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Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy of Dragon Ball’

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The Dragon Ball series, broadly speaking, illustrates the interrelations among the individuals whose actions are dictated by the lust for power. And this desire for power manifests itself in the quest for the Dragon Balls, which are said to grant wishes of anyone who has collected all seven of them. The Dragon Ball series, then, is a process of power struggle narrated from the viewpoint of Son Goku and his journey into the achievement of absolute power. In a sense, everyone fends for himself and everyone collects the Dragon Balls for his own gain. This is why Goku is suspicious of Bruma when they first meet. Bruma reasons well when she decides to keep Goku close to her as her bodyguard, while intending to steal his Dragon Ball. In this way, a seed has been planted for a potential conflict in the future, and an ally has become at the same time an enemy. This scheme is also seen in Dragon Ball Z, where Goku is defeated by Raditz and forms a coalition with his nemesis, Piccolo. It is a beneficial agreement for both of them, for Goku needs Piccolo’s help in order to save his son, Gohan, from Raditz, while Piccolo needs Raditz to be gone in order to defeat Goku with his own hand. In the similar manner, the seed for trouble unfolds itself naturally in both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, involving those who aim to achieve the absolute power. What is unique to Goku, though, is that he wants power not for his own sake but for someone else. This may seem rather surprising and inaccurate, since all Goku cares for is to be strong simply because he wants to be strong. But if we look at how he fights and how he gets stronger each time, we can see that he is always fighting for someone else. It was his desire to help others for their sake that got him involved with the Red Ribbon Army in Dragon Ball. In the battle against Raditz, he chose to sacrifice himself over defeating his nemesis, Piccolo. The reason why he was able to become a Super Saiyan too was out of anger of Kurilin’s death. This is strikingly different from any other characters when they become stronger, as is most obvious from the battle against Frieza. Frieza’s strength comes from the humiliation he suffers, while Goku’s strength comes from the love for his friends. As we may remember, this is the truth about Goku’s strength as Vegeta also finally recognizes at the very end of the battle against Buu. The Dragon Ball series, then, is not simply an anime about selfish individuals fight against each other, but it is about what a powerful caring individual should do to protect the others when surrounded by the selfish individuals. It is a story of ethics in power politics of everyday life. The Dragon Ball series, through metaphoric means, teaches us how to maintain the good in us when confronted with the evil. In a way, the conclusion is contained in the beginning: once you have learned how to use power for someone else, you have achieved the absolute power that no one can take away from you. Goku may be said to have possessed from the beginning ‘the seed of this enlightenment’, and to that extent, he may have been the strongest of all from the very moment he decided to help Bruma in Mt. Paozu.

*This is just the beginning of what is to come – a project I have always wanted to write. For those of you interested in reading further, you may occasionally come back to check on my earlier post “A Philosophical Interpretation of Dragon Ball Z” for the moment (which is itself incomplete as of yet) to get a better sense of where I am going with this. https://isseicreekphilosophy.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/a-philosophical-interpretation-of-dragon-ball-z/ But eventually, my aim is to a comprehensive treatise on the philosophy of Dragon Ball series, and this is where it starts.

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*Work in progress (feedbacks welcome)

Introduction

Dragon Ball Z has attracted so many people around the world, and it could rightly be described as one of the anime that represents the Japanese popular culture in the 90’s when anime began to be an iconic feature of Japan as promoting its unique national identity. In this sense, Dragon Ball Z, along with the other iconic anime such as Black Jack and Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka, or Draemon by Fujio F. Fujiko, may be heralded as the Japanese anime par excellence. But why do we love it so much? What is it that captures the passion and mesmerizes the hearts of the young people? It cannot simply be because of its often-criticized long-winded fighting scenes. In fact, Dragon Ball series are notoriously famous for their episodes-long battles that never seem to end. So, why is it that still succeeds to keep enchanting us in the way that never gets old? This essay is an attempt to explain the philosophical themes behind Dragon Ball Z, as I believe all art forms that are loved timelessly have deeper meanings to them. Sometimes, those meanings are not intended by the producers of the anime, and perhaps we often give them our own meanings to them in understanding the art for its receptive nature. In what follows, I will elucidate the possible philosophical meanings behind each series and attempt to explain that the Dragon Ball series in fact have various intellectual framework as substratum. And finally, I will argue that the Dragon Ball series keep captivating our mind because they are grounded in the serious philosophical argument about human nature.

