Have you ever been late to a party? I know I have: growing up in a Nigerian household basically guarantees that you’ll be late to someone’s party. It’s a running joke amongst our community that you invite Americans on time, and you invite Nigerians 4 hours before. It’s not that we don’t enjoy spending time with one another, but that we like to do things at our own pace. That’s an attitude I’ve had with a lot of anime, and especially towards big names like Dragon Ball Z. Now that I’ve finished the manga, I’ve come to a few interesting realizations, especially in regards to Saiyans and the reasons they fight.
Beginning in the mid 1980s, Dragon Ball has been a wildly successful franchise that’s spawned 3 series of manga, 4 anime series, several movies, and a diehard fanbase of devoted followers. I personally stayed away from the franchise for most of my life, partly due to its overwhelming popularity and also due to the sheer amount of material I’d have to work through in order to get into the series. It wasn’t until the advent of Resurrection F and the promptings of a friend did I begin to work my way through the manga, and surprisingly enough I found myself enjoying it.
The series focuses on Goku, one of the last members of the Saiyan warrior race. A lover of both food and martial arts, Goku manages to find himself in increasingly difficult situations in each major story arc, and each problem is solved by – you guessed it – beating his opponents into submission. Not quite as brutal as it sounds, the Dragon Ball series is just the type of cartoon you’d see on a Saturday morning as a kid (for some of you, quite literally), as it is a fun mixture of action and comedy with likable characters and dastardly villains. What makes the series so unique is that Goku always grows as a person as a result of his battles, and he never fights out of selfish ambition or desire. Goku uses his experiences as a springboard to better himself, and would rather befriend his opponent than completely dominate them, a stark contrast to his self-proclaimed rival Vegeta.
As the yin to Goku’s yang, Vegeta’s entire character is a stark contrast to Goku. Where Goku fights for peace and to help others, Vegeta fights in order to exert dominance and to feed his ego. The pure joy that Goku has when exerting his skills in a fight seems nonexistent in Vegeta, who finds purpose in the pain he causes to his enemies. A former prince, the last heir to a lost world, Vegeta’s pride both defines and limits him. He is selfish, arrogant, bloodthirsty, ruthless…and yet somehow he’s the character I identify with the most over the course of the series.
During the course of the Buu Arc, Vegeta has grown disillusioned with his life. With Goku absent and no main threat to face, Vegeta devotes himself to training, raising his family, and pretty much being a recluse. Warrior to the core, Vegeta is restless in times of peace. His rivalry with Goku gave him purpose; without Goku to continually challenge him, Vegeta had no goal to strive for, no honor to achieve. The advent of the Tenkaichi Budokai Tournament and the promise of Goku’s presence began to awaken something within Vegeta. – an excitement, a dormant desire – but it was denied as the plans of the wizard Bobbidi began to spring into motion. Intent on awakening the djinn Buu by acquiring a large amount of energy from powerful beings, Bobbidi used his magic to manipulate Vegeta’s desires, pushing him to kill his allies in order to absorb the energy that would be released.
Vegeta has other plans, however. His only target is Goku, and his pride is such an integral part of him that he even throws off mind control in order to set his sights on Goku. Submitting and yet resisting, chasing a goal that only he strives for, Vegeta has an insane amount of willpower for one so focused on seeing himself as the greatest. Why does he try so hard, rather than just convincing himself that he’s the best apart from Goku? He reveals his motivation during his confrontation with Goku:
Vegeta’s pride couldn’t take the fact that Goku had somehow attained greater strength and remained stronger, despite nearly all of the advantages in Vegeta’s favor. Idols placed on the highest pedestals have the longest way to fall, and Vegeta’s pride had fallen so far that defeating Goku was the only way he could salvage his sense of self-worth and identity. In the same way, I often find myself fallen low due to my own pride. While I don’t have an all-consuming desire to defeat a friend/rival of mine, my own pride manifests itself in different ways. The self-righteous anger at someone else who asks “stupid and obvious questions”, the annoyance at having to listen to my parents when my own way is “obviously better”, the selfish lust over anything I don’t have, ranging from relationships to physical pleasures.
Subtle and yet powerful, the Bible makes it clear that pride is “not from the Father, but [it] is of the world” (1 John 2:16) and that God “is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Pride is a sin not because it elevates our sense of self-worth, but it removes our dependence on God. Pride tells us the age-old lie that we don’t need God, that we are more than enough to make good decisions, and that we are above the rules of those below us, which is just about everyone. Yet, despite my strivings and my angry attempts at living the way I want to, my pride never leads me into a place I want to be. I’m always left lacking, still searching, looking for that emotional, physical, or spiritual high. Pride’s hollow promises always leave me feeling empty inside, where the blessing of humility is personal acceptance and true satisfaction, a realization that Vegeta just begins to come to towards the end of the Buu Arc:
Accepting that Goku is stronger than him due to his selfless nature, Vegeta finally finds peace within himself. Breaking the chains of pride that bound him – at least for a brief moment – Vegeta finds satisfaction in knowing that Goku has everything under control, and his example energizes Vegeta to give his all during the final fight against Buu. Like Vegeta, I only truly find motivation to live for Christ when I lay aside my pride, pull down my walls, and humble myself to let Him take charge. His grace is sufficient for my needs, and his peace calms my tumultuous emotions. He is more than enough for me. He is more than enough for you.