Intended Endings Guide
Possible Ending #5: Freeza
The first of Jump’s “Gold Selection” Dragon Ball Z anime special magazines was released 18 October 1989, right as the Freeza arc was beginning its run in Weekly Shōnen Jump. The magazine featured a comic drawn by Akira Toriyama that detailed his involvement with the Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z TV adaptations as well as the way in which he created the Dragon Ball manga. He discussed how he generally just draws whatever he wants in Dragon Ball, saying that:
Because of this, even I really don’t know just when the heck Dragon Ball will end, or what’s going to happen up ahead. Maybe I’ll even turn Goku into a geezer like this…
The 10th panel of the comic features a sketch of Goku as an old man. This “geezer Goku” is sometimes cited by fans as one of Toriyama’s planned endings for the series that was discarded, but as you can see it was less of a solid plan and more of him jokingly saying “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, Dragon Ball 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 by many fans, goes a little something like this:
Toriyama was originally going to end the series after Freeza. Goku would actually succeed in killing Freeza, then die in Planet Namek’s explosion. However, Dragon Ball 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 thoroughly permeated online Dragon Ball fandom, becoming accepted as simply “common knowledge” amongst most fans. For instance, when former Viz editor Jason Thompson wrote an article on Dragon Ball 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 does not 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 apparently knows that he did.
The simple answer would just be for us to say that, as fans who has read virtually all of Toriyama’s published interviews and aim to document this as best we can, he has in fact never said that in any interview we have ever seen. It is of course possible that he did say it in an interview which we have not seen, but nobody ever seems to be able to identify what interview that might be.
We should probably 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 — with syllables that are not actually used in Japanese — 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, these rumors seem to go back far longer than the fake interview, and that the interview was fabricated in part to create evidence for the belief.
Shortly after the original draft of all this was written, a fan using the online handle “Kirbopher” noted that he had lunch with FUNimation voice actor Chris Sabat at AnimeMilwaukee, where Sabat told him 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 attended. Here is the intro to the Q&A from page 172 of Viz’s domestic Shonen Jump #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 to Toriyama is the one quoted under the “Possible Ending #3: Piccolo” section:
Will you create more Dragon Ball Z 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 Shōnen 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. It is possible that 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. As pointed out before, however, the Freeza arc actually wrapped up in the 7th-8th year of Dragon Ball‘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 timeline of Dragon Ball‘s serialization, so we cannot 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 perhaps that is what Sabat was thinking of. It is an easy mistake to make, since the question was about whether Toriyama would create more “Dragon Ball 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 the “Z” portion).
This rather neatly illustrates why third-hand reports like these are not really evidence. All people are prone to misunderstanding, mishearing, or misremembering their experiences, and these problems get multiplied each time an anecdote is passed on to a new person. That is 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 in response to another fan’s question at an Otakon convention panel, spreading the mistake even further. Who knows how many people who he told went on to tell others? It is not hard to see how rumors can become so widespread and unquestioned despite being ultimately based on nothing but hearsay and misunderstanding.
Until such time as somebody can locate a legitimate Toriyama interview where he says he planned to end the series after the Freeza arc, we will continue to label the standard claim as an unfounded rumor. The obvious retort to that would be that just because Toriyama has not confirmed it does not mean it is not 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? It varies. The standard claim conflates several things that do not necessarily go together (Toriyama not planning to continue, Goku actually dying, etc), and some of these things are more plausible than others. To gain a better understanding, we must break down the 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 have seen already, Toriyama did not 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, Yū Kondō, Toriyama’s second editor, notes that the Freeza arc was when Dragon Ball did best in Jump‘s popularity polls:
Fuyuto Takeda: So then, Kondō-san became the editor right around the time the Saiyan arc began. At that time, Dragon Ball was explosively popular; when Jump did a 1000-ballot survey, at its height Dragon Ball got around 700 ballots.
Yū Kondō: No, 815 ballots. That was in the Freeza arc.
