Asian characters in Dragon Ball

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Asian characters in Dragon Ball

Post by Jaetinh » Thu Jan 14, 2021 7:07 am

Why do Westerners love to consume Asian media like Dragon Ball but cannot accept the fact that their childhood favorites such as Son Goku and his friends are Asians? It is obviously a huge problem in anime in general and even in Avatar the Last Airbender.

There is absolutely nothing in or outside the story which indicates that Son Goku is supposed to be anything other than an Asian character. In the following I will talk about some of the cultural aspects of Dragon Ball. References are primarily from Derek Padula and his Dragon Ball Culture Volume 2 book, Kanzenshuu and Rachel “TripleRach” Oliver’s translations of the Daizenshuu books. By the way, I am fully aware that South Asians and Central Asians are Asians too. Throughout this post however, when I refer to Asians, I will only be referring to the predominantly China-influenced countries (China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan, Vietnam) and South East Asia.

Basis for Dragon Ball:
Prior to creating Dragon Ball, Toriyama went on a working vacation to China. He was a huge fan of Hong Kong kung fu films as well as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Based on that, he decided to write a kung fu manga that combined martial arts with a Chinese setting. For his new manga, Toriyama used the most well-known Chinese piece of literature as basis for the story, Journey to the West and thus, Dragon Ball was born. This means that the story was written by a Japanese person to a Japanese audience, based on a Chinese story and setting, with huge inspiration from Hong Kong kung fu movies, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

Son Goku:
Obviously since Sun Wukong aka the (Chinese) Monkey King was the main character of Journey to the West, Son Goku was created as a Sun Wukong inspired human boy. Son Goku has a monkey tail, the flying cloud (Kintuon) and staff (Nyoibo) which are some of the elements that Sun Wukong is known for. Furthermore, Son Goku is the Japanese translation of the name Sun Wukong. Obviously since Son Goku is an manga character, real-life characters will never be able to look exactly like him or any other character for that matter. That said, he is a Chinese inspired character who lives in a Chinese inspired setting, has a Chinese inspired home, wears Chinese inspired clothing, fights with Chinese style martial. Moreover, he has black hair, black eyes and depending on which media, he might either have light, “yellow” or tanned skin. In the original manga, in DBGT, in DBS manga and anime, and basically every time Toriyama draws him, he has “yellow” or tanned skin. In Z, he is light skinned. All these things taken into consideration, he is Asian. Toriyama once stated that if Dragon Ball were to be made into live action, his ideal actor to portray Son Goku would be Jackie Chan, an Asian man. Fast forward and instead, Hollywood decided to cast a whitewashed Chadwin Goku. People who cannot accept Son Goku as Asian use the following three arguments which I will be addressing now:

1) He has light skin in Z.
First of all, pale skin is the beauty standard in Asia. It has been for thousands of years. Tan skin back then was associated with lower class field work which indicated that you were poor. Pale skin on the other hand was associated with wealth and social prestige. Since you were wealthy, you did not have to work outside. According to western media oulets (surprise) Asians wanting to have pale skin is because of their desire to look more European. That is absolutely NOT true and just pure BS. As previously mentioned, the beauty standard in Asia is to be pale and therefore, you see a lot of light skinned Asians in East/SE Asia. Sure, a lot of people there use skin whitening products but even without those products, East Asians are naturally pale if they just avoid the sun. This is the complete opposite in the west where everybody loves to get a tan. Just like the white race who have people who tan really fast, they also have people who have a hard time getting a tan. This applies to Asians as well. A lot of light skinned Asians get sunburnt easily instead of getting a tan. Personally speaking, I have Asian friends who are light skinned who just cannot get a tan, regardless of how much they are in the sun.

2) He has big eyes.
Alright, so let me get this straight. Every character in Dragon Ball who has big eyes is naturally white while the ones with small eyes are Asians? No. Eyes mostly represent the personality of the character in Dragon Ball (and anime in general). Big eyes indicate that they could have joyful, innocent, positive or funny personalities. Look at Goku, Gohan, Krillin, Yamcha, Bulma. Then let us compare with the people who have smaller eyes. Vegeta, Tenshinhan, Android 18, Piccolo. See how they are more serious types? So yeah, eye shape in Dragon Ball has nothing to do race but rather personality. Even if eyes were indeed an indicator for race, when have you ever seen a white person with eyes as huge as Son Goku? If you think every Asian person has monolids or small, slanted eyes, please widen your horizon. There are a lot of East/SE Asians with big eyes and double eyelids, myself included.