Dragon Ball Z was created by Akira Toriyama, who is also known as the author of Dr. Slump Arare and character designers of the famous RPG game, Dragon Quest. Dragon Ball tells a longer story revolving around the boy named Goku and the mysterious balls that are said to grant any wishes to whomever finds and collects seven of them dispersed in the world, known as the dragon balls. The story of Dragon Ball is divided into three parts, of which the first is Dragon Ball, telling the story of Goku from his earliest years up to his adolescent years. Dragon Ball Z is a story of Goku’s adulthood, concluding with Dragon Ball GT, in which Goku becomes a child again due to a malevolent wish by his longstanding enemy.

In the North America, Dragon Ball Z is subdivided into several sagas, each of which are called, Vegeta Saga, Freeza Saga, Android Saga, Cell Saga and Boo Saga, respectively. Here, I will first discuss about the first two sagas, followed by the second two sagas, ending with Boo Saga. This division is not without reason, for I believe each segment of the series is thematically different. For instance, Vegeta and Freeza Sagas are about power, while the Android and Cell Sagas describe more of the philosophy of science. In what follows, I will argue that each segment presents itself as representing the philosophy of Akira Toriyama. Further, I venture to divide these segments according to their themes, to which I might ascribe Political Philosophy to the first two sagas, Philosophy of Science to the second two sagas and Ethics to the last saga.

 

Book I: Vegeta & Freeza Sagas as Political Realism


I: Stars incline but do not necessiate

 

Dragon Ball Z begins with the new introduction of Goku’s son, Gohan. The entire Dragon Ball Z story essentially derives from one incident in the very first episode, when Gohan gets kidnapped by Raditz, one of the four Saiyans left in the whole universe. It turns out that Raditz is Goku’s only brother, and he has come from the outer space all the way to the earth to urge Goku into helping him conquer the universe by force. Such a plan would involve destroying the earth itself and eliminating Goku’s friends along the way. When Goku refused to cooperate, Raditz took Gohan as a hostage so Goku would have no choice but listen to him. A long story short, Goku teams up with his nemesis, Piccolo, to defeat Raditz in order to save his friends and family and the earth.

Now, what is important here is to realize that the seed has already been planted, and everything that happens afterward is naturally contained in the initial offense done by Raditz. It was indeed not Goku’s intent to get involved with any of the events that ensued. However, one may arguably say that the power hungry Saiyan would never have been satisfied with the status quo, hence his involvement was inevitable, although unsolicited. In this sense, Goku’s succeeding journey is termed as soft-deterministic. I think Leibniz’ soft-determinism is very much in accordance with this, for the journey was inclined to happen while not being necessitated to occur. So what seemed like a simplistic catalyst in the anime was in fact dictated by the necessary conditions embedded in the characters themselves. This also explains rather flawlessly with consistency how each event follows one after another. In this way, it was inevitable as much as natural for Goku and Piccolo to have teamed up against Raditz, Vegeta and Nappa came to the earth in order to defeat Goku, and Goku’s eventual triumph over Vegeta, leaving Vegeta in bitter defeat.

