Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

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Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by DBZAOTA482 » Sun Sep 09, 2018 9:59 pm

As we all know, Gohan was originally intended to replace Goku as the main character for Dragon Ball Z and by the end of the Cell Games, he does take the mantle but at the last second, Toriyama deems him unworthy for some reason. Quite a shame because Gohan had tons of potential is the new hero- in a cast full of hardened warriors who live for the thrill of combat, Gohan is a refreshing take as he's a peaceful sort who views fighting as merely a means to an end making him quite relatable especially as we see him grow from a little boy to a man just like his father only he lived a relatively normal (but hectic due to the fighting) life.

Unlike a lot of people, I actually like the plot point of him not keeping up with his training during peace as it's completely in-line with his character. After all, Gohan was never motivated by the desire of being the strongest or testing his might against strong foes. It was always about helping others and proving his worth to the Z-Warriors, and with no foreseeable threats on the horizon (no one expect something like Majin Boo to happen), he would naturally have no real motive to training. The non-training plot could've lead to great character development as he learns to always be prepared not matter what as you'll never know when a threat will arrive... however, having him repeat the same mistake over and over again just makes him look like an idiot.

Gohan does eventually come around but the damage was already done and even with his "comeback" during the Tournament of Power, he barely does anything outside getting one of the most bizarre handjobs throughout all Super (which is saying a lot).

Anyways, you can definitely say Toriyama fucked over our favorite rice boy. I mean even GT did a better job handling his character (he still trains according to the GT Perfect Files).

Btw why is pursuing an education depicted as a lame and useless venture while the warrior lifestyle is glorified? I get it's a fighting series for pre-pubescent boys but that's not exactly a good message to be sending especially when the life of warrior is shown can be extremely cruel and unforgiving. It's not like Gohan can't be both a great fighter and scholar-whatever.
fadeddreams5 wrote:
DBZGTKOSDH wrote:... Haven't we already gotten these in GT? Goku dies, the DBs go away, and the Namekian DBs most likely won't be used again because of the Evil Dragons.
Goku didn't die in GT. The show sucked him off so much, it was impossible to keep him in the world of the living, so he ascended beyond mortality.
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Sat Jul 18, 2020 6:31 am
I'm just about done with the concept of reboots and making shows that were products of their time and impactful "new and sexy" and in line with modern tastes and sensibilities. Let stuff stay in their era and give today's kids their own shit to watch.

I always side eye the people who say "Now my kids/today's kids can experience what I did as a child!" Nigga, who gives a fuck about your childhood? You're an adult now and it was at least 15 years ago. Let the kids have their own experience instead of picking at a corpse.

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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by ABED » Sun Sep 09, 2018 10:08 pm

I think everyone can guess what I think - NO! Not only do I not think Gohan had that much potential as the main character, it becomes a radically different story. DB isn't a super earnest series and Gohan is very earnest.
Gohan is a refreshing take
Maybe for DB, but there are plenty of other stories out there with characters that fight for all that is good and true. I find Goku a very refreshing change of pace.

I like the ending he's given in Z. It's fitting and dignified.

Last but certainly not least, changing the main character after such a long run is never for the better.
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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by KBABZ » Sun Sep 09, 2018 10:19 pm

I think at the very least more effort should have been put into keeping him a main character once the story shifts over to the Tournament and then Buu. I really liked the early high school stuff (when he wasn't in high school, funnily enough) as it was a fresh change of pace after the Android and Cell stuff. Bringing Goku back did help a lot, but I think it's a shame Toriyama put in so much effort to make Gohan the successor to Goku only to throw it away pretty quickly.

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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by sintzu » Sun Sep 09, 2018 11:21 pm

I wouldn't have ended the story on him so bringing Goku back for Buu was the right move but I think he should've gotten an arc between that and Cell to really emphasize Goku was gone and the effect it had on things.
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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by OhHiRenan » Sun Sep 09, 2018 11:27 pm

I’m perfectly content with him taking the leading role for the first few chapters of the Boo arc since they make for a refreshing cleanser after the end of the Cell Game, but I think Toriyama made the right call in transitioning Goku back into the lead role.

