Writing 101 w/ Tomb, Lesson 1: Plot Holes and Retcons

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Writing 101 w/ Tomb, Lesson 1: Plot Holes and Retcons

Post by Tombstone1988 » Mon Mar 05, 2018 4:24 pm

Hello, Kanzenshuu viewers! I've been a part of this community for a while now, and I must say, I've had loads of fun discussing and debating things over in the Super board. One thing that I've noticed quite a bit, however, is a lack of understanding of key narrative components in writing from some posters. I'm sure a lot of people have witnessed a post bringing up some sort of criticism that is countered with "that's just your opinion" or "but that happened in Z all the time." Throughout a series of topics, I hope to show people why said responses can be either flawed or even incorrect. So, let's get started.

"But that happened in Z all the time"

Let's start with this point. It's usually not worded like this, but it makes for a good general header. Often times, in response to a post of criticism regarding Super, someone will respond with this type of rebuttal. This, unfortunately, is a weak argument. But why? Well, the answer is actually quite simple: it is irrelevant information. It may not seem like it, but this is true. This is because bad writing is bad writing, no matter what. Did it happen in Z? Maybe it did, maybe it didn't. It doesn't matter. My next example isn't really writing, but it works regardless. Episode 128 of Dragon Ball Super has poor storyboarding. This is factual. Are there episodes of Z with poor storyboarding? Absolutely. So what? Does that change the quality of episode 128's storyboarding? No. It may change your personal perspective, but that is your subjective view, not the objective fact. Does this mean that the argument of "but Z did it all the time" is completely bad? No. If someone were to state "Dragon Ball Super episode 128 is complete trash, the storyboarding is so much worse than anything in Z," then "but that happened in Z" is absolutely the way to go. The reason is because now Dragon Ball Z is relevant to the argument. One poster has made a declaration, and you can respond with evidence from Z to the contrary. This may seem like common knowledge to some of you, but I've seen this problem crop up enough in my time here that I feel it's necessary to make this distinction.

The main reason I wanted to start with this point is because I will be centering my lessons around Dragon Ball Super. When I talk about a plot hole in Super, someone will inevitably think, "but Z has plenty of plot holes!" And you know what? You're absolutely right. But that isn't really the point. I'm not here to say that Z is flawless, nor am I here to say that Super is trash. Both of these statements are just ignorant, in my opinion. I just want this to be clear for when I start getting extremely critical of Super.

Plot Holes

Right, let's start with the basics: what is a plot hole? Well, the definition of a plot hole is "an occurrence or series of events that is illogical, implausible, or contradicts prior events." There is one caveat to this statement: a plot hole must affect the overall story's outcome. This little tidbit makes things a bit harder to boil down. As such, we'll probably need a few examples to make this distinction clear.

In episode 97 of Dragon Ball Super, the Tournament of Power kicks off. When things get into it, characters start to square off against one another. One such fight to start is 18 vs. Cocotte. They can be seen sparring with each other in this episode. Now we move to episode 98. In this episode, Universe 9 is erased after all 10 of their fighters are eliminated. One of these fighters, Sorrel, is knocked out of the ring by 18. It is never shown or mentioned why 18 stopped fighting Cocotte and thus went on to eliminate Sorrel. Sorrel's elimination is important as all 10 fighters must be eliminated for a universe to be erased. This is, by definition, a plot hole.

Let's give another example. In episode 119 of Dragon Ball Super, Piccolo is eliminated by Damon. Damon is a small, insect-like fighter, making it hard for Piccolo to focus on him. 17 eventually realizes what Damon is because he identifies Damon by sound. However, this is illogical and irrational on Piccolo's end. Namekians are established to have far better hearing than most humanoid races. If any character were to identify Damon by sound, it would be Piccolo. This event is both illogical and implausible in the context of this universe. Piccolo is eliminated because of this, meaning there is significance on the story. Piccolo being unable to hear Damon while 17 could is a plot hole.

