We all have those characters that we grow up with that carry a special place in our hearts. Whether they be from our favorite book, comic or television show they remain as a significant piece of our childhood. They may not have been the best characters ever to be conceived but they still hold that unique beer goggle like sense of nostalgia for us. For a lot of us within our twenties one of the biggest nostalgia power houses of the 90’s, outside of Power Rangers and Pokemon, would of course be the rampaging and overly prolonged battle anime of Dragon Ball Z.
Honestly, if you haven’t guessed who this is going to be about then you should probably get yourself checked out. No other character from this series can be discussed more than the cultural icon of Son Goku. No other character that I have covered has been shown to quite the extent of him either. We don’t simply see an event within his life with lessons and development but rather we see his life as a whole. Throughout which he’s had many adventures and many battles that has not only made for a charming story but has created a special place in the hearts of a whole generation world wide. This fact alone makes Goku not only a great choice to cover in relation to the others within this series but also other characters of any medium. The only real question is why I didn’t do this sooner.
-Warning: This article covers spoiler material from one of the biggest most well known anime/manga series in history. Seriously, if you haven’t watched/read this series by now then I suggest crawling back under your rock.-
Now I should state a few things before I really dive into this. The first is that I am admittedly going off of the manga as opposed to the anime. That being said the anime did not change anything within the manga it only prolonged it with filler. So if you were hoping for some kick ass Garlic Jr. action here then you’ll be disappointed. Also, I will not be covering Goku’s life within GT or any of the movies as neither really attributed to the character and are completely non-canon.
The other thing I wanted to mention is my format for this article. Since Goku is kind of a different character to cover I will be breaking his development up into sections according to age. Due to the story covering his entire life there is a lot to cover and dividing it in this way will help everyone, trust me on this. As such we will have a section for his three major age groups being; childhood, young adulthood, and adulthood/parenthood. Throughout them I will be drawing comparisons between the sections so that you can hopefully get the best picture of Goku’s overall growth as a person.
The young Goku as many of you know was based off of the Chinese folklore character of Sun Wukong. Like his Chinese counterpart Goku is in a way a bit of a trouble maker early in his life. That’s not to say that he is purposefully antagonistic, that’s just not the case. Rather, Goku is not accustomed to the society of the world around him and often mistakenly acts in ways that would be deemed as rude or inappropriate. Again this isn’t a purposeful act but rather stems from Goku’s lack of knowledge over right and wrong. Goku is simply a kind of rustic character who lives off of the land and only kills what he needs to eat. It’s not that he acts in ways that are what we would perceive as good or evil but instead in ways that he deems are necessary for living. In a sense he is kind of an animal, a monkey if you will.
As the series begins Goku meets the young girl Bulma who very quickly introduces Goku into a world that he knows almost nothing about. Right off the bat his disconnection to society is apparent as he’s actually taken aback by Bulma’s appearance having never seen a girl in his life. This inability to distinguish between genders often puts Goku under a lot of negative attention as he is not what you would call a gentle observer. In fact, Goku has little to no sense of shame to the extent that things such as nudity and poor manners are of no concern to him. This again attributes to my earlier statement of Goku being a trouble maker. He may not antagonize people but his lack of shame and disconnection from the world puts him in some rather awkward spots.
Goku is also displayed as being a rather rash person lacking quite a bit of patience. Once again this is largely attributed to him being a child as well as the fact that he is somewhat underdeveloped mentally for his age. This underdevelopment is evident by his perception of the world as well as his understanding of the natural order of things such as the concepts of life and even gender. This and his lack of shame are by large extensions of his incredibly adventurous curiosity. Again, Goku is a child he’s still learning and he often becomes distracted by others things, opting to rush head into the unknown rather than waiting around. Goku is by large nothing more than a child a carries with him all of the typical childlike quirks. Actually Goku only functions at the mental capacity of someone around four or five years younger than himself. This serves as a large explanation for his overall attitude both now and later in his life.
Being a child Goku is of course rather playful, though, his sense of playing can be a bit rough. Unlike a lot of the other characters I’ve covered Goku actually really enjoys fighting. He often doesn’t think of the harm that comes from fighting but rather the fun in competing and dueling against fellow fighters. This in a way exemplifies Goku’s unwavering innocence. As I stated previously Goku doesn’t think of things as being inherently good or evil and there by doesn’t look at the world with any sort of malice. He’s young and immature and simply isn’t concerned with the wrong doings of the world around him. He’s perfectly content with his life regardless of whether he’s living in a peaceful forest or fighting against an entire army.
