Goku’s Flat Character Arc
Goku essentially is a character that does not change as situations around him change and times change. He has what is called a “Flat Character Arc”, which means “the character starts out already in possession of the Truth—and then uses that Truth to bring positive change to the world around him. As such, the Flat-Arc protagonist is a person who, on the specific level of the Truth, has things figured out.” Goku in that sense is an archetype, representing the epitome of that character style. Goku in his 50s isn’t very different from the Goku that we meet when he begins this journey as a 10 year old, and that’s after he reaches an incredible amount of physical strength and dealing with some of the most insurmountable enemies in the series.
Before we discuss the subtleties of his character I think its best we dispel some myths about the man himself. He is in no way the strongest character in the series for most part of the story line, he has never actually beaten Vegeta in a duel. The reason Vegeta is always on the edge about beating him is not something that’s ingrained in his nature, its just the way his fights with Goku has always turned out to be. In their first fight Vegeta almost killed him after transforming into his Great Ape form. That fight was interrupted by other Z fighters and Goku was more or less defenseless and almost certainly would have lost and most probably died because of it, had it taken its natural course. In their second duel Vegeta in his Majin form wiped the floor with him and left him lying on the floor it was more or less his own fault that, that this particular fight ended in that outcome, he concealed his ability to transform into a Super Saiyin 3, which ultimately let Vegeta to exploit it.
His naivety has led him to make some decisions which ordinarily in the right state of mind you wouldn’t want to make, like giving Cell a senju bean. To add to this Vegeta is stronger than Goku on multiple instances for example, when he emerges from the Hyperbolic Time chamber to challenge Cell. This explains the rougher edges in the personality of Vegeta more than anything else, because for the good part of the series the outcomes usually indicate that Goku is the strongest Z fighter and possibly the strongest in arc however Vegeta’s essentially higher win rate and his own mental outlook on Goku’s strength stand to contradict this judgement on everyone else’s part.
His professional record as a fighter only reinforces the belief that he does not always cares about winning in these tournaments, fights or coming off as the strongest fighter of them all. He has won only 1 tournament even though he participated in 9 of them. He has lost to Jacki Chun, Tien. He forfeited in the Cell games, and in the Other World’s tournament was a disqualification. His fights with Vegeta are known to be brutal and not in his favour both times. The only person he has ever defeated in a tournament Finale is Piccolo.
Having said all this, there were times when he was left in a state where he could have died had his bouts continued, the only two times he has ever died are because of self-sacrifice on his part. Both when he first held his brother Raditz so Piccolo can kill him and when he contained Cell.
Goku seems to have attained some sort of metaphorical enlightenment in this series, he does falters sometimes like when he snapped in his ssj3 form when his plan didn’t go as he expected it to, but at for a good part of anime he seems to have some sort of other worldly confidence in his own self and the universe. Many times he showed he was above the entire progression of story line itself for example when he was ready to give up earth in one of the arcs which truly represents Flat Character Arc at its finest. It doesn’t means he is careless or too dumb to actually understand whats going on. It just shows the character is complete without the arc.
This is also one of the trappings of such character. A lot of people would use this as an accuse to bash DBZ and one of its chief protagonist, saying things like “This anime is same as it was in Ep1.”, “Oh he is just going to rely on another power up to solve every crisis…”, “Well it gets really boring because all arcs are so similar”, all this just represents ignorance on the part of the watchers because they fail to notice the emotional and mental maturity Goku goes through as the story line progresses. Yes certain things like his core character is not going to change, but that’s what make him so unique, that doesn’t means he is not going to gain anything as the anime progresses. That’s just false assumptions based on one observation that the character seems way ahead of the arc and confident that all is going to turn out well most of the time.
Yes the 10 year old Goku is very similar to the Goku that appears in the DB Super, but they are both on entirely different planes of emotional maturity. Remember Goku did sacrifice himself on two occasions since the beginning of the series.
This article attempts to draw out some fine points with regards to Goku’s Flat Character Archetype. Such characters are truly rare in anime. In fact Goku can be used as a yard stick for perfect Flat Character Archetypes. We hope you enjoyed the DBZ experience with him if you watched DBZ in past, feel free to come by and discuss about Goku and other characters from any other anime on our anime discord AnimeSoul (WLA).
Written by Suzaku.