Intended Endings Guide
Possible Ending #7: Majin Buu
On the title page of chapter 421, Kame-Sen’nin again serves as Toriyama’s fourth wall breaking stand-in, announcing once more that Dragon Ball will continue “for just a tad longer”, just as he had done way back in chapter 194. He was finally right this time! Or was he? The Buu arc was quite a long story arc after all, technically the longest one of all (though this of course depends on how you divide up the story arcs), running for 99 chapters over two years (May 1993 to June 1995). That is a pretty decent chuck of time, so is it possible that even the Buu arc ended up running longer than the “just a tad” that Toriyama planned on? Perhaps, but then if you had been drawing a series for over eight and a half years, perhaps another two years would not seem all that long.
Dragon Ball actually did finally end after the Buu arc, of course, but there are still a lot of rumors about how Toriyama was going to end it.
Toriyama intended Gohan to be the hero of the Buu arc
As mentioned, chapter 421 starts off with a message from Kame-Sen’nin: “‘Dragon Ball‘ will continue for just a tad longer! From now on, taking the place of the late Goku as the main character will be his serious-minded son, Son Gohan!”
At the very start of the Buu arc, Toriyama (via Kame-Sen’nin) wanted everyone to know that Gohan would “take Goku’s place”. Of course, at the end of the Buu arc Goku is the one to defeat Buu and save the day, while Gohan just gets beat up and is finally absorbed by Buu — you would hardly call that taking Goku’s place as main character. It certainly seems that Toriyama’s original plan for Gohan’s role in that story arc did not pan out. Why not though? This is all that Toriyama has said on the subject, from his Daizenshuu 2 interview:
Interviewer: And then the Cell arc ended. Did you think that everyone felt you would put Gohan into the leading role?
Akira Toriyama: I intended to put Gohan into the leading role. It didn’t work out. I felt that compared to Goku, he was ultimately not suited for the part.
That is it. The official word is that Toriyama himself ultimately changed his mind about Gohan’s suitability as the main character.
Fan rumor though, has usually claimed that Toriyama was “forced” to give Gohan the shaft due to fan outcry and/or his ever-insidious editor. Once again there is not any real evidence of this. As mentioned before, Toriyama actually considered his editor during the Buu arc, Fuyuto Takeda, to be rather lenient compared to his previous editors. It does not seem likely that Toriyama would describe Takeda like that if Takeda had imposed such as major change. As for the idea of a fan outcry, we never seen any evidence to back up the claims that there was such an uproar over Gohan taking the lead role. It just seems to be speculation.
As speculation goes at least, how plausible is the idea that fans at the time simply could not accept Gohan as the lead character rather than Goku? It is mixed. Daizenshuu 1 gives the results of two popularity polls taken during the course of the series, each one ranking the five most popular characters at the time. The first one appeared in Weekly Shōnen Jump #12 for 1993, toward the end of the Cell Games (the issue features chapter 411, where Cell self-destructs). It lists Gohan in first place, followed by Goku, Trunks, Vegeta, and Piccolo. The second one appeared in Weekly Shōnen Jump #5/6 for 1995, near the end of the Buu arc (this issue has chapter 501, the color chapter where Goku comes to the rescue while Gotenks-absorbed Buu continues to beat up on Gohan), and lists Goku in first place, followed by Vegeta, Trunks, Gotenks, and Piccolo.
It seems that fans at the time did not necessarily have an inherent preference for Goku over Gohan. Gohan actually managed to surpass Goku in popularity during the Cell Games, after all. Going into the Buu arc he was the most popular character, but by the time of his fight with Gohan-absorbed Buu he had dropped out of the top five entirely. What happened? There are a lot of factors that could have caused Gohan to drop in popularity. For one thing, while during the Cell Games he was portrayed as an all-powerful bad ass, in the Buu arc he is quickly established to have slacked off and gotten much weaker, and his main accomplishments before the Elder Kaiōshin’s power-up was to have his energy stolen, put up sort of a decent fight against Dabra, then be beaten up by Buu. The chicken-and-egg question is whether Gohan lost his popularity because he did not do anything cool in the Buu arc or if he did not get to do anything cool in the Buu arc because he lost his popularity. While it is not indicated when they started taking votes for these polls, or when they stopped, these results were published in Jump a full five weeks after chapter 497, where Gohan beats the tar out of Buu. However, it seems that even that did not help raise Gohan into the top five.
