How Dragon Ball (Accidentally) Teased Goku’s Saiyan Origins

Dragon Ball eventually revealed Goku’s alien origins as a Saiyan, and this was hinted at previously, even if the setup wasn’t actually intentional.

Dragon Ball neatly set up Goku’s origin story as an extra-terrestrial, but these hints were entirely accidental. Akira Toriyama’s original Dragon Ball series never truly delves into Goku’s origin or backstory. It’s evident from the off that the wild-haired youth is an unusually strong child with the tail of a monkey, but this is largely played-off as just another part of the fantastical Dragon Ball world where dinosaurs roam and tiny blue emperors are incredibly wealthy. The only backstory Dragon Ball gives initially is that Goku’s Grandpa Gohan was killed after being squashed by a big monster, with Goku unaware the beast was actually himself transformed into a giant ape after looking at the full moon. Why Goku is capable of such a transformation and where he originally came from remains unknown for a hefty 153 episodes.

Only when the Dragon Ball Z era begins to chart Goku’s adulthood do fans finally learn more about the protagonist and his pre-Gohan life. With the arrival of his biological brother, Raditz, it’s revealed that Goku is a Saiyan from the planet Vegeta. Regarded as ruthless, bloodthirsty warriors, Saiyans are a far cry from the pure-hearted Goku, whose Saiyan instincts were knocked out of him after accidentally bumping his head while living with Grandpa Gohan. After an entire series of mysteries, Toriyama eventually reveals Goku’s full past – his heritage, his biology, and his Superman-esque reason for being on Earth.

With such a major character twist coming so deep into the Dragon Ball story, it would be normal to lay a trail of breadcrumbs that sets up Goku’s alien history, and indeed, there are various examples of such throughout the early episodes. Several characters make casual remarks about Goku not being “human” after witnessing his absurd strength. The most notable comes shortly after Bulma and Goku’s first meeting, where the Capsule Corps. engineering prodigy questions whether her new friend was actually from another planet, entirely ignorant that she’d hit the nail on the head. In the original Dragon Ball manga, Oolong echoes Bulma’s suspicions, but in both cases, the characters are being figurative, and don’t really believe Goku isn’t human.

Further evidence comes when Goku faces Major Metallitron during the Red Ribbon Army saga. The android scans his opponent with a technologically advanced eye and the reading clearly identifies Goku as “alien.” This moment alone seems to hint that there’s more to the cloud-surfing martial artist’s backstory than had been revealed up until then.

Looking back, these subtle clues seem like the perfect preface to the eventual reveal of Goku being a Saiyan from outer space. The truth was staring fans in the face all along, building up to the dramatic, game-changing revelation at the beginning of Dragon Ball Z. In truth, this was nothing of the sort. Akira Toriyama has made clear in several interviews over the years that any perceived setup to Goku’s origins in Dragon Ball was entirely coincidental. In reality, Toriyama hadn’t planned that far ahead, and only conceived the alien aspect to Goku’s character when he was writing that specific arc, introducing Vegeta and the other Saiyans. Toriyama is fairly notorious for adding things as he goes.

This must mean the “not from this planet” comments and alien scans during Goku’s childhood adventures were entirely circumstantial. All the past remarks from Bulma, Oolong, and the rest were only ever figures of speech to highlight Goku’s strength; nothing more than what a person might say after watching their friend single-handedly devour an impossibly large meal. Likewise, Major Metallitron’s scan was probably just identifying Goku as an intruder, rather than a literal alien. It’s worth noting that these details probably would’ve gone unnoticed had Goku’s Saiyan heritage never been revealed. Only after learning the truth and going back over the older Dragon Ball episodes do these moments appear to carry a deeper meaning, and it’s a meaning that Toriyama himself had not intended.

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