I am a huge Dragon Ball Z fan. I’ve read all of the manga and love the series. But it’s sexist and I know I’m not the first person to say so. This is an overview of the women in Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. More specific instances of sexism for each character will be addressed in future blogs.
The women of the series are mainly minor characters and are always in relation to a male, never standing on their own. Goku, the lovable hero whom I adore, is married to Chi-Chi (far left women in yellow and purple). Although Chi-Chi is introduced early on in Dragon Ball, when both she and Goku are children, she is not a recurring character until she marries Goku at the end of Dragon Ball. Then she is defined by her constant worrying and obsessive parenting methods. She is an example of the hysterical woman trope in addition is only being discussed as a mother and wife for her major parts in the series. When she was introduced she was a daughter and a future love interest. Until I began to look into feminism, I admit I found her funny most of the time.
Bulma (blue haired woman on the right) is more of a major character. She was one of the first people Goku met in Dragon Ball and to the creator of the series Akira Toriyama’s credit, he created a woman who was highly intelligent. She makes the gadgets of the series and could have been a major player in the various conflicts to save the world, but instead her intelligence is overshadowed by the fact that she is a shallow teenager and later a shallow woman. The dragon balls, when all 7 are gathered together, grant an individual one wish. At the start of Dragon Ball, Bulma is collecting the dragon balls to wish for the perfect boyfriend and her motivation ends there. Although a genius with technology, her character is played for laughs where she is either fantasized about my the lecherous Master Roshi (old bearded man with sunglasses, far right) or molested or sexualized because she is female. This is meant to be funny, but borders on soft pornography as Dragon Ball is full of jokes that are highly inappropriate and disregard the female characters.
Eighteen (blonde woman on the left) is introduced much farther into Dragon Ball Z. She is an android made from a human base, and for a while she is stronger than almost any male character in the series. But because she is so strong she is distanced from being a woman and masculinized. Listen to the voice actor portray Eighteen in the Dragon Ball Z Movie History of Trunks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZ5FR-dT-d4&feature=related. Her voice is deep and unlike the voices of the other female characters. She is not drawn as big chested as either Bulma or Chi-Chi and her eyes are slanted and evil. This was partially remedied when Nickelodeon reintroduced Dragon Ball Z as Dragon Ball Z Kai (editing out useless episodes to create a more streamlined series). In Dragon Ball Z Kai, Eighteen was voiced by someone with a more female sounding voice, although she was still drawn the same as in the original and never looked feminine.
The last major female character is Videl (short black haired woman in pink and white). She is brought into the series towards the very end and is both the token female and the faux action girl. Videl is a competent fighter against petty criminals, but she is nothing compared to the main male heroes of the story. Her purpose is the female love interest for Goku’s son, Gohan and she looks to Gohan to train her. The short hair is a symbol that she is a strong woman, but she cut her hair in an effort to prove herself to Gohan, not because she found the symbolism relevant for her own growth and development. Videl annoys me more than any of the other female characters in Dragon Ball Z. Not only is it too little too late for Akira Toriyama to be introducing a strong female character, but it hurts that this is such a failed attempt because she is the only character who had potential to be an action girl.
My main problem with the Dragon Ball Z story lines is that there is no need to discriminate against the women of the series. For what the manga and anime hoped to achieve, the series did not need to be peopled with strong females, but the women who were represented could have been treated with more respect. Nothing would have been lost if Chi-Chi was a character in her own right, if Bulma was not degraded to a sex object, if Eighteen was treated as a woman instead of evil, and if Videl was an action girl. If anything the show would have garnered the respect of both male and female fans who could enjoy the series for its otherwise fun characters and wacky yet intense plot lines.