This information has since been converted into a fully-fledged section here on Kanzenshuu, and was discussed in detail by Herms and VegettoEX in two parts on Episode #0253 and Episode #0254 of our weekly podcast here at Kanzenshuu.
----Notice:This old thread is part of my series of guides. To avoid necro-posting, please post any comments you have in the sticky thread for my guides, rather than here. Thanks!----
If you’ve been involved in the DB fandom for more than eight consecutive seconds, then you’ve no doubt heard various rumors about how Toriyama originally intended to end the series. The biggest such rumor by far is that he planned on ending the series after the Freeza story arc (typically with Goku and/or most of the named cast dying), but was forced to continue due to the series’ overwhelming popularity. There are various other rumors too, such as Toriyama wanting to end the series after the Cell Games, or have Gohan be the one to defeat Boo, etc. I’ve made this thread to analyze the validity of these claims about Toriyama’s intentions on how to end DB. The short answer is that the success of DB did compel Toriyama to continue drawing it for far longer than he ever planned on, but that the various claims about specific places or ways in which Toriyama was going to end it are almost all unsupported by any real evidence. For the long answer, well, read on…
Possible Ending #1: The First DB Search
Laughable as it may seem, Toriyama originally didn’t plan for the series to run beyond its very first story arc, the original search for the dragonballs. He notes this in his Daizenshuu 2 interview, while discussing DB’s roots as a Journey to the West adaptation:
Bulma was Tripitaka, Oolong was Zhu Bajie, and Yamcha was Sha Wujing. I initially thought that I'd end it after they finished collecting the dragonballs.
Toriyama mentioned his initial plans on DB not running very long at all in his Shenlong Times #2 roundtable talk with the three editors he had over the course of DB:
Fuyuto Takeda: And then serialization began, but from the beginning, how much of the story had you already planned?
Toriyama: I hadn't thought it up at all. I figured it would probably end in about a year, and I had only really prepared storyboards for three chapters.
In his chapter comments for chapter 249, which appeared in Jump issue No.49 for 1989 (and are recorded in Daizenshuu 7), Toriyama likewise noted that “DB, which I planned on lasting 1 year when I started, has now been in serialization so long that it’s surpassed Dr. Slump! I feel both happy and scared…”
“About a year” would actually mean about 50 or so chapters, which would be up to about the end of the 21st Tenkaichi Budoukai. It would however be inaccurate to describe Toriyama as having originally planned on ending the series after the end of the 21st TB, because he himself says that he hadn’t planned the story out anywhere near that far when he began. He almost certainly would have been aware that DB was going to continue beyond the initial year he first figured on long before the 21st TB story arc wrapped up.
Now, back in the olden days of the English-speaking DB internet fan community (the ESDBIFC?) Greg Werner posted a translation of Toriyama’s Shenlong Times #2 roundtable talk on his influential “Ultimate DBZ Info Site”. His Japanese wasn’t that good at the time though, so he mistranslated Toriyama’s remark about only having 3 chapters planned out when the series began as Toriyama actually saying he already had 3 sagas (ie story arcs) planned out from the beginning. Werner even included a footnote saying that these first 3 sagas Toriyama referred to where the DB hunt, the 21st TB, and the Red Ribbon Army. The RR storyline lasted up to chapter 96, so this mistranslation credits Toriyama with planning out over 30 times more chapters than he actually did! Fortunately, the mistake doesn’t seem to have spread out too far in the fandom, unlike some of the other mistakes on Werner’s site (which I should note was on the whole fairly accurate and quite comprehensive), but I figured I’d mention it for completion’s sake.
Needless to say, this plan to end the series after just a year or so did not pan out. What was it that made Toriyama continue the series on past this point? Was it DB’s massive popularity? Actually, no! Hard as this may be to believe now, in the very beginning DB wasn’t all that popular. As Toriyama explains in his Daizenshuu 2 interview, the series didn’t really pick up in popularity until the 21st TB storyline:
Up until the Tenkaichi Budoukai began, the series hadn't been all that popular. At the time, Torishima-san told me “your protagonist is rather plain. That's why it's not popular”. Personally, since I was doing a fighting story for this series, I had intentionally made the protagonist's clothing excessively plain. So this annoyed me, but then I figured it out. "Well, let's increase its popularity" I thought. When I had designed Goku's character, the words that best represented him were "I want to become strong". So I thought I'd bring that to the front. Even during "Dr. Slump", mini-events and tournament-like things such as the Penguin Village Gran Prix had been amazingly popular. So I'd simply make the story into a tournament format. From there the Tenkaichi Budoukai was born. I temporarily withdrew the other characters besides Goku, brought back Kame-sennin, and added Krillin as a new character. From there it got popular before I knew it.
There’s a rumor that Toriyama continued the series past the first dragonball search merely because a friend bet him to. As we’ve seen, it’s a fact that Toriyama at first thought the series would end after this first quest, but as far as I know the idea that he continued the series past this point on a dare is unsubstantiated. It is somewhat of a mystery why he would have continued it beyond his initial plans if the series wasn’t very popular at the time, but as we’ve also seen, his initial thoughts were not merely that the series would last only as long as the first DB search, but that it would also last a year or so. The first DB search ending up concluding in only about half a year, so maybe Toriyama just figured he’d keep on going for a year like he planned. Then by the time the year ended, the 21st TB storyline had finally garnered the series enough popularity to warrant continuing past his initial plans.
