DragonballZ has some of the most popular, well known character’s in the world this does not include its female characters. Akira Toriyama may be a master of Shounen, but in his most popular series he struggles to write female characters.
For some reason over the course of nearly 500 manga chapters and 300 anime episodes DBZ female characters are barely developed, disappear with no real explanation, or all into the background. This article will look at these women and observe the ways Toriyama has wronged them.
I’ll start out by saying I love Dragonball Z, it was one of the first anime’s I watched as a child and was a great blend of science fiction and action that any little girl would want. I had all the action figures, all the videos, and even spent hundreds of dollars worth of ink printing out pictures on the interweb.
At this same time I also watched Sailor Moon and loved both of the shows equally. But it isn’t until now that I’m an adult, one who is rewatching these classics, that I realize how robbed dragonallz is of female characters.
Where Sailor Moon has an abundance of female figures I looked up to and could relate to I think Dragonall z developed what I looked for in story and male characters. I loved Piccolo’s story arch as he developed, Gohan was the sweetest character in the world, and Trunks was the biggest badass anyone had ever seen in the 90’s. But with a show riddled with bad asses, where were the women?
In Dragonball we only got three main female characters, and two out of those three went on to continue their story in Z.
Before starting I would like to note that Dragonball was created by Toriyama in 1984 and was first published in Weekly Shounen Jump where it ran for nearly ten years. Shounen (少年) means young boy or youth and typical Shounen managa is aimed at Teen / Tween boys.
Toriyama himself strictly writes Shounen / Comedy. So while writing I will admit there are somethings that will need a closer look. Is Toriyama’s lack of female character’s just him trying to appease his target audience (boys)? And is it fair to call him out when there are other Shounen comics and Managaka who are just as guilty?
Please share thoughts and opinons in the comments. Moving on, let’s meet the ladies.
In the first epsiode we are introduced to Bulma, a teenager and a girl who is incredibly smart but also boy crazy. She’s a fan favorite because at the age of sixteen she decides to go off on her own on a great adventure and collect the dragonballs. Dragonball is really the story of her AND Goku.
The idea is there but teenage Bulma is also a very sterotypical teenager. She whines and complains in every episode and manipulates the men around her to get what she wants. Goku is often times carrying her dead weight around. Literally. She’s the brains of the bunch and nothing else.
It stays like this even in Dragonball Z where we see Bulma actually grow into an older more mature woman. At the time, this was amazing.(Odd short sentence, just seems out of place) There were cartoons on television where characters stayed the same age for months, and nothing changed about them. I loved Bulma because she was always changing her hair into a variety of styles all girls could relate to- even an afro. She wore the coolest clothes and had the coolest gadgets. Without her, the gang would have never been able to go to Namek, have access to the Saiyan Scouter, or track down the dragonballs. All essential plot points of the story.
Plus, she is one of the reasons for the biggest character change in the show regarding Vegeta. But, besides getting a little more mature with age she doesn’t really change at all. She does grow out of the bossy teenager phase (just a little bit) and often times she throws herself into the middle of a battle despite the fact that she’s not a fighter. She goes to Namek, appears on the battle field when Freiza arrives at earth, and even drags her newborn son to the sight of an Andriod attack.
I love Bulma, but she is the best Toriyama has to offer, and even then how many times are women being “smart” a trope in action shows. It is a common thought that they don’t have the strength so they must contribute with their minds instead.
We meet Chichi in Dragonball as well. She’s just a child, like Goku, and a bit of a shock when we first see her wearing a string bikini and battle helmet running away from a dinosaur. I’m not kidding. Within the first scene she quickly takes off the helmet and decapitates the T-Rex with a girly squeal. Confused? Yeah, I was as well.
Goku helps her father the Ox King and young Chichi decides she will reward him by
becoming his child bride marrying him. And thus an iconic romance is born…. Or not. Goku has no idea what marriage even means and Chichi is too love sick to really explain it to him. When they are kids it’s kind of cute but when they remeet as teenagers she still insists they get married and Goku just goes along with it because… he’s naïve? Haha, isn’t it hilarious?
