Is Gokū a good or bad father? Akira Toriyama has the answer! Read a long-lost translation of Toriyama’s thoughts on Gokū’s parenting skills, and on Gohan and Piccolo’s fatherly relationship.
Dragon Ball fans have been debating this question for decades.
You probably have an opinion about it, or have argued about it with other fans.
Given that Father’s Day is here, I thought now was a perfect time to focus on this debate.
Gokū as a Father
Ever since Gokū’s first son, Son Gohan, was born at the start of Dragon Ball Z’s storyline, fans have seen Gokū behave as a father in ways that may seem suspect.
For example, Gokū leaves Gohan by himself, or with his mother, for years at a time so that he can train alone.
Gokū dies and doesn’t seem to care about his family. He can speak to them through their minds whenever he wants to, but he never does.
And when Gokū and Gohan are together, he punches Gohan in the face in order to make him get stronger, rather than help him study, which is what Gohan would prefer to do.
At the same time, Gokū loves his son. In the very first story arc of DBZ, Gohan is captured by Gokū’s brother Raditz, and Gokū sacrifices his own life just to save Gohan’s.
Gokū wants what is best for Gohan, he believes in his inner potential, and he trains with him for an entire year inside the Room of Spirit and Time. That’s some serious father-son bonding.
In the anime filler we also get to see Gokū taking care of Gohan as an infant.
And in various DBZ movies we see that Gokū fights hard to rescue Gohan from villains: “Give me back my Gohan!!”
Give Me Back My Gohan pic.twitter.com/teQ5sjB2ww
— Terez (@Terez27) May 6, 2019
So is Gokū really that bad of a father?
How we can settle this debate?
Let’s ask Akira Toriyama!
The Legendary Manga
I’ve discovered a long-lost Akira Toriyama article where Toriyama shares his feelings about Gokū, Son Gohan, and Gokū’s quality as a father.
It was written in issue 36 of the official Dragon Ball-dedicated magazine series titled Dragon Ball: The Legendary Manga (2007).
This magazine was written in Japanese but was never published in Japan. It was only published in Western Europe in Spanish, French, Italian, and Greek.
In the last year I have confirmed with the Spanish and French publishers of this magazine that all the content was originally in Japanese.
My contacts sent me a picture of the untranslated Japanese content as proof, but then forbid me from sharing it with anyone due to their legal concerns with Shueisha.
In each of the 50 issues of this magazine, Akira Toriyama would write a one or two page article about a character, environment, object, art style, or idea featured in Dragon Ball.
I have translated every single issue of the Spanish edition into English.
Most of Toriyama’s articles are mildly interesting or things that serious fans already know.
However, I am sharing this excerpt with you from issue 36 because it was too good to keep a secret.
Here is what Akira Toriyama has to say about Son Gohan and his father, Gokū.
All About Son Gohan
Intro: Akira Toriyama talks about the characters of Dragon Ball. On this occasion, it’s the turn of Son Gohan, Son Gokū’s son.
Akira Toriyama: “During the history of Dragon Ball, Gokū becomes a father and his first son, Son Gohan, is born. When I drew it, I think it was the first time that a Japanese boy’s manga magazine character got married and had children. I did it considering that it would be a good idea because nobody had done it before.
Anyway, I don’t quite remember the reason for Gohan’s appearance. The point is that when I was drawing my previous work, Dr. Slump, I got married and then had children, and it is possible that I unconsciously reflected that I had become a father of a family into my work.
When Gohan appeared I had no intention of making him a protagonist. Due to his studious nature, I had thought of making him scientific so that he would contrast with Gokū in all aspects.
Gokū is a disaster as a father (laughs), so I think Gohan considers him a bad example.
I also made Gohan a disciple of Piccolo and I think this was a success. Piccolo became Gohan’s spiritual father and probably made him mature.
To tell the truth, Gokū is not cut out to be a teacher, and besides, he prefers to train alone, rather than do it under someone else’s supervision.”
Akira Toriyama, the author and illustrator of Dragon Ball, says that, “Gokū is a disaster as a father.”