Here it is worth while to scrutinize a little more about the situations, for everything that happened in this Vegeta saga is a precondition for what was to happen in the Freeza saga. In order to support my argument that every event in these two sagas happened naturally, one event following after another without any structural jamming, as it were, let me use some historical examples to illustrate how convincing the story development of Dragon Ball Z really is. As I have argued, Gohan’s initial kidnap instigated the successive events that would last for years onwards. Here, the first episode contains everything that was to happen, just as Leibniz’s dictum that ‘predicate is contained in the subject’, so the succeeding events are merely unfolding of the events that have occurred previously. This flow must be naturally determined, i.e. soft-determinism, in order to have a cogent effect.[1] So once again, what seemed rather innocuous kidnapping of Gohan contained in itself Goku’s revenge against Raditz and how Raditz treated Gohan and everyone else naturally increased Goku’s dislike towards Raditz. Of course, the Saiyans qua Saiyans do not care about the feelings of the others, as also seen when Vegeta killed his companion, Nappa. It is ingrained in the philosophy of the Saiyans that they only care about satisfying their own curiosities for fighting and replenishing their hunger for power. Indeed, the Saiyan philosophy is no other than the philosophy of political realism, and as such, it only thinks of itself and its survival. It is essentially self-interested, and always revolves around the self-preservation and nothing more. Let me call this the Primitive Saiyan Philosophy, for Goku’s philosophy is fundamentally different, as we will see. While the Primitive Saiyan Philosophy is individualistic and singularistic in its view (i.e. it does not accept any other idea but its own; there is only one truth, which is its own, etc…), Goku’s Philosophy is pluralistic. Here is contained the seed for empathy and therefore leaves room for ethics. In this way, Vegeta and Goku can be contracted as representing political realism and liberalism.

In summarizing the events in Vegeta Saga, it is Raditz’s independent action that led to Goku’s anger, which led to the bitter defeat of Vegeta in the end. The similarity with the whole sequence of the Great Wars in the 20th century is rather striking, for just as the Austrian prince was killed (an individual, rather politically personal event, which developed into the series of events), which triggered the allied countries to jump into the quarrel, Gohan’s kidnap triggered Piccolo’s reluctant cooperation with Goku in fighting the common enemy. It was, however political, a personal event that happened at the Kame-House in the middle of nowhere that stirred up all the subsequent events. Further, if I may be allowed to reason parallel to the specific historical event of the World Wars, Vegeta’s bitter defeat is likened to Germany’s bitter defeat at the end of the World War I. Vegeta, then, is the embodiment of the philosophy of Adolf Hitler. It is important to note here that Vegeta himself does not represent the historical Hitler, but I emphasize here that I am talking about the abstract ideology that Vegeta adhered to, and likening it to the abstract ideology of Adolf Hitler. In other words, I am not identifying Vegeta as Hitler, but rather, I am identifying the philosophy of Vegeta as the philosophy of Hitler. So it is not a matter of important who actually held such a philosophy, as long as we are clear that it is the philosophy and ideology itself that I am talking about. So, the readers will see sometimes my talking about the philosophy of Vegeta as exercised by another character, Piccolo or Krillin, for instance. I ask the readers not to equate the idea one adheres to with the characters themselves.

For in order to talk about how power behaves, one needs not to attribute players who exercise that power to any specific solid individuals. I am merely using some historical figures in order to illustrate, visualize and somewhat more easily accessible to our imagination. Also, the World Wars are the perfect examples in which each player fought for power and survival. Therefore, I cannot find any other examples that are fairly recent enough that everyone knows about that illustrates the power struggle as clear as as the two World Wars.

Having clarified my intention, let me continue. It makes sense that Vegeta and Nappa came to the earth, then, for the Primitive Saiyan philosophy is self-interested and its interest is acquisition of power and exercising destruction, but why did they have to travel such far away in order just to fight and destroy? It took them 6 months to go to the earth, when in fact they could have exercised their power and enjoyed destruction in their nearby planets? To defeat Goku, who was the only other Saiyan left in the universe? Plausibly, but not enough to drag them out of the edge of the universe to the earth. Here, again, it is their self-interest that piqued their curiosity. Desire for the dragon balls moved them away from where they were, for in order for them not only to survive but also to acquire the absolute power, the use of dragon balls was a necessity for them.

Before moving on further with the plot analysis, it is necessary to briefly go into the historical Hitler since I will be largely drawing upon him as well as the other major events during World War II.

[1] Soft-determinism in this sense differs from hard-determinism in that the former is a natural occurrence, an unfolding events given that the characters have all these qualities, while the latter type of determinism does not care about what qualities each character may have. Hard-determinism is indifferent to external influences, whereas soft-determinism is dictated by the natural phenomena. It is in this sense Leibniz argued that, in soft-determinism, you would not be doing anything contradictory to your character had you done something that you did not in fact do. This is because what you did at a particular moment in life is always a dictation of the natural phenomena occurring not just in you but also around you.

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