Dragon Ball Z focuses mostly on action-packed fights but sometimes it was darker than we expected.
There are some anime series that have a larger popularity than Dragon Ball Z. Akira Toriyama’s foundational shonen series has been a favorite of audiences for more than decades and it was also a breakthrough series that helped anime gain popularity outside of Japan.
Dragon Ball Z characters and the stories that it started are still all over today and it’s impressive to see how the franchise has changed a lot since its earlier days. Dragon Ball Z frequently pushes an optimistic attitude where good conquers evil, but tragic and saddest moments are baked into the anime genre and even Dragon Ball Z is not immune to them.
1. Spopovich Tortures Videl
The World Martial Arts Tournament is typically an occasion for celebration in Dragon Ball Z, but the 25th installment acts as the dark prelude for Buu’s awakening and invasion of the planet. The early proceedings of the tournament are a lot of fun and it’s exciting to watch new characters like Videl participate. This anticipation transforms into dread when Videl faces Spopovich, a muscular individual that’s under Babidi’s Majin rule. Spopovich doesn’t hold back and engages in vicious behavior that would be a lot for anyone, but is harder to watch since it happens to Videl, a human.
2. Android 16 Gets Decapitated & Crushed
The Cell Saga is an interesting change of pace because Cell also has to share time with Dr. Gero’s Androids, who enter as straight villains but evolve into more complex characters. Android 17 and 18 are essential to Cell’s evolution, which allows Android 16 to be a stranger outlier that adopts a fondness and affinity for the simple and imperfect nature of humanity. Gohan connects with Android 16’s kindness, which Cell ultimately preys upon when he crushes Android 16’s disembodied head and permanently erases him. It’s an act so unnecessarily dark that it pushes Gohan over the edge.
3. Imperfect Cell Absorbs Innocent Civilians
A good villain is essential for a series like Dragon Ball Z. The franchise can sometimes fall into a repetitive pattern with its antagonists, but Cell begins in a very unique way and utilizes a design that’s actually terrifying and feels more like a creature from a David Cronenberg movie than a shonen anime. Cell’s design becomes progressively sleeker, but initially, he has to drain people dry in his Imperfect form for sustenance. Imperfect Cell’s introduction where he saps the unsuspecting public dry is unlike anything that’s previously happened in Dragon Ball Z and it teases the upcoming darkness.
4. Piccolo Sacrifices Himself To Save Gohan
One of Dragon Ball Z’s darkest moments also doubles as one of the saddest experiences from early in the series. Earth’s strongest fighters seriously struggle against Nappa and Vegeta hasn’t even stepped in yet to show off his strength. Nappa brutally kills many of the franchise’s beloved characters and he’s about to off Goku’s young son before Piccolo intervenes and shields him from the blast. It’s a heavy moment to see Nappa attempt to kill a child, but Piccolo’s death is even more emotional. It triggers a whole series of heartbreaking actions before Goku finally arrives.
5. Videl & Company Believe Gohan Is Dead
Death becomes a surprisingly common event in the Dragon Ball universe. Gohan has had some very close calls, but he’s one of the more blessed Dragon Ball Z characters when it comes to death and resurrection.
Gohan survives during the saga against Kid Buu, but when Buu pulls off his Human Extinction Attack it’s believed that Gohan is taken with it due to his ki no longer being sensed. Gohan narrowly avoids this grim fate, but it doesn’t change the fact that Videl and Gohan’s family are still given the grim news and have to temporarily mourn him.
6. Bardock Watches His Entire Race Get Eliminated By Frieza
Dragon Ball Z is an anime that’s many things, but it’s one of the better generational stories as Goku reaches adulthood and gets to watch his son, Gohan, mature before his eyes and start his own family. Dragon Ball Z has also offered brief glimpses of Goku’s own father, Bardock, with Bardock – The Father of Goku, explicitly looking at the Saiyan’s final days. It’s common knowledge that Frieza is responsible for the destruction of the Saiyan race, but it hits even harder to experience it personally through Bardock’s eyes. He has to witness the death of all of his friends and then go out in his own crushing and nihilistic defeat from an unscrupulous monster.
7. Dodoria Tortures A Namekian Village
There’s a lot of reverence held for Dragon Ball Z’s Frieza Saga and a lot of that has to do with how the villains just feel genuinely evil. Frieza’s reputation builds him up to be an individual who’s destroyed entire planets, but his lackeys, Dodoria and Zarbon, are just as bloodthirsty. These two henchmen aren’t nearly as powerful, but they’re a lot for a standard Namekian. Dodoria’s impatience towards the Dragon Balls causes him to brutally abuse an innocent Namekian village until he gets what he wants. It’s a reminder of how they have no respect for life.
8. Future Trunks’ Timeline Is Full Of Graphic Deaths
The arrival of the killer Androids and Cell is predicated by Future Trunks and the addition of time travel to the series. Future Trunks arrives to preemptively prepare Goku and company for the difficult road that lies ahead.
Future Trunks is able to prevent this reality from turning into an apocalyptic wasteland, but unfortunately, he’s only able to do so because his own timeline faces such a harsh lot. The series and the History of Trunks Special details how the Androids kill all of the series’ most beloved characters and the psychological toll that it takes on Future Trunks.
9. Frieza Abuses & Kills Krillin
A lot of more powerful villains have turned up in Dragon Ball Z after Frieza’s defeat, but the tyrannical menace still stands out due to just how vicious he is during the battle on Namek. Planet Namek eventually turns into the grounds for a showdown between Goku and Frieza, but the other heroes helped out as well. Krillin does his best, but Frieza brutally takes out the fighter. Frieza gores him and applies extra pressure to Krillin’s vicious wounds only to later blow him up to further emotionally shatter Goku.
10. Kid Buu Destroys The Population Of Earth
Anime series like Dragon Ball Z face a problem where the villains who antagonize the heroes have to become increasingly powerful, which at a certain point begins to verge on the absurd. Dragon Ball Z’s final villain is Kid Buu, who doesn’t just make his mark by how swiftly he handles Goku, Gohan, and company, but he also earns his place in the villainy hall of fame when he wipes out Earth’s population. Kid Buu’s Human Extinction Attack does exactly that and eviscerates society and leaves the surviving heroes more despondent than ever before.