Many people used to tell me that you weren’t a true anime fan unless you saw at least one episode of Dragon Ball Z. And while that may be gatekeeping bullshit, it is somewhat accurate, at least for my generation. Dragon Ball Z aired in 1989 to 1996 and was up there with Sailor Moon, as two of the anime that pretty much everyone has at least seen one episode of. It was two anime you knew on sight, but they certainly weren’t on par with each other. Sailor Moon was pretty much as feminist of a kids show as you could possibly get. There were a ton of female characters and female friendships, the women were their own heroes, and all were very complex. Women in DBZ, not so much. The show almost never passes the Bechdel test, the objectification of women is on absurd levels, and while our female characters aren’t damsels in distress, they are usually less powerful than their male counterparts (with a few notable exceptions). That being said, while DBZ couldn’t be called feminist, they certainly had some amazingly strong and complex female characters, all of whom I think would label themselves as feminists. And while the ladies of DBZ do fine on their own, you actually really see them shine in their relationships. Not because they need a man, but because juxtaposing these strong female characters with their male counterparts actually reveals some feminists in show (even if that wasn’t intended). Today I want to focus on two of my favorite characters and probably one of my favorite OTPs: Bulma and Vegeta!
If you have never actually watched DBZ before, from the outside Vegeta and Bulma probably looked like an extremely stereotypical fantasy show couple, and their relationship could even look horribly unhealthy. While their relationship is definitely not perfect, I don’t know if I would go so far as to call it unhealthy, and they are certainly far from stereotypical. The only thing that is stereotypical about Vegeta and Bulma is that Vegeta is physically stronger than Bulma and that is pretty much where the stereotyping ends.
First off, Bulma is hardly just a love interest for Vegeta. Bulma’s character was already well established in Dragon Ball (the prequel to Dragon Ball Z that aired in 1986–1989) long before Vegeta shows up. Bulma is shown to be even more of a genius than her father. She invents various machines and technology in her father’s company, most notably the Dragon Ball tracker. Bulma can build anything from time machines to interstellar space craft. In Dragon Ball GT (which I won’t really be discussing here) Bulma even invents a machine to help Vegeta transform to Super Saiyan 4, which astounds Vegeta. Bulma is also pretty damn fearless. With no powers save her mind and inventions, she heads straight toward danger and even tells off the Z Warriors when they try to get her to leave a fight. She’s also extremely generous. Despite being a wealthy heiress, there is no hint of Bulma being a spoiled rich girl. She gladly offers to house the entire Namekian race in Capsule Corps’s facilities until they can wish their planet back with the Dragon Balls (cause that’s how things work in DBZ).
Vegeta on the other hand, well, let’s just say he has issues. Many DBZ fans consider Vegeta one of the most complex characters on DBZ. Certainly he has some of the best character development of any character on the show. Vegeta is actually the prince of all Saiyans (as he is fond of reminding people), but he lived through the destruction of his planet at the hands of Frieza and endured incredible abuse from Frieza as well. When we first meet Vegeta, he has only two goals: become immortal and kill Frieza. Bulma and Vegeta certainly don’t get along when they first meet, either. Bulma actively encourages another character to kill Vegeta at one point and Vegeta barely notices Bulma unless he is threatening her as leverage against the other Z warriors. But eventually, almost weirdly, Bulma invites Vegeta to live with her when he is left without a home or purpose. Vegeta briefly helps the Z warriors figure out how to resurrect Goku, and Bulma seems to see that as him repenting for all his misdeeds and invites him to live with her. It’s really out of the blue, and I’m unsure if the manga does a better job with this, since I haven’t read it. It seems to me like a poorly written scene to build the beginnings of a relationship between the two characters, but poorly written or not, I kind of like it. Usually in storylines like these where a bad guy wins the heart of a good female character, it often comes from some heroic act where the guy saves the girl from distress in some way. While Bulma doesn’t necessarily save Vegeta, she is the one who reaches out to him and offers him help, and not the other way around.
I have already mentioned that I would hardly call DBZ feminist but I think there are certain moments that explore some feminist themes. Vegeta is given new clothes by Bulma and immediately protests having to wear a pink shirt declaring them to be girls clothes. Bulma simply responds by telling him to lighten up and that what he is wearing is in style now. Basically, Bulma asks him to get over his stereotypical ideas about how men and women present their gender. Furthermore, Bulma refuses to let the often bratty and headstrong Vegeta boss her around, and continuously demands his respect in how he treats her and addresses her. On top of this she isn’t afraid to tell him off and give him a piece of her mind, and despite all his past murderous activities Bulma is not afraid of Vegeta in the slightest. Because of Bulma insisting on respect and equal treatment, the Z warriors are shocked to find that Vegeta actually does seem to respect and even listen to Bulma. Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t still times when Vegeta does disrespect Bulma but she refuses to take any of his crap and always lets him know when she isn’t pleased with him.
Any romance between Bulma and Vegeta seems to happen off screen. In the series we eventually meet a young teenage Super Saiyan from the future, who reveals to Goku that his name is Trunks and that he is Bulma and Vegeta’s son. Fast forward several years later and we see Bulma with little baby Trunks. Many fans have speculated on how they hooked up. Personally, I believe that while there was some affection, for the most part Vegeta and Bulma just wanted to have some fun with each other. While they seem to care for each other Bulma never seems particularly concerned that Vegeta isn’t really around to help her raise Trunks. In fact, she even yells at Vegeta at one point, saying that “his geeky face” makes Trunk’s cry. The two seem concerned for each other’s safety but you would hardly say they are in a relationship.
Eventually Vegeta and Bulma do develop into a real committed relationship. Vegeta eventually learns to care about people other than himself and both Bulma and Vegeta eventually learn to rely on each other and not just themselves. Though I still love how both keep their independence and pursue their own dreams while still supporting each other. Probably one of the coolest things about their relationship is the fact that they are never married. There is never any mention of Bulma being Vegeta’s wife or him being her husband, at least, not that I can remember from DBZ (Dragon Ball GT could be a whole different story). The two seem to simply live together, be exclusive with each other, and eventually raised two children together but never marry. And they both seem perfectly happy with that arrangement. Perhaps it’s because both characters are such independent people that something like marriage seems constricting to them. Or perhaps it’s because the writers just never felt the need to mention it, I don’t know. But I always kind of liked that they weren’t married. There are a lot of couples today who live and have children together but don’t want to get married for whatever reason. And there are plenty of kids who grow up in households like that, and there is rarely representation for families like this. So it’s pretty cool to see such a relationship in DBZ.
I love Vegeta and Bulma, and while a lot of people came to DBZ for the epic fights or some of the more comical moments in the show, I will confess that I am primarily there for Bulma, Vegeta, and their family. I already loved Bulma, and Vegeta became one of my favorite characters almost from the minute he showed up. Never in my wildest dreams did I think the two would ever hook up. The villain doesn’t get the girl, and they certainly don’t settle down and have a family after having a complex relationship. But with Bulma and Vegeta we get just that. Vegeta and Bulma’s relationship is definitely one of the more interesting ones on the show and the one I most enjoyed.