Perhaps as a reference to his original plans to end the series once the hunt for the dragonballs concluded, at the end of that story arc Toriyama (via the narrator) jokes that this is the end. He starts to thank everyone for reading, but then cuts himself off and says that the series will actually continue. When Viz translated the manga into English, they knew just how long the series would continue, so they put in a joke of their own and had the narrator note that the series would "keep going and going and going". Poor Toriyama at the time had no idea it would go on for so long.
Possible Ending #2: Uranai Baba (sort of)
Once the series gained in popularity, it was only natural that it continue . In the Q&A corner for tankoubon 5, a reader noted that Dr. Slump ran for 18 volumes, and asked how long DB would run. Toriyama’s hesitant response was “uh…well, I think it will probably go on for about 10 volumes”.
As it turned out, tankoubon 10 marked the tail end of the Uranai Baba arc and the beginning of the 22nd Tenkaichi Budoukai. Hopefully though you can see the difference between saying Toriyama planned to end the series after 10 volumes and saying he planned to end it after the Uranai Baby storyline. Toriyama’s comment in volume 5 implies only at best a vague sense of how long the series will run, and nothing at all about a definitive plan regarding when and more importantly how the series would wrap up. It’s therefore wrong (or at best extremely misleading) to claim that Toriyama originally planned to end the series after the Uranai Baba arc. OK, so as far as I know nobody ever actually has claimed this, but I think this exercise in logic will prove useful when we move on to the “Z” portion of the series, which is why I bring it up.
Anyway, in the Q&A corner for tankoubon 7 though, another fan brought up Toriyama’s previous comment about DB running for about 10 volumes, and asked Toriyama to please make it run for over 13. Toriyama responded that “because of all the support I’m getting, it seems that I can’t end it at 10 volumes or so. Right now I’m enjoying drawing it pretty well too, so it looks like I’ll be able to put out more than 13 volumes one way or another”. This is the first explicit mention of DB’s run being extended due to its popularity. Later on, in tankoubon 11’s Q&A corner, Toriyama remarked that it seemed DragonBall would continue “for a little bit longer”, but that after it finished up he’d start drawing an even more enjoyable manga.
Possible Ending #3: Piccolo
Here in the English-speaking fandom, we’re so accustomed to the “Z” portion of the series getting all the attention that the idea of Toriyama throwing in the towel before Raditz shows up seldom occurs to people. But for fans at the time, it seemed like a very real possibility that the battle with Piccolo was intended as the big finish for the series. After all, Toriyama had earlier said that the series would probably go on for more than 13 volumes, and it passed that milestone during the Piccolo story arc. In tankoubon 12’s Q&A corner, a fan begged Toriyama not to end the manga after Piccolo’s defeat, and asked that the series at least continue for another 3 years. In response, Toriyama noted how during the showdown with Piccolo Daimao, there were rumors that DB would be ending soon. However, he said that he still had “absolutely no desire” to end the series. He said that the prospect of continuing the series for “another 3 years is so tedious it makes me shudder, but I intend on probably continuing it for just a little bit more. Look forward to it”.
So it seems that Toriyama never even really considered ending the series with the conclusion of the Piccolo story arc, though he also didn’t originally plan on it going on for much longer after that. The rumors that it was going to end at that point evidently remained pretty strong, so much so that at the end of chapter 194, the conclusion of the 23rd Tenkaichi Budoukai, Toriyama even had Kame-sennin break the fourth wall and note that “this isn’t the last chapter. It’ll continue for just a little bit more” (note again that emphasis on “just a little bit more”). When Viz translated the manga into English, they of course knew just how long the series ultimately did end up lasting, so the changed Kame-sennin’s line to “no, no, this isn’t the end! Not by a long shot!”
Interestingly though, Toriyama actually did threaten to end the series around this point, in private at least, and only provisionally. In Shenlong Times#1, Kazuhiko Torishima, Toriyama first editor, recounted the following:
This is changing the subject, but the thing I felt was the biggest crisis for serialization was when he told me that Goku would grow up. Toriyama-sensei threatened that if Goku didn't grow up, then he couldn't continue with serialization. (laughs) It was terrible, breaching the subject like that. "You can have the protagonist grow up, just don't scare me like that," I said.
No explanation is given for why Toriyama felt that he couldn’t continue the series if Goku didn’t grow up, but it’s interesting to speculate (isn’t it always?). Perhaps he had simply run out of story ideas for kid Goku, and felt that making Goku an adult was the only way to keep things interesting. It’s notable that once Goku grows up, he gets married almost immediately, and has a son by the very next story arc, so maybe Toriyama was really looking to swap his current child protagonist out for another one.
Interestingly, in the third issue of Viz’s American Shonen Jump, released March 2003, Toriyama said the following in response to a fan asking him if he would create more DB stories:
I worked on the series for almost 10 years. When I reached about the third year, I was really pushing my limit, but the original editors of Weekly Shonen Jump in Japan made me continue the story. I have to thank them, because it was then that I really started to appreciate and enjoy creating the manga. I was able to continue for ten years, but ten years really was the limit
The third year of the series would technically be 1986 (the series began in December of 1984), but in terms of actual months it would be more like around 1987, the year that saw the end of the 22nd Tenkaichi Budoukai and the start of the Piccolo Daimao story arc. Of course, I’m not sure how literally we can take Toriyama’s statement of “the third year”, considering his notoriously fuzzy memory. As far as I know, this is the only place Toriyama explicitly talks about the editors of Weekly Jump making him continue the series. At other times he only talks about DB’s popularity and fans preventing it from ending as the reason he kept going.