The best explanation of Goku is that he is very simply a child. Children are loud and annoying, they lack a sense of shame and are for the most part completely innocent of the darker sides of the world. Goku perfectly reflects what a child is from his actions to his mental state. This comes with one exception, however, Goku’s relative lack of need for human contact. Having spent several years living alone after his grandfather’s death Goku has grown accustomed to being by himself. As such he has not developed the natural dependency for human companionship that many children do. It’s certainly true that Goku has those he cares for but he is frequently shown to leave the others behind to go off on his own on nothing more than a whim at times. Goku certainly cares for them but he shows to have no real sense of dependency. Again, this stems from having grown up alone and developing a sense of self reliance early on.
One interesting factor of Goku having grown up alone is that fact that he has actually managed to develop a sense of spirituality. After his grandfather’s death Goku can be seen actually praying to his grandfather’s most valuable possession, the four star dragon ball. This spirituality of his could be perceived in one of two ways. Either Goku was taught the concept of prayer from his grandfather or developed the idea that the ball acted as a representation for his grandfather in order to cope with his death. While both are plausible the latter seems far more possible. It’s likely that Goku developed a coping mechanism in order to deal with the death of his grandfather. Since children generally lack knowledge about the concept of death it’s not unheard of for them to create explanations in their minds to help explain the fact that someone is no longer existent within their lives. For Goku the four star ball filled the hole left behind and even into his adult life it remained as a physical representation of his grandfather.
Goku’s unorthodox reactions to death are shown several more times throughout his childhood. Each new time it was presented to him he became progressively more emotional signifying the development he‘s gone through and his increased perception of the concept of death. On a few occasions Goku reacted in offence to the person who caused the death. While Goku does get upset he is not often thrown into any sort of rage. This is most likely due to his slow growing understanding of death and how the world in general works. The incident during his childhood that garnered the most reaction, though, was the death of Goku’s close friend Kuririn. In these scenes Goku is overcome by legitimate sadness and actually becomes fully aware of the severity of the situation. It is here that Goku retaliates in what is in a sense revenge as he hunts down and kills the Demon King Piccolo who had caused the death. Again this shows how far Goku has come in terms of mental development from the point of his grandfathers death to the murder of Kuririn.
In terms of intelligence I have to unfortunately say that Goku is quite lacking. While he does hold a high level of animalistic instinct, allowing him to survive in even the roughest of places, his capabilities in what we would refer to as book smarts are very low. Despite this shortcoming Goku is an incredibly quick learner. In a rather literal case of “monkey see, monkey do” Goku is able to learn at a very quick pace thanks entirely to simply watching other people‘s actions. Goku is able to observe and understand his opponents abilities in battle and thanks in part to his playful nature he’s able to actually counter a situation within a short amount of time. This is especially evident during his battles within the World’s Tournaments as he is able to quickly learn his own opponents moves. While this is demonstrated as a form of mimicry he’s actually able to fully utilize the techniques to his advantage as well as build off of them during the heat of battle. All in all while his book smarts may be lacking his instincts and natural adaptability more than makes up for it.
Goku’s development during his childhood years is the most abundant of the three stages of his life. During this time Goku grows from a complete social outcast lacking any form of shame or understanding of the greater working of the world to a relatively more rational and mature teenager. His rash behavior does not completely fade but does become lessened by the end of his childhood. In addition to this he is far more capable of communicating a normal conversation and his understanding of unspoken social rules increases. While he is still the fun loving child throughout he nevertheless develops into what could be conceived as being a mentally normal teenage child. I say mentally normal because what is especially impressive is the drastic development of his mind as Goku was previously quite underdeveloped for the age that he was. Over the course of just four years he managed to make up for about eight or so years of mental maturity in terms of perception and natural understanding.
Goku’s young adulthood is probably the least observed stage of his life but is regardless the time when Goku himself is the most drastically changed. After having trained on Kami’s lookout in near total isolation Goku comes back as a surprisingly peaceful and somewhat reserved adult. Absent now is his rash and impulsive behavior. Instead we are shown a calm young man who seems to be at peace with the world around him. Goku is no longer the impatient child that he used to be rather he actually takes things slower than he once had. This newfound calmness actually allows Goku to remain rational during fights without overexerting himself or rushing into things, something that gives him a large advantage over his opponents. In addition to this Goku is shown to be so at peace with the world that he’s actually capable of predicting not only the intentions and feelings of the people he’s around but the world itself. He’s actually capable of interpreting weather patterns because of his high sense of focus on the elements the surround him.
