When Dragon Ball Z initially came on the scene. Fans couldn’t wait to see Goku continue to grow and do his thing. We don’t need to go into details but what we do know is this. Goku always comes through. So we put this same expectation on his first son. Gohan comes into the story already a four-year-old boy, about the same age Goku was at the start of Dragon Ball. We immediately become competent of the fact that Gohan isn’t quite like his father. He’s soft-spoken, reserved and a bit on the shy side. His mother Chi-Chi didn’t allow him to take part in martial arts as she felt that training to fight was a waste of energy. It’s at this point where we begin to see the kind of man Gohan would come to be.
Gohan became a character of great interest because of his latent powers. This half-human half Saiyan boy still had his tail intact. In fact, all Saiyans are born with a tail. Although Goku had his removed in Dragon Ball after transforming into Ōzaru and nearly killing Balma and Yamcha. So when Master Roshi, Bulma and the gang meet Gohan for the first time. They instantly take notice that Gohan still has his tail. They nervously question Goku as to whether Gohan has ever looked at the full moon. Knowing that the young Saiyan could possibly transform as Goku once did and cause serious damage.
This is where I feel the problem really begins. Akira Toriyama pretty much starts Gohan off from day one with more latent power than his father. As Goku had his tail removed at an early age. With no training or combat history. Gohan is already the second strongest character in Dragon Ball Z. Mind you, this is before we even learn about his hidden power. Goku’s son left fans mouths watering as he showcased his hidden potential early on in the series. Who could forget the epic headbutt to his infernal uncle Raditz in season one? He was able to hurt a Saiyan warrior who had years of training and battled often. After witnessing this, for many, he became one of the most well-received yet mystifying characters in the franchise.
When you in the shadow of Goku, it can be hard to find your identity. When your father is the face of modern anime and saves the world as if it’s his day job. The best you can do is get in where you fit in right? There’ve been numerous times where Gohan would give fans a small taste of his hidden power. It was always just enough to keep you hooked. We all became fans and over the years Gohan grew and his power increased as well.
Thanks to Piccolo, Gohan was introduced fully to the world of martial arts. Piccolo’s cold and ruthless training prepared Gohan for the rough road ahead and overtime became somewhat of a father figure to Goku’s first son. But even Piccolo almost saw his end after Gohan transformed during a night of a full moon. It was at this point where Piccolo understood the depth of Gohan’s powers.
Gohan in many ways seemed to carry the same trait of heroism his father did. His desire to always defend his friends made him a force to be reckoned with. He also had plenty of clutch moments in the series as well as the non-cannon movies. Like when he fought Frieza in Season 3 or when he defeated Garlic Jr while in a fit of rage in Season 4. These battles gave Gohan the spotlight for a moment. Unfortunately, we don’t get much from young him after the completion of the Frieza saga. He falls into anonymity during the Trunk saga where Akira Toriyama makes little to no use of Gohan. He’s still living in his father’s shadow and maybe for good reason. Gohan simply isn’t strong enough and we almost forget about his latent power.
Everything changes in Season 6. Better known to most as the Cell Saga or The Cell Games. Gohan seemingly becomes his own man. Thanks to his training in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber with his father, Gohan has at last discovered the key to unlocking his Super Saiyan abilities. But as powerful as he has become, Goku believes there is a still greater storm brewing behind his son’s quiet eyes. At this time Goku, Vegeta, and Future Trunks are all trying to find a way to ascend past the first level of Super Saiyan dubbed Super Saiyan Second Grade. This form was definitely more powerful but came at a price. It made the fighter slower due to the gain in muscle mass. This all changed when Gohan became the first fighter in the series to achieve Super Saiyan 2.
When Gohan finally releases his hidden potential after the death of Android 16. We see Gohan in his finest hour, poised and in full control of his abilities. The now-teenage Saiyan is officially the strongest fighter in the series by far. The moment fans of Gohan had been waiting for had finally arrived. The young Saiyan didn’t disappoint either. He starts things off by picking the Cell Jr.’s a part one by one.
A feat that none of the other Z-Fighters could accomplish. Mind you, each of the Cell Jr.’s has the same power level as Cell. It became clear that we were looking at the new protagonist of Dragon Ball Z. Or at least we thought. After a miraculous display of power and speed as well as a new hair dew, Gohan nearly bests Cell in power and speed.
Nothing should’ve been able to stand in his way. He pretty much had Cell beat. With a single blow, he reverted Perfect Cell to his previous form and saved Android 18 in the process. Unfortunately for us Gohan fans. This is where we start to see some of the flaws behind Gohan’s character. He became overly confident in his newfound abilities. So much so that when he had the chance to finish Cell for good but opted to allow Cell to regenerate. This only led to more problems down the road.