Possible Ending #4: The Saiyans
So that brings us to the “Z” portion of the story, which naturally brings up the whole reasoning behind the name “DragonBall Z” to begin with. In his joint interview with Katsuyoshi Nakatsuru in the anime guide Son Goku Densetsu, Toriyama explained that he personally felt the name of the series was fine the way it way, but the anime staff wanted something new for this new section of the story, and so “DragonBall Z” was born. Why? Well, as Toriyama explains, “Z is the last letter in the alphabet, right? So, at the time I already really wanted to end the series, and so I made the title ‘Z’ to say ‘Hey, this is the end!’”
Now, it seems to me that with all this talk about the series only continuing for “just a little bit more”, and the Z in the anime title being a signal that this was the end, it would be reasonable to speculate that at the time Toriyama expected the Saiyan story arc to be the last one. This isn’t a theory you hear a lot, because the Saiyan story arc ultimately ended up leading directly into the Freeza arc. But it’s not necessarily true that this was the plan from the beginning, and certainly there are plenty of signs in the Saiyan arc that Toriyama hadn’t thought of Freeza yet. Planet Vegeta’s destruction is initially said to have be caused by simply a meteor collision, while later on Freeza is said to have been the true cause. Vegeta and Nappa change their plans and head to Earth as if they were their own bosses; in the Freeza arc this action is said to have been in defiance of Freeza’s orders, something not even hinted at in the original scene. Also, Vegeta originally proposes that he and Nappa wish for immortality so that they can enjoy battle for all eternity, while in the Freeza arc Vegeta’s motive for obtaining immortality is changed to being so that he can defeat Freeza. In the Saiyan arc, the Saiyans are said to be the strongest race of warriors in the universe, and Vegeta personally claims to be the strongest in the universe while fighting Goku, while in the Freeza arc we are introduced to many members of alien races who are stronger than the Saiyans, and Freeza is now said to be the strongest in the universe.
Now, none of these things are necessarily plot holes from an “in-universe” perspective (the story of Planet Vegeta being destroyed by a meteorite is said to be just Freeza’s cover story, claims of the Saiyans being strongest would just be signs of Raditz and Vegeta’s arrogance, etc), but from a real world perspective they all point to Toriyama having not originally planned on Freeza or his organization appearing while he was first writing the Saiyan arc. It’s not until the tail end of the Saiyan arc that we first start having hints of Freeza, with Kaio vaguely noting that killing Vegeta won’t destroy “the roots of evil”. There is however a bit of an obstacle in thinking that Toriyama didn’t already have some inkling of the Freeza storyline in mind when writing the Saiyan arc. In his Daizenshuu 4 interview, when asked whether he intended from the very beginning that Piccolo would be an alien, he answered:
Of course, I didn't think that at all (laughs). The Saiyans were like that as well. When I thought up Goku's tail and the Oozaru, I didn't think Goku was an alien or anything. Piccolo either. Because I thought that up when God came out.
So even though he didn’t plan on Piccolo being an alien from the beginning, he still had already came up with the idea before the 23rd Tenkaichi Budoukai even began, long before the fact was finally revealed in the series (it would also therefore seem then that Piccolo and God’s conversation at the tournament was from the beginning intended to be Namekian and not simply some strange, random language).
If Toriyama had Piccolo’s alien origin planned out ahead of time, wouldn’t that also mean he had the Freeza arc planned out too? Well, not necessarily. For one thing, it’s possible that Toriyama didn’t originally intend for the cast to travel to Piccolo’s home planet and have adventures there. After all, it’s not like the revelation of Goku’s alien heritage led to a trip to his home planet. Or look at the Tenchi Muyo! series: throughout the numerous Tenchi OVA, TV series, manga, and movies with their various different continuities, the planet Jurai is almost always home to many of the main characters, yet story arcs that involve the cast actually journeying to Jurai are fairly scarce. There are many potential story lines where characters are revealed to be aliens that do not involve going to that alien's planet. It’s also quite possible that Toriyama did come up with a storyline set on Namek early on, but only thought up Freeza later. We’ve seen above how there are signs that Toriyama might not have had Freeza in mind when he first began the Saiyan arc, while we also know for a fact that he came up with the idea of Piccolo being a Namekian long before the Saiyan arc even began. Perhaps originally the trip to Namek was just going to be a short second half to the Saiyan arc, with Vegeta still being the main villain? Or even just a brief epilogue to the series without any real conflict, like the 28th Tenkaichi Budoukai at the end of the Boo arc?
At any rate, it seems hard to reconcile the massively long Namek/Freeza arc which we know today with Toriyama’s stated desire that the series only continue for “just a little bit” past the 23rd TB. As is it turned out, the Saiyan and Freeza arcs ran from October 17th, 1988 with the release of chapter 195 in Weekly Jump, all the way up to June 24th, 1991, with the release of chapter 328. That makes 33 months, almost three whole years. Meanwhile, the run of the series from the beginning up the end of the 23rd Tenkaichi Budoukai was 41 months, from December 3rd, 1984, to October 10th, 1988. It seems to me that if you’d been drawing a series for three and a half years, drawing it for nearly another three years wouldn’t really constitute continuing “for just a little bit”. So I think it’s safe to say that the Freeza arc as it stands is not really what Toriyama originally had in mind. It’s anybody’s guess though as to whether that’s because he wasn’t planning on having it at all, or originally envisioned a far shorter and therefore drastically different version of it.
