Writing Lessons from DBZ: Teaming up with Villains
Good Guy, Bad Guys…Badder Bad Guys…and…Gray Guys?
Dragon Ball Z takes advantage of villains to a degree I haven’t seen before. In most stories, we see a “good guy,” his friends, and a “bad guy” and his minions, and they’re against one another. Dragon Ball Z, on the other hand, really breathes life into the saying “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
From the very starting of the series, Goku, the protagonist, has to team up with his enemy Piccolo, to fight someone who is far stronger than either of them. Goku and Piccolo have been enemies for years, and Piccolo has been hatching plans to actually kill Goku. Imagine how interesting the character dynamics are when they have to team up to fight a new bad guy–who, by the way, they learn is Goku’s long lost brother, Raditz.
One or two episodes into this show and it’s already interesting. During the fight, they discover the only way to defeat Raditz is if Goku holds onto him while Piccolo does his death shot–killing both of them. And of course, since Piccolo wanted Goku dead all along, he goes right along with it and Goku dies like in the second or third episode (what an opening). Since Goku was the only one strong enough to defeat Piccolo, this leaves the world open to Piccolo’s agenda. But don’t worry, the characters have the ability to bring Goku back from the dead, once, using what are called Dragon Balls (find all seven and you can have a wish granted.)
Over and over again throughout the series, villains, each with their own agendas, have to team up with each other and with the “good guys” to defeat someone stronger than them. What’s it like working with someone who literally wants to kill you? A lot more intense and interesting than working together with your best friends!
As viewers, we’re never quite sure what the teamed up villains will do. Save each other? Save themselves? Do they care if innocent people get in the way? Will they care if the good guys get killed in the process? So the hero of the story has to deal with all these other conflicts, along with the super villain (Frieza, Cell, or Buu) they’re all teamed up against. Talk about tension and conflict. Why don’t we see more stories taking advantage of these dynamics?
Then, to take this further, once the super villain is defeated, we have to worry about how all these villains and heroes with their own goals are going to duke it out among themselves. At one point in the series, when the heroes have the opportunity to destroy one of the super villains before he gains power, one of the heroes, Krillin, says aside to his friend Bulma, Let’s not destroy it. Otherwise Piccolo and Vegeta will be fighting over the planet among themselves, and we can’t fend off both of them at once. If we have this super villain around, they have to work together to defeat it. And we won’t have to worry about them trying to defeat us or wreck their own havoc on society.
It’s so interesting that they choose to not prevent an antagonist from rising to power because they’re more afraid of what will happen if their team-ups are no longer needed.
Some villains work with the good guys so much, that as they grow as characters…they aren’t really good or bad, they’re somewhere in between. They’re fully gray. One moment they’ll be rescuing a comrade and the next punching him in the stomach. We can’t entirely trust them, which leads me into the next writing lesson. DBZ often makes its audience put its trust in someone untrustworthy or unstable, which shoots up the tension.
For now, look for opportunities in your own writing to team up villains and heroes, and then explore the dynamics of that. It can kick up the interest of tension in your story.