There’s no misunderstanding the word disaster.
Toriyama doesn’t say Gokū is ‘okay’ as a father, or that he ‘has room for improvement.’
No. He’s a disaster: ‘An unexpected event causing great loss, pain, or unpleasantness of whatever kind.’
That’s how Toriyama views Gokū’s parenting skills.
Will Akira Toriyama’s words settle this debate?
This new quote either supports your already existing opinion or it doesn’t.
I know there are a lot of Dragon Ball fans who look up to Gokū as a father figure.
My book Dragon Soul: 30 Years of Dragon Ball Fandom features 81 stories from Dragon Ball fans around the world, many of whom grew up with Gokū and admired him as a father.
Some received life lessons from Gokū. They learned how to fight and protect themselves from bullies at school or on the street. They became inspired to work out hard in the gym, at sports, or in their studies. And they learned how to persevere through hardships, endure setbacks, and overcome challenges.
In some cases they didn’t have a father, and when they saw Gokū on TV with his son, training with him or sharing happy moments together, they bonded with Gokū and felt that he was a good dad. He was the type of dad they wished they had.
So will Akira Toriyama’s words change the experiences of these fans?
No, they won’t.
Each fan’s personal experiences helped them become the person they are today, and will remain true to them.
But you have to consider that it’s Toriyama saying this.
It’s one thing to hear other fans say, ‘Oh, Gokū’s a terrible father, blah blah blah.’
But you can’t ignore the author saying it.
So how do you handle this dilemma?
I could go into a philosophical discourse here, but I think if Gokū were told that he was a “disaster as a father,” he would do what he normally does, and laugh it off.
He’d take it lightly and move on.
That’s what Toriyama did: “(laughs)”
Gokū is a man of contradictions and opposites anyway. He’s not always ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ like a superhero or villain, and whatever he does is highlighted in contrast with his previous behaviors. That’s what makes him so intriguing.
It’s just something you’ll have to figure out.
Toriyama makes a lot of comments about his personal life here, and the interwoven relationship of Gohan, Piccolo, and Gokū.
Toriyama’s Family Life
“I did it considering that it would be a good idea because nobody had done it before.”
Here we learned that Toriyama made Gokū have a child because nobody in Japanese manga had ever done this before.
Shōnen (“young boys”) manga characters up to that point in time (1989) were expected to be ‘eternal boys,’ such as the titular robot boy in Astro Boy, whose age is fixed in place. Same for the robot girl Arale in Toriyama’s Dr. Slump.
The theory was that the target age group was 12-year-old boys, so the main character should always remain 12 years old so that they’re relatable to that demographic.
But Toriyama bucked that trend by forcing Gokū to grow older. Toriyama’s editor was against it, but he did it anyway.
Then when Toriyama got married and started his own family, with the birth of his son, Sasuke, he says, “… it is possible that I unconsciously reflected that I had become a father of a family into my work.”
Toriyama’s personal experiences, combined with his self-described ‘perverse’ nature of always wanting to surprise people and do the opposite of what they expect, allowed him to be a pioneer in manga and write a shōnen manga that features a main character who grows up, gets married, and has a son (just like Toriyama did in real life).
This generational content is a trademark characteristic of Dragon Ball that fans love.
Children who grew up with the series decades ago now have their own kids that they share Dragon Ball with.
Read my Dragon Ball Culture books for further examples of how Toriyama’s personal life influenced his manga.
About Gohan, Toriyama says, “When Gohan appeared I had no intention of making him a protagonist.”
Fans love to debate whether Gohan was supposed to be the main character of the entire Dragon Ball series, or at least Dragon Ball Z.
In fact, one of the alternate project names at Toei Animation for Dragon Ball Z in 1989 was ‘Dragon Ball: Gohan’s Big Adventure.’ Even Toei thought that this is the direction Toriyama would take the series!
But no. Toriyama did not want to make Gohan the main character. That was never his intention at any point!
He made Gohan into a character who would serve as a contrast to Gokū.
Toriyama says, “Due to his studious nature, I had thought of making him scientific so that he would contrast with Gokū in all aspects.”