What caused him to continue it on so long? Popularity is again the most obvious candidate. As Toriyama said back in tankoubon 7, because of “all the support I’m getting, it seems that I can’t end [DB]”. The series was already very popular by the time the Saiyan arc began, and it only took off even more afterward. It’s not for nothing that the “Z” portion of the series gets all the attention oversees, and even in Japan too these days with Kai and almost all the video games. In Shenlong Times #1, Toriyama’s later editor Fuyuto Takeda noted that his predecessor Yuu Kondou “became the editor right around the time the Saiyan arc began. At that time, DragonBall was explosively popular”, and in Shenlong Times #2 Takeda notes that when Kondou came on “was when [Toriyama-]sensei began to try and make DragonBall more popular through its storyline, and it certainly bore fruit”. The standard story told in internet rumors is that DragonBall’s popularity forced Toriyama to continue past the Freeza arc, and as we’ll see in its simplest form this rumor is not really false, but it’s far from the whole truth. In reality, it was DB’s massive popularity that forced Toriyama to even draw the Freeza arc to begin with!
Possible Ending #5: Freeza
The first of Jump’s “Gold Selection” DragonBall Z Anime Special magazines was released on October 18th, 1989, right as the Freeza arc was beginning its run in Weekly Jump. The magazine featured a comic drawn by Toriyama that detailed his involvement with the DB/Z anime as well as the way in which he created the DB manga. He discussed how he generally just draws whatever he wants in DB, saying that:
Because of this, even I really don’t know just when the heck DragonBall will end, or what’s going to happen up ahead. Maybe I’ll even turn Goku into a geezer like this…
This panel, #10, features a sketch of Goku as an old man (featured in Dayspring’s avatar). This “geezer Goku” is sometimes cited as one of Toriyama’s planned endings for the series that was discarded, but as you can see it was less a solid plan and more like a “heh, maybe I could do this”. At any rate, it seems that going into the Freeza arc, Toriyama had no concrete ideas about how or when DB would end. The Freeza arc is of course the center of the most prominent rumors about Toriyama’s thwarted plans for ending the series. The basic tale, as usually told, goes something like this:
“Toriyama was originally going to end the series after Freeza. Goku would actually succeed in killing Freeza, than die in Planet Namek’s explosion. However, DragonBall was so popular by then that Toriyama’s editors forced him to continue, so he hastily brought Goku and Freeza back to life and began the Cell storyline.”
This claim has pretty thoroughly permeated online DB fandom, becoming accepted as simply “common knowledge”. For instance, when former Viz editor Jason Thompson wrote an article on DB for his "House of 1,000 Manga" feature on Anime News Network, he made a passing reference to how "apparently Toriyama wanted to end the story after the Freeza arc", but doesn't provide any source. People might not be able to tell you exactly where Toriyama said this was his plan, but they know he did say it somewhere, because, well, everybody knows that he did. So the simple answer would just be for me to say that, as someone who has read virtually all of Toriyama’s published interviews, he has in fact never said that in any interview I’ve seen. Now, it’s possible that he did say it in an interview which I haven’t seen, of course, but nobody ever seems to be able to identify what interview that might be.
I suppose that at this point I should note that the ridiculously fake ”Super Otaku Magazine” interview had fake-Toriyama say, among other stupid things, that “After all, if I had my way, I’d of ended the manga after the Freeza period!” Sadly, a lot of people bought into this poorly done fake interview (in which fake-Toriyama is interviewed by someone with the laughably absurd name of “Nirazaki Tihashiberi”, who works for the non-existent "Super Otaku Magazine"), so that probably helped spread along the rumors that Toriyama confirmed he wanted it to end after Freeza. However, I’m pretty certain these rumors go back far longer than the fake interview, and that the interview was fabricated in part to create evidence for the belief.
After I wrote the original draft of all this, Kirbopher noted that one time he got to have lunch with Chris Sabat at AnimeMilwaukee, where Sabat told a story about having met Toriyama at a promotional event for the American release of Shonen Jump. According to Sabat, Toriyama said (presumably via translator) that he "originally wanted to end it with Freeza". The event Sabat spoke of was almost certainly the launch celebration for Viz's Shonen Jump that was held in New York City, which both Sabat and Toriyama happened to attend. Here’s the intro to the Q&A from page 172 of SJ #3:
Kidz Questions for Akira Toriyama
Kids from New York’s Communities in Schools organization managed to wrench the microphone from FUNImation Productions voice actor Chris Sabat at the SHONEN JUMP launch event at Chelsea Piers. In the short time they controlled the podium, the kids fired off a few probing questions for Dragon Ball Z and Sandland creator, Akira Toriyama. Let’s listen in…
The seventh question asked to Toriyama is the one I quoted under the “Possible Ending #3: Piccolo” before:
Q: Will you create more Dragon Ball Z stories?
