Bt Jre Best
You might have noticed this article is a little bit shorter than the previous one. Since there is so much to talk about in this arc we’ve decided to split our breakdown of the Frieza Saga into multiple parts to be a little shorter and easier to digest. This article contains a recap of the beginning of the saga and the first of several character analyses, this one being focused on Vegeta. So if you like what you read here than get excited cuz there’s more to come!
The Frieza Saga is one of the most iconic arcs in all of battle shounen. The image the wider culture sees when it thinks of Dragon Ball Z is locked in this section of the show. In many ways the green skies and blue grass covered mountains of Namek are as synonymous with Dragon Ball as the demon filled bleachers in Yu Yu Hakusho’s Dark Tournament Saga or the sun bathed pyramids in the Egypt of JoJo’s Stardust Crusaders. This is the clean break, where Dragon Ball went from a light-hearted comedy martial arts series to fully focus on it’s new more serious heavily science-fiction influenced battle shounen direction. Many consider this to be the show’s peak. While it was never my favorite arc of the show I used to agree that it was “objectively the best”, whatever that means. But after my re-watch I’m not so sure I agree with that.
Now I’m going to handle the story recap a little differently from the last article. From this point on Dragon Ball Z Kai stories will have a lot more twists and turns, which while making for a more fulfilling story aren’t completely necessary for you to know about when discussing some of the more interesting aspects of the show. I’ll recap the earlier events in the saga so you know the general premise and character motivations and then stop with the story recap for some more focused analysis of the characters and story.
The Z Fighters were able to repel the invading Saiyans but lost lots of their friends in the process. They want to get them back due to Piccolo and Kami’s deaths, but the Earth’s Dragon Balls are gone. Thankfully during the battle with the Saiyans, they learned that Piccolo and Kami aren’t demons like they previously thought but actually members of an alien race called the Namekians. Mr Popo, Kami’s unfortunately designed servant, locates the ship Kami landed on Earth in, a craft that could get them to Namek in a month, and Popo teaches Bulma how to pilot it. With Goku still recovering after his fight with Vegeta and no Senzu Beans on hand to help heal him he’ll have to stay behind on Earth. So Krillin and a desperate-to-prove-himself Gohan volunteer to accompany Bulma to the alien world.
Meanwhile the heavily injured Vegeta arrives at “Planet Frieza 79” to be healed, giving us our first look at the wider Galactic Frieza Army or Frieza Force. During his healing process he loses his tail leaving him without the ability to turn into a Great Ape. Cui, one of Vegeta’s rivals within the Frieza Force, tells him that Frieza was mad at Vegeta for breaking orders and going to Earth, but let that anger go once he heard mention of the Dragon Balls over Vegeta and Nappa’s scouters. Frieza has decided to pursue the Dragon Balls himself and has gone to Namek likely to wish for immortality. Vegeta who was planning on overthrowing Frieza once he got his wish is naturally horrified by that idea and quickly rushes to Namek himself officially going rogue from the Frieza Force.
Once our heroes Bulma, Krillin, and Gohan make it to Namek they quickly run into the Frieza Force. It’s quite apparent they’ve been wreaking havoc on the planet in their pursuit of the Dragon Balls. One of the Frieza Force foot soldiers even critically damages their ship, leaving them stranded on the planet. The gang quickly realized the situation is far more dangerous than they ever thought it would be. Sensing plenty of strong energy levels including, to their horror, Vegeta’s. Krillin and Gohan decide to continue their search for the Dragon Balls and Bulma hides and contacts Earth to let them know their situation. On Earth, Korin and Yajirobe were able to grow some more Senzu Beans for Goku. After a speedy recovery, he goes to Capsule Corp where Dr. Brief, Bulma’s dad, had built another spaceship using the original space pod Goku landed on Earth in. A ship that could get him to Namek in six days and allow him to continue his gravity training so with the news of danger on Namek he flies off immediately.
