Dragon Ball Z still has one moment that Kai couldn’t improve

Anthony McGlynn
Super Saiyan Goku in Dragon Ball Z

Dragon Ball Z Kai improved the original show in almost every way by cutting out filler, touching up the animation, and re-recording many of the acting performances. But one scene that should’ve been left unaltered is Android 16’s speech, a pitch-perfect rundown of Dragon Ball Z’s philosophical underpinnings.

Even the mere mention has probably caused you to choke up if you’re a fan of the anime show. In the brutal fight against Cell, the quiet, stoic Android 16 attempts to finally kill Doctor Gero’s demented bio-weapon using his self-destruct trigger. His sacrifice fails because the mechanism had been deactivated, letting Perfect Cell tear Android 16 apart.

His severed head lands near Gohan, who’s in complete shock. 16 senses Gohan’s rising emotions and uses his final moments to console the young half-Saiyan, telling him that his rage is OK and that sometimes, there are people deserving of your anger because they’ve left you with no other option.

Cell then stamps on 16’s head, causing Gohan to snap and turn Super Saiyan 2, much like Goku unlocks Super Saiyan after Freiza blows up Krillin. Cell is promptly outmatched by Gohan but still manages to take out Goku and Future Trunks as he’s being defeated.

A perfect sacrifice

The monologue 16 delivered in the first dub of Dragon Ball Z is beautiful, an emotive translation of the Japanese dialogue that captures the essence of Akira Toriyama’s text.

“Gohan, let it go. It is not a sin to fight for the right cause. There are those who words alone will not reach. Cell is such a being. I know how you feel Gohan. You are gentle, you do not like to hurt. I know because I too have learned these feelings. But it is because you cherish life that you must protect it. Please drop your restraints. Protect the life I loved. You have the strength, my scanners sensed it. Just… let it go.”

It’s just so graceful and poetic, almost like a biblical verse in the invocation of sin and the outright belief in compassion. 16 is talking to Gohan from a place of understanding, empowering him to go forth and do what’s needed to protect empathy.

“There are those who words alone will not reach,” is such a grounding phrase, a hard truth given plainly. It is difficult to teach kindness, and some don’t care to be taught or convinced.

In those instances, it is not only acceptable but necessary to play by the rules of the brutal. Cell, Freiza, Cooler, and any number of real-world examples leave no alternative, and being forced to push back is not a moral failing of the victim or the protector.

The power of translators

Even the first Japanese version, per the original subbing, doesn’t land quite as well.

“Son Gohan, it is no sin to fight for what is right. There are opponents with which you cannot talk things out. Set your spirit free to your anger. I know how it feels. You just can’t take it any longer. Gohan, nature, and the things that I too liked… defend them for me.”

You get the same overall effect, but the context is different. It comes across as more about 16’s sacrifice than Gohan’s ascension, and that gives it less weight. There’s less substance without the line, “But it is because you cherish life that you must protect it”.

Translators are some of the most unsung heroes in anime, and this is a prime example of recognizing where the emotion lies and pulling at it without changing the scene. This is a load-bearing moment in Dragon Ball Z, and those working on the script got it perfectly.

Dragon Ball Z Kai doesn’t measure up

The scene was re-visited in Dragon Ball Z Kai, with another reworded speech.

“Gohan. Listen to me. There are some foes who cannot be reasoned with. You are allowed to fight on the side of justice. Seize upon your anger. Wield it like a weapon. I understand your reluctance, but holding it in is pointless. Gohan, I love the animals, and everything about nature. Protect them. For me.”

This is the one I enjoy the least of the three. Android 16 sounds like he’s pleading with Gohan, rather than appealing to a kindred spirit, and the dropping of the terms “sin” and “right cause” for “justice” sets a different tone.

You don’t get the feeling of biblical retribution, of a demigod being ushered into a grand battlefield. It seems like 16 is trying to coerce Gohan into becoming Super Saiyan 2, when the previous versions are more about 16 letting Gohan know unleashing all that power won’t be catastrophic.

Android 16 wants to give Gohan the confidence to choose how he sees fit without fearing the consequences. The older I get (I grew up watching the original DBZ dub in the ‘90s, so you can do the math), the more I find myself enjoying this as a fundamental theme of Dragon Ball Z.

Dragon Ball Z is timeless

Goku in Dragon Ball Z

When I was younger, I loved that Goku stood up to any baddies without remorse, even though I lacked that courage myself. In my teens and early adulthood, I grew to appreciate moral greyness, rejecting broad platitudes as simple and grandstanding.

Life has plenty of shades of grey, but I’ve come to realize complexity shouldn’t equal hand-wringing over what matters to you. Just because people wish to question what you believe in doesn’t mean the issue needs to be complicated by their perspectives.

To put this another way, it’s good to be principled and courageous about what you believe, and it’s not a sin to stand against those who oppose. Whatever kind of escalation that entails so be it. People just trying to live their lives sometimes need protection with bloody knuckles. Such is the price of conviction.

Dragon Ball Z premiered 35 years ago, and it’s still teaching me lessons. That’s the sign of a great teacher and an even better show.

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About The Author

Anthony is the Senior Anime Writer at Dexerto. He has over a decade's experience covering games and pop culture for outlets such as Variety, IGN, Den of Geek, PCGamesN, PCGamer, The Digital Fix, and many more. He loves horror, sci-fi, heavy metal, Studio Ghibli, and The Muppets. He enjoys pro wrestling too, but don't hold that against him. You can find him at: anthony.mcglynn@dexerto.com