Great Saiyaman episodes of Dragon Ball is the huge shift between the end of the Cell Games and Gohan starting at high school just a few chapters/episodes later. We no longer see the grim, angry young boy who had saved the world in a fit of rage. Instead, we get a reasonably well-adjusted teenager on his way to school. We see him try to find a safe way to use his powers to help people, navigate the perils of a high school romance, and live as normal a life as he can.
This shift in tone gives us a chance to see Gohan when he is living his best life and adds a bit of tragedy to his story. We as readers/viewers know that there is danger coming on the horizon. The series would have ended if all the characters found peace already. So we watch Gohan do what he can to adjust to normal life, knowing that he will soon be forced to give it up in order to save the world again.
Dragon Ball needs slice of life
Dragon Ball has been one of the biggest names in action manga for generations now, but Akira Toriyama understood that it is important to show the characters outside of immediate peril from time to time. It allows readers to get a sense of who the characters are when they are at peace rather than just when the world is ending. From as early as Goku and Krillin’s initial training under Roshi, there are often these moments of quiet for the characters.
The Great Saiyaman is Gohan’s idea of a quiet moment. In classic Spider-Man fashion, the teenager is saddled with the power to protect people and feels the responsibility to use it, but he also doesn’t want the fame and pressure that comes with it, hence the goofy superhero outfit. In the episodes where Gohan is running around as the Great Saiyaman, we learn more about who he is than we ever do when he’s fighting for his life. This is what Gohan sees as his best life and it represents his character at rest just before more turmoil strikes.
The Great Saiyaman comes from Gohan’s trauma
With all the flying, fighting, and saving the world, it’s easy to forget that Gohan was only five years old when his dad’s two best friends took him on an intergalactic road trip to bring their other friends back to life. A few weeks later, he’s lying on the ground with his neck broken by Recoome after having watched the Ginyu Force hop and pose around like idiots. As chaotic as his life had been up to that point, it was the closest the kid had ever been to death at that point.
Flash forward ten years and Gohan has adopted the Great Saiyaman alter-ego, which features a lot of very familiar posing and over-the-top speeches. It is Gohan at his goofiest and nerdiest, but the fan-theory is that Gohan was so traumatised by the encounter with the Ginyu Force on Namek that he expresses that fear he felt by wrapping himself up in what scared him as a child. The Great Saiyaman is his way of embracing what was one of his most frightening moments in his childhood.
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