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The Untold Truth Of Dragon Ball Z's Saiyans

Akira Toriyama could not possibly have known what he'd created when he first set out to write Dragon Ball.

Since he launched his long-running manga series in 1984, the property has blossomed into hundreds of television episodes, cartfuls of video games, handfuls of movies and an unquenchable fan appetite for his super-powered alien fighters. Over the course of decades, fans have gradually learned more and more about the mysterious Saiyans at the heart of the series, with each new iteration growing the index of these ape-humanoid warriors at the same rate as their soon-to-be meaningless "power levels." It's simply not possible to keep everything the manga, television series and movies have told us about the Saiyans in your head. Some of it is bound to fall out over time.

With that in mind, we've compiled a few facts about the Saiyans that even Dragon Ball diehards and message board crusaders might not know.

There's a connection to Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee touched a lot of minds during his brief time as a worldwide movie star, particularly among the type of people who would grow up to make shows and movies about martial arts. Dragon Ball put a lot of window dressing and sci-fi around it, but at its heart, the series has a lot in common with the climax of every Bruce Lee movie. That is to say, it always comes down to two guys fighting.

However, there's an even stronger connection to Lee in one of the most famous panels in the manga's history. Toriyama based the icy glare that Goku gives Freeza after turning into a Super Saiyan for the first time on famous close-ups of the late martial artist.

"His eyes from right after he transforms for the first time and looks up at Freeza," Toriyama revealed in an interview. "I based those off of Bruce Lee. Since that look of his where he glares right at you is paralyzing!"

Toriyama said he built the fight around getting that look, and was almost disappointed to have to draw it after. He also added that he thinks he fell short of Lee's iconic stare.

"When it actually came time to draw it, it turned out a bit different than how I had imagined it," he said. "I still thought Bruce Lee looked a lot cooler."

The blonde hair was a practical matter

While we're on the topic of drawing the manga, we should stop to point out that one of the most famous aspects of the Saiyans was rooted more in the practicality of drawing the panels than any story consideration. Specifically, the blonde hair that Saiyans get when they go Super Saiyan wasn't related to any sort of mythical origin story (or, as some fans worried, the problematic idea of an Aryan ubermensch). The truth behind the decision is a lot more mundane: Toriyama simply realized he could save a lot of time and grief while working on a black-and-white comic by making characters blonde.

"I gave him blonde hair so that it wouldn't be as much work for my assistant," he explained. "He spent a lot of time blacking in Goku's hair, and I had to erase over it. It was a real pain."

The tail is important

Tails seemed more crucial than they ended up being in the long run of Dragon Ball, but that doesn't mean they aren't important. Goku famously lost his tail at the end of the first series, shocking his brother Raditz when the powerful Saiyan came to Earth in the first major arc of Dragon Ball Z. He had good reason to be worried, as losing a tail greatly weakens a Saiyan and removes the most obvious marker that they aren't human.

Saiyans' tails allow them to turn into a great, rampaging ape, a creature far more powerful than even the strongest everyday Saiyan on their home planet of Vegeta. This mostly served to cause problems for Gohan and Goku, the Saiyans on Earth. As many stories' tall uncontrollable apes, they could cause serious harm. And it also presented them with a real challenge whenever a Saiyan who still had their tail showed up on Earth with a grudge.

While many characters lost their tails throughout the show, the change was impermanent. After the entire run of DBZ, it was revealed that Saiyans could regrow their lost tails once they attained power levels greater than their Great Ape form. In Dragon Ball GT, it's shown that Goku with his regrown tail is better able to control the dangerous transformations at higher levels of Super Saiyan.

They have a certain taste in women

Goku and Vegeta pairing off with strong-willed and stubborn women makes narrative sense. Vegeta's princely arrogance and Goku's headlong and dangerous enthusiasm needs a counterbalance to bring them down to earth. Their partners, Chi-Chi and Bulma, have been putting up with their adventures, without taking any of their crap, for years. The Saiyan attraction to a woman who will stand her ground was explained in an episode of Dragon Ball Super.

When the conversation between Vegeta and Goku turns to their better halves, the slow-on-the-uptake Saiyan makes the connection that they've chosen similar women.

"We've both got some pretty feisty wives, huh?" Goku asks Vegeta, who had a reason ready to go. Because they come from a warrior-centric society, Saiyan women were rock-solid in their convictions. All Saiyan women are extinct, as the planet Vegeta has been destroyed, but the remaining aliens sought out analogues on Earth without being aware of it.