I do think Gohan’s character doesn’t suffer from losing his main character spot, though. All things considered, Gohan ends the series on a relatively high note.

So long as you completely ignore Super’s existence that is.
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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by zDBZ » Mon Sep 10, 2018 5:12 am

Absolutely.

Not only did Goku elect to stay dead after coaching his son through defeating Cell; not only did Toriyama have Master Roshi pop up to explicitly state that Gohan was taking over as series lead; but the Buu saga itself, right up until Old Kai gives Goku his life and the earrings, presented Gohan as the protagonist. The story opens on him in high school; it's Gohan's participation in the Budokai that triggers the rest of the cast joining; the attack on Gohan is what launches the Majin Buu portion of the story in earnest; and Gohan's lack of training over the past seven years has consequences, and is a significant point in his character development during Buu. His rustiness stops him from making a clean finish of Dabura, throwing more energy towards Buu's release and aggravating Vegeta so much that Dabura realizes he could be Majined. Goku urges his son to tap into the power he used against Cell, and Gohan's inability to do so gets to him and serves as a motivating factor when he trains with the Z Sword. The symbolism of drawing a sword from stone is so obvious that Gohan himself even takes note of it in the manga. And training with the Z Sword sharpens his skills back up even before Old Kai brings his full potential to bare, at which point Goku hands the reins off to his son - again.

And for all the ups and downs the Buu saga goes through, Gohan's story throughout it is coherent and very well-told. Would it have been a satisfying ending if he just took care of Super Buu as soon as he got back to Earth? No - I agree that there needed to be another twist. But it should've been one involving Gohan, and probably Goten and Trunks, who had a fairly well-done arc themselves, ultimately being the ones to save the day, because that's what everything in the narrative had been pointing to up until the Buutenks fight. Goku taking things over again might mean that the series has a single protagonist from beginning to end, but it's at the expense of every story thread in play throughout the Buu saga and to the detriment of every other character that had been involved - and I'm including Vegeta in that count.

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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by KBABZ » Mon Sep 10, 2018 5:32 am

I think Gohan was a main character until Fat Buu was released (while being set aside to focus on Goku and Vegeta for Buu's ship, which makes sense). From then on he's relegated to the B-plot on the Kaiosin world, and then out of the story almost entirely once he's absorbed by Super Buu.

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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by ABED » Mon Sep 10, 2018 6:32 am

Goku taking things over again might mean that the series has a single protagonist from beginning to end, but it's at the expense of every story thread in play throughout the Buu saga and to the detriment of every other character that had been involved - and I'm including Vegeta in that count.
How does Goku coming back negatively affect Vegeta?

The Buu arc is just one arc. I'll take an incoherent arc if it puts the right person back in the driver seat.
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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by Doctor. » Mon Sep 10, 2018 6:49 am

No, Gohan is lame and he's always been lame.

I'm not opposed to a new MC with Goku in a secondary role as he gets older, just not Gohan.

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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by ekrolo2 » Mon Sep 10, 2018 6:58 am

Gohan sort of by design doesn't make sense for the protagonist of this kind of story: he's not a fighter, he'll do it when something bad happens but he's ultimately a Wuxia scholar, fighting isn't something that interests him and for a show about fighting, that doesn't really make sense for an MC. Honestly, Pan would make more sense given the fact she's seemingly the only half-breed with an interest in martial arts. Even Goten and Trunks just did it because hey, being able to punch mountains and shoot lasers out of your hands is a dream come true for a 7-year-old.