In the world of Jump, unpopular series get cut, while popular ones keep going. It is only natural that there would be considerable pressure to keep Dragon Ball 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 “Dragon Ball Z” because he wanted to end the series 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. On its own, the claim the Dragon Ball‘s popularity made Toriyama continue past the Freeza arc is extremely plausible.
We must not forget how misleading it is to mention this claim without the proper context. The speculation that Dragon Ball‘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
Strictly speaking this should not be a distinct claim from the previous one. After all, one must 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 we 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 Shōnen Jump in Japan made me continue the story.” How literally we can take Toriyama idea of the “third year” of Dragon Ball‘s run is up for debate, but it would still be quite a stretch to say that he is talking about the Freeza arc. Dragon Ball 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 do not count 1984, which only saw the first four Dragon Ball chapters).
The “editors of Weekly Shōnen Jump” would likely 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 it is likely 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 had been getting from fans meant that he “can’t end it at 10 volumes or so”, by “can’t” he does not simply mean out of the goodness of his heart or something. 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 bother? In the magical land of the Internet, reasonable claims tend to get distorted into somewhat less than reasonable ones. 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 did not keep drawing Dragon Ball. You do not hear these all that often, but they are out there. One such rumor was mentioned in a listener’s e-mail featured on Episode #0013 of our own podcast back in 2005. 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, what is so strange 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… which brings us 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 is rather infamous for just making things up as he goes along. We have 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”. In the comic he drew for the Dragon Ball Z 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 is 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. Therefore, we cannot simply assume that Toriyama ever had any real plan for how the Freeza storyline was going to end.
Toriyama originally intended that Freeza and Goku actually die on Planet Namek
The most common claim tied in with ending at the Freeza arc 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 is not explained).
There is 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 is no mention of one over this. This does not prove that there was not one of course, but the burden of proof is on those who claim that there was. It would have had to have been quite a quick, massive outcry — 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 probably have had to make adjustments to things he had already drawn. That is not impossible of course, but it is 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 Yū Kondō) 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 Kondō 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 time frame of the “fan outcry” rumor because Kondō 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). That itself brings up a problem: if Kondō did not like the idea of Goku dying, why would he wait until chapter 329 to get Toriyama to change things? That is, if Kondō would not have let Toriyama kill off Goku, Toriyama would have already known this while actually drawing chapter 328. You can not 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 could not let Goku actually 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 Dragon Ball, he would have still known long in advance that he would not actually be able to end it there. The Freeza arc’s unprecedented popularity did not 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. 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 Dragon Ball 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 is simply the climax of the Freeza arc. Compare this with the ending of the 23rd Tenka’ichi Budōkai, which itself seems to wrap up the entire series up to that point and provide a perfect place for an ending, even though we know Toriyama did not intend it as such (going so far as to provide a note saying “this isn’t really the end”). Ironically enough, when Toriyama actually did conclude the series, he did not wrap everything up in a neat little bow, but actually purposefully made it seem like the story could still continue (as he noted in the Tankōbon Vol. 42 intro). It seems that he likes his storylines ending conclusive and his series endings open-ended.