"It's your Saiyan blood," Vegeta explained to Goku. "Saiyan women were all strong-willed."

They can age

Goku has been fighting off anyone who might threaten Earth for decades and seems to be the same age as he was at the start of Dragon Ball Z. Same goes for Vegeta, who has shifted his personal style from Saiyan armor to tropical shirts, but looks largely the same as when he first appeared on Earth as an adversary of Goku. Goku seems to have frozen in time after becoming an adult. While this makes sense for branding and animation reasons, the in-universe explanation goes beyond that. Saiyans age incredibly slowly, but they do age.

The lack of elderly Saiyans might come down to their reckless and fight-happy ways. It might be that old Saiyans are kept out of sight. It most likely is that the Planet Vegeta was destroyed, killing all the Saiyans whose spacefaring days were over in the process. Still, we have had one rare chance to sight an elderly Saiyan in the course of Dragon Ball: The elderly Saiyan Stabba appeared in the Nintendo 3DS game Dragon Ball Fusions. In spite of her advanced age, Stabba was a capable fighter who maintained the strength of her youth even as her body showed signs of wear.

They aren't all fighters

Stabba's geriatric fighting spirit might convince you that all of the Saiyans on Planet Vegeta were brawlers, ready to fight and kill at the swish of a tail. Though warriors and fighters were prized above all others in Saiyan society and the quest to dominate other planets was taken up by Saiyan royalty and VIPs, that's no way to run an entire planet.

Viewers got their first glimpse of Saiyan society outside of its ground troops in the movie Dragon Ball Super: Broly, which offers a fuller account of life on Planet Vegeta. Throughout the movie, we see the class of Saiyans who chose to be scientists, sharpshooters and cooks while fleshing out the story of the most famous Saiyan in the culture's history. We even follow along with one of them, a Saiyan named Beets who chooses to be an engineer. Rather than honing his fighting ability and energy blasts, Beets stays strapped, carrying a raygun on his hip in case he needs to fight his way out of a situation.

Illnesses and healing abilites

Though Saiyans possess incredible strength and age very slowly, they aren't immune to getting sick. An entire arc of Dragon Ball Z revolves around Goku falling victim to an unspecified "heart virus" that prompts the timeline confusion started by Future Trunks. The aggressive disease it creates causes excruciating chest pain and incredible fatigue and only spreads more rapidly when a Saiyan enters the Super Saiyan state. Trunks' future self has to travel back in time to save Goku's life with a medicine he'd developed after the Goku of his timeline passed away.

Later in the series, we learn that Saiyans can heal themselves in their more advanced forms. The so-called Super Saiyan God ki allows Goku to heal himself from a fatal injury in a fight with Beerus. After the villain punches a hole in Goku's chest, the flailing Goku manages to heal himself before he dies by using the massive amounts of energy generated at this level of Super Saiyan.

Some forms are better than others

A casual viewer of Dragon Ball is aware of the idea of going Super Saiyan. But in the years since Dragon Ball Z first aired in the United States, the be-all and end-all of anime power-ups has been left in the dust in an arms race of Saiyan forms. Certain forms change the personality of the user, some cause an immense amount of stress on the body, and some just make you musclebound and slow.

Since the original Super Saiyan power up, Goku and company have blasted through two more levels of Super Saiyan and an ascended form that turns them into walking gods. Those forms can then go Super Saiyan themselves, creating color-coded levels like Blue and Rose. Keeping track of who can attain which forms has grown from "Goku can do this one power-up and everyone else can get mad about it" to a spreadsheet of fusions, emotional states, and qualifiers. Just know that, like before, Goku is usually the first to attain the new levels of power.

Planet Vegeta is not their home

We've talked a lot about the Saiyan homeworld of Vegeta, but it turns out that Saiyans aren't from Vegeta at all. As a race of colonialist aliens, Saiyans swiped the planet from another people after their initial homeworld became unsuitable.

The Saiyans are originally from Planet Sadala. This home was destroyed by the Saiyans' propensity for violence and warfare. After centuries of fighting, Sadala was a ruin that was unable to support the Saiyans. They conquered a planet originally called Planet Plant and moved their entire civilization to its surface, then renamed it after their ruling family, dubbing it Planet Vegeta.

The Saiyans were ruled over by a galactic emperor named Frieza, who used the people as his own personal army. Eventually, fearing an uprising among his Saiyan army, Frieza destroyed the planet Vegeta and all the Saiyans on it. Only a few Saiyans were able to escape before the attack.