Piccolo: the Genderless Alien (Man)

Thank you to everyone who has been commenting on my other DBZ posts (specifically The Women of DBZ). I know I promised to write further posts regarding Android 18 and Videl, but right now there’s a different aspect of DBZ I need to address first. In the comments on my post about women in DBZ, I talked about how the goal is not have action girls, who enter a scene fists flying and then politely back out of the way, but women in a wide array of roles. Increasing the number of female characters who are featured would automatically go a long way toward decreasing the likelihood that the one female character would need to serve as a representative of all women. And while I wrote briefly about how it wouldn’t have been any structural changes to the plot of DBZ to create Raditz or Vegeta as a female, I’m realizing that one of the more obvious ways Akira Toriyama could have promoted gender equality was through Piccolo and the Namekian species.

The Namekians are a genderless species. They reproduce asexually and if there are multiple genders or sexes we can see no difference. So why is it that all Namekians are male? It’s not through the way they dress (who’s to say female Namekians have breasts like human females, or that if they do they would need to cover up) or how they act, but that every voice actor is male. By portraying a species of male Namekians the message is clear:

  1. masculinity is the norm and to be genderless is to appear and present as male

I do not believe Piccolo had to be female or that there should have been female Namekians. I do however believe that voice actors should have been chosen who could create a genderless voice for a genderless species. This way, even though for instance, Piccolo appears male (and is basically understood to be male by not having any female identifications) in the manga, the anime was in a unique position. The anime could reshape our understanding of this alien character and in so doing reshape our understanding of an agender society.

There is no reason male should continue to be the norm on the basis that it is identifiably not-female (further fostering the harmful idea that the female body is marked as the other in society). Especially when creating alien races and exploring topics more closely linked to science fiction than action/adventure this is the place for societal commentary! The fact that Namekians reproduce asexually is brilliant, but the fact that they are all understood to be male is problematic. Had Piccolo been an agender character the plot of DB and DBZ would not have been altered, but the ideas of a gender binary would have been shattered. That is something the action/adventure genre desperately needs.

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This is not Dragon Ball Z. Or is it?

I keep tabs on the Dragon Ball Z facebook page and frequently find their material strikes a chord with me. The page reminds me of all the reasons Goku is a loveable idiot, but such an amazing individual. The page reminds me why I believe in Goku and that there is so much more to DBZ than strong men beating each other to a pulp. Dragon Ball Z has provided me with heroes who are the epitome of fall seven times, get up eight times. 

But, as I’ve mentioned previously, DBZ is not perfect. It’s sexist toward men and it’s sexist toward women. What I haven’t had much time to explore however, is that as an extension of its sexism, DBZ is also homophobic. I’ll use this image posted on the DBZ facebook page to begin my point then I’ll explain further.

To begin, this image is homophobic. Even if it weren’t connected to DBZ, it would be homophobic. In this set of images, to be gay is something you want to get rid of in yourself. It is something that can be cured where you can walk away and be “better.” Especially in the context of this image set, it is the father telling his son not to be gay, to overcome his gayness, and–even worse–that gay here is used as a generic insult. The Great Saiyaman looks stupid and poses funny, that’s so gay! Yes, the Great Saiyaman looks stupid and poses funny, but all that means is that he looks stupid and poses funny. It has nothing to do with his sexuality.

When I first saw this image I commented and said how offensive it is. I also said it’s not DBZ. However, I was quite wrong in that second statement. This image set brings to the forefront homophobia that is present in DBZ, but never discussed.

What some people may not be aware of is that homophobia (and any other form of oppressive thought and action) does not need to be as direct as someone proclaiming “I hate gays” or “homosexuality is a sin.” Most bigotry is more subtle than that, but no less harmful. Because it is silent, it is allowed to persist.

So, how is DBZ homophobic? Let’s look at the images presented of men and women. The men are all the absolute epitome of “traditional masculinity.” They are muscular, they are courageous, they take punishment in battle without complaining and they are unfaltering in their straightness. The special cases are Goku and Piccolo. Goku exists in a state of partial asexuality–though more to comment on his purity than to ever suggest he is queer. Piccolo, as an alien, is also for all purposes asexual–but more to express his alien difference than to highlight a queer identity.