It gets even worse when the time jump between Dragonball and Dragonballz occurs. Chichi is now a housewife with a son, she’s married to the strongest man on the planet, technically a princess, and a decent fighter in her own right and yet… all she wants is for Gohan to be a scholar.
That is literally the only goal her character has for 200 episodes. She’s fericely protective of her family and goes through a lot with her husband dying- then disappearing- then dying again and leaving her to raise their second son for seven years. She’s been through a lot and there is sooo much opportunity for character development but Toriyama doesn’t take it. Watching the show, the audience could even wonder if he even really loves Chichi. Goku loves his children, but even with them he makes a view poor decision. So where does that leave Chichi?
She is often portrayed as “just a housewife” at the best time and a “nag” at the worse. Toriyama brings Chichi, who starts off as a strange but powerful girl, into the stereotypical housewife.This leads lots of fans to hate Chichi. There are soo many negative scenes where she forbids the male characters to do the very thing the show is about. Fighting. She even tells Goku nurmerous times that Gohan’s studying is more important than saving the world!
I actually like Chichi because I see the potential of her character. But that is my own headcanon vs actual canon. In the end, Toriyama and DragonallZ end Chichi’s with her in tears because, once again, her husband is leaving her to persue his own dreams.
My heart goes out to you Chichi.
Launch was introduced in Dragonball as another interesting character. She has split personality in the most literal terms. Blue hair Launch is passive and sweet but once she sneezes she gains blonde hair and a very aggressive personality. Often times this leads to a lot of destruction, blonde Launch enjoys carrying around guns and firing at anyone and everyone.(For the second part I would say, “Blonde Launch always has some type of gun and enjoys robbing banks while generally being quite aggressive to just about everyone.)
Launch was set up to be Master Roshi’s at home maid. I’m not kidding. After meeting Child-Goku, Launch suddenly decides to stay on Roshi’s island where she cooks, cleans, and is eye candy for the old man. Things got a little more interesting for her when she becomes a potential love interest of Tien. But like all Toriyama’s relationships the love was half hearted and not fully fleshed out. Launch was clearly more interested in Tien then he was in her. And then DragonballZ happens and Launch completely disappears.
That’s right. She isn’t given a good-bye episode and Tien doesn’t even seem to notice her disappearance. There is MAYBE a single line thrown in to explain her disappearance and that’s it. As if Toriyama got bored with her character and was too lazy to even kill her. She appears randomly and perodically in the Buu Saga when Goku asks for energy. The scene lasts only a second done so anyone who hadn’t seen Dragonball would just assume she was a random woman.
Launch wasn’t much. She didn’t really contribute to Team Dragonball except she helped on Master Roshi’s island for a bit and added an extra pair of boobs to the group but her presence was missed by young girls like myself who clung to any present females who appeared in the show.
Launch is one of the biggest tragedies of Toriyama’s abuse, and one of the reasons I’m writing about this to begin with.
It isn’t until the SECOND HALF of Dragonball Z when Toriyama introduces any new female characters. That’s right, 100 episodes into the Z series and things start to look better. We get two new females who are unapologetic about being great fighters.
Thinking back on it now… how did this even happen? I can’t even think about it. 100 episode of DragonballZ plus another 150 from Dragonball and we’ve only had three “meh” females in the entire series. Sigh- on to the very very very slim silver lining in all this.
After the Freiza Saga our characters are introduced to a new threat! And Thus begins the Andriod Saga and when we the viewers meet the two “terrifying” androids we are a little shocked. They are two twins known as 18 and 17. 18 is a beautiful blonde who seems like an ice queen at first and we can all roll our eyes and sigh when Toriyama makes the “new female character” a villain.
But here’s the thing. She’s probably one of the most complex and interesting of the women. She’s strong and in her first fight she kicks Vegeta’s ass! Then to relax she takes a little time off to go shopping. It’s clear at first that she doesn’t have the same blood-lust as her twin. He wants to go kill innocents and she wants to shop. Girls will be girls. But then she shows mercy on Krillin. A man who she could easily kill and the viewers start to realize there might be more to her.
We feel more sympathy when we realize she and her brother were once humans and are simply victims of Dr. Gero’s experimentations. In the Cell Saga, 18 is practically declared dead after Cell absorbs her and her brother (a terrifying moment for anyone watching!) When Gohan miraculously gets Cell to later vomit her up again, Krillin and child-me cheered!