A: I worked on the series for almost 10 years. When I reached about the third year, I was really pushing my limit, but the original editors of Shonen Jump in Japan made me continue the story. I have to thank them, because it was then that I really started to appreciate and enjoy creating the manga. I was able to continue for ten years, but ten years really was the limit
So there you have it, nothing about Freeza at all. Possibly when Sabat heard Toriyama’s comment about being made to continue the series during its third year, he assumed that by “the third year”, Toriyama meant the Freeza storyline. But as I pointed out before, the Freeza arc actually wrapped up in the 7th-8th year of DB’s run, so it’s pretty unlikely that it’s the period Toriyama was talking about. Of course, I doubt Sabat travels around with a complete time-line of DB’s serialization or whatever, so I can’t exactly fault him for not realizing that. In fact, the Freeza arc did end in about the third year of the “Z” portion of the manga, so maybe that’s what Sabat was thinking of. It's an easy mistake to make, since the question was about whether Toriyama would create more "DragonBall Z" stories, but in his answer Toriyama is definitely talking about the entire run of the manga (since he mentions working on it for “almost 10 years” and not 7 years, the length of he "Z" portion).
Anyway, this rather neatly illustrates why third-hand reports like these aren’t really evidence. All people are prone to misunderstanding, mishearing, or misremembering their experiences, and these problem gets multiplied each time an anecdote is passed on to a new person. That’s why we need to stick to actual written records or audio recordings of what people say. “I heard person X say they heard person Y say Z” too easily generates rumors, even if the people involved are generally reliable in and of themselves. Kirbopher himself said he had told his story about Sabat and Toriyama at an Otakon panel, spreading the mistake even further. And who knows how many people who he told went on to tell others. It's not hard to see how rumors can become so widespread and unquestioned despite being ultimately based on nothing but hearsay and misunderstanding.
So until such time as somebody can locate a legitimate first-hand source where Toriyama says he planned to end the series after the Freeza arc, I’ll continue to label the standard claim as an unfounded rumor. Now, the obvious retort to that would be that just because Toriyama hasn’t confirmed it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. After all, fans speculate all the time as to exactly what Toriyama really had in mind when writing the story, even without (or especially without) official word on what he was thinking. Speculation should, however, always be labeled as such, and not as confirmed fact, which the rumors about the Freeza ending all too often are.
As speculation though, how plausible are the Freeza ending rumors? Well, it varies. See, the thing about the standard claim is that is conflates several things that don’t necessarily go together (Toriyama not planning to continue, Goku actually dying, etc), and some of these things are more plausible than others. So let’s analyze the standard rumor piece by piece.
Toriyama didn’t originally plan on going past the Freeza arc
At its most basic, this claim is probably true, even trivially true perhaps. After all, as we’ve seen already, Toriyama didn’t even originally plan for the series to go on long enough to get anywhere near Freeza. As he said, the popularity of the series prevented him from ending it after only 10 or so volumes, and that popularity only grew as the series reached the Saiyan and Freeza arcs. In Shenlong Times #1, Yuu Kondou, Toriyama’s second editor, notes that the Freeza arc was when DB did best in Jump’s popularity polls:
Fuyuto Takeda: So then, Kondou-san became the editor right around the time the Saiyan arc began. At that time, DragonBall was explosively popular; when Jump did a 1000-ballot survey, at its height DragonBall got around 700 ballots.
Yuu Kondou: No, 815 ballots. That was in the Freeza arc.
In the world of Jump, unpopular series get cut, while popular ones keep going. It’s only natural that there would be considerable pressure to keep DB going when it was at the height of its popularity. Knowing Toriyama’s dislike of the weekly serialization grind, and the fact that he chose the name “DragonBall Z” for the new anime series because he wanted to end things soon, it seems pretty unlikely that Toriyama would have refused the opportunity to end the series after the Freeza arc if it had been offered. So on its own, the claim the DB’s popularity made Toriyama continue past the Freeza arc is extremely plausible.
But we must not forget how misleading it is to mention this claim without the proper context. The speculation that DB’s popularity made Toriyama continue past Freeza is frequently mentioned by fans, while the fact that its popularity also made him continue past the first year, and volume 10, and then volume 13, is seldom brought up. This makes the Freeza claim take on undue importance, as if ending it with Freeza would have been Toriyama’s Plan A, when in reality it would have been more like his Plan C or D.
Toriyama was forced by his editor(s) to continue past Freeza
I suppose that strictly speaking this shouldn’t be a distinct claim from the previous one. After all, I’d assume that it would be Toriyama’s editor who would be in charge of conveying to Toriyama information on the series’ popularity and Jump’s desire to let it end or not. Technically the only time that I know of where Toriyama ever explicitly mentions editors in regards to the series ending is in Viz’s Shonen Jump #3. As we saw before, he said that “I worked on the series for almost 10 years. When I reached about the third year, I was really pushing my limit, but the original editors of Weekly Shonen Jump in Japan made me continue the story.” Now, like I said before I’m not sure how literally we can take Toriyama idea of the “third year” of DB’s run, but it’d still be quite a stretch to say that he’s talking about the Freeza arc. DB began at the very end of 1984, while the Freeza arc concluded in 1991, the 8th year of its run (or 7th year, if you don’t count 1984, which only saw the first four DB chapters).
Anyway, I’d assume that the “editors of Weekly Shonen Jump” would refer to the people who run Jump as a whole, rather than simply Toriyama’s personal editor. The rumors themselves vary as to whether it was the main head honchos of Jump or Toriyama’s own editor who made him continue, but I suppose it’s the same difference (the latter would just be working for the former, after all). The point is that when Toriyama says, for instance, that all the support he’d been getting from fans meant that he “can’t end it at 10 volumes or so”, by “can’t” he probably doesn’t simply mean out of the goodness of his heart. Rather, the people at Jump almost certainly put pressure on him to continue his popular series so that they could go on making money.