You can even make a good difference between her and Goku being that while Goku wants to become stronger, Pan can be the one who wants to refine the art of well, martial arts to their zenith by exploring different and esoteric abilities.
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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by zDBZ » Mon Sep 10, 2018 8:01 am

ABED wrote:
Goku taking things over again might mean that the series has a single protagonist from beginning to end, but it's at the expense of every story thread in play throughout the Buu saga and to the detriment of every other character that had been involved - and I'm including Vegeta in that count.
How does Goku coming back negatively affect Vegeta?

The Buu arc is just one arc. I'll take an incoherent arc if it puts the right person back in the driver seat.
Vegeta's story was brought to an immensely satisfying close with his sacrifice against Majin Buu. Vegetto was fun, and one could argue that Vegeta's final concession to Goku was needed, but ultimately, I think Vegeta coming back to life and being the back-up to Goku's win against Buu didn't add enough to his character to feel justified, and severely undercut his sacrifice. Compared to, say, Piccolo's sacrifice in the Saiyan saga - the idea that there was a planet Namek and that there might be a way to revive everyone killed by the Saiyans was already a possibility, if not concrete, when that moment happened. The struggle to bring Piccolo and the others back to life was a full story, and one of Dragon Ball's best. In the Buu saga, Vegeta becomes just another deus ex machina, whipped out toward the end of the story with little to no set-up and at the expense of what the saga had done such a good job with beforehand - in this case, the idea that Vegeta makes a final act of atonement while fully aware of the grim fate awaiting him.

And the right person to be in the driver's seat is the person whose story a given plot is, and the Buu saga is so not Goku's story. It's not wholly Gohan's; Goten, Trunks, and even Mr. Satan have significant story threads as well, and all of them are set up to be tied into the ultimate defeat of Majin Buu. But Gohan is the protagonist up until the point when Goku abruptly comes back to life via ridiculously convenient and arbitrary means. And his going into the heavenly realm to train with the Z-Sword is no more "relegated to a B-plot" than Goku's going back to Korin Tower to train while Master Roshi and the other heroes remained active on the ground was in the King Piccolo saga.

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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by ABED » Mon Sep 10, 2018 9:07 am

I do feel it was not justifiable, but absolutely necessary. Him giving up his life was great, but it didn't bring closure to his arc because his hang up is centered around Goku. Until he finally admits to himself that Goku is the better of the two without any reservation, his character arc still hasn't gotten full closure. There is no atoning for what he did. At best he can help try to save innocent people, but seeing as how he doesn't succeed the first time, his sacrifice means little. Helping actually stop the problem he helped cause and get over his biggest insecurity brings far more satisfying closure than giving his life in a futile attempt to destroy Buu.
whipped out toward the end of the story with little to no set-up
It's like unless there's a big giant bowl of foreshadowing and telegraphing, there's no set up. It's also flat out wrong. Dead characters have been granted exceptions before. For instance, in that very arc, Goku was granted a day in the living world.
And the right person to be in the driver's seat is the person whose story a given plot is
In this case, it is Goku's. DB is his story. Gohan is too earnest for him to be granted the driver's seat in perpetuity. Gohan's way too passive to carry a story. I know Toriyama tried to make the story about Gohan, but it doesn't work. Gohan can't carry DB well. This is the final story arc in DBZ. Until a few years ago, it was the conclusion of the whole story so it doesn't make sense to put Gohan in at the end. It's not a satisfying way to wrap it all up because it feels like a completely different series. Making it about the next generation makes the whole of DB feel like a different story whereas keeping it about Goku makes it feel whole. Instead of being about generations, it's about there always being higher mountains to climb which feels much more like Goku and DB.
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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by zDBZ » Mon Sep 10, 2018 11:43 am

