Note: My opinions, analysis, and even proof in this piece came from years of adoring Dragon Ball. The manga, anime, video games, etc. Thing is, I’ve based my opinions mostly on what I’ve read in the Viz translated version of the manga. The means that I could have perceived some of his dialogue in a much different way than you. Fans that can read the original Japanese version may even think I’m wrong, but that’s okay. At the end of the day, we don’t think the same. So chances are that I might have come to certain conclusions regardless. I also think it’s fair to give shout-out to Kanzenshuu and Uber Hikari. I use Kanzenshuu for literally all of my Dragon Ball needs, and it seems to be the only website I trust for it nowadays. I’ve also lost dozens of hours lurking through their forums full of unique and out-of-the-box opinions and thoughts regarding many aspects of the Dragon Ball franchise. I owe a lot of what I know about the series to Kanzenshuu. And finally, Uber Hikari. He’s one of my favorite YouTubers, and I find his analysis and insight on characters, plot, and just the world in general extremely fascinating. He’s taught me a lot about literature and was one of the inspirations for this article. I literally listen to him talk for hours at a time, considering many of his videos break the hour mark. Anyways, this article has been a long time coming, so let’s get to it.
Let me just make this clear from the start: Vegeta is my favorite character in Dragon Ball. He wasn’t always, but with every read and watch of the Dragon Ball series, it gets increasingly harder to ignore his distinction from the pack. Yes, everyone knows how he starts off as a villain, and in the end, turns out to be not that bad of a guy… mostly. Now, I will obviously cover that, but I want to go deeper. I want to get into the minutia of Vegeta. As his transformation from the prince of all Saiyans to the prideful family man is not one that can simply be achieved over night. Vegeta goes through years of development. Slowly rewiring his brain from his old barbaric ways, to not wanting to kill someone for disobeying an order. But what people rarely touch upon, is why Vegeta is the way he is. He does make his appearance in the 17th volume of the manga, but, like Son Goku, he also had his beginnings.
I’m aware that the anime of Dragon Ball Z goes more in-depth on Vegeta in his early years. Even going as far as to show scenes with his father. But as I said at the start, I’m going strictly by the manga. What Akira Toriyama wrote. I know Toriyama wasn’t susceptible to poor writing, and his one-chapter-at-a-time writing style was the cause of that, but stick with me.
From the chapter he’s introduced, Vegeta makes it very clear: He doesn’t care about his fellow Saiyans. He laughed when Raditz was killed by Piccolo, blew up Nappa for proving to be useless, and wanted to kill Goku and Gohan, both in one fight. In fact, Nappa even suggests spawning an army of Saiyans via the Dragon Balls. But Vegeta strongly declines, stating that he doesn’t want them running around training to someday get stronger than him. Where does this apathy for his own race come from? The one person who drives Vegeta to madness: Freeza. It’s clear from Freeza’s one-panel flashback where Goku reminded him about his father, Bardock, before destroying Planet Vegeta, that Freeza has been in the Saiyan’s lives ever since Vegeta was only a child. Based on what we know about the Saiyans being a warrior race, I think it’s safe to assume that Vegeta has harbored his immense pride since then. That means that he’s gone through decades of being bossed around and — as Goku said — being used for Freeza’s countless crusades. Being nothing but a puppet for his master. It’s not that his master shows no hints of being sympathetic, but Vegeta wants to be the one to pulling the strings, not the other way around. That’s why he does go on to kill Nappa, a Saibaiman, and gives no thought to favoring those that are Saiyan. All those years of suffering under Freeza’s wing makes him do the same to others. It’s also why he makes certain decisions.
Vegeta’s original reason for wanting immortality from the Dragon Balls is for a life of never-ending combat. With him being a Saiyan, that makes perfect sense. But once Vegeta is actually on Earth, he says something very interesting upon finding out about Goku’s revival via the Dragon Balls:
I never believed the legend of the Namekian power spheres… but if Kakarrot’s really returned from the dead, then it’s true!
So, Vegeta, you’re telling me that you traveled in a space-pod for a full year, and started a mini war on Earth on the slim chance that the story of the Dragon Balls was true? For someone who Freeza needs around — Kyui later states how Freeza was initially angry with Vegeta for up and leaving for Earth– it doesn’t sound like going to Earth for a myth is very wise. And Vegeta is a very smart character. It seems to me that he despises Freeza so much, that hanging on to the sliver of hope that is the Dragon Balls is better than having to serve under Freeza for another day. But Vegeta gained more than just hope by going to Earth; he got beaten, and humiliated, both going on to make him an improved fighter.
With Nappa taking over the fighting duties in their battle on Earth, Vegeta couldn’t have expected that he would need to step in. But Goku proves to be much more powerful than the duo could have dreamed off. As a Saiyan, the audience knows how Vegeta loves to fight, but he also hates being the inferior one. Powerful opponents excite Goku because he loves to fight, but to also better himself. Vegeta, however, loves to fight because he wants to prove his worth. He loves “puffing up his pride.” That’s why when he senses Goku’s return to Earth, he panics, and orders Nappa to finish off Gohan, Kuririn, and Piccolo.
