Why the Cell Saga Is the Best Dragon Ball Z Saga of All Time

Gohan in the Cell Saga

In a few weeks Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero will be released in theaters. The movie focuses on the army that can’t take a hint (the Red Ribbon Army) and another attempt at unleashing some devastating Androids with a twist—Gamma 1 and Gamma 2 call themselves superheroes. What has me excited about the movie is how all of the promotional material puts Gohan front and center. The second official trailer even ends with a narration of Piccolo telling Gohan that he has the potential to become the most powerful being on Earth. It sounds like the movie will have a lot of Gohan giving it his all, which makes me think back to my favorite Dragon Ball Z saga of all time: the Cell Saga.

Like a lot of anime fans, I grew up watching Dragon Ball Z. I still remember waiting years to see the continuation of Goku’s arrival on Namek, leading to his iconic battle against Frieza and the first time we’d see anyone go Super Saiyan. I thoroughly enjoy the Frieza Saga and everything that came before it (let me tell you how stressed I was during Goku vs Vegeta), but it’s what came after Frieza that really made me appreciate the progression of Dragon Ball Z’s story. Not only does the Cell Saga give us one of the franchise’s most terrifying villains, but it has our heroes facing some pretty monumental challenges while presenting us with something that didn’t seem possible: a world without Goku.

Having power doesn’t mean you’re ready to use it

After Cell reaches his perfect form and defeats our heroes (more on this later) he proposes a tournament. Here, he hopes to face off against the strongest warriors that Earth has to offer. Much to everyone’s surprise, Goku doesn’t seem that worried about it, laughing off the fact that Cell is actually stronger than him. That’s because Goku knows that Gohan is the one who can defeat Cell. He’s so confident about it that he offers a worn-out Cell to Senzu Bean at the end of their fight (more on this later, too).

In the long run, Goku’s right about Gohan being strong enough to defeat Cell. What he doesn’t account for is the fact that Gohan is a child who isn’t ready to engage in battle the way his father does. All the times Gohan has fought have been spurred on by rage, not an actual desire to fight against incredible threats. This is something Piccolo has to point out to Goku, commenting on how Gohan too strong, but he’s a scared child who has no idea why his father isn’t doing anything to stop someone as malicious as Cell from hurting him.

Interestingly, this is something that Chi-Chi’s pointed out about a thousand times, although it usually gets brushed off because the world needs saving. At this moment, though, Goku realizes just how bad it is that he put Gohan in battle with a fully-powered Cell. While it’s easy to knock Goku for not figuring this out as Gohan’s father, this is a man who has been fighting monumental battles since childhood. This isn’t just because Saiyans love to fight, it’s also because Goku’s someone who’s been raised to be the world’s savior. Gohan, however, isn’t, nor should he be, as Piccolo addresses the fact that he’s an 11-year-old kid. Even worse? He’s a kid whose father purposely let the threat reach maximum heights just to demonstrate how strong his son is.

The price of being too proud

There are so many moments where this saga could’ve ended but someone’s pride got in the way. Vegeta purposely allows Cell to reach his perfect form just so he can fight him at his best. I will say, this moment does show how smart Cell is, as he purposely pokes at Vegeta’s pride to convince him to let him absorb Android 18.

So now we got Perfect Cell to deal with which, arguably, could’ve ended had Goku NOT given him a Senzu Bean after their fight. But, as I said, he gives Cell the bean so he can be at full power when facing Gohan so it’s the fair fight. This leads to that conversation with Piccolo that I mentioned along with Cell making smaller versions of himself (Cell Jr.) that are strong enough to take on EACH OF THE Z FIGHTERS. Eventually, Android 16 says some parting words to Gohan. He encourages him to let go and fight for the ones he loves. This leads to Cell killing the android, and Gohan snaps, transforming into a new Super Saiyan form.

In this new form, Gohan can absolutely wreck Cell’s shit… only he’s also inherited that Saiyan pride, choosing to let Cell suffer instead of killing him right away. This leads to Cell (now back in his Imperfect Form) deciding to blow up the entire planet, much to Gohan’s dismay, as he realizes that he should’ve just killed Cell when he had the chance. Goku ends up taking the hit on this one, teleporting Cell off of Earth and dying in the process.

There’s always hope

While previous sagas did have the sort of countdown clock to disaster, near the end of the Cell Saga things really do feel hopeless. Goku’s gone, Cell’s stronger than ever, and before Gohan can face him he’s injured after saving Vegeta – who’d tried to fight Cell after Trunks was killed. Gohan’s forced into a Kamehameha standoff with one hand, which feels like he’s prolonging the inevitable.

However, even in the afterlife, Goku still believes in his son, although this time he offers encouragement that doesn’t lead to him feeling frightened and alone, it pushes Gohan to actually defeat Cell – with everyone else’s help (particularly Vegeta’s). It’s a nice circle back to how this whole thing started. Trunks came from the future to warn everyone of a timeline where Goku was no longer around. In Trunks’ timeline nearly everyone was killed, the world devastated without Goku there to lead the charge. Instead of things ending in tragedy in our current timeline without Goku, things end on a positive note. Gohan and the rest of the Z Fighters are still there and able to make sure the world is protected from evils like Cell.

For me, the Cell Saga is the one that felt like it had the most important lessons in the series (although I’m also a fan of Vegeta coming to terms with his feelings towards his family in the Majin Buu Saga). It’s always felt like Dragon Ball Z was leading to this moment with Gohan, and I loved how that moment came with Goku realizing how much pressure he put on him. It’s honestly a good examination of the hero’s story and how young these characters are tasked with saving the world. Goku’s been at it since Dragon Ball. Gohan’s been at it in some way, shape, or form since he was kidnapped by his own uncle, Raditz – a rather traumatic start to discovering your superpowers, I might add.

The Cell Saga feels like the one where several key players had much-needed moments of clarity, which makes it my all-time favorite Dragon Ball Z story.

(Featured image: Toei Animation)

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