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While it is obvious to the native Japanese speakers and some non-Native Japanese speakers, the names of the characters in Dragon Ball series can be both entertaining and, more importantly, informative about some of the dynamics of the interplays among the characters in the series. I have laid out some of the most important names of the characters and their meanings with respect to the races they belong to so that some of the categorical differences among them will be made obvious below. Further, this will certainly elucidate some of the underlining sharp distinctions existing that necessarily separate the characteristic traits of each character from one another. My analytic introduction will follow as the names are explained.

 

 

1: The Saiyan Race and Earthlings

 

The name Vegeta comes from vegetables; Nappa means leaf vegetables in Japanese; Raditz comes from radish[1]. Here, you can also see the hierarchically arranged ranks of each character, Vegeta being the whole category of vegetables. Goku’s Saiyan name is Kakarrot, which comes from carrot, signifying weakness in the vegetable kingdom compared to Vegeta and Nappa, for instance. Also, Goku’s father, Bardock means burdock, again just as carrots, suggesting that these vegetables are rooted in the soil, i.e. the earth. Although Bardock never came to Earth, the root vegetable theme in the family seems to foreshadow the eventual arrival of Goku on the planet. Another Saiyan who only appears in movies is Broly, which is derived from broccolis. His power is said to have been so strong that he became the basis for the legendary Super Saiyan. Incidentally, the race Saiyan in Japanese is pronounced Saiya-jin, where the word “Saiya” is a phonetic rearrangement of the work yasai, which means vegetables in English, and “jin” just means a person or a race belonging to.

 

The names of the Earthlings are most often derived from food of Chinese origin – this has probably a lot to do with the Dragon Ball episodes when Goku was still a child. Different from Dragon Ball Z, the original ideas prevalent in Dragon Ball are taken a lot from the Chinese mythology and literature. Since it will be too long a list to name everyone from the first Dragon Ball series, I will only list some of the important ones that also appear in Dragon Ball Z. As you will see, since many of the original characters from Dragon Ball continue into the plot of Dragon Ball Z, oftentimes the theme of the names borrowing from food category run through early into Dragon Ball Z.

The name Goku comes from the classic Chinese literature, Journey to the West, and its main character’s name is Son Goku (or in Chinese, Sun Wukong, meaning Monkey King). Aligning with the Chinese theme, Oolong and Pu’ar (or Puar or Pu-erh) are from Chinese tea of the same names. Yamcha means in English Dim-Sum. Chiaotzu means dumplings and Tien Shinhan comes from Tenshin-don, which is a Japanese arranged Chinese dish that does not exist in China, but the inspiration for the dish may perhaps come from a Tianjin city in China. Kurillin comes from kuri in Japanese, which means chestnuts. This also explains his daughter in the very late in Dragon Ball Z is named Māron, which means chestnuts in French. Gohan means rice in Japanese.

Bulma and her family’s names differ from food, and her name as well as her family members’ names are derived from articles of clothing. Bulma means bloomers in English. Incidentally, bloomers in the 19th century represented the freedom for women and helped advance the women’s rights movement. This perhaps explains Bulma’s independence, talents and individualistic characters. Her father’s name is Briēf, meaning a type of underwear or swimwear, briefs. Bulma’s son is similarly named after swimwear, Trunks meaning, perhaps and more appropriately, brief shorts. Bulma also has her daughter much later in the series, named Bulla, which in Japanese is pronounced Bra, meaning bras, or brassieres.

Mr. Satan obviously comes from Satan, an evil figure from the Abrahamic religions. So it is no surprise that his daughter’s name, Vīdel, is a play on word of devil. Gohan and Videl have a daughter, named Pan (who only appeared in the last two episodes of Dragon Ball Z), which in Japanese just means bread in English, but the Japanese origin of the word is from the French word, pain. This is in opposition to rice as the traditional commoners’ food in daily life. It may perhaps something to do with many Japanese breakfast has begun to consist of bread and toasts, and it could be a partial social commentary implied in the naming of the younger generation after the classic Western breakfast and the main meal. Therefore, their daughter, Pan, represents something new and a change as well as hope. Pan, however, also has a dual meaning in that it is a name of a Greco-Roman god of the wild and has horns and legs of goats, wherein it is associated also with fertility and season of spring. The Greeks also considered Pan to be a theatrical criticism and impromptus, signifying spontaneity and chaos. The word ‘panic’ comes from this god. So the name Pan is clever not only because it belongs to the theme of Gohan’s family, but also because it inherits the Vīdel’s lineage. Either way, it is a great leeway to the new journey into the universe in Dragon Ball GT, where Pan is the main character.[2]