This would all seem rather reasonable speculation, almost too obvious to point out, so why am I bothering too? Because in the magical land of the internet reasonable claims tend to get distorted into somewhat less than reasonable ones. So the pressure that Jump almost certainly placed on Toriyama to continue gets exaggerated into rather silly rumors about Toriyama being threatened with physical violence or even death if he didn’t keep drawing DB (you would think that killing him would be completely self-defeating, but whatever). You don’t hear these all that often (or at least I don’t, anyway), but they’re out there. One such rumor was mentioned in a listener e-mail featured on episode #13 of the Daizex podcast. There are also more pleasant rumors that Toriyama received a large “bribe” to continue the series, similar to how Jerry Seinfeld was offered an enormous amount of money to continue his sitcom past its ninth season. These rumors are, again, unsubstantiated
Besides these sorts of rumors, I suppose what really bugs me about people saying Toriyama was “forced” to continue past Freeza is that it implies he had some sort of especially strong desire to end it there specifically, as opposed to just generally wanting to end the series whenever possible but being continuously pushed along by its popularity. But that brings me to the next claim.
Toriyama originally planned on the series ending at the Freeza arc
You might think that this is pretty much the same as the first claim, but there’s an important difference. The key word is “planned”. The rumors usually say, or at least imply, that while working on the Freeza arc Toriyama fully planned on the series concluding once that storyline wrapped up. The rumors claim that he had an actual ending for the series worked out at least in part, and that he was more or less at the last moment prevented from going through with this planned ending.
This is untenable for a number of reasons. The most basic and obvious objection to this story is that it is built on the idea that Toriyama as an author makes a habit of working out concrete, long-term plans for how his stories will unfold. This is, to put it mildly, not substantiated by the facts. Toriyama’s rather infamous for just making things up as he goes along. We’ve already seen how when Toriyama began the series, he had only three chapters planned out in advance. In his Daizenshuu 2 interview, he notes that “I basically only thought of what I was doing for that week. Even I didn't know what was going to happen the next week. I'd draw the story like this, but I'd always discuss it with my editor to see what I should do for next week. (laughs)”. Likewise, in Shenlong Times #2, he says that “At that time it began to be more fun to think up the story than to draw the pictures. But with the story, I basically only thought of each chapter. That's why I end up getting caught in these quagmires”. And in the comic he drew for the DBZ Anime Special magazine, he wrote “But it’s pretty thrilling to draw in this haphazard way, without deciding on what’s ahead, so it’s not so bad. I can freely change the story in response to each moment, and can get all excited as I draw, since even I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.” The panel even contains a cartoon Toriyama idly wondering to himself whether the gang will be able to defeat the Saiyans.
It’s true that there are some things Toriyama planned out long before they were actually revealed in the story, such as Piccolo being an alien, but these things are exceptions rather than the rule. So we cannot simply assume that Toriyama ever had any real plan for how the Freeza storyline was going to end.
Toriyama originally intended that Goku actually die on Planet Namek
Which brings us to the specific claims made about Toriyama’s supposed original Freeza arc ending. The most common claim of course is that Goku would actually succeed in killing Freeza, only to die in the explosion of Planet Namek. As support for this claim, people point to the rushed way in which both Goku and Freeza are revealed to have actually survived after everyone had believed them to be dead. The usual explanation for this is that there was a huge fan outcry in response to Goku’s death, and/or Toriyama’s editor forced him to bring Goku back (why Freeza was brought back too generally isn’t explained).
There’s no real evidence to substantiate the idea of a massive fan outcry at Goku’s apparent death on Namek. Some instances of fan outcry (or expected outcry) are mentioned throughout the various interviews with Toriyama and his editors, over such things as Goku getting married or him growing up, but there’s no mention of one over this. This doesn’t prove that there wasn’t one of course, but the burden of proof is on those who claim that there was. And it would have had to have been quite a quick, massive outcry too. Goku supposedly dies in chapter 328, but is revealed to have survived in chapter 329, which came out the very next week. To claim that Toriyama actually drew chapter 328 with the intention that Goku really die, then be forced to change the story due to fan outcry demands a rather cramped timeline. By the time the issue of Jump with chapter 328 actually came out, Toriyama would have most likely already started work on chapter 329. If fan outcry drove him to change the story, he would have probably had to make adjustments to things he had already drawn. That’s not impossible of course, but it’s also the sort of extraordinary event that you tend to mention in interviews. Toriyama’s silence on this, and the general lack of evidence for what would surely have been a rather notable event in Jump history had it really occurred, makes this rumor pretty much unsustainable.
What about the claim that Toriyama’s editor (who at the time would have been Yuu Kondou) and/or the other higher-ups at Jump forced him to revive Goku? Again, neither Toriyama nor anyone else involved have ever mentioned such a thing, despite Toriyama complaining several times about how Kondou made him quickly change Cell into his second and final forms due to disliking Cell’s character design (more on this later). This rumor at least gets around the implausible timeframe of the “fan outcry” rumor because Kondou would have been privy to Toriyama’s plans before they actually appeared in print in Jump (remember that Toriyama says he always talked with his editor about what he should do next week). But then, that itself brings up a problem. If Kondou didn’t like the idea of Goku dying, why would he wait until chapter 329 to get Toriyama to change things? That is, if Kondou wouldn’t have let Toriyama kill off Goku, Toriyama would have already known this while actually drawing chapter 328. You can’t really point to how Goku seems to die in chapter 328 and go “aha! This shows that Toriyama really was going to have Goku die” when, were editorial interference involved, Toriyama would have already known while actually drawing those scenes that he couldn’t let Goku really die.