As I stated Goku is shown to be able to understand people far better now than in his younger years. He’s capable of interpreting people’s feelings allowing him to connect to them in a far more personal way. In addition to this Goku no longer shows any amount of frustration over the actions of others and is shown to be far more compassionate even towards his enemies. This is the first occurrence were Goku actively tries to not kill his enemy but rather he attempts to bring out the good within them. Of course there is also the added fact of Goku’s natural appreciation for fighting as well as the rules within the World Tournament that keep him from mortally wounding Piccolo in his final bout.
While his oblivious innocence is still in tact he is no longer as shameless and manages to reserve himself enough during social interactions so as to not seem rude. Still his goofy side remains in tact, though, to a lesser degree. This and his obliviousness is fully evident when he has trouble remembering the faces of a few of his past acquaintances, the most notable being Chi-Chi. It’s this nature of Goku’s that caused him to absent mindedly agree to marry Chi-Chi. The idea of engagement is something he mistook for as being food. Still despite his mistake as child he agrees to marry Chi-Chi, though, he was still without full knowledge of what marriage entailed when accepting the second time. This whole scenario goes to showcase how far and yet short Goku has come to understanding the complexities of society.
Goku’s development seems almost surprising given his circumstances. His further isolation from society on Kami’s lookout would normally go towards making a person colder as well as more reserved. Thanks to Goku’s inherent innocence though he’s capable of actually avoiding this drawback while buidling to becoming a far calmer person. Still Goku’s lack of dependency on people becomes very noticeable as he’s able to leave for years and come back without much of a reaction towards being away. Sure he’s happy to see his friends but not once had he shown a longing or loneliness from being parted from them. Despite this he has still managed to keep his friendly demeanor extending it to even his enemy Piccolo. He becomes the voice of reason when the others suggest killing Piccolo and even decides to heal him after their grueling battle.
Overall if there’s one word that can sum up Goku’s basic personality during this stage of life it’s “peaceful”. I’ve used the word numerous times within this section and for good reason. Goku’s personality reflects that of someone far more mature than his given age. This makes it more or less the only time within his life were his mental maturity is actually more advance for his age of roughly eighteen. It makes this time of his life a rather drastically changed one but overall a time of transition. Like anyone entering their twenties Goku isn’t quite done maturing mentally and has yet to really find his footing personality wise. This would of course be resolved in his next stage of life thanks to an important new addition to his life.
Goku’s adulthood is the part of his life that we most see over the course of the series. This section of his life becomes probably the most defining of his overall character. Unlike how he was as a young adult Goku begins to regain a lot of his playfulness and begins to develop into a more fun loving person in his more relaxed moments. This is largely attributed to one thing, his son Gohan. While Goku has never been too mature of a person his young adult stage showed him rather uncharacteristically mature given his previous personality. Once Gohan enters the world, however, Goku begins to become more laidback and caring of others. This can be seen as Goku looking towards his son as a way of reuniting with his own childhood. The unusual calmness begins to lessen as he connects with his son allowing for his previous playfulness to come shining through.
In fact a good chunk of Goku’s personality during this time of his life stems from him now being a parent. We obviously see Goku care for his son quite a bit but we also see shades of a much more grounded personality within him. We see Goku have fun with Gohan, we see him protecting him, teaching him and even at times acting stern with him. It’s obvious that Gohan not only brings out the more playful side of Goku but actually establishes a new sense of responsibility within him. While Goku has saved the world numerous times at this point it’s never been because he had to but either because he happened to be there or because he had an ulterior motive. Here we actually see Goku taking responsibility for his son in a way that he never had with anything else before.
Aside from his newfound responsibility Goku for the most part keeps a lot of his same qualities. He’s kind and innocent. He’s still fairly calm and patient from his young adult years. For the most part Goku retains a lot of his core features and through everything still manages to keep the essence of who he is. Even Goku’s unusual lack of need for contact with those he’s close to. This is demonstrated in a slightly different way early on in this part of his life as Goku shows that he doesn’t even have the attached loyalty to family that most people would have. Case in point: Raditz. Now yes it’s true that Raditz was evil and that Goku had only just met him but regardless of that it’s not an easy thing to go about mortally harming your sibling. Despite not being raised together most people would still have an natural sense of loyalty and attachment to a sibling or family member but Goku shows none of this. He’s shows genuine surprise at the revelation of having a brother but once it becomes apparent that Raditz was in fact an endangerment to his son and friends Goku had relatively no qualms about killing him. Even further than this is the lack of mercy Goku shows afterward, having completely ignored the idea of resurrecting his brother. The second chance giving Goku that was present within his young adult years was quickly dissipating and soon it would vanish altogether. It was of course present during his fight with Vegeta but with the coming of a certain event things would change.