Returning to the alleged implausibility of Goku’s survival, as we have seen before, Toriyama by his own admission writes things by the seat of his pants, with little in the way of long-term planning. It seems most reasonable 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. Compare this with instances where we actually know for a fact that editorial interference was involved, such as with Cell being introduced to the story and quickly changing into his second and final forms. We rarely 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. Alternatively, consider that Toriyama described Fuyuto Takeda, his editor during the later portion of the Cell arc and all of the Buu arc, as relatively lenient in letting him do what he wanted without complaint (according to the Jump Remix edition of Akira Toriyama Blank Theater). The way in which the Buu 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. The point here 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 (i.e. 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, we should not let the claim that Goku’s survival on Namek is completely implausible go unchallenged. It is worth pointing out that when Goku flies to Freeza’s ship, the ships of the Ginyu Special-Sqaud are clearly visible nearby. That could be indication that Toriyama already had Goku’s method of escape planned out (and when we say “already”, we should again stress that this is merely a week before Goku is revealed to have survived). While a lot of people find Goku’s survival unbelievable, it is not a universally held opinion. For instance, when the our podcast’s Manga Review of Awesomeness got to Tankōbon Vol. 28 in Episode #0182, our host Mike noted that Jeff (the token newbie reading the manga for the first time) had earlier predicted that Goku was not going to die. Mike asked Jeff whether he considered Goku’s escape a Deus ex Machine, but Jeff noted that he “didn’t bank on space pods”, he thought that it was a “legitimate reason”. This seems to suggest 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 Kaiō, 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 end. 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. This is interesting, because chapter 329 (where Goku turns out to be alive) was released on 01 July 1991, while Dragon Ball Z episode 107 (the anime version of Namek’s explosion) was not released until 04 September 1991, over two months later. 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? It likely has to do with a difference in perspective between older fans and Dragon Ball‘s younger intended audience (and by extension the anime staff writing with them in mind). Older fans (and we are generalizing here, of course) tend to want consistency and continuity in their stories, whereas younger fans are not quite as concerned about that. There is 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 serial’s ending, and insert completely new footage of Cody and company 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. The anime staff was likely following this tradition when they decided to make Goku’s death seem even more certain than in the manga, despite knowing he would survive — the more inescapable the peril, the more exciting it is when the hero actually does escape. It is what the kids want, and continuity is not always the driving concern. Additionally, in Japan Dragon Ball Z episodes were originally shown only once, without repeats, and there was no home release until the Dragon Boxes came out years later. Much like the makers of the Commando Cody serials, the animators probably were not counting on anyone being able to watch and re-watch these scenes and compare them to how Goku’s escape is depicted later on.
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 of Goku permanently, there still would not 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 Dragon Balls. There is no reason we can see that he could not have just done the same thing with Goku, had he opted to have Goku actually die. It is therefore 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 will see later), but that obviously did not stop the series then and there (there are rumors that he wanted to, but these are unfounded, as we will also see later). 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
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 noted before, the idea that Toriyama was caught off guard by the series continuing is unfounded and very unlikely. Even were that the case, it is hard to see why the sudden news that Dragon Ball was not going to end in a few weeks after all would force Toriyama to bring back Freeza. With Goku, there are 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 artificial humans, 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: T’ao Pai Pai. Given the large gap between T’ao 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 T’ao Pai Pai surviving his fight with Goku (Toriyama did however hint at T’ao Pai Pai’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). T’ao Pai Pai also 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. For whatever reason, we never see people argue that T’ao 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 argued before, it makes the most sense to assume that T’ao Pai Pai’s implausible survival is due to Toriyama’s habit of writing off the seat of his pants. We would 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. Toriyama did have twice the amount of time to change his mind with Freeza than with Goku, so “haphazard writing” is a slightly more likely explanation here than with Goku.
Toriyama originally intended that Piccolo die from Freeza’s attack
Despite how unlikely we consider the “Toriyama intended to kill Goku” rumors, they are relatively sensible speculation compared to the claim that Piccolo was originally supposed to die from the attack he receives just prior to Goku’s Super Saiyan transformation in chapter 317. The idea here is that Piccolo would have died, meaning God would die, meaning the Earth’s Dragon Balls would vanish, meaning that there would be no way to revive the Namekians (and by extension the Namekian Dragon Balls), meaning that Tenshinhan and company over at Kaio’s would stay dead forever, meaning that the entire Freeza arc was for all intents and purposes just a big waste of everyone’s time. Goku and Freeza would of course both die in Namek’s explosion, leaving Gohan as basically the only survivor.
