Goten and Trunks are the sons of Goku and Vegeta, respectively.
While their fathers were once enemies and are presently fierce rivals, Goten and Trunks are close friends who would often play fight together in their youth for fun.
Each respecting the other and their strength, they even trained together to perform the Fusion technique in order to take down Majin Buu. By perfectly aligning themselves in every way, they succeeded in fusing to become the strongest warrior on Earth—even if it was just for a moment while Goku was still in Another World.
So it's safe to say that Trunks and Goten are good friends, but how did they come to share such a close bond?
To find out, we asked clinical psychologist Dr. Haruka Sudo, an expert in preadolescent friendships, to explain just what makes Goten and Trunks' friendship so great!
*This interview was conducted remotely.
Professor at Kobe College in the Department of Psychological and Behavioral Sciences in the School of Human Sciences. Holds a doctorate in education after completing a post-graduate doctoral course in Graduate School of Education at Kyoto University. After working as a lecturer in the Clinical Psychology Department at Kyoto Bunkyo University, she became a full-time lecturer in the School of Human Sciences at Kobe College in 2010, taking on her current position there in April 2022. As a specialist in clinical psychology, she has published several journal articles, including "A Study on 'Chumship' of Preadolescent Friendships from the viewpoint of Clinical Psychology" and more.
——Trunks and Goten often play together by fighting. We don't know their exact ages, but supposing that they're 7-8 years old, what kind of things might children of that age learn through play fighting?
Sudo: We usually refer to the developmental stage containing elementary school ages through grades 1 to 6 as "childhood", and Erikson (Erik Homburger Erikson) posits that this developmental stage centers around "industry versus inferiority". That is, the accomplishment they feel when overcoming developmental objectives versus the crisis they feel when they do not.
Children are able to build confidence in themselves by studying and acquiring new knowledge and skills. Conversely, it is believed that if they are unable to do so, they are at risk of developing feelings of inferiority.
Children in the modern world acquire the "strengths" necessary to become a part of society through their classes at school and extra-curricular activities, but in the case of Goten and Trunks, perhaps it is the literal strength that they acquire through play fighting that serves this purpose.
As time goes on, they also engage in not just play but also training to grow even stronger and continue to acquire more necessary skills, including when they learned the Fusion technique. It appears that they are growing and developing, becoming more and more industrious—both physically and mentally—through their training.
I think you could hypothesize that the way they are able to witness their own growth as an increase in strength through the process of training had a large impact on their development.
——Do you think that there would be an additional synergistic effect of the two going through this process of hard work and training together as opposed to if they were going it alone?
Sudo: Peers are certainly an extremely important factor in childhood development.
Sullivan (Harry Stack Sullivan) suggested peer relationships as a significant marker of the changes that occur in childhood.
In earlier developmental stages, a child's needs are centered around their parents, but when they enter the childhood stage, those needs begin to transition to peers with whom they can share their way of life.
It is also in the childhood stage that through peer relationships, a child's play patterns slowly shift from being self-centric, revolving around what they themselves want to do, to being interactive, where they consider what their play partners want to do while playing together. They also learn how to compromise through this kind of play as it requires them to communicate with their play partners and consider the wants of the "other" rather than just the "self".
Social judgement, or the ways in which a child's peers respond to or "evaluate" them, is another central factor in the childhood stage. Through the comparison of performance between themselves and other children of the same age in terms of things like academic skills, sporting ability, being funny, and so on, children are able to discern what they are good at or not good at. In doing so, they also learn to be able to view themselves subjectively.
——So they become able to see themselves and grasp "where they stand" through the presence of others, right?
Sudo: And at the same time, they also learn important concepts of ‘cooperation’ that rise from being in a group of their peers, such as trusting others and finding their place within the group though cooperative play or behavior where they need to form bonds with those around them and work towards a common goal.
And by having a rival about whom they can think, "They're trying hard, so I have to try hard as well," or even "I don't want to lose to them," children are able to effect rapid development. I think that is a large factor in Trunks and Goten's development too—that they're both working hard together.
Their play fighting and training together during this developmental period also likely had a significant effect on the formation of their respective personalities.
——From your own perspective, what sort of impression do you have of Trunks and Goten compared to the everyday 7-to-8-year-old child?
Sudo: I feel that they generally resemble children of that age range. For example, Goten believes that Trunks is stronger than him because he's a year older, and at the Tenkaichi Budokai, Trunks goes easy on Goten, only using his right hand, because he's a year younger.
I think that's just the kind of behavior you'd see if a 2nd grader was friends with a 1st grader, for example. At such a young age, the difference in children even just one year apart is actually quite large both physically and mentally.
——Do you think that Trunks only using his right hand against Goten at the Tenkaichi Budokai is a display of him trying to play the "big brother"?
Sudo: Certainly. I think it may also be an expression of how a warrior wants to fight and win fairly against their opponents.
They both respect each other's strength, but the difference due to the age gap can't be ignored. I don't think that Trunks would be satisfied if he won against Goten, who he knows is weaker than him, if they both fought at full strength.
However, when you look at real elementary school children, there are many cases where the older and stronger children will dominate younger children without even thinking about that kind of thing, so the fact that Trunks does demonstrates that he's quite mature already.
——So even at 8 years old, Trunks is already a "warrior". Although, we also see that he's still a child when he's about to lose to Goten and starts using his left hand to win.
