Dragon Ball had progressively been getting darker with each arc beginning with Tao Pai Pai’s introduction. When Goku was confronting a genocidal tyrant on a dying planet, there was optimism at the center of Dragon Ball that ensured audiences everything would be alright. And then Trunks traveled back in time.
- Goku’s Morbidly Realistic Death
Dragon Ball is not a story where characters die of natural causes or old age. Death is frequent, but almost always violent, a byproduct of the series’ focus on action & martial arts. Which really just makes Goku’s painful death all the more morbid.
The Trunks TV Special captures it best, with Gohan arriving late to the silent death of his father. Goku does not pass away heroically, but in his bed from an illness he could do nothing against. Goku’s death is an almost cruel case of reality kicking in. Rarely does Dragon Ball ever get so morbid?
2. Piccolo Is The First To Die
It doesn’t take particularly long for Artificial Humans to start wreaking havoc on planet Earth. Without Goku to save the day, it becomes the responsibility of the Dragon Team to fight off the Androids. In the main timeline, Yamcha is the first to run in the Androids and while he takes an injury for it, no one ends up dying.
In Trunks’ timeline, Piccolo is the first to go fight the Androids– presumably Androids 17 and 18, not Dr. Gero and 19– but he ends up dying in the process. As Piccolo hadn’t fused with Kami at this point, he would have been hopelessly outclassed by the Artificial Humans.
3. Trunks Never Meets His Father
Trunks had already been born by the time Goku had died, and his father– Vegeta– soon followed suit. Goku and Vegeta’s deaths mark the end for pureblood Saiyans in the future timeline (DBS Saiyans notwithstanding,) leaving Gohan and Trunks the last links to the Saiyan race.
While Gohan doesn’t have much Saiyan pride, he honors his father’s legacy as best he can– even wearing a variation of Goku’s dogi. Trunks, however, never get to meet Vegeta until he travels back in time. The excitement he shows over meeting his father is sadder than anything else considering how poorly Vegeta ends up treating him.
4. Bulma’s Commitment To Time Travel
Bulma, above everyone in Dragon Ball, saves the world in the most significant fashion. It’s Bulma’s technological prowess that allows Trunks to travel back in time in the first place. Bulma dedicates years of her life to perfecting the science of time travel, studying the concept, and building her time machine– all while rationing what little fuel she can for a return trip.
It’s easy to view Bulma’s actions as heroic (and they indeed are,) but they’re also quite sad when put into perspective. The world has been damaged so much, Bulma feels her only choice is to travel back to a time when Goku was alive. Simple because when Goku was around, she knew everything would be alright.
5. Everyone Dies Back To Back
Even with Goku and Piccolo dead, it could be argued that there was still some hope. After all, Vegeta was around. While he may not have been a heroic figure at this, it can’t be denied how powerful Vegeta was. He’s even stronger than Goku when he’s reintroduced to fight Android 19– but Vegeta had a 3-year kickstart then.
Vegeta’s death essentially marks the true end of the Dragon Team. Tenshinhan, Yamcha, and Krillin rise as Earth’s final defenders, but they naturally end up standing no chance. Interestingly, the Dragon Ball Z anime posits Yajirobe fought and died as well, but this was in total contrast to the Dragon Ball Super anime.
6. Gohan Thinks Super Saiyan Is The Limit
Future Gohan’s life is pure misery. Not only does he never get to say goodbye to his father, everyone he knows & looks up to is killed in rapid succession. There is no one left to train Gohan, and he presumably triggers Super Saiyan by himself (though that’s in no way surprising considered the extreme circumstances of his future.)
Toriyama first flashes back to Future Gohan in the manga shortly before the Cell Games. At this point, breaking past Super Saiyan’s limits has been a plot point for multiple chapters and Future Gohan erroneously believes Super Saiyan is the best he’ll do and he won’t be surpassing his father. Without Goku’s guidance, Gohan never recognizes his full potential.
7. Never Knowing When The Androids Will Strike
The Artificial Humans are unlike any other villain in Dragon Ball, in large part because Androids 17 and 18 don’t give off any Ki. They can be anywhere at any time, and all Gohan can do is hope he can reach them before it’s too late– and even then he has to actually survive to tell his tale.
Radio stations warn of attacks while reporting on them– a face which spurs Trunks into action post-Gohan’s death– whereas Gohan trained Trunks in wastelands where they had a good view of the surrounding cities. That said, there’s a period of time where Trunks is in the main timeline and no one is defending the future, meaning the Androids truly can do whatever, whenever.
8. Bulma Is Killed By Her Best Friend
The Artificial Humans end up being the least of Future Trunks’ worries, as Dragon Ball Super reintroduces him back into the plot with a brand new layer of fresh tragedy. This time around, Trunks’ future is being terrorized by a Goku look alike, Goku Black. In the body of Goku, Zamasu is effectively punishing Trunks for manipulating time– a divine right.
Goku Black systematically destroys Trunks’ future, doing a level of planetary damage the Androids could only imagine. One of Goku Black’s most chilling acts comes when he kills Future Bulma. His design hadn’t been revealed at this point, but that just makes the scene more unsettling in hindsight. Goku’s face was the last thing Bulma saw.
9. Everything Trunks Did Was For Nothing
Future Trunks’ arc is all about hope. He’s the hope the past has for survival, he goes back to the past to bring hope back to his future, and his personality embodies an undying hope for a better tomorrow– no matter what. It’s a triumph when Trunks not only manages to go back to his future having successfully saved the past, but actually kills 17, 18, and Cell with minimal effort.
Unfortunately, Trunks’ peace doesn’t last long. While he handles his Majin Buu crisis far more elegantly than Goku & company did, Trunks is blindsided by Goku Black. Everyone in his timeline is killed, and Zeno wipes the entire future multiverse from existence.
10. Pilaf’s Wish
If nothing else, Trunks isn’t alone in the Goku Black arc. This time around, he’s accompanied by Future Mai– a woman quite literally old enough to be his mother. Who also met his mother! Mai’s presence is clearly linked to the Pilaf trio appearing much younger in Dragon Ball Super (stemming from Battle of Gods,) but the manga puts this all into uncomfortable perspective.
It turns out Pilaf was gathering the Dragon Balls at the exact same time Piccolo was fighting Androids 17 and 18. Before Gohan and Bulma can intercept Pilaf, he manages to wish for youth while Piccolo is ultimately killed by the Artificial Humans.