Dragonball Z Abridged Did Not Earn Gohan’s Transformation

Gohan’s transformation to SSJ2 was never going to be easy for DBZ Abridged to recreate. Firstly, it has the issue that all abridged series’ have, which is that everyone already knows the plot, so it’s much harder to execute that plot in a way that’s engaging. Making this particular scene worse, Goku already went SSJ once, and this scene of a good guy saiyan getting really angry and then getting a massive powerup out of the deal as symbolized by his hair getting spikier, we’ve already done that. So, when I say they messed it up, it’s not really a criticism of them as creators so much as it is a criticism of people who are giving them a pass. After over a year with no DBZA episodes, I get the feeling a lot of fans are willing to call episode 60-1 a masterpiece no matter how far out of left field the trigger for Gohan’s transformation was.

And this gets us into the third major obstacle for Gohan’s transformation, which is that its trigger is the death of a recent addition to the team who is an ally of convenience with no special relationship to Gohan at all. Threatening the life of Gohan’s father, mentor, and friends canonically does not trigger Gohan’s SSJ2 transformation, but killing Android 16 does. Team Four Star could’ve written their way out of that one by skipping the Android 16 monologue and letting Gohan transform in response to his family and friends being directly threatened and in immediate danger of death, but what’s special about that? Gohan was on Namek. He fought Freeza. Krillin, Dende, and later Piccolo being in danger of immediate death certainly triggered a sudden flare in power, but he didn’t go super saiyan. Plus, the flaw in the episode was certainly not with Android 16’s monologue to Gohan. That was well-written and well-acted. I am 100% willing to buy that Android 16’s savage attack on Gohan’s pacifism and subsequent callous murder were enough to push Gohan over the edge.

No, the problem is what came before that monologue, or rather what didn’t: Gohan being any kind of pacifist. Android 16 accuses Gohan of being a coward, but he’s not. He didn’t come here to arrange a peaceful resolution, he came here to fight Cell. Granted, he expected Goku to do all the heavy lifting, but Gohan’s been to enough of these things to realize that sometimes your B-team gets called on to kill a minion, or bog down the bad guy while a spirit bomb charges, or whatever. When Gohan fought Cell prior to his transformation, even in his own internal monologue he never said that he was afraid of hurting Cell. He was afraid that Cell would hurt him, but he fought Cell anyway. When Goku stopped fighting Cell and asked Gohan to finish the fight instead, Gohan asserted that Cell was going to win and kill him. When Goku refused to fight Cell anyway, Gohan ultimately acquiesced to the ultimatum of “fight Cell or let him destroy the world” and went to go fight a battle he was convinced was going to kill him. Gohan’s not a coward or a pacifist. He’s been fighting to protect the people he cares about since episode 1 and never expressed any desire to run away. He wishes he didn’t have to fight, but he never considers actually running away or refusing battle.

The end of Android 16’s monologue isn’t “stop running away,” though, it’s “stop holding back.” This is incongruent with Gohan’s claim to be a pacifist (itself incongruent with the fact that he’s trying to fight Cell, he’s just losing) and the accusations of cowardice, and it’s not even clear why Gohan’s holding back. From my existing knowledge of the original show, I can guess that a fear of destroying the entire Earth in the crossfire may have been a concern, but 1) if DBZA is going to try and recreate the moment of transformation as a dramatic one and not a gag, then they need to recreate that build-up too, not just rely on their audiences already having it, and 2) Android 16 talks about how Gohan’s “rigid pacifism [is crumbling] into bloodstained dust” and will be “a coward to your last whimper.” This isn’t consistent with Gohan holding back for fear of destroying the thing he’s out to protect. Even if the odds of accidentally destroying the Earth in an unrestrained battle are lower than the odds of Cell winning and destroying the Earth anyway while Gohan is holding back, that’s not “rigid pacifism [crumbling] into bloodstained dust,” that’s being willing to sacrifice the Earth to Cell in order to avoid any possibility of being the proximate cause of Earth’s destruction.

And even that is a flaw that is only very vaguely alluded to in DBZA – in that Goku is so committed to going all out for victory that the other Z fighters think he really is going to sacrifice Earth in pursuit of it. No one ever presents this as being necessary to defeating Cell, though, and it’s not a reference made often enough to work as the thematic core for the arc. It’s a one-off gag that first appeared the episode before Gohan’s transformation, made in a way that didn’t directly reference Gohan at all, and which is so transient that it doesn’t appear to be anything more than a joke, but which is suddenly drafted into being Gohan’s entire character arc from episodes 31-60.

Android 16’s monologue is a spectacular takedown of a flaw that Gohan doesn’t actually have. To the extent that the scene works at all, it’s only because it’s accompanied by a well done cover of an excellent song.

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