Back on Namek, Krillin and Gohan find a village and as they carefully approach it, that’s where we first lay eyes on Frieza, flanked by his two bodyguards Zarbon and Dodoria. Well, that’s not fully true; for me and all the other Kai watchers this is actually the second time we’ve seen him. Frieza is the same alien we saw in the first scene of the show destroying Planet Vegeta. They interrogate, belittle and ultimately slaughter almost every Namekian in the village to get their Dragon Ball. Until Gohan, in a fit of rage, kicks Dodoria away from Dende, a Namekian child and also the only surviving member of his village. The three of them fly away with Dodoria in hot pursuit.
Meanwhile, Vegeta has also made it to Namek, but has been followed by Cui. The purple alien quickly confronts Vegeta, he’s been ordered to kill him by Frieza. Cui is cocky, mentioning that their power used to be around the same level but confident in his ability to get rid of the Pint-sized Saiyan. An almost bemused Vegeta demonstrates his ridiculous amount of newfound strength. Explaining to Cui that anytime a Saiyan recovers from a near death experience like he did on Earth their power grows immensely, before killing Cui with ease.
This is where I’m going to stop the story recap. From this point on it’s a game of cat-and-mouse where our stranded heroes and Vegeta try to collect as many Dragon Balls as they can while avoiding direct confrontation with the powerful beyond belief Frieza. With all the characters picking their battles carefully hiding the few Dragon Balls they have and not being able to let their guard down for a moment. All the while Goku is traveling to Namek himself, spending every moment of those six days training for an inevitable battle with Frieza.
Vegeta spends most of his time in this arc playing Jerry to the Frieza Force’s Tom. While he’s gotten a lot stronger he knows he’s still outmatched and as such has to be a lot more crafty. He’s still as cruel as ever and even more arrogant, slaughtering a whole Namekian village so he can gain their Dragon Ball. Eager to show off his new power when confronted by unsuspecting enemies like Cui, Dodoria, and Zarbon. But here we actually get to see him use some strategy: hiding, using diversion, and forming uneasy alliances. In many ways this is the closest Vegeta actually gets to how he envisions himself, the powerful and intelligent Warrior outsmarting and conquering his enemies who come for him from all directions.
The malevolent selfishness he displays in this arc seems without end, during their fight Dodoria actually gives up pleading for Vegeta to spare his life and for them to join forces against Frieza. While doing this, he revealed to Vegeta that Frieza lied to him and all the other Saiyans about the destruction of their homeworld. It wasn’t destroyed by a giant meteor but as the viewer saw in the very first episode of Kai, Frieza destroyed the planet himself. This is because he feared that the Saiyans we’re becoming too strong and eventually a Super Saiyan would be born. A being of Saiyan Legend so strong that its power would even eclipse Friezas. He only kept a few alive since they still made for useful soldiers. Upon learning this massive conspiracy about the genocide of his entire race Vegeta simply says he doesn’t care. He says he never cared about the destruction of his people or his homeworld before simply killing Dodoria, revealing a new level of callousness in the prince. Except he’s wrong, he does care, seemingly quite deeply.
Much deeper into the saga, after many twists, turns, and fights, circumstances have forced Vegeta to stand alongside our heroes against an irate Frieza while waiting for Goku to recover from a previous battle. Before, they had used the Namekian Dragon Balls to revive Piccolo (meaning Kami and the Earth’s Dragon Balls had also returned) and bring Piccolo to the planet while Vegeta was sleeping. They did this in an attempt to break the deal Vegeta made with them previously: to work together against Frieze in exchange for Vegeta getting to wish for immortality. Since the Namekian Dragon, Porunga, can grant three wishes, a furious Vegeta demands that they wish for him to have immortality but before Dende can make the wish the Grand Elder of Namek Guru dies and Porunga vanishes. Vegeta has completely failed; he’s compromised his pride, worked with his enemies, and ultimately has been outplayed by people infinitely weaker than him. And it’s this utterly defeated version of the prince who finds himself standing alongside our heroes as a completely pissed Frieza finally finds the group. At this point, Vegeta has nothing to gain by remaining on Namek, to his knowledge the Dragon Balls are gone for good, he knows deep down that he can’t beat Frieza when he was decisively beaten by has henchmen the Ginyu Force, and he owes nothing to the Z Fighters in fact they’re the reason he won’t be able to achieve his goal of immortality. We’ve been shown throughout the entire saga that he’s clever enough to cut his losses and leave and yet he fights anyway, why?