Now let's give an example of something that isn't a plot hole. In episode 104 of Dragon Ball Super, Hit is squaring off against Dyspo and Kunshi. Goku suddenly enters the scene as a Super Saiyan God. It is never explained where he came from or why he's suddenly Super Saiyan God. However, neither of these questions are pertinent to the situation at hand. Goku has the ability to go Super Saiyan God; even if it isn't shown, it still can occur, so it is not a plot hole. There is no prior event stating that Goku can no longer go Super Saiyan God. There is no contradiction. As for where he came from, well, it isn't shown but that isn't a plot hole. If he could have feasibly gotten there, then it isn't a plot hole. That's an omission for the sake of pacing, which is separate from a plot hole.

Another example of something that isn't a plot hole is Goku's fight with Kale in episode 100. In this fight, Goku goes Super Saiyan Blue to try and tackle the raging fighter. During this sequence, Goku unleashes a fraction of his possible power while in this form, allowing Kale to overcome his attack. At first glance, this might seem like a plot hole. However, it is well-established in this universe that fighters can control their power output. In addition, Super Saiyan Blue is stated to have a great deal of Ki control. On top of this, both fighters emerge from this scuffle, meaning there is no significant bearing on the story. It could certainly be argued that it is inconsistent for Goku to use such a powerful form to output less power, but him doing so is plausible, thus it is not a plot hole.

Hopefully these four examples have given you a bit of an idea on what constitutes a plot hole versus what does not. The two big things to remember are: 1.) Does this affect the plot? and 2.) Is this event contradictory? Also remember that a simple omission is not a plot hole. Cuts and breaks in continuity are necessary in the medium of storytelling. We don't need to see characters use the restroom to establish that they're people. We don't need to see a character arrive at Capsule Corp. when we know that most of them can fly. Those are basic examples, but the principle applies even when you dig deeper. Plot holes are also often confused with a retcon, which we'll talk about next.

Retcons

So, what is a retcon then? Well, a retcon, or retroactive continuity, is a change to a previously established plot point to serve the current narrative. If something works one way in the beginning and no longer does in the present, then that is a retcon. One thing to keep in mind is that a retcon does not have to contradict prior events. Retcons many times do, but it is not necessary for it to still be a retcon. As before, let's look at some examples to make this more clear.

Let's start with an easy one. In Dragon Ball Super, in order to defeat Zamasu, Goku and Vegeta decide to initiate Potara fusion. Gowasu explains to the two that because they are both mortals, the fusion will only last for one hour. This is very clearly a retcon. In the Buu Arc, fusion was stated by Elder Kai to be permanent; once done, it could not be undone. The fact that they did split inside of Buu was completely unexpected. In Super, it is now stated that non-gods will separate by design after an hour. These two pieces of information run counter to each other; this is a retcon.

Another example of a retcon is Freeza. In the RoF Arc, it is stated that Freeza has never trained once in his life; therefore, when he did buckle down and train, he received massive gains and achieved a new form. Freeza's training or lack thereof was never mentioned or even relevant in the original run of Z. It is certain that Toriyama never had any plans for Freeza to achieve god-like power from 3 or so months of training when he wrote the Namek Arc. It may not necessarily contradict anything from Z, but it is a change for the current narrative, therefore it is a retcon.

An example of something that is *not* a retcon is Universe 4. Throughout the Tournament of Power, various characters (usually Tien) make references to two hidden fighters for Universe 4. It is established early on that these fighters are something of a trump card for Quitela. When episode 119 came about, it is unveiled that their fighters are actually quite weak; they simply rely on gimmicks to try and overcome their opponents. This may seem like a retcon at first glance, as it contradicts prior sentiments. However, this is actually an example of (poorly executed) misdirection. Misdirection is not the same as a retcon.

Retcons are a bit simpler to point out; you simply need knowledge of the story to point them out. It sometimes gets a bit muddy to point out whether or not something is a plot hole or a retcon, however. That's something we can practice right now, thankfully.

Plot Hole or Retcon?

I have 3 examples I'm going to post. For a bit of fun, take a look at them at guess whether you think it's a plot hole or a retcon:

1.) 17 spars against Goku; he is able to go toe-to-toe against even Super Saiyan Blue Goku, a character with god-like power.
2.) A weakened Zamasu faces off against Trunks; Trunks manages to gather energy from Earth's survivors to empower his sword and defeat Zamasu
3.) Caulifla transforms into a Super Saiyan upon concentrating the "tingling" energy in her back, as Cabba instructs.