 

 

2: The Namekians and Other Races

 

The name Namek comes from namekuji, which means land slugs in English. Land slugs are often found in farming areas and prefer Ajisai plant, which is a deciduous plant native to Japan and its official name is Hydrangea Macrophylla. This is why the entire Planet Namek is greenish and the Namekians are seen planting Ajissa plants (i.e. Hydrangea in Namekian). They also do not eat but only drink water, as Dende tells in one of the episodes.[3] They are also hermaphrodites, as land slugs are; this too is explained when Dende tells Bulma there is no gender among Namekians.

Dende comes from dendenmushi,[4] which means snails in colloquial Japanese. Snail in Japanese is katatsumuri, and its variations, Katattsu and Mūri are also used as the names of the Namekians. The former was sent to Earth when the environmental crisis occurred in Planet Namek long before the Dragon Ball Z story began, as explained by Dende as well as by the Eldest Namekian. Katattsu’s son came to be Kami (meaning god in Japanese) on Earth, who spew out his evilness within him, who then became King Piccolo. Similarly, Nail does not mean ‘nails’ on the fingers as English speakers might suppose, but it comes from snails. Also, the name of the child who was killed by Dodoria as he was fleeing with Dende is Cargo, which is taken from escargot[5], a French name for snails.

Piccolo appears to be rather unique in that he does not have his name derived from slugs of any kind. Instead, it comes from the musical instrument. However, in Dragon Ball, where the enemies of Namekian origin are introduced, they are named as various musical instruments, such as Tambourine, Piano, Drum, Cymbal. The Namekians with names of musical instruments are categorized as demons, and hence Piccolo too is named after a musical instrument. It has been often said that Piccolo also means the little one, or small in Italian, which may be the origin for his name but this does not seem likely. As explained earlier, although Piccolo was spewed out as an evilness within by Kami as a form of an egg, which may tempt us to think that the Piccolo suggests the little kami. However, Piccolo never showed himself until he was very old as King Piccolo, and his birth story also comes in the reflection as a supplemental story. Further, all his subordinates he has created are named after musical instruments as has been said. What is more likely the case is that, traditionally, piccolos are played in orchestras to enhance the elegance and adding brilliance to the overall sound since it is the highest sounding instrument in the woodwind family. It is thus more reasonable to think that Piccolo is named after within the musical orchestral settings since piccolos are often used in repertoire with pianos, and traditionally used in conjunction with drums in marches, both of which are King Piccolo’s creations as well. It is also noted that Piccolo means a “Different World” just before the Earthlings depart for Planet Namek. Other than obvious meaning of the trip to the different planet, perhaps indicating that the piccolos in orchestras create a whole different world, and this possible double meaning may have encouraged the author to reveal Piccolo’s Namekian meaning – since what his name means in Namekian does not really help the plot at all, but it is a piece of information that is merely interesting at the time, and only then.

Perhaps it is fitting here to speak of Shenlong and Porunga, the dragons summoned up from the dragon balls to grant wishes. Both mean the same thing, but the former is a Japanese pronunciation of a Chinese word for a God Dragon, and the latter means the same thing in the Namekian language.

 

There are other races from different planets that appear only tangentially to help the plot flow. Probably the most important of these are Planet Kanassa, Planet Meat and Planet Tsufuru. Planet Kanassa appears in the special episode of Dragon Ball Z, Bardock: the Father of Goku. In that episode, Bardock and his companions are seen killing the inhabitants of Planet Kanassa, who are covered with fish-like scales all over their body. This is because Kanassa comes from a Japanese word for fish, sakana. The last standing Kanassan gives Bardock the heavy blow on the neck that is cursed with the ability to see the future. This is how he learns about the destruction of Planet Vegeta, however vaguely at first, and leads him to fight against Frieza all by himself. This blow renders him unconscious and he is taken to the medics on Planet Vegeta. While Bardock is being treated in Medical Machine, his companions had been sent to Planet Meat, which means of course meat in English. Healed from the wounds, Burdock remembers having dreamt of Planet Vegeta destroyed. Nonetheless, he soon follows his companions to Planet Meat, only to find out that the Frieza’s henchmen are killing them, as Tōma, the sub-leader of Burdock’s group has told him. The name, Tōma, comes from tomato, which becomes important in the paragraph to follow. The incident on Planet Meat convinces him that what he had seen while being treated is a reality, and becomes decisive to go against Frieza.