The same thing can be said of the Freeza arc ending as a whole. Even if Toriyama really had intended at some point for it to mark the end of DB, he would have still known long in advance that he wouldn’t actually be able to end it there. The Freeza arc’s unprecedented popularity didn’t develop overnight and at the last minute, after all, and if Jump was going to make Toriyama continue the series so that they could keep on milking it, it would make no sense for them to keep Toriyama himself in the dark about their plans for very long. So even though people say “of course the Freeza arc was going to be the end, look how climatic it feels!”, Toriyama would have almost certainly known while drawing all these climatic things that DB was going to continue for a long time due to its popularity. It makes much more sense to say that the climax of the Freeza arc feels climatic because it’s, well, the climax of the Freeza arc. I mean, look at how the ending of the 23rd Tenkaichi Budoukai seems to wrap up the entire series up to that point and provide a perfect place for an ending, even though we know Toriyama didn’t intend it as such (going so far as to provide a note saying “this isn’t really the end”). And then ironically enough, when Toriyama actually did conclude the series, he didn’t wrap everything up in a neat little bow, but instead purposefully made it seem like the story could still continue (as he noted in the tankoubon 42 intro). It seems that he likes his storyline endings conclusive and his series endings open-ended.
But getting back to the alleged implausibility of Goku’s survival, as we’ve seen before, Toriyama by his own admission writes things on the seat of his pants, with little in the way of long-term planning. It seems most reasonable to me to assume that implausible, out-of-nowhere plot developments are more likely a natural result of Toriyama’s haphazard writing style than a sign of editorial interference. Look at instances where we actually know for a fact that editorial interference was involved, with Cell being introduced to the story and quickly changing into his second and final forms. I pretty much never see people cite these story developments as implausible or rushed, while people frequently cite the implausible and rushed nature of Goku’s survival as “proof” of editorial interference. Or consider that Toriyama described Fuyuto Takeda, his editor during the later portion of the Cell arc and all of the Boo arc, as relatively lenient in letting him do what he wanted without complaint (according to the Jump Remix edition of Akira Toriyama Blank Theater). So the way in which the Boo arc often seems to jump around almost at random is apparently due to Toriyama having a lenient editor, and not a strict one as is often assumed by fans. But I’m probably getting ahead of myself; my point is that evidence suggests that random, abrupt changes to the plot are usually because Toriyama is being allowed to write the way he wants (ie more or less at random), rather than because the editor is mucking things up. The thing about Toriyama’s editors is that they generally reject his ideas before he can actually work them into the story, so for the most part their interference is invisible.
All that being said, I probably shouldn’t let the claim that Goku’s survival on Namek is completely implausible go unchallenged. It’s worth pointing out that when Goku flies to Freeza’s ship, the ships of the Ginyu Force are clearly visible nearby. So that could be indication that Toriyama already had Goku’s method of escape planned out (and when I say “already”, I should again stress that this is merely a week before Goku is revealed to have survived). And while a lot of people find Goku’s survival unbelievable, it’s not a universally held opinion. For instance, when the Daizex podcast’s Manga Review of Awesomeness got to volume 28 in episode #182, Mike noted that Jeff (the token newbie reading the manga for the first time) had earlier predicted that Goku wasn't going to die. Mike asked Jeff whether he considered Goku's escape a Deus ex Machine, and while Jeff noted that he "didn't bank on space pods", he thought that it was a "legitimate reason". So I think that at least some of the sentiment that Goku’s survival is unbelievable comes from how the ever-present rumors of it being a last minute change have trained fans to see it as unbelievable.
Another important point is that the anime version significantly plays up Goku's seemingly certain doom when Namek explodes. In the manga, after Freeza's ship turns out to be broken, Goku hovers above it and notes that the planet is going to explode. He then screams in frustration, and the view switches to Kaio, who says he "can't watch" and looks away. Yamcha screams for Goku not to die, at which point we see Namek's explosion. Nothing of Goku is shown in the manga's brief explosion. In the anime though, after Yamcha shouts for Goku not to die, the scene cuts back to Goku. As Goku continues to scream (still hovering in the air, motionless), we see him enveloped in light as the planet begins to finally blow up. As the long explosion plays out, we can hear Goku screaming until the very finish. So while the manga leaves some time for Goku to escape unobserved, however brief, the anime almost goes out of its way to portray Goku as being there until the bitter end. Which is interesting, because chapter 329 (where Goku turns out to be alive) was released on July 1st, 1991, while DBZ episode 107 (the anime version of Namek's explosion) wasn't released until September 4th, over two months later. So the anime staff were undoubtedly aware while making the episode that Goku was going to actually survive Namek's explosion, yet rather than change things around to show more hints of this, they took the exact opposite approach and made Goku's doom seem even more certain than in the manga.
