Considering how large the cast of characters is in Dragon Ball, it is worth remembering that few have been around as long as Master Roshi. The Turtle Hermit first showed up in Chapter 3 of the Dragon Ball manga way back in 1984 and has been a mainstay in the series ever since. In fact, only Goku, Bulma, and Turtle have appeared in the manga longer.
One of Master Roshi’s defining characteristics has always been being a massive pervert, but that isn’t the only way that we should remember him. I mean, he is a perv, but he is also one of the best mentor characters in anime and has gone on to influence similar characters throughout history in both big and small ways.
The wisdom of Master Roshi
When he first shows up, Master Roshi is primarily seen as a comic relief character. He shows up in the first arc of the manga, when he gives Goku the legendary Flying Nimbus and trades a Dragon Ball for a peek at Bulma’s panties. After this, he seems to disappear for several chapters until the second arc, when Goku tracks him down and asks to be trained by the storied martial arts teacher who trained his grandfather.
It is this arc that shows us a second side to Master Roshi. True, he is still a massive pervert who refuses to teach Goku and Krillin unless they bring him a pretty girl to lust after, but he also shows a surprising balance in his approach to life and martial arts. He insists that the young boys are educated in reading and writing as well as training their bodies, tells them that they must master the art of peace as well as the art of war, and teaches them by making them help the people around them.
They plow fields and deliver crates of milk to the people of the surrounding villages. Rather than teach them powerful techniques or ways to hurt people, Master Roshi teaches the boys to use their strength for good.
This is the side of Master Roshi that remains hidden for much of the manga’s run, especially after the time skip when the anime changed to “Z” and he was fully relegated to the role of comic relief with most of the other human characters. What makes him such an effective mentor character is the fact that he has a clear philosophy in life and the teaching skills to pass that philosophy on. He understands his students better than they understand themselves and knows how to motivate them to greatness — even when they don’t realise he is guiding them along the way.
When Master Roshi enters the famed World Martial Arts Tournament under the guise of Jackie Chun (spoilers, I guess?) it isn’t for personal glory or even the prize money. He spends the prize money treating his young students to food immediately after the final. He does it simply to urge his two greatest students on the path to self-improvement. To motivate them to continue to work toward becoming stronger with the promise that there are more powerful opponents in the world for them to face.
Of course, there are less admirable aspects to Master Roshi’s personality, but there is so much more to him than simply being a dirty old man. His belief that strength should be used to help people rather than for selfish reasons is a core theme of the series, where Goku continually faces off against villains who fight for their pride, for wealth, and for the sake of power. Though he is largely eclipsed by the other characters in terms of strength, he never stops being their greatest supporter. In fact, during one of Super’s best moments, he shouts his support to Krillin to help him get his little bald head in the fight against Frieza’s forces.
I’ve always been a sucker for a mentor figure in anime — and so many have taken the blueprint Akira Toriyama provided and added their own changes and tweaks. There are elements of Master Roshi in modern mentors like Aizawa, All Might or Satoru Gojo. They’re all mentors who need to see their pupils improve and grow and, most importantly, to use their strength for the good of those around him.
That’s an admirable philosophy to live by — which is why Master Roshi should be celebrated, even if you probably wouldn’t leave him alone with your little sister.
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