The absurd thing about this rumor is that Goku says that Piccolo is still alive in the very same chapter that he is shot. The only actual argument in support of this rumor is that Freeza’s attack just looks so darn fatal, more or less (people sometimes describe Piccolo as being shot through the heart, but Freeza’s beam hits him on the right side of his body, though we do not know the ins and outs of Namekian anatomy). Besides being extremely subjective, this argument falls into an even more extreme version of the problem with saying that the Freeza arc must have been intended as the end because it seems very climatic. In Tankōbon 10‘s Q&A Corner, Toriyama notes that he first thinks up the story (which can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 2-3 days) then commits it to paper (which takes about 30 minutes per page) — even a complete flibbertigibbet like Toriyama actually thinks up the whole story for a chapter before drawing it, rather than just think up a page, draw that page, think up the next page, then draw that one. The bottom line is that the odds that Toriyama actually intended that blow to be fatal when drawing it are about as close to zero as you can get. You could argue that Goku’s statement that Piccolo is alive, coming on the very last page of the chapter as it does, was just something tacked on at the last minute, but the only person in a position to force such a quick change would be Toriyama’s editor Kondō, who by virtue of being his editor in the first place should have been able to veto the “Piccolo dies” plot point long before Toriyama drew all but the last page of the chapter where it happened. Also, under this “tacked on retraction” idea, if Toriyama really drew the first 14 pages of the chapter intending that Piccolo actually die, one would think he would devote far more attention to Piccolo being shot than he does (showing God dying along with Piccolo, at the very least). The whole idea just does not hold up.
Toriyama intended the Great Elder stay dead
Somewhat more plausible is the claim that the Great Elder’s temporarily revival was another last minute change, and that he and the rest of the Namekians were intended to stay dead forever. This is another rumor unsupported by anything Toriyama has said in interviews, so again the main argument used for it is how implausible the plot development is. The Dragon Balls are said to be unable to revive those who die from natural causes (like the Great Elder), after all, but he still manages to be revived for a little while by virtue of Freeza’s genocidal antics having unnaturally shorted his lifespan. This, people claim, is a ridiculous contrivance indicating that major changes were made to the story at the last minute.
We have already argued that implausible plot twists are far more likely to be due to Toriyama’s natural slapdash writing style than a sign of forced changes to the storyline, but there is another problem with this claim. The fact is that, oddly enough, the rule that the Dragon Balls can not revive those who die of natural causes is never mentioned until the very chapter where the Great Elder is made into an exception. In chapter 317, Kaiō asks Earth’s God if the Dragon Balls can revive people who die naturally, God says no, so Kaiō asks about people whose lives are shortened unnaturally, which God says may work (the Great Elder does not actually get revived until the next chapter). If Toriyama really wanted to, he could have simply had God answer “yes” when asked if it were possible to revive those who die of natural causes, and not contradict anything ever previously said about the Dragon Balls.
You can not exactly accuse Toriyama of breaking previously established rules when he actually established a rule and then immediately broke it. In fact, since the Dragon Balls were stated in the very first chapter (and a few times afterward) to be capable of granting any wish, arguably restricting their powers by saying they can not revive those who die naturally would be the bigger offender when it comes to contradicting what has been previously said. Regardless, it is still possible that Toriyama did not originally plan on the Great Elder ever coming back to life, but the supposedly shady way in which he is brought back does not provide any evidence for that, since Toriyama was perfectly capable of making his revival fully by the book if he had wanted to.
In addition to the above, it is worth critiquing how the standard argument for the Great Elder’s revival being some last minute, imposed change pretty much boils down to the idea that it is such “bad writing” that it could not have been Toriyama’s original plan. Besides what we keep noting about Toriyama’s haphazard writing style, the other problem with this is that it is based on an apparent belief that Toriyama is incapable of bad writing and that all instances of bad writing in the series must therefore represent some deviation from his intentions. It really should not need to be said that this flattering conception of Toriyama is not terribly realistic — just saying “this plot twist sucks” is not in and of itself proof that Toriyama was forced to change the story.