Of the main male characters, Tien is the only one without a love interest and fans speculate he is in a relationship with Chiaotzu. If this is the case and Tien and Chiaotzu are the only queer characters in the show, their relationship is entirely speculative and because Chiaotzu looks and acts so different from every other character, even the hint of being gay becomes something to look askance at. If Tien and Chiaotzu were to be openly together, their queerness would be immediately visible because Chiaotzu does not look or act human. If Chiaotzu is written as a gay character he is an offensive stereotype.

As for the female characters, the few there are are unfaltering in their straightness as well. They may not always be perfect paragons of female virtue–Chi-Chi fights in DB and Bulma is a computer tech and scientist–but Chi-Chi is also introduced from the start as a love interest for Goku and Bulma’s original quest is to find the perfect boyfriend. Android 18 winds up marrying Krillin. Even Launch from DB is last seen chasing after Tien. Lesbianism is a foreign concept in the DBZ universe.

So, when the DBZ facebook page posts an image such as this:

it is actually being very honest about DBZ’s homophobia. In DBZ, being queer is speculative (at best) for the men and impossible for the women. It makes perfect sense that this image set would blatantly highlight the resistance to queers. Being queer can be the butt of jokes because there are no openly queer characters to offset the stereotypes. There is no one to defend the queer community and so to be anything but straight puts you in direct conflict with the rigid gender binary of masculine men and feminine women who only desire heterosexual relationships.

My response is that you cannot “get a little gay” and there is no way to “better” from your gayness because there was never anything to be fixed in the first place. I know I would feel better if Gohan if DBZ was not so heteronormative.

The Men of Dragon Ball Z

*note, I am back in college and no longer have access to my copies of the manga, any references to the series will be paraphrased quotations and is no longer a direct quote from the text. If I miss anything or you feel I taken too much license on the information I provide feel free to talk to me about it.

I’ve been getting a lot of comments by UnderwolfYamcha on my blog Women in Dragon Ball Z and I wanted to more fully address some of the issues that came up.

The comment thread began with an explanation that Akira Toriyama treats his male characters poorly as well as his female characters. My first point is that yes, this is true. Akira Toriyama is constantly playing up stereotypes of both genders, but in the Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z Universe, you earn respect of both fans and the characters in the show by being the toughest and the strongest. Each character’s worth is hinged upon their ability to hold their own in a fight. If you cannot compete with that arc’s big bad then your character is shafted to a more minor role. It’s very convenient that the stereotype for men is to be a tough, strong badass.

While there are exceptions, which I’ll get into later, these are the stereotypes Akira Toriyama presses. There are too many male characters to go person by person like I did for the women of DBZ, but in Toriyama’s series men are the epitome of typical masculinity. They are incredibly muscled (which is fine as the show is so action based and requires them to be so) and they do not show serious emotions other than anger. If they do then the audience knows something is serious. The male characters don’t cry very often. I can count the number of times a male character cries on one hand: Vegeta cries when Frieza kills him, Trunks cries when the androids kill Gohan in The History of Trunks movie, and Gohan cries when Piccolo dies and when Goku sacrifices himself to destroy Cell.  It is rare for someone to cry; it is not manly. Goku doesn’t cry when he realizes Vegeta and Nappa killed Yamcha, Tien, Piccolo, and Chiaotzu; he gets angry. Vegeta doesn’t cry when Cell kills his son Trunks; he gets angry. Unless the character is young, as in the case of both Gohan and Trunks, or the situation is incredibly serious, the more acceptable response is anger.

This becomes a problem because although the series is so deeply rooted in action scenes, almost all of the plot arcs are character based. It is severely limiting to the characters when the emotional responses are kept within a neat box of what’s acceptable for men. I do understand that this is Japanese culture and the cultural norms are bound to be different, but no matter what culture it comes from sexism is still sexism. Boys should not be exposed to the idea that men can only solve problems through violence. This is the first way Akira Toriyama treats his male leads poorly: he doesn’t let them be fully developed and provides a poor image for young boys.