Vegeta is left with no choice but to fight. It’s clear that he wants Goku to suffer and feel his oppression. Hell, Vegeta waited three hours just for him to show up. Goku is just a low-class warrior, it doesn’t even cross Vegeta’s mind that he could be defeated. And he’s right. Goku just isn’t strong enough. Throughout their battle, Goku shows loads of promise, which Vegeta sees. Vegeta’s even forced to turn into his Oozaru form to finish Goku off as a last resort. But then come Gohan and Kuririn to spoil Vegeta’s antics. Yajirobe manages to cut off his tail, Kuririn shoots what’s left of Goku’s Genki-Dama which Gohan repels back at Vegeta, and Yajirobe proceeds to leave a huge cut on his back. At this point, Vegeta’s pride is crushed (Gohan finishing him off in his Oozaru form doesn’t help, either). Vegeta does end up leaving Earth in one piece, but at the cost of his ego. A victim to Goku’s sentimentality.
The days following Vegeta’s landing on Namek is the culmination of everything that has happened to him. He’s finally able to get back at those that have pushed him around for years, killing Kyui, Dodoria, and Zarbon. Victory has never tasted sweeter for Vegeta, except his one true enemy is still alive, looking for the same Dragon Balls that Vegeta longs for himself.
As much as Vegeta hates the Earthlings, he still finds that teaming up with them is his only chance of taking Freeza down. He even goes as far as to provide Goku, whom he despises with all of his evil heart, with healing equipment.
During Gohan, Kuririn, Vegeta, and Piccolo’s showdown with Freeza, Vegeta pins his hope on his eventual Super Saiyan transformation. In Vegeta’s battle with Freeza’s underlings, he found out that the one thing that Freeza fears is a Super Saiyan, aiding Freeza’s motivations in destroying Planet Vegeta. That revelation helped Vegeta pin his hopes on becoming one, rather than being granted the immortality that seemed to slip further and further away as time went on, even getting cheated out of his wish by Gohan, Dende, and Kuririn. Vegeta isn’t able to turn into the Saiyan legend. Instead, he’s turned into a boost for Freeza’s confidence, completely having his way with the annoyance, yet useful, puppet he’s been dealing with all these years. Vegeta finally realizes that it’s hopeless, that there is nothing he could do to stop Freeza, and for the first time in his life, he cries tears of despair.
In his dying breath, Vegeta begs his rival, Goku, to finish Freeza. For the Saiyans he’s killed, for the damage he’s done, but most importantly, for using him for all those years. It probably made Vegeta sick to his stomach calling Goku the eventual Super Saiyan, but as long as Freeza would meet his end, it was okay. Vegeta dies in a state that he never revisits in his entire life, only motivating Goku to take down Freeza even more.
It’s also important to note that the Namek Saga was the very early stages of his future relationships with the Earthlings. He fought with them throughout, even saving their lives a few times. Of course, being Vegeta, he denied it every time, stating that it was for selfish purposes only, such as testing out his own strength. The Namek saga changes Vegeta for the rest of the series.
With Goku and Freeza seemingly dead, Vegeta ends up living with Bulma at the Capsule Corporation (he was revived along with the Namekians). Not much is told to us about the 1 and a half to 2 years he spends on Earth before Future Trunks’ arrival. But one could assume that he’s gotten a bit softer, and his relationship with Bulma is at least in its early conception. Goku’s return to Earth and the forecast of the Artificial Humans’ attack motivate Vegeta to resume his place as the number one Saiyan once again.
We meet up with Vegeta three years later, after Goku’s failure to defeat #19, thanks to his heart disease. He now has a son, and some form of a relationship with Bulma, although it’s never explored what exactly went on between them. Vegeta’s arrival at the fight against the Artificial Humans makes one thing clear: he’s reverted back to his old ways, or at least tries to. Vegeta’s achievement of Super Saiyan goes to his head. It doesn’t help that he also seems to be stronger than Goku, for the moment. This cocky Vegeta with his newly-found pride is similar to a Vegeta we’ll see in the Boo saga. One that’s insanely happy to be in his dominant form.
Vegeta takes down #19 with ease, and instead of finishing off Dr. Gero, he wants him to activate numbers 17 and 18, completely ignoring Trunks’ warnings about their unimaginable strength. Vegeta’s on a roll, the possibility of taking down even more opponents to prove himself sounds incredibly enticing. That is, until #18 kicks his ass. Vegeta’s only choice is to move beyond the Super Saiyan wall. Which pummels his pride, considering the limited amount of time he had to dominate with as a base Super Saiyan.