Our gang of hero’s show her sympathy and wish for the dragon to make her human! The next time we see her after the seven year time skip she’s married to Krillin and has a child! But she doesn’t lose her cool factor like Chichi. 18 is still a bamf, She still fights and manages to be a caring mother to her daughter. In the buu saga we even see her and Krillin consulting each other on what they must do when the earth faces peril.
She even appears in the Bio-Brolly Movie to go off and fight leaving Krillin behind with the baby!
The only negative thing about 18’s story arc is we get so little of it. She’s a villian for most of the Andriod Saga and when she joins the team as a fighter it is only for the last Buu Saga where she does very little fighting. The only time she shows her fighting spirit is to enter the World Tournament and not to take on the newest villian. again, it belittles her as a female fighter.
I always enjoyed 18 screen time. It’s just such a shame there was so little of it.
Another new female comes (surprisingly) in the form of Videl, the daughter of Hercule Satan- who is essentially the most idiotic and annoying character in all of DBZ.(That’s just one girls opinion, advantangous maybe?) Yet, his daughter is one of the coolest.(coolest what?) At 16 she fights for the Satan City Police Force, she’s so good at her job she can just leave class whenever her mighty-morphin-power ranger watch commands it.
Videl is the romantic interest of teenage Gohan, though it doesn’t start off with “love love.” She is rightly very suspicious of this new boy who claims to live in a mountains hours away from school (But how do you get here so fast?) and who also disappears in the middle of class (Where’s your watch dude?)
Videl is smart and she quickly makes the connection between the new super hero Saiyaman and Gohan are one person. Then she asks for Gohan’s help to teach her to fly so she may become stronger. Like 18, Videl in unapologetic that she likes to fight and she’s damn good at it! Unfortunatly this is a anime with super powered aliens and even though she may be one of the strongest humans on earth she’s nothing compared to the male leads.
Still, even Gohan thinks to himself during the World Martial Arts tournament that Videl has surpassed her father Hercule, who everyone believes to be the strongest man on the planet. If she had entered the tournament when none of the Z gang did (including 18) she would have won!
Toriyama still manages to make this strong female character have a few cringe worthy moments. She cuts her hair because she thinks Gohan would like it, and though she rocks the pixie cut it completely undermines her character to be motivated for a boy’s interest. Okay, she’s 16- I get it, but until this moment there are almost no indicators that she’s interested in Gohan in that way. I actually love the fact that they are firmly friends before they become lovers.
This doesn’t change the fact that her entire purpose is to give Gohan a love interest and make Hercule look more three-dimensional. After their feelings for each other are established she doesn’t contribute anything more to the story. She doesn’t fight in any major battle, doesn’t help with character progression, she’s just kind of… there. She doesn’t even insist on helping. And, like Chichi, her character seems content later on being a house wife with her husband and child.
Sorry Videl. You deserved better.
A few girls I want to mention here. First is Mai, one of the villians introduced in Dragonball. She’s a minon of Empire Pilaf and is pretty decent with a gun… I think. She is a lot like Jessie from Team Rocket, bumbling with her villianous comanion Shu as they try to get the dragonballs and are always blasting off. Toriyama didn’t really give her much and (like Launch) she disappears along with Empire Pilaf when bigger baddies show up.
Pan is the daughter of Gohan and Videl and one of the first female Saiyan’s we meet. So is Bra, the daughter of Bulma and Vegeta. Finally, female saiyans!!! Except… no, Toriyama only introduces these girls in the finale two chapters of the managa (and last episode of the anime.) Pan is only four when we meet her and Bra is a few years older. What we get from this is: Yay,there are probably cooler female characters out there… but the manage ends before we can really meet them.
So there you have it, a grand total of five female characters (seven if you include the honary mentions.) In a anime that is 300 episodes long there are five female characters and only two of them are treated like actual characters.
After looking at all these characters does Toriyama hate writing female characters? Or is he just catering to his readership? Let me know what you all think!
Senshi Study is where Cara Averna looks at anime, fanculture, and movies with squinty eyes and tries to gleam the deeper meaning. These articles are her own opinions based of self-research.