By making Gokū’s son have a personality that is the opposite of Gokū, it makes Gokū’s personality stand out even more.
Dragon Ball is Gokū’s story.
Gokū as a Father
Then the big statement: “Gokū is a disaster as a father (laugh), so I think Gohan considers him a bad example.”
Toriyama is candid in telling us how he feels about Gokū as a father.
But does Gohan truly think his father is a bad example?
Throughout Dragon Ball, Gohan never says anything disparaging about Gokū or his parenting skills.
There’s never a moment where we see Gohan talk back against his dad, criticize him, or his ideas.
Even in the Cell Arc, when Cell is torturing Gohan, he doesn’t curse his father out or condemn him for the pain that he’s experiencing. At most he says that he’s not sure if he agrees with his dad about the responsibility he is being forced to carry.
Gohan is a polite and respectful boy who grows up likewise.
Akira Toriyama says that he thinks “Gohan considers him (Gokū) a bad example,” but he never shows that to us in the series.
This requires us to look back at all the moments where Gokū and Gohan were together, and in particular when Gohan gets married and becomes a father of his own, as a genuine adult, separate from his father.
How does Gohan view parenting after being raised by a father who was a “disaster”?
Does Gohan blame his dad for how his life turned out? Does he have resentment? Perhaps for the fact his mother, Chichi, was forced to raise him and his little brother Goten alone (for the most part)? Does he unconsciously reflect Gokū’s behaviors in his own family?
Or was Gokū such a bad example that Gohan went out of his way to be nothing like his father? To be the complete opposite of Gokū as a dad, and to always be there for his wife and child?
Toriyama’s intention was to make Gohan’s nature the opposite of Goku’s nature, so perhaps he’s just a better father.
Maybe this is due to Gohan’s half-human genetics? Or as we’ve come to learn in subsequent prequel content, Bardock and Gine’s kind-hearted nature, which was unheard of in Saiyan culture beforehand?
That’s something for you to discuss in the comments.
Piccolo as Gohan’s Spiritual Father
Toriyama says, “I also made Gohan a disciple of Piccolo and I think this was a success. Piccolo became his spiritual father and probably made him mature.”
Toriyama considers Piccolo to be Gohan’s “spiritual father.” In-turn, a better father than Gokū?
Piccolo, the giant green man who was once a demon king that wanted to destroy the world, who then spat himself out of his own body and reincarnated as a young man, but then turned out to be half god, who is then revealed to be an alien, and then fuses back together with his god-self?
Yes, that man.
A complete success!!
Piccolo imparted a lot of life lessons to Gohan over the course of the series. He was there for Gohan in ways that Gokū never was, both physically and emotionally.
Even someone as emotionally cool and cut off from other people as Piccolo was more of a connection for Gohan than an absentee father.
Piccolo was Gohan’s martial arts master, but also a father figure in Gokū’s repeated absences. That’s why Gohan respects him so much.
Likewise, Piccolo’s spirit is transformed by his relationship with Gohan.
To see how Piccolo changes over the course of the series is heartwarming. His self-sacrifice to protect Gohan from Nappa’s blast being a standout moment.
Also in Dragon Ball Super where Piccolo learns to love Gohan’s family, and even babysit his daughter, Pan.
It truly shows how Piccolo was given a poor hand in life, as a green-skinned-demon-king-alien, but still found a way to turn his life into something that benefits others. That wasn’t his intention, but instead was the influence of Gokū’s son on his spirit.
Arguably, Piccolo’s bond with Gohan is stronger than Gokū’s bond with Gohan.
Although I have to laugh when Toriyama says that he, “probably made him mature.”
Yes, throwing a 5-year old Gohan into the wilderness to survive by himself for 6 months against man-eating dinosaurs is going to make him mature real fast!
Especially when it’s followed by daily beatings and then a battle with super-powerful space aliens who murder your father’s friends right in front of you, followed by transforming into a giant ape!
Gohan didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. He could have matured or died, and he chose to mature.
That is, with Piccolo’s helping hand.