Why would they do something so silly? Are they just complete idiots? It's possible, but I suspect it has to do with a difference in perspective between older fans and DB's younger intended audience (and by extension the anime staff writing with them in mind). Older fans (and I'm generalizing here, of course) tend to want consistency and continuity in their stories, whereas younger fans aren't quite as concerned about that. There's a long tradition for stories aimed at children to feature the hero making miraculous escapes from certain doom. Early movie serials are a good example: the Commando Cody serials, for instance, always ended with a cliffhanger that seemed to depict Cody and his friends' actual deaths, through such various methods as plane crashes, death traps, and lava flows. The next episode in the serial though would recap the last one's ending, and insert completely new footage of Cody and co. bailing out of the plane just in time, fleeing the lava through a previously unseen passageway, etc. (when the Cody shorts were featured on the movie-mocking show Mystery Science Theater 3000, Tom Servo wryly noted that Cody was always saved thanks to editing). To older audiences this may seem shameless and cheap, but kids tend to eat this up. So I think the anime staff was following this tradition when they decided to make Goku's death seem even more certain than in the manga, despite knowing he'd survive. The more inescapable the peril, the more exciting it is when the hero actually does escape. It's what the kids want, and continuity isn't a driving concern. Plus, in Japan DBZ episodes were originally shown only once, without repeats, and there was no home release until the Dragon Boxes came out years later. So, much like the makers of the Cody serials, the animators probably weren't counting on anyone being able to watch and re-watch these scenes and compare them to how Goku's escape is depicted later on.
Another thing is that while Goku’s escape in the Ginyu ship is often said to be a flimsy device employed by a desperate Toriyama to undo Goku’s death, even if Toriyama had been forced at the last minute to not kill off Goku permanently, there still wouldn’t have been any real need for him to have Goku actually survive Namek’s explosion in this way. After all, Kuririn actually did die on Namek (for the second time even), but Toriyama just had him revived with the dragonballs. There’s no reason I can see that he couldn’t have just done the same thing with Goku, had he opted to have Goku actually die. So it’s not true that Toriyama was completely desperate for ways to keep Goku alive and in the story. He actually could have killed Goku on Namek and still have gotten him alive again in no time. All the finagling over Goku being alive out in space somewhere and refusing to come home seems more like setup for Trunks’ intro than Toriyama being forced to not let Goku die.
Finally, arguments that Goku was supposed to die on Namek (and stay dead) are pretty much always used to argue that Toriyama planned to end the series with the Freeza arc, but this is not all that logical. After all, Toriyama really did kill Goku off after the Cell Games (and probably intended him to stay dead forever, as we’ll see later), but that obviously didn’t stop the series then and there (there are rumors that he wanted to, but these are unfounded, as we’ll also see later). So even if it could be proved that Toriyama was going to have Goku permanently die at the end of the Freeza arc, this would not in and of itself be evidence that Toriyama was also planning on ending the series there.
Toriyama originally intended for Freeza to actually die on Namek
OK, so I guess I should say something about Freeza’s survival too, while I’m at it. The fact that Freeza survived Goku’s final attack on Namek is also frequently claimed to be a last minute change due to the series unexpectedly continuing. It would indeed have had to have been a fairly last minute change, since Freeza is defeated in chapter 327 but is revealed to have survived in chapter 329, two weeks later. As I’ve said before, the idea that Toriyama was caught off guard by the series continuing is unfounded and very unlikely. But even were that the case, I don’t see why the sudden news that DB wasn’t going to end in a few weeks after all would force Toriyama to bring back Freeza. With Goku, there’s all the rumors about fan outcry and assumptions that Goku is necessary for the series to continue and whatnot, but with Freeza the rumors never seem to say what exactly his revival would have to do with anything. The way things play out, Freeza’s revival serves mainly as setup for Trunks’ big intro and by extension the androids, but none of these things would specifically be necessary for the series to go on. Even if you proved that Toriyama was forced to continue past the Freeza arc at the last minute, the fact that he revived Freeza would still really only be due to Toriyama’s own ideas about how best to go on from there.
Compare Freeza with another villain who is seemingly killed and assumed dead, but later returns as a cyborg: Tao Pai Pai. Given the large gap between Tao Pai Pai’s supposed death and his reappearance (75 chapters, so about a year and a half), and Toriyama’s statements about generally not planning ahead, it does seem likely that Toriyama didn’t originally plan on Tao Pai Pai surviving his fight with Goku (Toriyama did however hint at TPP’s survival in the Adventure Special, published the year before his return, so it seemed he did plan it out at least a little in advance). And Tao Pai Pai did in fact ‘die’ before the 10 or so volumes Toriyama originally planned on, before the series’ popularity made him push on into 13+ volumes. But for whatever reason, you never see people argue that Tao Pai Pai’s return was due to the unexpected continuation of the series and/or editorial interference, even though the evidence for such a thing is actually better than in Freeza’s case (a huge gap between ‘death’ and reappearance rather than a very short one, and a confirmed scrapped ending point for the series rather than a speculated one). Rather, as I’ve argued before, it makes the most sense to assume that Tao Pai Pai’s implausible survival is due to Toriyama’s habit of writing off the seat of his pants. I’d say the same is probably true of Freeza, although like with Goku’s supposed death, the short time between Freeza’s defeat and his return makes it also quite possible that Toriyama already planned on Freeza’s return when drawing his 'death'. Though he did have twice the amount of time to change his mind with Freeza than with Goku, so I think “haphazard writing” is a slightly more likely explanation here than with Goku. But editorial interference or whatnot come in a distant third to these possibilities, in my view.
Snacks are on sale in the lobby! Restrooms are to the right!
*César Franck's Symphony in D Minor plays over the speakers*