A little bit of space to mull it over and...


Answers:
1.) This is a retcon. 17 is a character with previously established power. It is stated that he "trained" to achieve the power that he currently displays. Training is an established means of gaining power in this universe, thus exempting it from being a plot hole. However, training has never given a character gains of this magnitude before, with the possible exception of Freeza (another retcon). Thus, the writers changed an existing plot point to fit the current narrative means. Therefore, 17's increase in power is a retcon.
2.) This is a plot hole. One could argue that this is a retcon, as Genki has never functioned this way in the past but it now does. However, Z did establish that the Genki energy needed to be molded and given form, as Goku explained to Krillin when he walked him through how to make a Spirit Bomb. On the other hand, energy has never spontaneously gathered before. This is a new established point in order to give Trunks the "power of mortals" and defeat Zamasu. Sure, it may look cool, but it completely flies in the face of logic. This unexplained gathering of energy to defeat Zamasu is a plot hole.
3.) This is a trick question; the answer is both. Super Saiyan has been described in the past by several characters, notably Goku and Future Gohan. Not once is the concept of "tingling" ever brought up. The concept of transforming via "concentrating your tingling energy" as opposed to unleashing your inner rage/emotions is a retcon. However, it is also a plot hole, though not for the reason you may initially think. Caulifla is plenty strong, so it is perfectly logical that she has the strength required to transform. What *is* illogical is the fact that no Saiyan in Universe 6 has previously transformed when it simply requires concentrating one's energy. This is implausible and poorly explained. In addition, Caulifla's transformations absolutely have an impact on events in the story; therefore, this is a plot hole.

Does it matter?

I end today's lesson with a question: does it matter? Is it relevant whether or not plot holes and/or retcons are in a story? What is their effect on the narrative as a whole? This is where subjectivity comes into the equation. Ultimately, the detriment that these cause is interpreted by the viewers. Poorly implemented retcons are often labeled "asspulls" because they caused a negative impact on the story for the viewers who referred to them as such. Sometimes, viewers create their own "headcanon" as a way of filling in any gaps or changes i their head, diminishing any impact they might have for them. Writers themselves sometimes opt to leave in plot holes for pacing reasons or include a retcon for the sake of having something cool happen. Plot holes are objectively bad writing, but a plot hole by itself doesn't make a story bad. Perspective is a powerful thing, something that I encourage everyone to keep in mind as these lessons continue.


This wraps up the first of several lessons on writing and debate. I hope this was enlightening or, at the very least, not too boring. Let me know what you thought and anything you might want me to add for future lessons. All comments and criticism are of course welcome! I hope you'll join me next time!
"If you notice this and understand that it's flawed and just don't let it bother you, that's perfectly fine. But enjoying a flawed movie and calling a movie flawless are two completely different things."

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(Replace "movie" with "DBS episode" and that's pretty much my thoughts in regards to DBS critique)

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Re: Writing 101 w/ Tomb, Lesson 1: Plot Holes and Retcons

Post by Desassina » Mon Mar 05, 2018 4:51 pm

I read through it all and I'm waiting for the next lesson. Hopefully, one day, you will tackle the need to create a power scale for ourselves, so that we can keep things organized in our head, and how it shouldn't affect the story nor replace it. As a bonus, you should address the fact that the events that we like to discuss exist by nature, and that clinging to them is in no way the fact, but a theory after their existence, and that "theory" is no replacement for opinion as used to dismiss others. Thanks in advance.

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Re: Writing 101 w/ Tomb, Lesson 1: Plot Holes and Retcons

Post by Lord Beerus » Mon Mar 05, 2018 6:19 pm

Hate to sound like an asshole, but most of the examples you gave of what is a retcon and plothole in Super don't fit the criteria at all. And just seem more like a case of, "I don't like that this happened."

I mean... how can a character growing very strong either in a short space of time or over the space of a decade (and a bit longer) count as a retcon? And how can character going from fighting one person to fighting and eliminating another count as a plothole?

