In honor of Dragon Ball Super‘s release, I decided to haul out the big guns.
Why is it, when asked who their favorite character in DBZ is, that so many people say Vegeta (including me)?
Is it the hair? Is it the ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ attitude? Anyone who’s watched DBZ knows two things about Vegeta: he is overconfident to the point of arrogance, and he does not give up easily. He is, after all, the Prince of All Saiyans (and probably half-Saiyans, because why not?) He has all of the earmarks of a villain, and yet, goes on to become a hero, a parent, and a husband (not to mention marrying a multi millionaire!) He’s smart, he’s ruthless, he’s cunning, and he’s very, VERY angry. When he is introduced into the series, you’re not SUPPOSED to like him. So why did so many people adore Vegeta from day one? Why did I? And why did he remain my favorite character throughout everything, from Earth to Namek and back?
When you get right down to it, it’s really simple. His character is the only one who follows two of the basic literary concepts that allow us to connect with a character. First, he is dynamic– he is a character who, over the course of the series, grows and changes. And second, he is flawed– just like us. See, people want to watch and read about characters who are like us, people we can relate to, and dynamic, flawed characters are just that.
What this all comes down to is that people want to have “feelz” when they read a book or watch a show. They want to empathize with the characters, and live vicariously through them. That is why Vegeta is such an amazing character; he is a redeemed character, and most people love a good redemption story, especially if we can follow the villain through every trial and tribulation he goes through to achieve it.
Let’s take a look at the evidence, shall we?
During his own arc (and let me point out that, despite Frieza’s untimely reappearance on Earth at the beginning of the Android Saga and his death at the hands of Future Trunks, he’s the only DBZ villain to survive his arc), he comes to Earth as the bad guy. He wants the Dragon Balls, and after he gets them and wishes for immortality (with or without Nappa), he’s going to blow up the planet, because why not? He’s @#$% evil! However, that ends up not working out so well for him because of his first flaw: he overestimates his own abilities and underestimates the abilities of others (it’s hard to draw a line here because these two concepts are very similar, but it is always one or the other of these.) He is the Prince of All Saiyans (all three that he knows of at that point) and he sorely underestimates Goku’s (a foot soldier, NOT a Saiyan Elite) power level.
Second is one of Vegeta’s most upsetting flaws: he is, at first, a coward, and he only fights when he knows he can win. He fights Goku on Earth because he underestimates Goku’s abilities (and doesn’t know about Kaoiken.) He fights Frieza only after he thinks he’s become a Super Saiyan and, therefore, more powerful. Not before. In fact, Vegeta spends most of his time before his supposed ascension running from Frieza and his minions because they are so much more powerful than he is. This gross misconception on Vegeta’s part leads to his first death on Namek (and subsequent resurrection and transportation to Earth due to how the wishes were worded). He fights Android 18 after soundly defeating Android 19 as a Super Saiyan because he assumes that they are on the same level (which they are not, despite the numerous warnings from Future Trunks.)
The third-and perhaps the most famous-of Vegeta’s flaws is his pride, which ultimately is the root of his other flaws. It’s his pride that drives him to accept the Majin symbol so he can finally beat Goku- and refuse Babidi’s orders to kill anyone. It’s his pride that allows him to tell Goku about the horrid things Frieza did to the Saiyan race- so that Goku will have the resolve to finish the job. However, at the same time, it is this pride of his that pushes him farther and farther along. He doesn’t give up. And it is this pride that forces Vegeta to evolve from a selfish, self-centered brat to a hero willing to sacrifice his life for his family and the planet he calls home in perhaps the most poignant and unselfish acts of the entire series.
This makes Vegeta unique in the Dragon Ball universe because he is the only character to show such astounding development. If you watch the entire series, you’ll see it. It’s a long, slow process. Vegeta doesn’t just change overnight. His change is gradual, a series of small steps towards (and a fairly serious step back) becoming a hero.
There are some pretty easy to see key moments in which you can spot the slow changes. Some of them are in the actions of others that show him what a hero is, such as Goku sparing Vegeta’s life on Earth, and then sacrificing his own life to save the world from Full Power Perfect Cell. This affected him profoundly, to the point where he stated “I will never fight again.” It take a lot to get a self-proclaimed warrior to put down his fighting spirit. (Of course, this all leads back to Goku as the moral compass for the show.) Sometimes, it’s things in his own life that do it, like when Bulma cared for him after he collapsed the gravity capsule on his head, or his willingness to work with Krillin and Gohan on Namek to keep the Dragon Balls from Frieza (although arguably still pretty selfish considering the plan was to use the wish on him so he could gain immortality) it regardless did show a fundamental character change- he never would have even considering asking Krillin and Gohan for help before.
The bottom line is this: Vegeta is the most developed and dynamic character in the Dragon Ball universe. His transition from villain to hero is gradual but profound and is the reason why Vegeta is-and always will be-my favorite character from the series.
Team Vegeta for life.