3) Son Goku is an alien.
Yes, indeed he is. Now let us look back. Prior to becoming an alien, he was an Asian (looking and inspired) kid with a monkey tail. It took Toriyama 17 volumes before he decided to make him an alien. Does this mean that Son Goku went from being an Asian looking guy to an alien looking guy, or, according to some people, a white person? No, not at all. When Son Goku was established as a Saiyan, Toriyama decided to create the Saiyan race as an extension of how Son Goku looked. Therefore, by default the entire Saiyan race is based on Asians. In Daizenshuu 4, Toriyama explicitly referred to pure blooded Saiyans as having “black eyes, black hair and yellow skin”. Humans from Earth on the other hand were referred to as having “black, brown, blonde and multiple hair colors. Black, brown, green, blue eyes and multiple eye colors. White skinned, brown skinned, yellow skinned etc”. This proves that the Saiyan race is a homogenous group (much like Japan, Korea and China). Name one race in the world that is referred to as black haired, black eyed and yellow skinned. Yes, East/SE Asians. Now, Asians do not really have YELLOW skin but that is how Asians are described. Vegeta is also based on real life Japanese actor Seiji Miyaguchi. If Superman is white, then Goku is Asian.

The Dragon World:
The Dragon World is the setting they live in. Much like the real world, they have the Eastern and Western parts of the world. There is the Western world (which includes West City) where Bulma is from. English alphabet, people have different hair and eye colors, the clothing, surroundings and food shows how the Western Dragon World reflects the west in our world. Like Asia, Dragon Ball has the Eastern Dragon Ball world. The very first time we meet Son Goku, he lives on Mount Paozu. The surrounding mountains were drawn based on real-life Chinese mountains. The setting shows how everything is East Asian (Chinese) inspired. The homes (including Goku’s own home), the food (how they use chopsticks, dumplings, rice etc.), surroundings, and the clothing (grandpa Gohan, Gohan, Chichi, Son Goku’s own clothes which resembles the kung fu outfits Jackie Chan wore during his younger days in films depicting the Chinese Ming and Qing dynasties). The ki aura and blasts we are all aware of, are based on Chinese Taoist concept as well.

Characters in the Dragon World:
Like I said, we have the East and the West. Majority of the characters we see in the East are black haired, black eyed and either brown, tanned, yellow or light skinned. Son Goku, Tenshinhan, Chaozu, Krillin, Yamcha, Yajirobe are all East Asians from the Eastern world, while characters like Bulma, Videl (black hair but blue eyes) Launch, Android 17, 18 are white characters. We also have Native Americans (Bora and Upa), South Asians (Nam and Oob), black people (Black from Red Ribbon Army), Inuits, Australians, Middle Easterns and more that are based on real life ethnicities. Krillin is based on shaolin monks, Chaozu is based on Chinese Hopping Vampires, Jiangshi, and Son Goku on the Monkey King. Shenlong (Shenron) is an Asian dragon as well, not an European dragon. His name literally means God Dragon and Long means dragon in Chinese.

So yeah, what's your view on this whole thing? Kamehameha and kamsahamnida (thank you in Korean).
Last edited by Jaetinh on Thu Jan 14, 2021 11:56 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by Polyphase Avatron » Thu Jan 14, 2021 7:40 am

All Saiyans are East Asian? I could swear there were some dark-skinned ones. And Paragus looks kind of Hispanic.
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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by Jaetinh » Thu Jan 14, 2021 7:48 am

Polyphase Avatron wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 7:40 am
All Saiyans are East Asian? I could swear there were some dark-skinned ones. And Paragus looks kind of Hispanic.
East/SE Asians. Asians are described as "yellow" but obviously can be either light skinned, "yellow", tan or dark skinned but generally as a whole, Asians are described as the yellow race.

