Dragonball Z: The Black Audience and the Namek Saga

By Super Saiyan-Joe

January 20th, 2019

The Namek Saga is my favourite Saga of the power fantasy anime Dragonball Z, it tends to be broken down into Namek, Ginyu and Frieza Saga, but, I define the Saga as encompassing all those Sagas. In addition, my original experience of Dragonball Z is a weird and heavy mix of the Canadian Ocean Dub and the original Funimation Dub with Bruce Faulconer score that aired in the UK, the remasters and Kai are not really what I think of when it comes to Dragonball Z. The Namek Saga is my most re-watched Saga of the Dragonball Z anime throughout my years growing up, I’ve attached a very strong emotional meaning to it as a result, this article is my attempt to best articulate my thoughts and feelings on why the Namek Saga is so impactful on not just me but wider Black fans of Dragonball Z.

The airing of DBZ in the UK is actually a topic of hot debate because nothing is absolutely clear, such as whether the show aired before 2000s with users such as myself remembering it clearly airing in the 90s. So don’t fight me on ‘how I experienced Dragonball Z’, my experience was my experience I’ll say with my chest in person if you’d like.

The Namek Saga is an epic, it is the first Saga to take place off Earth and widens the scope of the adventure to find the titular dragonballz setting it in space, furthermore, it comes off the back of severe loss of Life amongst the Z Fighters and Goku being heavily injured, the only 2 capable fighters left are Gohan and Krillin, adding Bulma also, they have to not only make the risky journey to planet Namek but encounter the unknown to find the dragonballz. The Namek Saga places the protagonists at a real disadvantage. However, this lends to the Saga taking a more interesting tone, there is a great build-up of tension when certain characters encounter one another and a greater sense of risk that is being undertaken as they search for the dragonballz, the Namek Saga is the best in presenting the protagonists engaging in an uphill struggle until this flipped at the climax of the Saga.

I believe that the two most impactful moments of the Namek Saga are Goku’s transformation into a Super Saiyan for the first time and his ‘It’s Done Speech’ to Frieza.

While the Namek Saga is very much an adventure to find the titular dragonballz, it could also be summarised as the culmination of the conflict between the space tyrant Frieza and the extinct warrior race known as the Saiyans, of which Goku, having been informed of this at the beginning of Dragonball Z, and Vegeta would be the last of. The planet Namek would be the location of this near fated confrontation, home to the original creators of the dragonballz the Namekians, whom Piccolo would also be revealed to be a member of.

As the story develops Toriyama very very lightly touches on themes of racism with the Saiyan characters Goku and Vegeta and the dual-identity of the Namekian character Piccolo. The Saiyans as flawed a race as they were, would be forced into joining Frieza’s galactic army, valued only for their talent as combat troops. Yet, despite how well the Saiyans served Frieza he would ultimately destroy them by blowing up their home planet, as he feared that a Saiyan powerful enough to challenge him would emerge. I can clearly recall the racism, and find the clips on Youtube, aimed at Vegeta being called an ‘arrogant Saiyan monkey’ by Guldo or the scene of Radditz, Nappa and Vegeta being referred to as ‘monkeys’ by Zarbon.

Piccolo, formerly known as Piccolo Jnr, had a background that was always a mystery, his Father King Piccolo was labelled simply as a Demon, before the complexity of his identity and background were revealed as the once evil persona of the Earth Guardian Kami that had been cast off, who himself had arrived on Earth from the planet Namek decades prior. Piccolo, now redeemed and an ally, arrives on Namek feeling a strange mix of familiarity and yet estrangement from his home planet.

Growing up in a predominately white society, as a black individual, you will at some point and without fail be informed and reminded consistently of the fact that you are a minority. You will experience discrimination, prejudice, bigotry and institutional racism at some point. These experiences can at times leave you with a lasting and enduring encounter.

By the time I was watching Dragonball Z, as a 9-year-old going on 10, I’d already experienced prejudice and bigotry from white teachers convinced that I was a troublemaker and stating this to my peers as reason to not associate with me, those peers too would mock me for my skin colour and appearance comparing me to animals in cruel and unsavoury jokes. Strangers who looked at me with faces that communicated that they didn’t want me near them or here. I would tearfully confess these things to my mother and (unthinkably) beg her to change my skin colour. So, by the time Dragonball Z came my way, as a young black boy, I’d experienced some things and internalised some of them.