That’s because his immense amount of pride is not just in himself. The title of Prince of all Saiyans truly does mean something to him. He believes that he’s the best, that his people were the greatest, and in his battle with Frieza he pulls out all the stops. He talks of himself like he cannot be beaten even though he knows he will; he claims that he is the Super Saiyan of Legend, the legend that he knows Frieza fears, partly as genuine pride in the level of power he has acquired and partly as a way to convince himself that he can win. But ultimately Frieza toys with him, brutally defeats him and pretty much tortures him. The delusion is broken. Vegeta can no longer convince himself that he is the greatest, even shedding a tear because of the realization. This is the last fight before Goku is able to start his final battle with Frieza. Before that battle begins, Vegeta, beaten so severely that he can’t even stand up, tells Goku that he is truly the Legendary Super Saiyan and that Frieza has no chance of beating him. Frieza, annoyed, shoots a beam through Vegeta’s chest and before he can die he tells Goku about the atrocities Friezas committed against the Saiyans. The destruction of their home world and the subjugation of the few Saiyans that remained. He pleads with Goku while crying to defeat Frieza, for the pride of their race before dying. Because ultimately his pride in being a Saiyan takes precedence over his pride in himself. It’s why he’s able to show this level of vulnerability only to another Saiyan, even one he considers beneath him. He’s able to swallow that arrogance if only for a minute before dying.
Ultimately Vegeta’s death isn’t permanent. Due to a plan devised by King Kai, Kami, and the Elder Namekian Guru everyone killed by Frieza and his soldiers is revived and brought to Earth besides Frieza and Goku. But before Vegeta is brought back to Earth he does get to see Goku in his full Super Saiyan transformation and looks on with pride. But the second chance at life brings nothing but questions for Vegeta. What does he have to live for? All his goals have been thwarted, and his life cannot go back to any sort of normalcy he’s known. Even if Frieza wasn’t ultimately killed at the end of this saga you could never return to the army. He failed to collect the Dragon Balls and gain immortality so his dreams of conquering the universe remain impossible. He couldn’t even get revenge on his longtime suppressor Frieza; they were beaten by his other nemesis Goku, a man he admitted was stronger than him, someone he witnessed achieve a level of strength Vegeta has been trying to achieve his whole life. And now without an ally in the universe he finds himself back where all this change started: Earth. He needs a goal, something to live for, and the only one he can think of is to finally avenge his loss and defeat Goku but again he runs into a barrier. After Goku’s defeat of Frieza he goes missing, the Z Fighters attempt to wish him back to life with the Dragon Balls but he hasn’t died like they assumed. He is simply out there somewhere in the universe leaving his friends and family to just wait for him to return on his own. Vegeta, not wanting to wait, decides to look for Goku himself by stealing a Capsule Corp spaceship much like the one Goku used to get to Namek and searching for him, officially starting the Captain Ahab Moby Dick like rivalry the two are most known for.
Vegeta’s one of the most beloved characters in anime. One of the reasons for that is that he is at once incredibly simple and easy to understand but at the same time is rife with little character details. They invite the audience to put his actions under a microscope. And when put under that microscope you can see a compelling complex character grappling with tangible real issues that people deal with every day. Debilitating insecurity surrounding his strength. Hiding or lying about his true emotions to try and look strong. Crushing expectations of success combined with early coddling leading to an inability to handle major failings later in life. Having to ask yourself the horrifying question of “what happens next?” when things don’t go your way. Vegeta is a near-perfect depiction of the harmful effects toxic masculinity can have on men. No longer having to serve the role as primary antagonist allows Vegeta the freedom of motivation and actions few villains in this series get. His long road from villain to rival is compelling all throughout the Frieza Saga.
I hope you enjoyed the first part of my retrospective on the Frieza Saga. I had a great time looking back and analyzing one of the most memorable stories from my childhood but I’m not even close to done with this monster of a storyline! How do our heroes handle such overwhelming threats? Is Frieza one of the best villains of all time? And is this really the best Saga in all of Dragon Ball? Find out next on the Dragon Ball Z Kai retrospective!
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