The story of Planet Tsufuru comes much later in the series. Although it is mentioned in Dragon Ball Z in recollection once briefly, it only comes in Dragon Ball GT, however, the confrontation with the Trufurians is very instrumental in the Saiyan history as well as all of Frieza’s technology.[6] So here I briefly mention about them. The name Tsufuru comes from a word play on fruits. In contrast to the Saiyans (i.e. vegetables) who are savages and barbaric, the Tsufurians are technologically advanced and intelligent. The former is endowed with strength in physical power, while the latter is blessed with strength in intelligence. This is perhaps adumbrated in the fact that fruits are born high above the ground, never to dirty their hands, while vegetables are hands on soil work. This may be why categorically ambiguous food item when talking about the names in Dragon Ball Z such as tomatoes (i.e. Tōma) could still count as a vegetable since they rather grow on the ground as opposed to grow high above the ground, relatively dirt-free.[7] However, being intelligent did not help the Tsufurians when the Saiyans invaded them and stole all their technologies, including the scouters, which accurately measures the combat power of the individuals. But since this explanation only comes from Dragon Ball GT, it may be just an add-on information on what had not previously been clarified, and it is possible that Frieza’s army had invented all the technologies by themselves. However, it is strongly implied that this is consistent with Dragon Ball Z series when in the later episode, Tusfurians received information that the communication with Frieza from Planet Namek ceased to exist, and Frieza might be dead. For one Tsufurian victoriously claimed upon hearing the information, “Frieza is now dead, who has eliminated our race, and we now have a new age coming!”, to which another Tsufurian responded by killing the former, saying “Frieza-sama has promised us prosperity to our race!” This at least indicates that there are factions within the army of Frieza and constant distrust as well as deception against one another might have existed.[8]

It needed to be mentioned, since all the other major food groups have been named, and with the variant of the fruits, it appears that the list is complete.

 

 

3: The Other Main Enemies in Dragon Ball Z

 

Most importantly, Frieza comes to mind. His name is derived from freezer, as in one of the compartment of refrigerator. His name suggests cold-blooded evilness, which is how he got his name. This is why his brother in the Dragon Ball movies “Dragon Ball Z: Cooler’s Revenge” and “Dragon Ball Z: The Return of Cooler,” is named Cooler, whose name comes from coolers. Frieza’s father also appears just after the battle on Planet Namek as King Cold, whose name is obviously from the variation of freezing temperatures. This explains why all his close subordinates are named after what you can find in a refrigerator. Dodoria comes from a fruit, durian, which is harvested from the tree of the same name. Zarbon is somewhat obscure but is derived also from a fruit named pomelo (it also has many variants of names), which is in Japanese called zabonn. Kiwi, as in kiwifruit, came to Planet Namek, chasing after Vegeta, only to be killed. The often-forgotten character, Apūru, too is named after a fruit, an apple. Apūru appeared a few times when searching for villages on Planet Namek with Frieza, and it was him who treated Vegeta, after badly beaten by Zarbon, in Medical Machine inside Frieza’s spaceship.

Ginyu Special Force’s members are also named after things you would find in the refrigerator. Ginyu comes from milk, or gyūnyu in Japanese. Guldo is named after yogurt. Remember that in Japanese, there is no phonetic distinction between l and r. Recoom comes from crème, a daily product just like his captain, Ginyu. Burter is derived again from a daily product, butter. Jeice may be the only member whose name is not necessarily attached to daily products. The name Jeice is from juice. Here too, there seems to be a top-down hierarchy, as fridges used to have the freezer on the top and refrigerator below, while fruits and vegetables tended to go even below the daily products are placed.

