Transforming Mercy in Dragon Ball Z

Oh, the nostalgia I have with Dragon Ball Z. I remember watching it every day after school when it came on Toonami, wondering if the gang would ever get off the planet Namek, questioning if Frieza really knew how long five minutes was, getting aggravated when they would run out of episodes and start the series over…again.

I was rewatching the earlier parts of the series recently and was surprised with how much more I appreciated Goku’s character this time around. Before, I was pretty indifferent to him because I always thought he had a very bland, generic good guy personality. This time I was really touched by some of his more iconic moments.

At the end of the 1st season, I found my favorite Goku moment…well, besides the episode where he and Piccolo get their licenses. It is after the defeat of Vegeta when Krillin stood over him with a sword ready to finish him off as he tries to escape.


Krillin: You think you can just slither out of here after what you did?

Vegeta and his then deceased partner Nappa had come to earth in search of the dragon balls and, in the process, had killed a number of Goku and Krillin’s friends, not to mention innocent bystanders just for fun. Vegeta himself further maimed Krillin, Goku, Yajirobi and Goku’s young son, Gohan, along with ruthlessly killing his own teammate Nappa after he could no longer fight.

But before Krillin could give the last blow, he got a request from Goku, who laid beaten and battered, barely able to move after fighting Vegeta.

Goku: Stop! Don’t do it! Just let him go, Krillin.



Goku: Show him what it means to be merciful.

Krillin, standing in confused disbelief at this statement, countered Goku’s request with a number of very logical arguments.

Krillin: This is the guy that threatened all the people here on earth. Surely he will try to destroy us again! I just don’t think it’s a good idea to let him escape now that we have the chance to stop him for good.


Krillin had a point. He saw an opportunity to eliminate one of the largest threats the earth had ever faced and it was insanity to let him go. He knew letting Vegeta go could one day mean the destruction of the entire planet. But Goku wouldn’t let up.

Goku: By doing this we are showing him that there is another way. A BETTER way,

Krillin: Goku, I don’t think this is the kind of guy that can learn a lesson like that. He’ll just think we’re weak! It won’t change him at all.

Goku: Don’t be so sure about that, Krillin. It wouldn’t be the first time that happened.

Letting Vegeta go was a huge risk, but Goku believed in the power that a kind, merciful act could show. He goes on to talk about Piccolo’s life change through Gohan but, by this time in his life, Goku had witnessed many people change from evil to good. More than a few of his friends were like that. Krillin was once against him as a rival, Yamcha tried to steal from him, Tien made plans to kill him, and the list goes on. Actually, even Bulma shoots him in the head at the beginning of Dragon Ball, but she did think he was attacking her. He knew the benefit of giving people a chance despite their past actions because he had many strong allies that came from getting that chance.

Goku: If someone as evil as Piccolo can change, I believe anyone can. Vegeta deserves to have that same chance. By showing him the people of this planet have compassion and can show mercy, maybe he can learn to show some of his own.

Krillin still was not convinced with the grief from the recent death of his friends fresh in his mind.

Krillin: But the Sayians killed Yamcha! Tien! Chaotzu! I can’t let him get away!

Goku: Don’t do it, Krillin! I know it seems like justice, but it’s not right. If you strike him down it will only show that we aren’t any better than he is. It means that they won no matter what. Be strong! Don’t forget Krillin. I’m a Sayian…just like he is.

After meeting Raditz, his brother, Nappa and Vegeta and learning of his origin, I think Goku understood something about his own situation that made it much easier to offer mercy to Vegeta. Goku was a full-blooded Sayian sent to earth to annihilate the human race and make the planet fit for sale. He exited out of his pod as a child with every intention of doing just that. The only thing that stood between him becoming exactly like Vegeta was a bump on the head and the kindness of his adoptive grandfather, Gohan. If he had not been given the opportunity to become Goku, all that would have been left is the path of Kakarot.

In the end, Krillin lets Vegeta go and the situation is left in a cloud of doubt for what that decision would mean for the earth. Vegeta does not appear to be touched in the slightest by this show of mercy and seems to confirm Krillin’s first argument.


Vegeta: When I come back to this planet, you are all going to suffer, and when you beg me for mercy I’ll stare into your eyes as I crush you.

Even Goku doubts whether letting Vegeta go will mean something bad for the earth in the future. Vegeta’s words haunt him as he tries to train right after their battle.

In fact, it is many years before the Z fighters are able to count Vegeta as a true ally. I believe the act did have an effect on him earlier than he knew. When he next encounters Krillin and Gohan on planet Namek, he spares them.

When he speaks to Gohan, who learns he has just gotten a dragon ball from Krillin and Bulma, he is met with an angry question from Gohan, who was sure he had hurt them.



Vegeta: Actually I never even touched them, but if you want I could easily be talked into going back. You see boy, because I now possess all of the dragon balls I was, as you say, “merciful.”

Even though this answer is given mockingly, I think it is truer than he knew. There was no good reason for him to not kill Gohan, Bulma and Krillin. He had the power to do so and had no scruples about killing hundreds before. He had just finished off Cui, Dodoria, and Zarbon. You could say he allowed them to live due to his pride, but his past action proved different as seen when he blows up Arlia for fun. Besides that, he had reasons to seek revenge against the earthlings because of their previous battle.

Through the years, little by little, Vegeta’s character changes. He goes from being one of the most ruthless, cold-blooded characters on the show to one of earth’s greatest defenders. That would have never happened if Krillin had killed him after that first encounter.

It makes me think about the people I see on the news or just on a day to day basis that I struggle to have hope in. People can do and say and some horrible things and it’s hard for me to believe they can change sometimes. But I can’t see their end and I have to believe that the power that was able to change me can change these people too. Just Like Goku realized his possible alternate path as a Saiyan, as a very flawed member of the human race, I can’t say that I would be different if I had gone through one of those people’s circumstance or had not had the opportunity to hear and be shown the gospel. Not that I’m anywhere near perfect now, but I don’t like to think about the person I would have become if I had not become a Christian.

Also, even when I am met with evil, I should show mercy and love because, as a Christian, I’m supposed to be different.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Luke 6:32-36

It is just like Goku said, if I strike someone down it will only show that I’m not any better than they are. Then I crush another opportunity for them to have the change that I had.

Even if it doesn’t seem to do anything, even if it’s a risk to me, even if everyone around me doubts me, I want to be able to show mercy and meet and evil act with a good act. I want to show other people this better way just like it was shown to me.

3 thoughts on “Transforming Mercy in Dragon Ball Z”

  1. What’s really unfortunate is that the dialogue here was entirely a product of funimation and little resembles the original Japanese. Goku, rather than pleading for mercy, tells Krillin to spare Vegeta so that he could fight him again at full strength and turn out victorious. Likewise, there’s no internal struggle on Krillin’s part over a worldly kind of justice and, if I may, a kind of otherworldly mercy.


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