Now usually I don’t go into detail with character powers and such as it often doesn’t attribute anything to their personalities. Goku has the unique disposition of being a Super Saiyan, a powerful transformation that affects not only his body but his mind. Having traveled to Namek to assist his friends Goku very quickly came face to face with Freiza. After a grueling battle that was thought to be won Freiza reappeared only to immediately kill Kuririn and mortally wound Piccolo. This sudden and traumatic event through Goku into the first proper rage of his life. Goku has certainly shown anger before but it was often out of disappointment or childishness. This moment, however, is the first instance of the rage that could befall Goku and from it rose his transformation into Super Saiyan.
From this state we see a drastic change in Goku’s personality as he is without even a hint of the kind presence that he once possessed. Instead his peacefulness is replaced with a fearsome intensity so much so that even his son Gohan had shown fear at the sight of his father. Goku is no longer playful in his bouts but rather he exudes an air of quiet confidence. The transformation brings out even the slightest hint of arrogance at times as he shows little to no stress in his fight against Freiza. Still despite all of this Goku manages to retain enough of his kindness to bestow Freiza a second chance, for a short time. Once that chance is spoiled Goku quickly and easily dispatches Freiza stating Freiza’s foolishness at having not taken the offer.
While his initial experience as a Super Saiyan was certainly an intense one he does, however, manage to become accustomed to the state over time. When he does so he regains a lot of his more peaceful attributes. Still after the events on Namek we continue to see an underlying intensity in Goku, showing that the event had left a noticeable scar despite being resolved in the end. This is of course understandable due to the sudden and traumatizing nature of the situation. This again also marked Goku’s first decent into such an intense anger, something that was very carefully avoided from there on out and surprisingly never repeated.
While Goku returns to a lot of his childlike ways this isn’t to say that Goku’s young adulthood development is all for not. He begins to show signs of his previous years in addition to the new development of adulthood. It’s not so much that Goku regresses but rather he becomes a more fully formed person. With his previous stages in life being the for the most part transitional growth his adulthood is were Goku becomes a fully realized and well rounded individual as most people do in their later years. Like any person Goku goes through stages of development, regression and maturity. No one person remains in the exact same form throughout their life. Sure they retain the basic essence of who they are but people develop throughout the stages of their life even if only in minute ways and Goku is a perfect example of this. He’s ever changing but at the same time he always remains the same innocent Goku that he’s been since childhood.
Whereas Goku’s young adult stage could be summed up in the idea of his peacefulness Goku’s adulthood becomes a little more complex. He is most certainly still a peaceful person but manages to keep a hold of his youthful demeanor. Beyond this he shows a far increased sense of responsibility but above all an underlying darkness. It’s true that Goku is about as good hearted as they come but it is without a doubt that Goku’s experience during his adulthood bred an inner ferocity that was not previously present. While this by no means changes Goku for the worse it is still a noticeable underlying trait that he most certainly withhold as much as possible. Still despite that I think a lot of Goku’s growth here is in terms of his more well pronounced loving nature. Thanks to his son as well as the harshness of his battles Goku actually shows a sense of longing by the end of the series. Were as he was once without any dependency Goku shows to be far closer to his friends and above all his family.
Throughout the course of the Dragon Ball series Goku encounters a lot of people. Goku’s ability to make friends with even the unlikeliest of individuals means that he has a rather long list of personal relationships. That being said not all of them are something I can cover and instead I will be covering the most lasting and relevant relationships in his life. These include his wife Chi-Chi, his son Gohan, as well as his two rivals and friends through the course of the series Kururin and Vegeta.