 

Cell is from the biological terminology cells. This is self-evident from how he is a clone made out of various cells collected over the years by Dr. Gero, which just literally means Dr. vomit, or perhaps, though less likely, means the number zero, as he is the creator of all androids in Dragon Ball series. However, he himself appears as the android 20, and all of his creations ended up as failure, as something that has disgusted him, which led him to turn himself into the android and create Cell. Hence, perhaps the former interpretation holds.

 

Majin Boo needs a little explanation, but an acute fan would probably have guessed that it is from the novelty song composed in 1949 and used in Disney film “Cinderella”, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, also known as The Magic Song. So, Boo was made by Bobidi, whose father, Bibidi, was an evil master wizard. Majin just means evil person. Bobidi’s henchman, Dabura comes from Abracadabra, which is derived from the Aramaic language meaning “I create like the word”[9], often used as an incantation in magic historically. Children in Japan simply know this incantation as something wizards would say, somewhat similar to “Open Sesame!”

 

 

4: Some Further Characters in an Ongoing Series, Dragon Ball Super

 

Some Saiyans appear in the parallel universe in the new Dragon Ball Series, Dragon Ball Super, that might be of some interest here. Namely, they are Cabbé from cabbages, Carifulla from cauliflowers and her sister Kale from kales. They are once again consistent with the theme of Vegetable Race (i.e. Saiyan from yasai). Also interesting is the Frieza’s counterpart, Frost. Here, it is also consistent with the theme of freezing temperature. Further, Frieza was revived by the Frieza’s remaining soldier, named Sorbet. Sorbet comes from the frozen dessert of the same name, also known as sherbet or sherbert.

This concludes, for the moment, my analysis on the character themes according to their names in Dragon Ball Z.

 

 

[1] Latin name is Raphanus raphanistrum

 

[2] The source from which I got this information is found here, although it is in Japanese. https://dic.pixiv.net/a/パン(ドラゴンボール) accessed on July 21st, 2017.

[3] A lot about the characteristics of Namekians are explained in the episode 51.

[4] The word “Dendenmushi” originated in a 1911 Japanese folksong Katatsumuri, in which dendenmushi appears.

[5] Cargo never really got to speak and his name is only mentioned once in the episode 48.

[6] There is a lot about the origin and the history of Tsufurians that are not explained in anime series, and oftentimes includes contradictions. So all we can do about Tsufurians is to make as much sense as possible from the available contradictory resources. In fact, one source says that the planet was not called Tsufuru, but Planet Plant, and Saiyans came along to live there, and took over years after they inhabited the planet, changing the name to Planet Vegeta, which was then destroyed by Frieza seven years later. So it is entirely possible that the names of vegetable origin and that of fruit origin can be found among Tsufurians or Saiyans in the case of Tōma, for example.

[7] However, tomatoes are vine fruits, so if supported, they grow high above the ground. So this nullifies my attempt to make fit the characters in the conceptual system. Given that the character Tōma appears only in the special episode, and Akira Toriyama had a specific desire to use a character with a name of a juicy red vegetable that can be likened to blood when squashed, I am willing to concede that this may be a necessary anomaly, for Toriyama’s purpose here was to soak the cloth Tōma was wearing in blood, which Bardock takes it to tie on his head, to show his strong determination to defeat Frieza who has killed his best companions as well as to show his strong bond with Tōma. See, http://dragonball.wikia.com/wiki/Tora accessed on July 21, 2017. *you can see that the English name of the character is Tōra and not Tōma. Further, see my footnote 6 for a possible reconciliation.

[8] As will be explained in the following section, there are soldiers in Freiza’s top ranking henchmen named after fruits. This implies that the characters who are named after fruits are loyal to Frieza. In Dragon Ball GT’s explanation, the Saiyans destroyed Tsufurians and stole their technology, but seeing those technologies were being used on Planet Frieza, the Saiyans were most likely acting on order by Frieza to kill and destroy Tsufurians. Assuming with consistency that the characters named after fruits are indeed descendants or belong to Tsufurians (as all characters named after vegetables are Saiyans, with the exclusion of Tōma, whose name is derived from what is scientifically a fruit [see footnote 6 above], and all characters named after slugs or musical instruments are indeed Namekians, thus forming their respective races), how is it possible that the Tsufurians would swear loyalty to Frieza, who had killed their compatriots? And why would Frieza believe such allegiance? See also EP96.

 

[9] There are many conflicting views on what it actually means or how it is read, which is beyond the scope or interest of the present treatise.

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