So, there’s my 9-year-old going on 10 younger self, a minority within the community and having already experienced being ‘othered’, Dragonball Z is like crack to me for its sense of adventure and high-octane fights where the dudes are shooting fire from their hands at each other. It’s been a rollercoaster of developments from Gohan, Krillin and Bulma touching down on Namek, their uneasy alliance with Vegeta, the arrival of the Ginyu Force to Goku launching the giant Spirit Bomb at Frieza. And this is just a short summation of what’s transpired so far, with no mention of the finer details. At the point of Goku, Gohan, Piccolo and Krillin celebrating their false victory I’m mentally and emotionally spent, there was a feeling of exhaustion that mirrored the protagonists on screen considering everything they had just been through. Then suddenly Piccolo is struck by ki blast straight through his chest, he immediately succumbs to the damage and falls to the ground, Goku, Gohan and Krillin turn to find Frieza heavily injured but very much alive. He’s furious, his Ego is terribly wounded by the fact that he’s struggling to eliminate people he believes are completely beneath him. My younger self is watching on floored by what’s transpiring on the screen, thinking to myself ‘it wasn’t enough…where does Goku go from here? Is this a fight he actually can’t win?’ Frieza is quick to pick another victim in Krillin, he hoists the diminutive fighter into the air at great speed.

 

“FRIEZA!! STOP THIS!!”

 

Frieza ignores Goku’s words and with a slight clench of his right hand Krillin explodes. Most certainly dead as a result. My younger self is stunned by all of this, two of Goku’s friends already dead within such a short space of time, I’m feeling as helpless as Gohan on screen who’s physically backing away from Frieza in fear….

 

BUT THEN THE MUSIC CHANGED

 

And in brilliant Faulconer fashion it communicates a change, a drastic change, a shift in the powerlessness tone of before. This coming change is felt across the planet of Namek, its oceans churn, strong gale force winds blowing across the planets surface and lighting streaking across the skies. I can see Goku shaking and it looks like he’s trying to contain something but he’s really struggling, I’m thinking ‘Is Goku doing this? How? What’s happening?’

“I WON’T LET YOU GET AWAY WITH THIS!!”

 

Goku’s only audible sentence he says with a growl in his voice, small stones begin to rise, and dust is being kicked up as change takes hold of Goku.

 

And then suddenly, without warning

Goku transforms, his hair ablaze in yellow, eyes green and a gold aura that looks as if its burning the air.

Goku to my 9-year-old self looks like he’s completely on fire!! I’m transfixed with whose standing on my screen, all my exhaustion for the fight from before is leaving me, instead I feel excited, renewed and invigorated ready to continue as if I was fighting, I’m ready to watch Goku fight Frieza again.

I have and will never forget that moment in the Namek Saga.

With every fibre of my being, I believe Dragonball Z is responsible for the creation of most black consumers of anime and manga, not all but a significant majority of them, and I believe that Dragonball Z resonates most strongly with its black audience because of the Namek Saga. I cannot stress enough that I do not hold the perception of Saiyans and/or Namekians to be analogue or parallel to black people, I did mistakenly hold that view at a point, but, upon more careful consideration and analysis I’m led to believe that each group is its own unique identity. I believe whole heartedly that a majority of Dragonball Z’s black audience and fans can empathise with the experiences of Goku, Vegeta and Piccolo during the Namek Saga.

Again, I’ll stress I don’t believe Dragonball Z has much depth or nuance to it but in the Namek Saga, Toriyama clearly touches on themes of identity exhibited in the racism (or at the very least for the disingenuous reading this ‘discrimination’) by Frieza towards Vegeta, Goku and the Saiyan Race and Piccolo touching down on Planet Namek for the very first (and last time) in his Life.

Amongst some black fans of DBZ the character of Piccolo is affectionately or jokingly considered to be a “black” character in the series, in the later parts of DBZ Toriyama would write Piccolo’s character in a way that made him a comic foil for the battle loving Saiyans of the series, the Saiyan characters would regularly throw caution to the wind or behave outlandishly that would elicit a comical reaction or comment from Piccolo that I feel black fans would feel felt very close to real life in terms of cultural differences between different races. However, I also feel some related to Piccolo even before his presence and importance in DBZ shortened in its later parts specifically during the Namek Saga. As touched upon earlier the Namek Saga saw Piccolo travel to Planet Namek for the very first time, and although Piccolo had very little time to take in his home planet and socialise with his people, he noted a duality in himself that spoke of an unfamiliarity with Namek that potentially left him feeling alien on his planet of origin. As an individual of dual identities myself I recognise the complexity of such an existence can be difficult, the experience can draw more attention to the ways you are different leaving you feeling unfamiliar and alienated from places and people you should be able to connect to, I’ve noticed that this is a feeling also widely expressed by many Black Americans when they travel to nations in Africa or try to explore their African heritage due to the abhorrent evil that was the chattel slavery of the Atlantic Slave Trade: I feel it is in this way that some black fans find Piccolo relatable and empathetic leading him to his title of ‘honorary black man’ of Dragonball Z.

