Psychologist Nobuyuki Ota Breaks Down Goku and Vegeta’s Rivalry

goku vegeta rivalry dragon ball z

Goku and Vegeta share a complex rivalry throughout Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super. Nobuyuki Ota, a Doctor of Educational Psychology, sat down with Entertainment Analyst Maishilo to analyze the two’s relationship from a psychological perspective.

The first thing to look at is how the characters feel about each other and what they’ve been through.

Ota says, “Goku and Vegeta cooperate when necessary, but also sometimes fight to determine who is stronger. … It does seem like Vegeta considers Goku to be his rival, but I believe that Goku is not the kind of individual who sees others as his rivals. Goku’s driving emotion is not of competitiveness, but rather an intense desire to become stronger.”

While Goku may not see Vegeta as a direct rival, he certainly acknowledges and understands Vegeta’s perspective. This was seen in the World Martial Arts Tournament, when he asked Majin Vegeta if he was taking orders from Babidi, or “If this is the same old story between you and me?” For more on that moment and its significance, check out my article analyzing Goku and Vegeta’s closest moment.

With the experiences they had together, there’s no doubt that Goku at least sees Vegeta in a different light than anyone else in the series. No relationship in the series has evolved more, including Piccolo and Goku given their history in Dragon Ball. In the Majin Buu Arc alone we got to see Goku and Vegeta have their first major fight since the first season of Dragon Ball Z.

There was a complete 180 afterward, with the two fusing, under the assumption that it would not be undone, to create the strongest fighter in the series, Vegito. After that, in the final battle we saw Vegeta put his life on the line to hold off Kid Buu while Goku was trying to recover and perform the Spirit Bomb. Vegeta’s existence was on the line because he had already died fighting Buu, so another death would put an end to their rivalry.

vegito fighting super buu in dragon ball z

Ota says, “As the story progresses, Goku and Vegeta start to fight together because they have the same goal. Fighting together allows them to learn more about each other and provides an opportunity for them to acknowledge each other’s strength. This kind of situation normally leads individuals to develop trust, so in reality a rivalry could certainly result from this sort of situation.”

The difference fighting together may have had on the two, mainly Vegeta, could be seen when you compare the Cell Arc in Dragon Ball Z to the training arcs in Dragon Ball Super. In the Cell Arc, when everyone was taking turns in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, Vegeta refused to train with Goku and to go in at the same time. Fast forward to Super, and the two are training partners under Beerus and Whis, who often have the two sparring, and this time the fighting is done without killing intent.

goku and vegeta training with whis in dragon ball super

Why do Goku and Vegeta become rivals in the first place?

“I think that Vegeta chooses Goku as his rival because he, too, is a Saiyan. … Rivalries where an individual wants to become as strong as someone else are the most common. This type of rivalry includes cases where both parties seem to be at near-equal proficiency levels to outsiders, but the individual considers their rival to be better than them. … In psychology, we use the term “social comparison” to refer to the habit humans have of comparing themselves to others in order to be able to accurately evaluate themselves. Social comparisons are easiest to do when you choose someone who is similar to yourself.”

The similarities go beyond their strength, but also their ambitions. The two have different goals but when put side-by-side they are similar, while also opposing the others around them, who mostly desire to live like normal people. Goku wants to be the strongest, while Vegeta wants to be stronger than Goku. If Vegeta accomplishes his goal, he may also prevent Goku from rising higher. For Goku to be the strongest, he can’t allow Vegeta to surpass him, but at the same time he never attempts to keep Vegeta down. Goku trains to conquer himself. With these two mindsets, the two are forever intertwined.

“More than just defeating his foes in battle, Goku is the type of person that takes enjoyment in the act of competition for the sole purpose of making himself stronger. … When I look at both of these Saiyans, Vegeta seems the more human of the two. His high self-esteem and quest to prove his own strength are very relatable.”

For more on the rivalry of Goku and Vegeta, read Derek Padula’s Dragon Ball Z “It’s Over 9,000!” book.

How do you feel about the dynamic between Goku and Vegeta’s characters after reading Ota’s analysis?