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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by PurestEvil » Thu Jan 14, 2021 7:52 am

Goku and the other Saiyans can't be Asians because they come from a different planet with different continents. However, yeah, it makes sense for Goku to be coded as East Asian.
Aslo, are there really people who actually say shit like "Goku is a white person"?
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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by PurestEvil » Thu Jan 14, 2021 7:53 am

Polyphase Avatron wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 7:40 am
All Saiyans are East Asian? I could swear there were some dark-skinned ones. And Paragus looks kind of Hispanic.
There are Asian ethnicities that generally have brown skin. South East Asia, mainly.
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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by Polyphase Avatron » Thu Jan 14, 2021 9:23 am

PurestEvil wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 7:53 am
Polyphase Avatron wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 7:40 am
All Saiyans are East Asian? I could swear there were some dark-skinned ones. And Paragus looks kind of Hispanic.
There are Asian ethnicities that generally have brown skin. South East Asia, mainly.
I misread the OP and thought he was only talking about east Asians like China/Japan/Korea.
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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by jjgp1112 » Thu Jan 14, 2021 9:46 am

Yeah, that's always what I say to the "gOkU's aN aLiEn" crowd. Goku's based off of a legendary East Asian character and was conceived as a pint-sized Jackie Chan (just LOOK at his mannerisms in the earlier chapters), and the entire Saiyan Race was extrapolated from his base character traits...effectively making them an entire race of Monkey Kings. AND they wear armor vaguely resembling a Samurai's. The same way I'd expect characters loosely based on Norse mythology to appear European, I'd expect characters based on Asian mythology to at least look Asian.

Plus, you know what type of shit white people be on when it comes to things like this.
Last edited by jjgp1112 on Thu Jan 14, 2021 9:55 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by VegettoEX » Thu Jan 14, 2021 9:49 am

I guess one big issue I take with your post, OP, is that you attempt explain a whole bunch of things... but don't really relate a whole lot (any?) of it back to your thesis(?) in the subject line. Some of the things that SOUND like you're going to relate back... well, you never actually do, so I'm not entirely sure what your point was in bringing them up.

Some points and further questions of my own (both for the OP and other folks):
  • Yes, a whole lot of characters are pretty clearly "coded" as representing a certain ethnicity/race/region/etc.
  • A significant issue with (let's say) Americans who might cling to the "Goku's an ALIEN!" angle is... uhh... well, obviously general white ignorance/stubbornness, but also the initial failed attempt with the first TV series and jump ahead to Z here: Goku has ALWAYS been an alien to the vast majority of these folks.
  • I think if you're going to bring up "westerners" "claiming" Goku as white (?), you can't / shouldn't stop here. The black community has widely adopted Piccolo, and I think that's actually/probably the more interesting and specific angle. There's been a fair bit written on this, and I want to read more.
  • I see this constantly, but there's really zero evidence I'm aware of connecting Tenshinhan to Erlang. They have, like, literally nothing in common beyond a third eye, which traces back and has plenty of implications long before and separate from Erlang. (They don't share a common attitude, weapon, family history, interactions with Goku/Wukong beyond "fight", etc.) By the time Toriyama gets to Tenshinhan in the manga, there's naaaada being taken from JttW anymore (the anime, of course, is still incorporating plenty of filler yanking from JttW, but that's neither here nor there). I just don't see it. It feels like someone who didn't actually read JttW or any mythology did a cursory search, found a character with a third eye, rolled with it, no-one fact checked it, and now it's up there with "Toriyama wanted to end with Freeza."
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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by MasenkoHA » Thu Jan 14, 2021 10:35 am

I dunno if anyone actually argued that Goku is white.

The worst of it I think is when Justin Chatwin was cast as Goku in Dragon Ball Evolution when the obvious whitewashing was pointed out defenders would say “Goku’s not Asian he’s an alien!!” even though he’s obviously coded to resemble an East Asian Male much as Superman appears caucasian. But you just know the same people using the “Not Asian, he’s an alien!” argument would throw a bitch fit if Superman was played by anyone other than a white man. Despite the same principle applying here.

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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by PurestEvil » Thu Jan 14, 2021 10:46 am

VegettoEX wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 9:49 am
[*]I see this constantly, but there's really zero evidence I'm aware of connecting Tenshinhan to Erlang. They have, like, literally nothing in common beyond a third eye, which traces back and has plenty of implications long before and separate from Erlang. (They don't share a common attitude, weapon, family history, interactions with Goku/Wukong beyond "fight", etc.) By the time Toriyama gets to Tenshinhan in the manga, there's naaaada being taken from JttW anymore (the anime, of course, is still incorporating plenty of filler yanking from JttW, but that's neither here nor there). [/list]
I still think it can be argued that Tenshinhan is actually Chinese. His name comes from the Japanese-Chinese dish Tenshindon (a crab meat omelet), which is named after the Chinese city Tianjin. Moreover, he is paired with Chaozu, who is based a jiangshi, a Chinese vampire-zombie.
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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by VegettoEX » Thu Jan 14, 2021 11:04 am

Sure, I do know all that... but none of that has anything specifically to do with Erlang Shen.
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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by Jaetinh » Thu Jan 14, 2021 11:48 am

PurestEvil wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 7:52 am
Goku and the other Saiyans can't be Asians because they come from a different planet with different continents. However, yeah, it makes sense for Goku to be coded as East Asian.
Aslo, are there really people who actually say shit like "Goku is a white person"?
MasenkoHA wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 10:35 am
I dunno if anyone actually argued that Goku is white.