Cell knowing his defeat was imminent made a final attempt to destroy the earth. He then transforms himself into a bomb that gives the Z-Fighters no choice but to accept their fate. In a final effort to save the planet. Goku steps in once again to save the day. This is where I start to have some real issues with Gohan. Even as a super-powered stud. He still needs his daddy to save him. He never steps fully into the role of savior which we were led to believe he would. Regardless of what the fans may have asked for. Sometimes it’s true that the writer knows best but we would’ve been fine with the son saving the day this one time without aid from his father.
In many ways, it felt as if the writers were stunting the growth of Gohan to appeal to a fan base who wanted Goku to continue being the main hero of the franchise. It’s here where we see Gohan at his best and even then it still isn’t enough. He does eventually defeat cell with the help of the Z-Fighters and his dad holding his hand through the final Kamehameha. Look I don’t have a problem with Gohan needing help. At some point, I know we all need a bit of assistance but the way it was done was truly disappointing. The writers allowed us to believe in this character only to discover he’s not all we thought he was. He was still a boy who needed his father to step in when things got difficult. Even the massive power boost that Super Saiyan 2 gave couldn’t save him.
After the defeat of Cell, Earth falls into a life of peace for 7 years. Gohan no longer needs to save mankind from anything. So he hits the books and begins attending Orange Star High School. Something his mother always wanted for him. It’s here where he meets his spouse Videl and begins his attempt at settling into normal life. Gohan was never really a fighter. He didn’t like to fight just for the sake of fighting. Unlike his other Saiyan counterparts. So Gohan fell into this normal lifestyle quite nicely.
During this time, Gohan creates a superhero alias for himself dubbed “The Great Saiyaman” and enlists the help of Bulma for the costume. He saves the city several times under this superhero alias and even manages to take part in a movie playing himself. Even though his uniform is absolutely ridiculous. I did enjoy seeing him live his life without being expected to meet to the high standards set by his father. Maybe that’s exactly what he needed. The freedom to be who he felt he wanted to be. Since his introduction in the Dragon Ball Z franchise, the expectations that were set for Gohan had been far-reaching. He was forced to grow up quickly and in many ways was deprived of a normal childhood.
During this period of peace, the young Saiyan grows a lot. Physically and mentally. He’s no longer the only child as Chi-Chi has another son by Goku named Goten. He learns to be appreciative of the fact he has someone looking up to him the same way he looked up to his father when he was younger. So when they learn of a new World Martial Arts Tournament taking place. Everyone agrees to fight, including Goku who’s been dead for 7 years! Naturally, Gohan begins to train with Goten who now takes the title of youngest Super Saiyan in the franchise.
As the arc develops and we move into Season 8, most of the Z-Fighters take on more of supporting cast roles as the power levels of Goku and Vegeta continue to grow to new levels. During the World Martial Arts Tournament when Gohan powers up for Kabito. Vegeta makes a comment stating “Pathetic, barely a fraction of the strength he used to take on cell. Goes to show you what peace and quiet does for the undisciplined”. And for the most part, Vegeta was right. He wasn’t the fighter he once was during the Cell Saga. Mainly because he didn’t need to be. I can’t front, deep down I wanted to see the startled reactions of the other Z-Fighters as Gohan charged up to Super Saiyan 2. But, no one was moved, not one bit and neither was I.
I almost gave up on Gohan until Season 9 happened. The boy who bested Cell would once again receive the spotlight as a man. This time with a whole new look and attitude. No longer did his hair turn a bright yellow. Thanks to the incredible new potential that Old Kai unlocked within him. He even wears the same color Gi his father wore. He arrives just in time to save Goten, Trunks, and Piccolo. Thus the heavy rematch between Gohan and Majin Buu began.
Gohan was doing all the right things. He moved quickly, his style came off as effortless. It seemed as if he would actually pull it off this time and defeat the main villain of the story. We waited patiently for the first son to get a break and unfortunately, we didn’t get that. The false promise of Gohan was in full effect once again. Majin Buu finds a way to outsmart him with a self-destruct technique. Although Gohan avoids the full force of the blast. It gives Majin Buu time to regenerate. Our dreams are shattered once again when Gohan can’t keep up with Buu’s new transformation after absorbing Gotenks (Goten & Trunks Fusion).
Even with his full potential unleashed, Gohan found a way to fall short. I finally realized that he would never be the hero of the story. No matter how you spin it, it just wasn’t in the cards for him. As the series passed Gohan became more of a scholar than a fighter. He had a baby girl by the name of Pan and settled into normal life completely. He did make somewhat of a comeback in Dragon Ball Super but nothing that’d make fans root for him the same way we once did.
The character development of Gohan in Dragon Ball Z made for interesting shifts in power and climactic cliffhangers but in the end, He never really becomes the hero we hoped he’d be. He’ll still always be Goku’s first son. The one we all grew up with.
He isn’t the strongest fighter nor was he the most skilled but his resilience made him a staple for the franchise. He helped where he could and had some pretty amazing moments along the way. Gohan’s seen some of the most growth in Dragon Ball Z and it shows. So for that, I tip my hat to what could’ve been and what is.