“Your protagonist is rather plain” – Dragon Ball’s Goku Almost Killed the Series

Summary

  • Dragon Ball almost failed because fans didn’t like Goku at first. Akira Toriyama had to make changes and introduce a tournament format to increase the series’ popularity.
  • Goku’s plain characterization and the initial story featuring Emperor Pilaf didn’t resonate with fans. Introducing new characters, such as Krillin, and highlighting Goku’s training and relationships helped improve his character.
  • Despite the initial setback, Goku has become one of the most popular and important characters in the industry. Dragon Ball Super continues to fine-tune Goku’s character and the franchise remains influential and beloved.


As a franchise, Dragon Ball is one of the most popular anime and manga series of all time, with its main protagonist, Goku, being a big draw for fans wanting to see this iconic Saiyan warrior reach yet another level of unimaginable power. But in a previous interview with series creator Akira Toriyama, it’s revealed that not only was Goku thought of as “plain” when he first premiered, but he almost took the entire Dragon Ball franchise down with him because of it!

A decades-spanning story that began with 1984’s Dragon Ball manga and its anime adaptation from 1986, Goku and his fellow Z-Fighters started as young kids with a shared love for fighting, and, after many trials and tribulations, eventually joined forces to become the steadfast protectors of Earth.

Yet well before the original Dragon Ball became a hit and Goku turned into a planet-defending, multiversal-contending, all-powerful fighter in the highly successful Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super sequel series, Akira Toriyama, in an interview from way back in May of 1995 (translated by Kanzenshuu), revealed that Dragon Ball as a franchise almost failed because Goku wasn’t particularly well-liked by fans.

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Dragon Ball Was Almost Ruined By Goku’s Lack of Likability

Kid Goku in Dragon Ball alongside adult Goku in Dragon Ball Z

Asked in the interview how the 21st Tenka’ichi Budōkai — the first tournament seen in Dragon Ball — came about, Toriyama admits that up until that moment, “the series hadn’t been all that popular.” Going on to say that Kazuhiko Torishima, Toriyama’s editor at the time, had flat-out told him, “Your protagonist is rather plain. That’s why it’s not popular,” Toriyama explains how the comment “annoyed” him as he “intentionally” made Goku that way. Deciding to increase Dragon Ball‘s popularity by turning the story into “a tournament format” — something that worked for his Dr. Slump series — Toriyama “temporarily withdrew the other characters besides Goku, brought back Kame-Sen’nin, and added Kuririn as a new character,” stating that, “From there it got popular before I knew it.”

Wearing a bland blue gi in the first arc of the series before donning his iconic “turtle” kanji one in the next, Goku more or less had the same happy-go-lucky and curious characterization at the start as he did later on but was part of an initial story featuring the villainous Emperor Pilaf that simply wasn’t resonating with fans. Consciously making an effort to improve his character with the introduction of Krillin, Goku’s training with Master Roshi, his continued relationship with Chi-Chi, his interactions with Yamcha, Oolong, and more, and eventually, his loss to Jackie Chun in the 21st Tenka’ichi Budōkai, Goku slowly became an interesting character who demanded attention, with his increasingly impressive skills as a fighter helping matters.

Akira Toriyama Made Changes To Goku And Saved Dragon Ball

Young Goku and Krillin dapping each other up with smiles on their faces

Eventually, Goku became one of the many reasons why fans new and old alike continued to flock to an anime and manga series that’s as influential as it is formative for the medium, with Dragon Ball’s latest iteration, Dragon Ball Super, still doing a commendable job of fine-tuning Goku’s character into someone worth following and rooting for. Goku has long shed the persona of being a plain protagonist, and now, 40 years after he almost ran Dragon Ball into the ground, he’s one of the most popular, recognizable, and important characters in the entire industry, and that’s saying something.

Source: Kanzenshuu

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