Gohan was unpopular with fans while the Buu arc was first coming out, but it seems the same fans were capable of preferring Gohan to Goku under the right circumstances. All in all, the idea that Gohan was replaced as main character due to unpopularity is at least supported by these popularity polls, but it still goes against Toriyama’s own explanation that he ultimately felt Gohan was “not suited for the part” compared to Goku. Of course, Toriyama does not really explain exactly what he felt made Gohan unsuited, and being unpopular would certainly be a liability for a main character. Perhaps Toriyama did just mean that Goku was the much more popular character than Gohan at the time, making it seem prudent to put Goku back in the limelight once more.
This is still just speculation and should be treated as such, while the rumors about fan demand causing Toriyama to shaft Gohan are all too often treated as proven fact. Also, the rumors typically cast Toriyama as being forced against his will to make the change, either by a rabid fan response, his editor, or both. When talking about this change in Daizenshuu 2, Toriyama betrays no particular strong feelings. Gohan was “unsuited for the part”, so he swapped him out for Goku — simple as that. Even if you argued that by “unsuited” Toriyama meant “unpopular”, at most the evidence suggests that Toriyama prudently saw where the wind was blowing popularity-wise and made the switch on his own. By “unsuited” Toriyama does not have to mean “unpopular”. Maybe Toriyama thought Gohan was a bit of a weak reed, or somewhat bland, or harder to draw than Goku, or any number of things. “Gohan was replaced because he was unpopular” seems to be such a widespread explanation largely because it is the one most pleasing to Gohan fans, since it allows them to pin all the blame on the Japanese fans of years ago. “If only they hadn’t been such narrow-minded Goku fanboys”, the thinking goes, “then Gohan could have been the hero like Toriyama wanted all along”. Well, it is possible, but it is not necessarily so.
Toriyama intended Goku to stay dead permanently
Going hand in hand with claims that Gohan was supposed to be the hero in the Buu arc are claims that Goku was supposed to just stay dead forever, rather than return to life to steal Gohan’s place in the spotlight. Like the claims about Gohan, this idea has basis in fact. Read for instance Toriyama’s introduction to tankōbon Vol. 35:
In this volume of the comic, Son Goku died. I think it’s best to not get too attached to the characters that I draw, but even I think it’s kinda sad to see the death of a protagonist who I’ve continued to draw for almost 10 years. I thought of other ways too, but ultimately thought that having him die was best after all. For the time being, I’ve taken care to not get too dark, but still, I’m sorry Son Goku-kun, please forgive me.
With Toriyama apologizing to Goku and feeling sad at his death, it certainly does not seem that at this point he had any plans to eventually revive Goku. In Kame-Sen’nin’s chapter 421 intro quoted earlier, he announces that Gohan will take “the late Goku’s place”, which also makes it sound like Goku is gone for good.
Obviously this did not last, and the explanations which fans propose for why are more or less the same as those given for Gohan’s replacement: the fans were not happy and/or editorial interference. We have seen that Goku was in fact the most popular character during the later Buu arc, even before he finally came in to be the big hero during the final battle with Buu, so this idea is at least plausible. We pretty much run into the same points as before with Gohan. Toriyama says he felt Goku was more suited to be the main character than Gohan, but he does not precisely explain what he means by that. Maybe by that he simply meant that Goku was more popular, or maybe he meant other things, or he meant both Goku’s popularity plus other things besides. Again, even if you believe that popularity was the main reason, it makes more sense to say that Toriyama simply changed his mind about ditching Goku in response to fan opinion rather than to say that he was actively forced to bring Goku back due to a controlling editor or rabid fan outcry. His editor at the time was described as lenient, and there is no record of fan outcry any more stringent than popularity poll voting.
Toriyama intended Piccolo to fall under Babidi’s spell rather than Vegeta
While this rumor does not technically revolve around the Dragon Ball ending, we felt it was worth noting. It should not take to long to go over: this rumor is completely unfounded. Toriyama has never said anything about planning that. We have no clue how this rumor started, other than wishful thinking and some abhorrent editing on more public wikis. Piccolo does get taken over by Babidi in the game Bukū Ressen (Supersonic Warriors 2), so perhaps that helped feed this rumor.
Toriyama intended Vegetto to never defuse
Finally, some fans think that Toriyama was forced (by his editor or fans or whomever) to have Vegetto defuse back into Goku and Vegeta, when his original plan was to have them stay fused forever. This claim seems to be based entirely on the incredibly random way in which Vegetto defuses: Potara fusion is supposed to last forever, but he defuses inside of Buu because of… bad air. As stated before, to argue that bad writing must mean that Toriyama was forced to change his story implies that Toriyama is incapable of having an off day. Again, he just makes stuff up as he goes along, so you are going to get stuff like this every now and then. It makes more sense to assume that Toriyama’s lack of planning was to blame rather than outside interference mucking things up.