ABED wrote:I do feel it was not justifiable, but absolutely necessary. Him giving up his life was great, but it didn't bring closure to his arc because his hang up is centered around Goku. Until he finally admits to himself that Goku is the better of the two without any reservation, his character arc still hasn't gotten full closure. There is no atoning for what he did. At best he can help try to save innocent people, but seeing as how he doesn't succeed the first time, his sacrifice means little. Helping actually stop the problem he helped cause and get over his biggest insecurity brings far more satisfying closure than giving his life in a futile attempt to destroy Buu.
Vegeta walks away from his rivalry with Goku, at first with the intention of resuming it after he disposes of Buu, and ultimately goes into his sacrifice knowing that he won't get a chance to resolve it, something he accepts. That, to me, is a resolution to the rivalry, and a much better one than Vegeta admitting that Goku's the best, then going on to continue their rivalry anyway in Super.
ABED wrote:
whipped out toward the end of the story with little to no set-up
It's like unless there's a big giant bowl of foreshadowing and telegraphing, there's no set up. It's also flat out wrong. Dead characters have been granted exceptions before. For instance, in that very arc, Goku was granted a day in the living world.
Goku being granted a day in the living world was something introduced early in the saga, before the threat of Majin Buu even appears. It's also clearly explained that he'll only be around for the one day, and during the events of that day, he even tells Piccolo that it's time for the younger generation to start handling these problems. Goku also doesn't have any character development at stake; at least, none freshly introduced in the Buu saga. Vegeta coming back for one day only happens after Piccolo details for Vegeta what the fate of his body and soul will be, a grim fate that Vegeta nevertheless accepts. That gets thrown right out the window without any preamble, and right on the heels of two other deus ex machinas brought out of nowhere without set-up, Old Kai's life swapping and the fusion earrings. Three contrivances like that in a row tend to undermine the potential value (and leniency I'd be prepared to offer) to any of them. And I don't expect, much less demand, ham-fisted telegraphing, but I do expect and want thematic consistency and abrupt, arbitrary deus ex machinas kept to a minimum.
ABED wrote:
And the right person to be in the driver's seat is the person whose story a given plot is
In this case, it is Goku's. DB is his story. Gohan is too earnest for him to be granted the driver's seat in perpetuity. Gohan's way too passive to carry a story. I know Toriyama tried to make the story about Gohan, but it doesn't work. Gohan can't carry DB well. This is the final story arc in DBZ. Until a few years ago, it was the conclusion of the whole story so it doesn't make sense to put Gohan in at the end. It's not a satisfying way to wrap it all up because it feels like a completely different series. Making it about the next generation makes the whole of DB feel like a different story whereas keeping it about Goku makes it feel whole. Instead of being about generations, it's about there always being higher mountains to climb which feels much more like Goku and DB.
I happen to like that the Buu saga feels so different from its immediate predecessors, and I like the idea of a long-running series handing the protagonist reins from one character to another; I wish more long-running series did that. The Cell saga was a transitional one, where Gohan ultimately inherits the hero role, but other characters (Piccolo, Vegeta, Trunks, even Bulma) are more involved in the meat of the story than Goku for much of the time. And even going back to the Saiyan and Freeza sagas, an increasing amount of the nitty gritty plot and character detail is given over to other characters compared to Goku. That's not to say that Goku isn't the hero of the Saiyan and Freeza sagas, or that he doesn't have any good character development in them, but it's not as if there was no precedent for Goku stepping back from the main action. And as important as Gohan ended up being in the Saiyan and Freeza arcs, it wasn't as if he was an illogical choice to take over.