From the dual identity struggle of Piccolo we come to the racism struggle of Goku and Vegeta. I’m sure I can say with all confidence and no disputes that racism isn’t ideally how audience members would like to connect with characters, yet, myself and other black fans of Dragonball Z did relate and empathise with Goku and Vegeta as Frieza openly remarked on their Saiyan identities as ‘monkeys.’ If you’ve read this far you’ll know about my experiences as I’ve detailed, these bred feelings in my child self that I was unable to delve into the deeper contextual reasons as to why I just knew it was happening to me, and whilst Goku certainly wasn’t me or a black individual in his fight with Frieza he mostly certainly expressed my rage, frustration and (moments just before he transformed) powerlessness that those experiences and encounters left me. I’m sure I and other black fans couldn’t help but empathise with Goku’s experience. He was like us but he wasn’t us. Goku’s fight with Frieza came to represent our own struggles with racism experienced as either irrational abuse or calculated obstruction. This point isn’t made to minimalize the impact of racism as experienced by black people as fodder for entertainment but again to show how Goku’s experience felt all too familiar and all too relatable for some of us young black viewers as we watched this encounter. Above all I honestly feel that the transformation of Goku into a Super Saiyan was a cathartic rage, not for Goku but for those of us who wished they could fight back against the abuse of racism in a way that would have real, immediate and internalized consequences on those perpetrating it, Goku’s pummelling of Frieza as a Super Saiyan was where his experience went from understandable and relatable to pure fantasy, even the most disingenuous reading this knows that for black people retaliation can carry a steep cost no matter how (*insert spongebob meme) “aBhoREnT rAciSm Is.” For me Goku’s transformation into Super Saiyan must be like a weight being lifted off your shoulders when you carry so much angry inside you, angry that you don’t even want.

Black people are not defined by racism or trauma (at least not solely), we neither a monolith and are incredibly diverse and Son Goku during the Namek Saga as he fought Frieza and became a Super Saiyan expressed for some of us in this illustrious community how we were feeling.

Rage tho has very limited uses, holding on to it slowly transforms it into a self-inflicted poison of sorts, which brings me to my next point about Goku’s it’s done speech.

Goku: It’s Done

Frieza: What are you saying?!….DON’T JUST STAND THERE SAY SOMETHING!! YOU SAID ITS DONE…WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!!

Goku: Your energy is decreasing with every blow, in fact you’re not even a challenge to me anymore it wouldn’t be fair to keep fighting you…

Frieza: *breathes heavily*

Goku: I’m satisfied now your pride has been torn to shreds, you’ve challenged and lost to a fighter who is superior to you and to make it worse….he’s just a monkey..right?

Frieza: *trembling*

Goku: It would be meaningless to fight you now, you’re too scared and ashamed..live with the shock..keep it bottled inside you..inside you…

*Goku relaxes and his Super Saiyan transformation subsides*

Goku: Goodbye Frieza..never do mischief again, may you live the rest of your Life in Peace

I think this is more for myself than my black peers, but I could be wrong, this speech is EVERYTHING!! Like I said if rage can become a poison then this speech is the antidote, because for all the rage and rightful hatred that Goku could hold towards Frieza; Goku, to me, outclasses Frieza not only in fighting but truly in character. Surrounded by a dying planet set to explode, after a intense and gruelling fight; Goku despite his anger was able to look past the battle and see Frieza for who he truly is a fucking coward. For all Frieza’s boasts and bigoted remarks Goku had done the implausible time and time again during their fight, Goku had not been defeated he was still standing still willing and able to fight Frieza; he had surpassed all prejudice and racist views that Frieza held (including the tyrant’s power), that inspired his irrational fear towards and genocide of the Saiyan-race. Goku didn’t need to fight him anymore he had already won. As black people we always must defy irrational, unflattering and downright ignorant perceptions of us by non-blacks; and every time we surpass and break down barriers that some are all too happy to place on us. As I continued to comeback over the years and revisit the Namek Saga and see this speech I found myself appreciating it a lot more than when I was the 10-year-old hearing it for the first time. Goku doing so and realising this made me empathise with his character all the more and had me perceive him as a genuine Hero. Despite Frieza not taking Goku’s offer of walking away, despite fighting between Goku and Frieza picking up again, I don’t believe that in any way that takes from what I learnt from Goku in that scene and in that moment.

Without a doubt Dragonball Z is one of my most beloved pieces of media, I share many of the same sentiments with others as to why I Love it but also my own unique reasons forged by who I am and what I’ve experienced, as a black fan of Dragonball Z  I’m not saying the show is a painful or mournful experience for me and my peers: but that the ‘power fantasy’ of the show most especially during the Namek Saga was all the more poignant and attractive for some of us because it was rooted in experiences that were all too familiar and all too frustrating to watch these characters also going through it.

I’m absolutely sure many people will not agree with me, amongst black fans of Dragonball Z there will be disagreement and discussion that such an opinion as the one I hold may be reading to deeply into a fiction that is too hyperbolic and shallow to hold such a view, and that’s fine we don’t all have to agree but if I can say please just try to understand.

Goku defeated someone who worked systemically to tell him and his kind that they were nothing.

Thank You so very much for reading this article I do really appreciate it, as much as I hope its been able to help some understand a particular point of view or perception I’m really hoping it helps others with the same or similar views I expressed feel less alone in having those thoughts and feelings, Dragonball Z is enjoyed by without a doubt a different range of people for a variety of reasons we are no different to them.

See Ya Later.

 

 

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