Cell's my favorite DBZ character, and I love hearing your thoughts on him. And I think I read he's a favorite of yours too, right? Could you please talk about why you like him?
Yes, Cell is my favorite DBZ character, and yes, I will talk about why I like him. Let’s get a picture up here to set the mood…
Aw, yeeeeeeahhhh. Now we’re talking!
I had been watching DBZ casually on Toonami since about 1998, but I didn’t really get interested in the story until Cell showed up in mid-2000. Specifically, right around the time he achieved his Perfect form and it seemed like Trunks was the only one left to stop him. When I saw that, I made a conscious decision to really pay attention to this show and watch every episode, because I figured we were finally in the home stretch of the saga, and now we were gonna get this epic showdown like the Goku/Frieza battle.
Along the way, I managed to see enough reruns to piece together how Cell had gotten this far. Clearly the androids crisis had gotten completely out of hand, and the Z-Fighters had lost control of the situation. But I was sure it was all coming to and end here, and Trunks was going to step up and save the world from Cell.
Except he didn’t. Trunks lost. Badly. The worst of it was that Cell didn’t even beat him up that much. He just shrugged off all of Trunks’ offense and deconstructed his new Ultra Super Saiyan Deluxe form. Meanwhile, Vegeta recovered from getting his ass beat by Cell, but it didn’t really matter, because if he could do any good against Perfect Cell, he already would have.
What blew my mind here was that Cell had won. He waded balls deep into the android/Z-Fighter conflict and defeated all of them. Vegeta and Trunks were supposed to be the big trump card to stop this guy, and he played them like a fiddle. If Cell’s ultimate objective was to destroy the Earth, he could have done it right then and there, and no one could stop it. Instead, he decided the only sensible thing to do would be to hold a tournament and win all over again.
So then I’m just glued to the TV waiting to see how Goku deals with this guy. Well, it was dumb of me to think Trunks would be the one to beat Cell, but Goku’s the main character. And he can teleport, so that might give him an edge, right? Bullshit it will, Goku can’t beat him either. I had sort of hoped that the Cell Games would allow the other characters to get a second crack at Cell, and maybe some of them would do better, or at least wear him down a little, but no. Vegeta, Trunks, and Piccolo trained for another year in the time chamber, and they didn’t even try to fight Cell again because they knew they’d never last. The humans didn’t even bother training for this, because it’d just be a waste of time. Android 16 got an overhaul, but it didn’t help him at all. Dumb as it may sound, I was seriously thinking they should bring back Frieza to see if he could do any good against Cell. You know, pit him against all the guys he was cloned from.
Somewhere along the way, I started to realize that this guy’s awesome. No matter what they threw at Cell, he had a smug answer to everything. He can regenerate. He has Super Saiyan powers. He knows all the coolest moves. He can survive in space. He squeaks when he walks, and he buzzes when he flies. His carpace and neck flange make him look like Gul Dukat a little. And his voice is amazing. He’s this smarmy dickhole who has everyone over a barrel, and he knows it.
I’m not real wild about Frieza, and I guess Cell helped me understand why. Frieza makes a lot of stupid, lazy mistakes. If he had been willing to do his own dirty work, he could have gotten immortality within a day of setting down on Namek. Instead he puttered around in that stupid hovercar of his drinking wine and doing that stupid “ohohoho” laugh while all off his subordinates whizzed his entire plan. He didn’t start taking things seriously until about four episodes after he was getting his ass kicked by a Super Saiyan on an exploding planet. I suppose his biggest flaw is that he’s so satisfied that he doesn’t really want anything that badly. As much as he supposedly craved immortality, he never acted like he was desperate for it or anything, and that lack of motivation really hurts his villain credentials in my book. It might have helped it he had a terminal illness or something. A ticking clock to make his quest for eternal life more meaningful.
Cell’s got the reverse of that problem. He doesn’t really have an end goal in mind. He’s compelled to become perfect and kill Goku, but that’s just his programming. Once he becomes perfect, killing Goku becomes a mere formality, and he really has nowhere left to go. But he still wants that next big challenge. He can’t just sit in a hovercar sipping space wine. He’s still driven by the same impulses that made him stalk humans for bio-extract, that made him hunt down the androids. I’m not sure he can be satisfied. When he wins all his fights, all he knows to do is to pick more fights, hoping against hope that he can find someone to give him a worthy challenge. But if he wins, he’s right back where he started, and if he loses…
This isn’t someone who wants to die. One of my favorite parts of Hellsing is when they explain that vampires ultimately crave to die on their own terms, usually going out in some sort of glorious battle. The bad guys in that story are willing to kill millions of innocent people just to have their little fantasy demise, which is just about the most selfish thing I can think of. But Cell isn’t like that. He’s just as terrified of dying as the next guy. He’d rather win forever, and somehow find a way to keep fighting worthy opponents on a never-ending undefeated streak that somehow never gets dull or predictable. It’s an incredibly childish and unrealistic desire, which is why his life is such an existentialist nightmare. If he wins, he’s bored. If he loses, he has a complete breakdown.
An important part of a good villain is how they suffer defeat, and Cell knocks it out of the park by turning into a complete chickenshit. What made the Cell/Gohan fight so incredible was that he was beating the crap out of an eleven-year-old, then he spawned a flock of monsters to terrorize his friends just to make things more interesting, and when Gohan finally began to turn the tables on him, he has the temerity to call Gohan a monster. He gets completely humiliated and beaten down, which is just extremely satisfying for the audience.
To put this in the proper perspective, I was really into comic books around 2000, and it irritated me how most of the best villains never really got any genuine comeuppance for their deeds. A lot of writers would have the Joker get badly injured, but he’d always come back in perfect health for the next story, and pain never seemed to bother him much anyway. Dr. Doom and Magneto pretty much get away with everything, and so much time is spent on making them sympathetic that they almost don’t qualify as villains. Most X-Men villains end up joining the X-Men if they play their cards right, which I find hypocritical and confusing. So watching Cell get beat to a pulp after all the terrible things he’d done was a breath of fresh air. This wasn’t some anime swordfight where the hero nobly kills the bad guy with a single stroke. No, Cell got destroyed repeatedly, and then he got the big anime finish. He put the babyface over on his way out, which is exactly what a good villain is supposed to do.
I don’t know, I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of how cool this guy is. I’ve barely talked about his first two forms, or how creepy and inhuman he is, or how his origin story resembles that of G.I. Joe’s Serpentor. I didn’t even get around to his awesome theme music that Bruce Faulconer made for him, or how he could totally whip Broly in a fight. I could go on about what a great character Cell is, but I think it’d be best to close out with a delightful song by the bio-weapon himself:
an impromptu Kirby and friends(?) midnight doodle! because my bro won’t stop playing Kirby Planet Robobot and his waddle doo doll keeps staring at me! don’t mind the mistakes because the only reference i have is from his 3DS screen.