ekrolo2 wrote:Gohan sort of by design doesn't make sense for the protagonist of this kind of story: he's not a fighter, he'll do it when something bad happens but he's ultimately a Wuxia scholar, fighting isn't something that interests him and for a show about fighting, that doesn't really make sense for an MC. Honestly, Pan would make more sense given the fact she's seemingly the only half-breed with an interest in martial arts. Even Goten and Trunks just did it because hey, being able to punch mountains and shoot lasers out of your hands is a dream come true for a 7-year-old.
I don't know what MistareFusion's thoughts on Buu are going to end up being, but I'll borrow from one of his Cell saga videos - good storytelling and character development > Wuxia conventions. And I cannot understand the logic that a character who's reluctant to fight can't be the main character of a fighting-based series. That whole premise sets up a lot of potential for conflict, dramatic and comedic. And whenever Toriyama did something with that - in the Saiyan, Cell, and first two-thirds of the Buu saga - the results were good, in turns funny and harrowing for Gohan and for the other characters depending on him, and there were variations in how Toriyama wrote that sort of material. Did it always make for the most exciting and dynamic action sequences? Maybe not, but it made for good story, and what action there was in relation to that story was better for it.

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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by ABED » Mon Sep 10, 2018 12:06 pm

It's not just about resolving their rivalry nor is it just Vegeta admitting Goku is #1, it's Vegeta letting go of his insecurities.
That gets thrown right out the window without any preamble
They don't immediately get sent to Hell. Enma has to pass judgment on them. There's plenty of set up, and they aren't a deus ex machina. It in no way breaks the rules of DB World. And Piccolo didn't diliver exposition to the audience. We already knew what happens to souls that go to Hell. We also knew Baba could help grant special favors, like when Son Gohan got to compete in Baba's tournament. The fusion earrings weren't deus ex machinas either. Not only did they resolve the issue, but in a world where a dance can fuse characters together, earrings aren't a stretch. There is setup, but it's throughout the series.

I hate when long running series hand the reigns over. It never works, and it especially didn't work in DB's case. He never drives the story. He's a passive character whereas Goku's active.
it's not as if there was no precedent for Goku stepping back from the main action.
Goku didn't step back. He was kept back until the last moment for dramatic impact.

You say you want thematic consistency, but keeping Goku in the driver's seat keeps it. Instead of introducing "the next generation taking over" at the 11th hour, this keeps the story what it had pretty much had always been about - striving to reach greater heights.
And whenever Toriyama did something with that - in the Saiyan, Cell, and first two-thirds of the Buu saga - the results were good, in turns funny and harrowing for Gohan and for the other characters depending on him
It was good in the Saiyan arc, but not in the Cell arc. Also, he's not the main character. If you want the main character to be a reluctant hero, there are plenty of other series to choose from.
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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by Lord Beerus » Mon Sep 10, 2018 12:17 pm

No.

Dragon Ball, at its heart, is a battle manga story which thrives only because it's centered around a martial artist who thrives upon a challenge and whose thirst for new level of strength drive the plot. Gohan has been shown to not really be character like Goku. The Majin Boo arc already shows what kind of person Gohan would be if danger isn't calling... he'd be masquerading as a copycat Kamen Rider.

I made this point before regarding the concept of Gohan as the main character and I still stand by it:
At the end of the day, part of what kept Toriyama going with the plot of Dragon Ball was Goku's unconditional desire to keep on training, exploring new places and want to get stronger at every turn. Gohan ultimately doesn't have those characteristics. Well, he had one of those characteristics in wanting to get stronger... which was dropped the moment Earth became peaceful.

Having a battle manga built around a character who doesn't even like fighting to begin with is a huge risk, because Toriyama's writing style doesn't really work well outside the confines of poop jokes and characters beating each other to death for shallow reasons.

So unless Toriyama wanted to plan on making a slice-of-life/battle manga hybrid kind of story then Gohan wouldn't have worked as a main character. I mean, in Toriyama's own words, Gohan's character just didn't fit the mold for the kind of story he wanted to tell.