It seems as though the words "retcon" and "plothole" are being thrown around cavilarily to mask the displeasure some people have with how the plot moves forward.

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Re: Writing 101 w/ Tomb, Lesson 1: Plot Holes and Retcons

Post by TobyS » Mon Mar 05, 2018 6:43 pm

Lord Beerus wrote:Hate to sound like an asshole, but most of the examples you gave of what is a retcon and plothole in Super don't fit the criteria at all. And just seem more like a case of, "I don't like that this happened."

I mean... how can a character growing very strong either in a short space of time or over the space of a decade (and a bit longer) count as a retcon? And how can character going from fighting one person to fighting and eliminating another count as a plothole?

It seems as though the words "retcon" and "plothole" are being thrown around cavilarily to mask the displeasure some people have with how the plot moves forward.
yeah all that with a side of
"super sucks"
"stop saying that it's bumming us out, and killing our buzz after each episode, so here's reasons why your critques are wrong, but I'd rather not argue about it anymore ok?"
"NO and here's why your critques of my critques are wrong!"
"Ok sure whatever..."
Yamcha almost certainly did not cheat on Bulma:
He was afraid of Women, Bulma was the flirty one.
Yamcha wanted to get married (it was his gonna be his wish)
He suggested they settle down in the Trunks saga.
Alternate future Trunks is not a reliable source.
Toriyama wanted new SSJ Kids and not make new characters.

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Re: Writing 101 w/ Tomb, Lesson 1: Plot Holes and Retcons

Post by Doctor. » Tue Mar 06, 2018 8:57 am

I just want to make clear that a retcon isn't inherently negative. Goku being an alien is a retcon and it benefits the story.

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Re: Writing 101 w/ Tomb, Lesson 1: Plot Holes and Retcons

Post by ABED » Tue Mar 06, 2018 11:11 am

It's a retcon as well as a bit of a plot hole. Muten Roshi acts like he knew the whole time when he tells Goku how his Grandpa found him.
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Re: Writing 101 w/ Tomb, Lesson 1: Plot Holes and Retcons

Post by OhHiRenan » Tue Mar 06, 2018 11:49 am

I mean, there's nothing that explicitly contradicts him knowing the whole time is there? It's not really illogical.
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Re: Writing 101 w/ Tomb, Lesson 1: Plot Holes and Retcons

Post by Tombstone1988 » Tue Mar 06, 2018 2:14 pm

Thanks to everyone who has read and taken the time to leave a message! Let's get cracking:
Desassina wrote:I read through it all and I'm waiting for the next lesson. Hopefully, one day, you will tackle the need to create a power scale for ourselves, so that we can keep things organized in our head, and how it shouldn't affect the story nor replace it. As a bonus, you should address the fact that the events that we like to discuss exist by nature, and that clinging to them is in no way the fact, but a theory after their existence, and that "theory" is no replacement for opinion as used to dismiss others. Thanks in advance.
Thanks for the response! Power scaling is a tough thing to tackle and doesn't entirely fit in the realm of writing, but I might touch on it at a later point.
Lord Beerus wrote:Hate to sound like an asshole, but most of the examples you gave of what is a retcon and plothole in Super don't fit the criteria at all. And just seem more like a case of, "I don't like that this happened."

I mean... how can a character growing very strong either in a short space of time or over the space of a decade (and a bit longer) count as a retcon? And how can character going from fighting one person to fighting and eliminating another count as a plothole?

It seems as though the words "retcon" and "plothole" are being thrown around cavilarily to mask the displeasure some people have with how the plot moves forward.
Let me go point-by-point here. First, can you elaborate? I chose these examples completely ignoring my own personal viewpoints. For example, I defended Kale's fight with SSB Goku even though I absolutely despise that episode personally. Upon review, I admit my retcon example with Universe 4 is actually pretty weak, something I'll look to improve for the future.