But there are a few characters who do not fit into this masculine stereotype: the male characters who are played as sleazy cads (Master Roshi, Oolong, and occasionally Krillin).

  

So, both Master Roshi and Oolong are clearly established from the start of Dragon Ball as being sleazy and  not particularly upset by the notion. Master Roshi is infatuated with Bulma’s breasts, going so far as to call her Goku’s boingy friend when he meets Chi-Chi and notices Chi-Chi is not nearly as  developed as Bulma.  This is, of course, in addition to reading porn magazines, teaching Goku and Krillin to read through bodice ripper books, and attempting to molest Bulma or sexually harassing her on multiple occasions. Master Roshi only agrees to accept Krillin as another disciple when the two of them bond over porn Krillin brings as a present. To be fair to Krillin, this is minor in his character arc but as it is also one of the first introductions of him in the series it needs to be taken into account of how he is portrayed.

Oolong has similar circumstance to Master Roshi where once he is revealed in his true form (he’s a shape shifter) the audience learns how he was expelled from shape shifting school for stealing the female teacher’s panties. He goes on to save the Dragon Ball crew by wishing for “a hot girl’s panties” and interrupting Emperor Pilaf’s wish to rule the world. Although the accidental hero, Toriyama uses Oolong as another tool to portray Bulma as a sex object. Goku makes a deal with Master Roshi that in exchange for Master Roshi’s help Master Roshi will be able to squeeze Bulma’s breasts. When Bulma learns of this she convinces Oolong to shapeshift into her. Oolong does so and tells Master Roshi he can do a ‘Puff Puff’ instead of squeezing her breasts. Between Master Roshi and Oolong there is no respect for the female characters and the two of them are another poor portrayal of men. Instead of being unemotional and masculine they are dishonorable and it is played for laughs. In this way they are both sexist against men, who in this sense are being portrayed as sexist pigs, and against women because the issues of molestation are never taken into account.

The common thread between these characters are that they are not always honorable (with Krillin as the exception when he gets older) and they therefore cannot be truly masculine. The true stereotype of masculinity is that not only are the men strong but they are also chivalrous (Vegeta being the only one to continually break this trope). It’s no accident that the characters who are portrayed as being less than the ideal of masculinity are an old man, a pig, and (occasionally) the short man. As a side note, as Krillin’s character develops and he grows up, his perverted side is never mentioned and so he becomes more and more like the chivalrous hero of Goku.

The men of Dragon Ball Z are therefore limited on two fronts: either hyper-masculine and unable to express emotions, or sleazy womanizers who are shown to be unmasculine because they are not chivalrous. Both are harmful stereotypes for boys and the only alternative is the characters who do not fit into these two types. Unfortunately they are largely ignored (Yamcha, Tien, Chiaotzu, etc) because they are not characters designed to be in the stagnant DBZ world where strength is the quality that matters. The human characters, except Krillin, lose their importance when they can no longer compete with the main heroes. This is similar to how women lose their importance if they lose their beauty by stereotypical standards.

For all that I love DBZ the portraits of the male protagonists are not progressive and only further distance the ideals that men and women should strive for. By highlighting such different and and harmful ideals for the two sexes DBZ and Toriyama promotes a sexist society.

As a note, this is an overview of the male characters. There are far too many to include in this post. If you would like to request a specific character post please let me know and I would be happy to oblige.

Chi-Chi and Dragon Ball Z

*NOTE*This is the first detailed installment of a series on the female characters of Dragon Ball Z. For the overview of sexism in the series click here. My analysis will be based off the manga not the original anime.

Although Bulma is the primary female character for most of the Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, Chi-Chi is the character who is solely played for laughs, where Bulma is at least acknowledged as being a genius.