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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by KBABZ » Mon Sep 10, 2018 12:24 pm

Lord Beerus wrote:Dragon Ball, at its heart, is a battle manga story which thrives only because it's centered around a martial artist who thrives upon a challenge and whose thirst for new level of strength drive the plot. Gohan has been shown to not really be character like Goku. The Majin Boo arc already shows what kind of person Gohan would be if danger isn't calling... he'd be masquerading as a copycat Kamen Rider.
Personally I thought the story was kinda working it's way to solving that issue. Vegeta and several other characters call Gohan out for slacking on his training, and it would have been an interesting journey for him to step up to the plate and take responsibility for not being up to snuff and proving that, hey, he is a dedicated fighter when he needs to be. Most of the Buu arc could have been that if you adjust Gohan's return to fight Super Buu as being not a complete waste and before that focus on how he feels about not being a great fighter anymore and wanting to fix it.

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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by Kuwabara » Mon Sep 10, 2018 12:33 pm

Not necessarily, but the Buu arc being resolved by him may have been nice.
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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by zDBZ » Mon Sep 10, 2018 12:45 pm

ABED wrote:They don't immediately get sent to Hell. Enma has to pass judgment on them. There's plenty of set up, and they aren't a deus ex machina. It in no way breaks the rules of DB World. And Piccolo didn't diliver exposition to the audience. We already knew what happens to souls that go to Hell. We also knew Baba could help grant special favors, like when Son Gohan got to compete in Baba's tournament. The fusion earrings weren't deus ex machinas either. Not only did they resolve the issue, but in a world where a dance can fuse characters together, earrings aren't a stretch. There is setup, but it's throughout the series.
I don't think we're operating under the same definition of deus ex machina.

The fusion dance was a technique Goku learned in the afterlife and passed on to Goten and Trunks. It required him teaching it to the kids, it required them training at it after Goku left, and it builds on Goten and Trunks's preexisting relationship and comparable strength. The fusion earrings are a plot device abruptly introduced the second that the story needs a way for Goku to make a material difference in the fight against Buutenks, that has no meaningful connection to the story. It doesn't build on a preexisting relationship, it's not a technique or item or device that has to be learned or sought out, and there's not any time or effort put into developing it as a concept beyond "put these on and you'll fuse, a much better fusion than that dance you spent so much story on!" That's why I consider it a deus ex machina, the same as Old Kai coveniently being able to swap his life force into Goku right when the plot decides that that's necessary.

I will concede that the fact that Baba can bring fighters back for a day was reintroduced in the Buu saga, so one could argue that that's a surprise taking advantage of an earlier element and therefore less abrupt than the other two examples I named. That doesn't mean it isn't arbitrarily thrown into the story right at the second it's necessary to have someone for Goku to fuse with, and it still comes at the expense of story threads that had gotten much more development prior to that point.
You say you want thematic consistency, but keeping Goku in the driver's seat keeps it. Instead of introducing "the next generation taking over" at the 11th hour, this keeps the story what it had pretty much had always been about - striving to reach greater heights.
"The next generation taking over" and "striving for greater heights" are not mutually exclusive concepts.

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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by ekrolo2 » Mon Sep 10, 2018 12:45 pm

zDBZ wrote:I don't know what MistareFusion's thoughts on Buu are going to end up being, but I'll borrow from one of his Cell saga videos - good storytelling and character development > Wuxia conventions. And I cannot understand the logic that a character who's reluctant to fight can't be the main character of a fighting-based series. That whole premise sets up a lot of potential for conflict, dramatic and comedic. And whenever Toriyama did something with that - in the Saiyan, Cell, and first two-thirds of the Buu saga - the results were good, in turns funny and harrowing for Gohan and for the other characters depending on him, and there were variations in how Toriyama wrote that sort of material. Did it always make for the most exciting and dynamic action sequences? Maybe not, but it made for good story, and what action there was in relation to that story was better for it.
True, I worded that poorly. It's not that you can't a reluctant hero type, it's just that... Gohan's not a compelling example of one. What Gohan lacks that a lot of other Dragon Ball characters have for me is charisma, and that matters a lot. In fact, I would argue that the charisma present in so much of the cast is what allows them to get invested in characters who really aren't that deep when you start breaking them down and what allows them to like a lot of the cast in-spite of their... frequently questionable moral actions.