Two things are wrong with your retcon point. One, it's less about the fact that they grew strong and more about change in intent. A retcon alters what was before. Was 17 ever intended to be a character with god-like powers that fights alongside Goku and friends? No, he was meant to be an android (well, cyborg) that gets absorbed by Cell. That's a change in continuity. The other point I want to bring up is:
Doctor. wrote:I just want to make clear that a retcon isn't inherently negative. Goku being an alien is a retcon and it benefits the story.
Side note, thank you for the post Doctor. But yes, retcon does not equal bad. I apologize if I painted it in that light, but retcons can be beneficial. I for one love 17's expanded role this arc. Pointing out a retcon and calling something bad are two different things, hence why I talked about "asspulls" later on.

I assume you're referring to the 18/Sorrel point when you talk of plot holes. It is a plot hole because it contradicts prior events and does not flow logically. How was Sorrel eliminated? Why did 18 stop fighting Cocotte? When did 18 and Sorrel begin fighting? Can you answer any of these questions? If not, does this have an effect on the story? If so, then there we go: plot hole. If your point is that it is insignificant, then that is subjective. I'd honestly agree, Sorrel's elimination is very minor in the grand scheme of things, but that wasn't the point.

With your final sentence, I feel (and this is purely conjecture, mind you) that you have completely missed the point of this topic. I made this *because* I've seen plot hole and retcon thrown around like crazy. I made this *because* words and ideas get misused. The point is to try and bring everyone on the same page so we can have even better discussions in the future. I highly encourage you to re-read the final section on "Does it matter?" As I said, perspective is a powerful thing.

Finally, I'd like to mention that while I'm trying to be as fair and neutral as possible, I am still only human. I'm sure my own personal bias does bleed into things on some level. In addition, I'm sure I've made at least a few mistakes in my opening post. I already mentioned that on reflection, my Universe 4 retcon example was quite weak. That's why feedback is useful; it helps one to improve. These topics can honestly be just as useful for me as I hope they are for others.
"If you notice this and understand that it's flawed and just don't let it bother you, that's perfectly fine. But enjoying a flawed movie and calling a movie flawless are two completely different things."

-Adam from YourMovieSucksDOTorg
(Replace "movie" with "DBS episode" and that's pretty much my thoughts in regards to DBS critique)

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Re: Writing 101 w/ Tomb, Lesson 1: Plot Holes and Retcons

Post by Lord Beerus » Tue Mar 06, 2018 9:00 pm

Tombstone1988 wrote:
Lord Beerus wrote:Hate to sound like an asshole, but most of the examples you gave of what is a retcon and plothole in Super don't fit the criteria at all. And just seem more like a case of, "I don't like that this happened."

I mean... how can a character growing very strong either in a short space of time or over the space of a decade (and a bit longer) count as a retcon? And how can character going from fighting one person to fighting and eliminating another count as a plothole?

It seems as though the words "retcon" and "plothole" are being thrown around cavilarily to mask the displeasure some people have with how the plot moves forward.
Let me go point-by-point here. First, can you elaborate? I chose these examples completely ignoring my own personal viewpoints. For example, I defended Kale's fight with SSB Goku even though I absolutely despise that episode personally. Upon review, I admit my retcon example with Universe 4 is actually pretty weak, something I'll look to improve for the future.

Two things are wrong with your retcon point. One, it's less about the fact that they grew strong and more about change in intent. A retcon alters what was before. Was 17 ever intended to be a character with god-like powers that fights alongside Goku and friends? No, he was meant to be an android (well, cyborg) that gets absorbed by Cell. That's a change in continuity.
I'll elaborate.

First off, your definition of plothole is incorrect. A plothole is simply an inconsistency in the narrative. That's it. it's something that contradicts a previously established fact.

Next, your first example of Cocotte fighting #18 and then in the next episode #18 then deciding to go and eliminate Sorrel is by no means a plothole by any definition because no reason needs to be given for #18 deciding to change her attention from one fight to another. It's a battle royal. Everyone is fighting everybody looking to eliminate other fighters. #18 doesn't need to have any further established reason for going from person to another when she's, and the audience, fully aware of the context of the event she's taking part in.

Your second example of what was classified as plot hole was already explained in the episode. Even with Piccolo's advanced hearing, he focused so much on sensing energy that he didn't give enough attention to other stronger sense. It happens. Like when character constantly assume that another character is dead after an attack despite the fact they can sense Ki and would be able to tell right away if someone is dead or not.