The worst of it I think is when Justin Chatwin was cast as Goku in Dragon Ball Evolution when the obvious whitewashing was pointed out defenders would say “Goku’s not Asian he’s an alien!!” even though he’s obviously coded to resemble an East Asian Male much as Superman appears caucasian. But you just know the same people using the “Not Asian, he’s an alien!” argument would throw a bitch fit if Superman was played by anyone other than a white man. Despite the same principle applying here.
There are tons of people who think that way. YouTube, Facebook and Instagram especially are full of people who argue that Goku is white. Twitter to a lesser extent. Every time there's a thread about whitewashing of anime characters/races/live action casting of anime characters, live action drawings of Son Goku and co., the comments are filled with people who always comment stuff like "Son Goku isn't Asian, he's an Alien. Besides, he looks white to me", "Son Goku has huge eyes, all Asians have small eyes.", "Son Goku has white skin, all Asians are yellow or tanned" etc.

And yeah, exactly what you said MasenkoHA. They use the alien argument for Goku but once you throw it back with Superman, it doesn't apply. Somehow Goku being an alien means he's white. I've seen a fair shair of those comments.
VegettoEX wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 9:49 am
I guess one big issue I take with your post, OP, is that you attempt explain a whole bunch of things... but don't really relate a whole lot (any?) of it back to your thesis(?) in the subject line. Some of the things that SOUND like you're going to relate back... well, you never actually do, so I'm not entirely sure what your point was in bringing them up.

Some points and further questions of my own (both for the OP and other folks):
  • Yes, a whole lot of characters are pretty clearly "coded" as representing a certain ethnicity/race/region/etc.
  • A significant issue with (let's say) Americans who might cling to the "Goku's an ALIEN!" angle is... uhh... well, obviously general white ignorance/stubbornness, but also the initial failed attempt with the first TV series and jump ahead to Z here: Goku has ALWAYS been an alien to the vast majority of these folks.
  • I think if you're going to bring up "westerners" "claiming" Goku as white (?), you can't / shouldn't stop here. The black community has widely adopted Piccolo, and I think that's actually/probably the more interesting and specific angle. There's been a fair bit written on this, and I want to read more.
  • I see this constantly, but there's really zero evidence I'm aware of connecting Tenshinhan to Erlang. They have, like, literally nothing in common beyond a third eye, which traces back and has plenty of implications long before and separate from Erlang. (They don't share a common attitude, weapon, family history, interactions with Goku/Wukong beyond "fight", etc.) By the time Toriyama gets to Tenshinhan in the manga, there's naaaada being taken from JttW anymore (the anime, of course, is still incorporating plenty of filler yanking from JttW, but that's neither here nor there). I just don't see it. It feels like someone who didn't actually read JttW or any mythology did a cursory search, found a character with a third eye, rolled with it, no-one fact checked it, and now it's up there with "Toriyama wanted to end with Freeza."
I might accidentally have misled you with the title so I'll change that. The whole point of this thread was to provide information as to why Son Goku and his friends are Asians. The Saiyans and especially Son Goku are often called white people and it's a misconception that I wanted to address. I'm sure there are a few people on this forum who think that way as well. Admittedly the Erlang Shen part was something I read on this forum, so you're most likely correct!

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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by WittyUsername » Thu Jan 14, 2021 11:59 am

Obviously, the idea that Goku can’t be Asian because he’s an alien is silly, especially when he wasn’t even revealed as such until much later in the story. Although, from what I can tell, people generally seem much more willing to accept Goku as East Asian nowadays. If there were to be a live action Hollywood adaptation nowadays, I imagine they would probably try to cast a Chinese actor to play the character.