Chi-Chi is introduced as a fighter (as you can tell by her ‘warrior outfit‘) though despite her bikini armor she has very few action scenes. All she does is throw the spike on her helmet to kill a dinosaur and then shoot a laser from her helmet to disintegrate the body. This could potentially be a great display of ingenuity and skill, but when she fights a dessert bandit named Yamcha she is taken out with one hit. In this way she is dismissed as a competent fighter and is shown to have no skills on her own.

Although Dragon Ball itself is not meant to be taken seriously (especially in the earlier volumes) Chi-Chi is given dialogue like “Oo, this is ‘jes’ too dang freaky” and “Waah!! That was SCAAARY!!”. She is laughably stupid even compared to a character like Goku, who has no education and is typical of the  idiot hero trope. Chi-Chi’s ignorance is not cute or lovable, she is written off as a hick.

At the beginning of every volume of the manga there’s a page of main characters that gives a brief description of each in addition to catching the reader up on the plot. The description of Chi-Chi is as follows:

“A strange girl who Yamcah…ran into. She has a tendency to overreact.”

This is Akira Toriyama’s fall back for Chi-Chi: it will be funny if she’s the hysterical woman. And Chi-Chi is constantly ‘overreacting’ though in reality most of it is for her own safety. Goku, having lived in the woods all twelve years of his life does not know how to tell the difference between boys and girls except by patting their gentitals. When Goku does such, Chi-Chi responds:

“Get your hands off me!!!!”

and proceeds to push Goku off the flying cloud they’re traveling on and screams just before she crashes the cloud into a boulder. Once the two are traveling again, Chi-Chi’s dialogue shows that she is still upset, explaining that “[he] did plenty!!!” to deserve being pushed off the cloud, but the next panel of the manga she is blushing. Her inner thoughts read as such:

“But, thought the maiden, having been touched ‘there’ what else could it mean but that she would become this youth’s wife?”

Granted, Goku was not trying to molest her or make her uncomfortable, but it is wrong of Akira Toriyama to brush aside this complete disrespect of Chi-Chi as a female. Goku did not know what he was doing, but Akira Toriyama did. Akira Toriyama was well aware of how he treated Chi-Chi and was equally aware that Chi-Chi is a Japanese word for breasts. Because the author does not treat her with respect none of his characters do either. Not even her own father. Without her being present her father offers her in marriage to Goku. This is never addressed as being a sexist issue and toward the end of the Dragon Ball series, Chi-Chi comes back into the story after having spent the past six years of her life waiting for Goku to come back to her and claim her hand.

She is written as fully accepting of her weaker status as a woman, both as a fighter-who can never even come close to matching her male counterparts- and as a person-who revolves her life around a young boy who she barely knows. Goku and Chi-Chi do get married at the very end of Dragon Ball though it is seen as more obligatory on Goku’s part who, when he and Chi-Chi part ways,agrees that

“whatever [Chi-Chi’s father] wants to give me I’ll be sure to come an’ get! Count on it!”

Chi-Chi is referring to marriage, but Goku does not know what marriage is. He finds out six years later, when Chi-Chi demands he keep his promise and he agrees. To Akira Toriyama, marriage is something imposed upon men and is another example of the woman overreacting over nothing.

Throughout Dragon Ball Z, Chi-Chi becomes even more of a sexist character. Her role is diminished to being a constant worrying mother over her son Gohan. Her ‘overreacting’ as her emotions are played, are in fact quite reasonable. She does not want her 4 year old son being turned into a warrior or traveling the galaxy or being put into life or death situations with his father. Her concern is understandable, but it played as the hysterics of a ranting woman who cannot keep herself under control. As a woman she does not see the big picture that her son is needed to save the world. As a woman she cannot have the same scope of vision as a man.

Akira Toriyama does all that he can to discredit her opinions, demean her actions, and keep her uneducated and in her place as a side character written solely for laughs. This is unfortunate because Goku, Chi-Chi, and Gohan have the best chance in the series of establishing a stable family relationship where there can be a break from the constant fight scenes. If these rare family moments were taken seriously, a loving equal relationship between husband wife could have possible to portray. Chi-Chi was never taken seriously.