Gohan doesn't have that, he never had that, he's just the guy who doesn't like to fight being put in fighting situations. He lacks the strong charisma present in a lot of the cast, he doesn't have Goku or Vegeta's drive, he doesn't have Piccolo's heart of gold under a mean exterior, he doesn't even have the plucky everyman quality down which Krillin does a billion times better than him too, along with the family man angle.
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ABED
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Re: Do you still think Gohan should've been the main character?

Post by ABED » Mon Sep 10, 2018 1:09 pm

zDBZ wrote:
ABED wrote:They don't immediately get sent to Hell. Enma has to pass judgment on them. There's plenty of set up, and they aren't a deus ex machina. It in no way breaks the rules of DB World. And Piccolo didn't diliver exposition to the audience. We already knew what happens to souls that go to Hell. We also knew Baba could help grant special favors, like when Son Gohan got to compete in Baba's tournament. The fusion earrings weren't deus ex machinas either. Not only did they resolve the issue, but in a world where a dance can fuse characters together, earrings aren't a stretch. There is setup, but it's throughout the series.
I don't think we're operating under the same definition of deus ex machina.

The fusion dance was a technique Goku learned in the afterlife and passed on to Goten and Trunks. It required him teaching it to the kids, it required them training at it after Goku left, and it builds on Goten and Trunks's preexisting relationship and comparable strength. The fusion earrings are a plot device abruptly introduced the second that the story needs a way for Goku to make a material difference in the fight against Buutenks, that has no meaningful connection to the story. It doesn't build on a preexisting relationship, it's not a technique or item or device that has to be learned or sought out, and there's not any time or effort put into developing it as a concept beyond "put these on and you'll fuse, a much better fusion than that dance you spent so much story on!" That's why I consider it a deus ex machina, the same as Old Kai coveniently being able to swap his life force into Goku right when the plot decides that that's necessary.

I will concede that the fact that Baba can bring fighters back for a day was reintroduced in the Buu saga, so one could argue that that's a surprise taking advantage of an earlier element and therefore less abrupt than the other two examples I named. That doesn't mean it isn't arbitrarily thrown into the story right at the second it's necessary to have someone for Goku to fuse with, and it still comes at the expense of story threads that had gotten much more development prior to that point.
You say you want thematic consistency, but keeping Goku in the driver's seat keeps it. Instead of introducing "the next generation taking over" at the 11th hour, this keeps the story what it had pretty much had always been about - striving to reach greater heights.
"The next generation taking over" and "striving for greater heights" are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Clearly. But while it made something of a difference, it didn't solve their problems. That's one big qualification for a deus ex machina. The earrings aren't a big cheat because it is only another means of reaching the same end. If they had won using them, I would agree, but they didn't. It doesn't bug me because of the fusion. Toriyama could've easily written that Vegeta knew the dance by watching in the afterlife. I buy that Vegeta's a quick study. Where the convenience comes in is that what was supposed to be permanent ends up being temporary for unexplained reasons. I'm of course not counting Super's explanation. Taking away that downside without a good explanation makes it all feel too easy.

It's not arbitrary. Everyone is out of options. Until then, there was Gohan, now it was only Goku. Did it come at the expense of those story threads? Maybe, but it was sure as hell far better than them taking over. Vegeta coming there last minute is irrelevant. And you only seem to be considering the story threads of the final arc and not DB as a whole.

In this case it would be as the story was never about the next generation. It was one person's story and his journey to reach greater heights.

I think people care WAY more about the idea of the next generation taking over than the execution because I can't think of a single story where it was ever for the better after a long run with the same main character(s) to have others take over. It's about what I call "emotional equity". Granted, Gohan's been around a while, but DB doesn't reflect him, and Goten & Chibi Trunks were just introduced. Why make them the focal point? If it happens, let it be the coda, not a protracted (not to mention boring) arc.
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