Lastly, “To tell the truth, Gokū is not cut out to be a teacher, and besides, he prefers to train alone, rather than do it under someone else’s supervision.”
I’ve taken a lot of life-lessons from Gokū as a teacher, and I know countless other fans who have done so.
Toriyama’s statement forces us to ask if Gokū is a good teacher on purpose? Does he go out of his way to teach people lessons?
Most of the positive lessons we learn from Gokū are the result of his own actions, which are oftentimes selfish, that then end up serving an overall benefit to those around him and to the world.
We learn and grow as a result of watching Gokū perform these actions because they turn out to be good in the end, and the little steps that get to that endpoint are thus justified. If Gokū had lost, or everyone died, then his actions wouldn’t look as justified.
Gokū does not lecture people. Neither his family, friends, nor opponents receive lengthy lectures from him about morality, or even how to fight better.
Just think about how he never taught shunkan-idō (“Instant Transmission”), the Kaiō-ken (“Lord of Worlds Fist”), or the genki-dama (“Spirit Bomb”) to any of his family members or friends, including Gohan.
Gokū learns by doing, and his masters taught him how to improve by doing. The masters set up obstacles for Gokū to overcome with the intention of having Gokū self-enlighten to new ways of overcoming them.
As I argue in Dragon Ball Culture, this style of teaching is inspired by the kung fu films from the 1970s and ’80s that Toriyama adores so much, and which inspired Dragon Ball. These were in-turn inspired by Zen Buddhist masters who would beat their disciples if they asked questions, instead of enlightening on their own via meditation.
As a result, Gokū likewise teaches others by doing. Words are secondary, if present at all. So he set up the same challenges for Gohan to overcome through self-enlightenment.
Gohan then put in the effort in the same way that Gokū did.
But Gokū didn’t try to teach Gohan lessons. Gokū was just repeating this ‘overcoming of obstacles’ process with his son, where you either enlighten or you don’t. And if you don’t, then you might die.
That’s what was going through Gokū’s mind as Cell broke his son’s spine in a bear hug.
‘Okay son, time for you to enlighten and ascend!’
It was Piccolo who had to shout at Gokū that, ‘Gohan isn’t like you! He doesn’t love to fight!’
This made Gokū pause for a moment and reflect on Gohan’s nature.
Of course, we all know what happened next.
We witness one of the greatest transformations in the history of the series, where Gohan lets go and erupts into Super Saiyan 2!
So from a certain perspective it proves that Gokū was right all along.
Gokū knew the best way to teach his son.
Just like a good father should.
Maybe he understood Gohan better than Piccolo?
Prefers to Train Alone
Focusing on this last part, “… he prefers to train alone, rather than do it under someone else’s supervision.”
Does Toriyama’s statement contradict the entire series?
A huge portion of Gokū’s life is spent training under someone else’s supervision.
From Grandpa Gohan to Rōshi, then Karin, Popo and Kami, to North Kaiō, and then Whis and Beerus and so on into Super, where he trains alongside Vegeta.
So is Toriyama saying that Gokū hasn’t preferred any of this, and would have preferred to train alone and without a master?
That seems like something more applicable to Piccolo, Vegeta, or Tenshinhan.
But maybe Gokū is really like that too, deep inside. It’s just that he keeps meeting strong masters during his journey who are able to teach him how to become stronger, and his continual quest for greater strength compels him to ask them for training, one after another.
If that’s the case, then like so much of Gokū’s life, his master-to-disciple relationships are a continual series of happenstance.
Ultimately, Gokū would “prefer to train alone.”
In one short article, written 14 years ago, Akira Toriyama may have settled a debate about whether or not Gokū is a good father.
Or at least his comment gives one side of the debate more ammo, because after all, ‘The author said so!’
But I’m sure the other side will have more counter examples, including their own personal experiences. Perhaps these experiences are just as valid as a quote from Toriyama because art is subjective.
Toriyama can say that Gokū is a “disaster of a father,” but is he really?
And what do you think of his other intriguing statements?
Remember, Gohan was never intended to be the protagonist!
Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
And Happy Father’s Day!!