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Re: Asian characters in Dragon Ball

Post by Soppa Saia People » Thu Jan 14, 2021 12:54 pm

it's also worth noting that in a lot of toriyama drawings with color, goku's (as well as gohan) always had a bit of a tan on him, even if the anime never really kept that design element untill GT.

also yeah i don't know if i've ever heard someone seriously claim that goku isn't meant to be east asian, even if they say he can't because he's a saiyan or whatever, they recognize that was his original concept. i have seen concern trolling about how obviously japanese anime characters are actually white, but never for dragon ball.

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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by Polyphase Avatron » Thu Jan 14, 2021 4:40 pm

VegettoEX wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 9:49 am
[*]I think if you're going to bring up "westerners" "claiming" Goku as white (?), you can't / shouldn't stop here. The black community has widely adopted Piccolo, and I think that's actually/probably the more interesting and specific angle. There's been a fair bit written on this, and I want to read more.
I never saw Piccolo as black, but for some reason I can easily see Beerus (and by extension Champa) being played by black actors.

As for Superman, you'd be surprised how many variations he has had over the years, certainly not all white:

https://dc.fandom.com/wiki/Harvey_Dent_(Earth-9)
https://comicvine.gamespot.com/sunshine ... 005-62027/
https://comicvine.gamespot.com/calvin-ellis/4005-88508/
https://comicvine.gamespot.com/super-man/4005-127588/
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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by LoganForkHands73 » Thu Jan 14, 2021 5:45 pm

Polyphase Avatron wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 4:40 pm
VegettoEX wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 9:49 am
[*]I think if you're going to bring up "westerners" "claiming" Goku as white (?), you can't / shouldn't stop here. The black community has widely adopted Piccolo, and I think that's actually/probably the more interesting and specific angle. There's been a fair bit written on this, and I want to read more.
I never saw Piccolo as black, but for some reason I can easily see Beerus (and by extension Champa) being played by black actors.

As for Superman, you'd be surprised how many variations he has had over the years, certainly not all white:

https://dc.fandom.com/wiki/Harvey_Dent_(Earth-9)
https://comicvine.gamespot.com/sunshine ... 005-62027/
https://comicvine.gamespot.com/calvin-ellis/4005-88508/
https://comicvine.gamespot.com/super-man/4005-127588/
Yeah but to be fair, most of them aren't meant to be the same as Kal-El Superman and only have limited appearances.

As for Piccolo, I did see a fairly thoughtful, well-reasoned video that illuminates why many black people identify with Piccolo specifically. While it was full of some cringeworthy points like "Piccolo would be better at sports", there was a point about how Piccolo's awkward, disassociated relationship with Namek is similar to many black Americans view their African ancestors' homelands. Another point was his reclusive, introverted personality coming from his inability to truly fit in with the other Z-Warriors (which seems to rely on the others being coded as white). As much as I struggle to view Piccolo and others that way, it's genuinely beautiful that many have connected with the anime in this transcultural way.
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Re: Westerners love to claim Asian characters.

Post by MasenkoHA » Thu Jan 14, 2021 6:02 pm

LoganForkHands73 wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 5:45 pm
Another point was his reclusive, introverted personality coming from his inability to truly fit in with the other Z-Warriors (which seems to rely on the others being coded as white).
I don’t think it necessarily codes the other characters as white its just most fans who see Piccolo as “the black guy of Dragon Ball” tend to be African American fans who draw from their own experience as being “otherized” the same way Piccolo is being a green alien who doesn’t pass for human like the Saiyans do.


Granted, I’m white as macaroni and cheese with bacon bits so I’m obviously out of my depth here.

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Re: Asian characters in Dragon Ball

Post by jjgp1112 » Thu Jan 14, 2021 11:51 pm

A lot of it is also his voice. Hell, I remember watching the episode where he first trains Gohan once waaaay back and my mom was in the background cooking. She overheard Piccolo yelling at Gohan about his endless crying and joked with pride, "Now that guy sounds like a black father!"
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Re: Asian characters in Dragon Ball

Post by WittyUsername » Fri Jan 15, 2021 12:17 am

I’m gonna be honest; I never realized people thought of Piccolo as black coded until I saw the WTS videos.

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Re: Asian characters in Dragon Ball

Post by Polyphase Avatron » Fri Jan 15, 2021 3:53 am

jjgp1112 wrote:
Thu Jan 14, 2021 11:51 pm
A lot of it is also his voice. Hell, I remember watching the episode where he first trains Gohan once waaaay back and my mom was in the background cooking. She overheard Piccolo yelling at Gohan about his endless crying and joked with pride, "Now that guy sounds like a black father!"
I guess maybe that contributes to my impression of Beerus as well.
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