Early in his adventures Goku meets the young Chi-Chi who had fallen for him within a matter of moments. Before he left Chi-Chi asked if Goku would come back and take her hand in marriage. Goku agreed to this thinking that she of course meant food. Years later Chi-Chi faces off against the oblivious Goku in a tournament match displaying a lot of anger and grudge against him. After Goku’s revelation of who she was he agreed to marry her to make her happy, though, at the time it’s uncertain if Goku was any more aware of what marriage was. The bulk of their relationship comes later in life during the raising of their child. It’s here that Chi-Chi’s inner control freak takes hold and for the most part the two keep a very one sided relationship. Chi-Chi is in charge and Goku tries not to make things worse. Their marriage for the most part is rushed and the two do not usually display a very romantic interest in each other. Most interactions usually come down to acting for the betterment of Gohan. In fact he becomes a large amount of the two’s focus creating a sort of odd disconnection in their relationship. Still while the two don’t always show it they are indeed happy with each other. This is especially evident even further into their life after the birth of their second son Goten, who strikes a startling resemblance to his father. Whether it’s Goten’s resemblance to Goku or the length of time apart we do eventually see Chi-Chi in a sadder, though almost calmer, state from the absence of Goku. As the series ends it finally becomes apparent that the two love each other and are happy to be with each other as Goku expresses his want to live with her and their sons from then on.
Kuririn, or Krillin for those criticizing my spelling choice at home, was Goku’s first big rival in his life. The two were trained and raised by Master Yoshi and would often share a competitive, though friendly, relationship. While it’s apparent at first that Kuririn is jealous of Goku’s skills he nevertheless becomes motivated by his desire to fight and win against him and overtime grows into a better person for it. The same can be said to a lesser extent on Goku’s behalf as he certainly values his friendship with Kuririn as well as the chance to fight him. This natural competitiveness lessens over the years and by their adulthood the two settle on remaining good friends. This is largely due to the wide margin in their power but also extends from the occasional battle weariness shown by Kuririn in his later life. Still the two remain valued companions and apparently very important to one another. In fact two of Goku’s darkest moment in life were caused by the death of Kuririn clearly demonstrating the level of importance the two have with each other.
Goku’s second and most well recognized rival is of course Vegeta. Sharing for the most part a largely antagonistic relationship the two are often put at odds with each other. To Goku, Vegeta remains a valued friend and someone he actually puts a lot of respect and faith into. On the other hand Vegeta sees Goku as someone that is undeservedly stronger than he is. Most of Vegeta’s obsession with Goku appears as the need to overcome Goku but it’s surprising to state that Goku has never actually beaten Vegeta one on one. While the circumstances of this vary depending on the fight it actually shows that Vegeta’s vendetta against Goku is not so much an act of revenge but of spite and jealousy. From Vegeta’s point of view he was the higher classed Saiyan and the one to rightfully be more powerful. To have a lower class individual come along and consistently out perform him was a heavy blow to his pride. While this spitefulness of Vegeta’s is never fully resolved he does over time begin to settle down and show far more of a calmness towards Goku. Even learning from him at times as his overall personality begins to grow more peaceful. While Goku may not share the same passionate rivalry it’s clear the Vegeta draws a lot of motivation from him, setting him as easily the biggest influence in Vegeta’s adult life.
While he shares a lot of relationships Goku is probably the closest to his son Gohan. While I have already expressed his increased sense of love and responsibility there is also a lot of influence that Goku has within his son’s life. Over the course of Gohan’s life he displays a high level of dependency on his father, unlike Goku in his early years. Due to this Gohan often looks up to his father as is natural for many children his age. Over the course of his life Goku becomes a heavy motivator for Gohan pushing him in his fight against Cell as well as choosing to take a back seat for most of the fight against Buu, instead attempting to help Gohan become stronger. It’s clear that above most other character’s Goku puts more faith in Gohan. Overall Goku and Gohan share a strong father and son bond both in battle and out.
In a world where anything could happen it is no coincidence that the world of Dragon Ball’s biggest hero would be the one to reflects its spirit and its charm the most. Regardless of how disconnected he may be Goku stands as a perfect representation for the goofy, irrational world around him. Throughout the entirety of the series Dragon Ball and everything within it has displayed a special charm that has imprinted itself in the minds of an entire generation. From this there is no other character that could fully encompass everything Dragon Ball is, was or ever could be than Goku.
From the moment he steps on screen as a precocious 11 year old we follow Goku throughout his life to his wedding and even to his death, twice. We’ve seen every hardship and every triumphant moment. All along the way despite all of his changes Goku has remained the innocent a playful goof that he’s always been for years and years. In fact by the end of the series Goku is shown well into his forties covering over thirty years of growth and development. In the end Goku isn’t just any other character, he’s a character who’s life has been laid out in front of us. Of whom we’ve seen grow and mature and all along the way we’ve gotten to share in his wonderful journeys.