Now onto retcons.

For something to count as a retcon, it needs to have heavily contradicted, ignored or adjusted a previously stated fact made in-universe. Now was there any statement given that implies that half-human cyborgs can't become strong through training? It's the same deal with Freeza. Was it ever established that Freeza could never get stronger through training? Or were the specifications for how stronger Freeza or #17 could become ever implied? If the answer is "no" to any of those questions, then the idea of #17 after training for over decade and Freeza training for four months and both becoming strong enough to challenge SSJB tier fighters being a retcon are false. Going by your criteria, many power-ups in the series have to be considered as retcons.

For the incredible growth in strength in #17 and Freeza to be seen as retcon, there needs to be a foundation of context in the narrative which explicitly states that these characters can never get stronger again though training. And that kind of context is never provided. All you did was arbitrarily apply a glass ceiling to two characters that never had a glass ceiling to even begin with. You yourself state that in Freeza's case with going Golden and becoming as strong as as he did in 4 months that it doesn't contradict anything. That by default doesn't make it retcon. Because the quintessential aspect of retcon is that it heavily contradicts or ignores a fact that was previously established. Not that it just changes the current narrative. It's even mentioned by Freeza himself why never trained and it fits in well given the context of narrative and his character.

Your point about Caulifla attaining SSJ through concentrating energy in her back and getting a tingling sensation is probably the most off base assumption of something being a retcon and a plothole. How Caulifla attains SSJ doesn't conflict and adjust anything about the original principle of attaining SSJ because Super had already established with Cabba that you can still attain the SSJ transformation though intense emotions, and further established that later, even after Caulifla attains SSJ the way she does, with Kale (twice) and with Cabba. Cabba instructions to Caulifla about becoming a SSJ was just another method that so happened to have discovered himself. It didn't replace the original established convention of attaining SSJ forms through intense emotions, which in that case would make it retcon. It was just another route provided to gain access to SSJ forms. Cabba even make mention that he had to angry to become a SSJ the first time and when he tried to apply the method with Caulifla and Kale, and it backfired, he presented them with an alternative method to become a SSJ that didn't require anger, but was more centred around focusing your Ki into a single point until you felt a certain sensation (the back tingle).

And just because no Saiyan had become a Super Saiyan in Universe 6 doesn't make anything regarding Caulifla becoming a SSJ a plothole because it doesn't contradict anything. It may be questionable as to why no Saiyan in Universe 6 became a SSJ before Cabba in the Champa arc, but the fact is that that no Saiyan in Universe 6 knew about Super Saiyan. It more of a case of you personally not liking that reveal.

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Re: Writing 101 w/ Tomb, Lesson 1: Plot Holes and Retcons

Post by ABED » Tue Mar 06, 2018 9:32 pm

Plot holes aren't merely contradictions, they're often holes in the logic of the narrative. They can leave the audience going "Why didn't they just do X?" Or in some cases, certain facts weren't set up earlier.
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Re: Writing 101 w/ Tomb, Lesson 1: Plot Holes and Retcons

Post by Lord Beerus » Wed Mar 07, 2018 6:39 am

ABED wrote:Plot holes aren't merely contradictions, they're often holes in the logic of the narrative. They can leave the audience going "Why didn't they just do X?" Or in some cases, certain facts weren't set up earlier.
Hmm. By that criteria, you would have to classify the existence of SSJ3 as a plothole, would you not?

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Re: Writing 101 w/ Tomb, Lesson 1: Plot Holes and Retcons

Post by ABED » Wed Mar 07, 2018 6:45 am

Lord Beerus wrote:
ABED wrote:Plot holes aren't merely contradictions, they're often holes in the logic of the narrative. They can leave the audience going "Why didn't they just do X?" Or in some cases, certain facts weren't set up earlier.
Hmm. By that criteria, you would have to classify the existence of SSJ3 as a plothole, would you not?
Yep. I also think it's a retcon as Goku's sincerity and knowing Toriyama to be a pantser leads me to believe he didn't think of SS3 until after he wrote the fight between Goku and Majin Vegeta.
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