He’s left with no choice but to train with Trunks, whom he isn’t very fond of yet, in The Room of Spirit and Time. Afterwards, we see the same old Vegeta we’ve come to love (and hate). His battle with Cell was one of the few times where I genuinely disliked him. Once again, he chooses to make the same mistake he made with Dr. Gero. I know he’s prideful and all, but letting Cell absorb #18 because Cell was too weak is ridiculous. A rinse-and-repeat of what happened with Gero, since he doesn’t stand a chance against Perfect Cell…
Despite spending another year in The Room of Spirit and Time with Trunks, he’s forced back beneath Goku’s shadow. Vegeta doesn’t even take part in the Cell Game aside from his brief battle with a Cell Jr. But not all was for naught. The two years Vegeta spent with Trunks in The Room of Spirit and Time gave him a real connection with someone for the first time in his life. As you’d expect from spending two years in one room with another person. Granted, we don’t know the extent of his relationship with Bulma at this point in the series. But it doesn’t seem to be on par to what he has with his son.
The Cell Game is where a new Vegeta is born. Trunks dies at the fingertips of Cell, leaving Vegeta with nothing but rage. A rage that he can’t even put to use, as Perfect Cell is too much for him. However, it still showed how much Vegeta had grown from his beginnings. For the first time, he fought not for his pride, but for his rage over the loss of a loved one. The sentimentality that once made Vegeta scoff, is now a part of him. Even going as far as to apologize to Gohan for being a liability.
For Vegeta, watching not only Goku, but Gohan as well, dominate Cell — whom he could not — destroyed his pride and fighting spirit. Vegeta’s last words are that he will never fight again. We’ll see about that, Vegeta.
The Artificial Humans Saga sees the start of something more positive in Vegeta, regardless of two stupid story-changing decisions. He’s gone on and started relationships with people, and that makes him sick. That’s why we see his short reversion to a Vegeta more like the one in the Saiyan Saga. But this time it’s starting to become clearer to Vegeta: he can’t change the unchangeable. He pulls something similar in the Boo Saga, but we see the start of it here. He’s changing, but it’s hard to accept. In fact, he even straight-up admits that Goku truly is something else, citing how Son’s always a step ahead of him. We’re left with a mentally exhausted Vegeta.
The Boo saga is arguably the most important for Vegeta. Toriyama lets the audience into his mind a bit more than usual. Of course he’s cocky, and loves to fight, but now he has a family he loves. Seven years of peace apparently does that to a Saiyan Warrior. Although, that doesn’t mean that he’s let himself go. As we see during his fight with Goku, he’s gone beyond Super Saiyan, and is above the level Gohan was when he defeated Cell.
Vegeta is, not surprisingly, still obsessed with defeating Goku. Son’s promise to come back for a day to compete in the 25th Tenkaichi Budokai excites Vegeta, as he’ll finally get his chance to end their rivalry. But once Kaio-Shin, Bobbidi, and Majin Boo interrupt Vegeta’s last chance to fight Goku, he turns to his old ways… once again.
Vegeta lets Bobbidi take control of him, knowing it’ll boost his powers like it did with Spopovich and Yamu. Fed up with the waiting, Vegeta kills hundreds of civilians at the tournament, finally making Goku turn his attention to him. Similar to how he was during his fight with #19, Vegeta takes on Goku, but filled with confusion. He says that he now has a family, but misses the days of only giving a damn about himself. But Vegeta is too deep in, stopping his fight with Goku to stop Boo. For the first time, Vegeta fights for the safety of others as his priority, eventually sacrificing himself to end Boo for good. His death does end up being in vain, but Vegeta showed a side new to the audience. It’s obvious that he’s a good person now, no matter how hard he tries to fight it.
With that, the only thing standing in Vegeta’s way to live a regret-free life is Goku. After being revived to help stop Boo, Vegeta looks upon the battle for the universe. As Goku rages on against Boo, Vegeta finally pours his heart out, admitting that Goku is the best. He thought that having a family, and people to fight for, like Goku, would aid him, but it just isn’t that simple. Confessing what he’s known to be true since the Freeza Saga was necessary for Vegeta to finally move on with his life. And the hardest thing he’s ever had to do and makes for the most powerful moment in Dragon Ball. He can finally live in peace, having exorcised all of his demons.
Vegeta went from a barbaric Saiyan Warrior to a family man living a peaceful, albeit chaotic, life on Earth. He went through over a decade of development to get to this point. That’s why Vegeta is the highlight of the Dragon Ball series. He definitely wasn’t the first bad-gone-good character, if you count Tenshinhan and Piccolo, but he’s hands down the best written (and most interesting) one. Vegeta’s life is a story of how a proud man has to go through the biggest humbling experience of his life. Literally. I actually find it a bit sad. He went through suffering because of Freeza, and the inability to take over as strongest in the universe, thanks to Goku. But Vegeta definitely gains a lot more good than bad in the form of a family, friends, and a peaceful life. It’s certainly not the life Vegeta thought he’d be living, but a wonderful one nonetheless.