After over 30 years of adventures, the Dragon Ball anime franchise has earned a permanent place in our hearts. We watched a naive, tailed boy grow into an even more naive but powerful warrior. But now that Goku has mastered Ultra Instinct in Dragon Ball Super, essentially becoming as powerful as a god, what’s left for the franchise to explore? Sure, we could continue the trope of Goku meeting even stronger threats, but we’ve already seen that. It’s time for a change.
While the formula used to conveniently increase Goku’s power isn’t broken, it is worn out from overuse. Shōnen anime like Dragon Ball hit us with the same tropes over and over again. We love them, but they are a double-edged sword. It’s addicting to watch a hero like Goku overcome insurmountable odds or unlock their hidden potential. However, the high we get from this thrill dulls a bit more each time it occurs, especially when to the same character.
The overuse of this formula has made Goku — no matter how lovable — predictable and stale. Yes, he progresses but never in an unexpected way. This hurts his overall development — even though he’s constantly evolving. Fans know that, no matter what happens, Goku will win the same way each time by receiving a power-up. Once audiences catch on to this formula, it becomes immersion breaking, as we are stripped of the joy of rooting for the underdog. Sure, we keep watching, but mostly for the spectacle and shocking moments, not the story.
Now that Goku’s a galactic badass, he’s got bigger fish to fry than what Universe 7 can provide. Dragon Ball Super will likely end with Goku as the victor or on a cliffhanger to make room for Goku to win in a future movie. (Although, we would prefer to see Frieza win.) It doesn’t make sense for Goku to return to Earth after the tournament ends. Earth is boring, and he needs to fight. Otherwise, he gets bored and suggests tournamentsthat place lives in the known universes at risk. It’s time for him to move on to new adventures across the galaxy, protecting it from threats Earth will never know.
However, these stories should occur in the background. Similar to the gods and old masters — like Roshi, the Kais, Whis — in the show, Goku should move to a supporting role in the series. When he’s around, he stunts the development of the characters around him. However, in a supporting role, he would be able to mentor the next generation of fighters, helping them prepare for imminent threats. That way, they could defeat powerful enemies without Goku’s divine intervention.
With Goku relegated to the background, promising characters like Gohan and Vegeta would finally get their time to shine, and rightfully so. Goku robbed Gohan of his protagonist title when he returned to Dragon Ball Z toward the ends of the series. Up until then, the anime focused on Gohan’s growth as a character. He reaches Super Saiyan 2 before Goku and manages to defeat Cell (with inspiration from his then-dead dad). Goku even refuses to be wished back by the dragon balls because he knows that Gohan can handle any threat that comes the Earth’s way.
That moment was the perfect way to send off Goku and hand the reins over to the next generation, leaving Gohan as the protector of Earth. Then, Goku returns, the writers nerf Gohan’s powers, and all that character development goes down the drain in favor of Goku. With Goku out of the picture, we could dive deeper into what Dragon Ball Z started to build. The inner conflict that Gohan experiences, between the need to protect his family and his lack of a fighting spirit, would be a great place to start. Often, we are our greatest adversaries. No doubt, an arc that explores Gohan’s need to conquer himself would push his powers to new heights. He could even reclaim his title as Earth’s top, albeit reluctant, protector.
Similarly, Vegeta, who managed to reach Super Saiyan God without help (unlike Goku), could finally get a real win. After years of living in Goku’s shadow, he could actually become the protector of the entire universe. We would love to see him unlock an entirely new power. One that is just as powerful, or even more so, than Ultra Instinct.
We’ve seen hints of this already in Dragon Ball Super when he ascended to the Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan Evolution state (one step above Super Saiyan Blue). The series could further explore Vegeta’s newfound power, perhaps even having him show it off to King Sadala of Universe 6.
Gohan and Vegeta are deeply flawed characters. Vegeta lets his pride get the better of him in nearly every situation, whereas Gohan’s emotions and nature often hold him back from his true potential. However, they both deserve redemption. To have the two of them take the reins and train the next generation of fighters would be a step in the right direction for the franchise.
Finally, we’d be able to see the offspring of the current Z Fighters show off all that unlocked potential we kept hearing about during Dragon Ball Z. (In fact, now that we know female Super Saiyans are a thing, maybe we’ll finally get Super Saiyan Pan.) Without Goku to fall back on, the next generation of Z Fighters would be forced to work together to defeat their enemies. These wouldn’t just be spur-of-the-moment team-ups, but strategic formations that would need to evolve over the course of the entire battle. These new fighting combinations could breathe new life into Dragon Ball by adding failure back into the shōnen equation. Once again, battles would have real stakes, and that’s pretty exciting.
What better time to send Goku off — excluding the Cell Saga — then right now? With Ultra Instinct mastered, he’s done all we need him to do, and we couldn’t be any prouder. So, let’s hope that Toei Animation doesn’t make a GT-level mistake by dragging his character along past his prime. Instead, we hope that they’ll send him off while he’s still on top. There are so many other characters who deserve at least half of the development that Goku received. Let’s start there and start exploring the full storytelling potential of Dragon Ball’s complex universe.