Sudo: Children at their age have a desire to be number one. This 8-year-old Trunks may want to fight fairly against the younger Goten, but in the end his desire to win overpowers that.
I think it's a very real depiction of how children at that age feel towards their peers. They're dealing with these opposing desires, where on one hand they're beginning to empathize with others and learning to act selflessly, and on the other they still desire to be the best.
You might say, "Then why does he even bother giving Goten a handicap in the first place?" Well, I think that he probably also wanted to play the cool older brother. (laughs)
——What are some of the differences between Goten and Trunks and real 7- and 8-year-olds?
Sudo: I think one difference is that Goten and Trunks are both "chosen ones".
Being that they were both born to fathers with extraordinary abilities, they likely feel a strong sense of purpose—that they are the successors to this powerful warrior race and that they must become worthy of carrying on that legacy.
We can't be sure to what degree the two of them perceive themselves as being special, but I think that they are both living through a kind of "hero's journey" where they feel some semblance of destiny and that they have to fight.
——When Trunks and Goten hear that Goku and the others are going to chase Babidi, the two get all excited about how fun it sounds and end up leaving a worried Videl behind to go chase them. What can that tell us about Trunks and Goten's mentality at the time?
Sudo: I think it shows that they want to explore dangerous activities and test their own strength. Some things might make you nervous, but you can overcome them if you have someone with you. Trunks and Goten are actually quite strong, so they likely have an easily inflatable sense of self-efficacy that comes from believing that they can do just about anything with their combined power.
——Trunks does show overconfidence in his and Goten's power, like in the scene when Vegeta realizes that he'll have to sacrifice himself in order to stand a chance at destroying Majin Buu, Trunks tries to convince him that he and Goten can help, saying, "That's not true! We're the best!"
Sudo: Even in the face of a life-threatening foe with unfathomable power like Majin Buu, he still holds onto the misplaced belief that he too possesses that level of superhuman power. This kind of belief could be an example of what is sometimes called "inflation" in psychlogy.
——What do you think gave him that kind of belief?
Sudo: I think the strong sense of unity in his peer relationship with Goten is at least in part responsible. During childhood, children's disposition towards cooperation and working together for a common goal becomes stronger through the co-reliant relationships they have with their peers.
That can also extend to the kind of mischief that children get up to when they egg each other on, like sneaking into the neighbor's yard and stealing their fruit or something.
When you think about it that way, it's not at all unnatural that Trunks and Goten want to get into mischief and do dangerous or reckless things together.
——During the fight against Majin Buu, Trunks lost his father, Vegeta, and Goten lost his brother, Gohan. But before they have time to grieve, they're already starting to train for the Fusion technique, right? What kinds of things do you think the two of them were feeling at that time?
Sudo: What strikes me the most is their stance of turning their sadness into anger and trying to become stronger. I was concerned that they weren't able to grieve sufficiently for the loss of such central figures in their lives, but it was almost like they were trying to use their burning desire for revenge to heal their emotional wounds.
I think that normal children of their age would more likely become unable to do anything at all if they lost a parent or sibling. The fact that Trunks and Goten turned that experience into fuel to push themselves forward and fight suggests that they really do have warriors' spirits.
I also feel that they're each thinking about their fathers in a way. I think that they've inherited that Saiyan pride, of course, but maybe they also feel a sense of purpose or a drive to defeat the enemy that their fathers couldn't.
And then there's Fusion, which is meant to merge two warriors with the same energy or aura into a new, different warrior. Trunks and Goten are very similar, but they also have their own unique traits, and all of that comes together to create a being with more power than they could muster alone, which is a very interesting concept in and of itself.
——It was around that time that Goku said to the two, "We don't have time for crying!! Learn this fast if you want revenge!! Got that?!" That was pretty harsh considering the situation, but having each other to go through it together must have been a big help, right?
Sudo: When I saw that scene of Trunks and Goten crying, it really gave me the impression that they're close enough to show weakness in front of each other.
My field of expertise is preadolescent friendship or "chumship", which is a term defined by Sullivan as a kind of relationship that emerges in children around the age of 9, characterized by them regarding the thoughts and feelings of their friends with the same importance that they regard their own, and also by the sharing of things that hurt them and their weaknesses, meaning that it is an empathetic relationship.
I think that up until this point, Trunks and Goten shared a childhood peer relationship where they would fight alongside each other, but afterward it developed into a truly unique friendship.
The sense of unity between them would also have been made very strong due to each having lost a family member to the same cause. I think that their bond became even closer due to being two people in the same situation with the common goal of defeating the same enemy.
——At the end of the manga, we get to see Trunks and Goten 10 years later in the future when they would be around 17 or 18 years old. What did you think of them then?
Sudo: I felt like their fighting spirit had settled a little and that they were enjoying the peace of that era. We even see them exhibiting age-appropriate behavior for late teens, such as interest in romantic relationships—Goten even has a girlfriend. I think that Goten's approach to romantic relationships might even be based on the friendship he formed with Trunks and the things he was able to learn from it.*
Regarding Trunks and Goten's relationship itself, I think that the bond they shared in facing Majin Buu together will stay with them all their lives. They probably talk about it nostalgically, like, "Hey, remember when we fought that thing?"
They contributed to the creation of a peaceful world by attaining greater power through the Fusion technique and fighting alongside the others to defeat Majin Buu, so I'd like to think that they'll continue to share the bond between them of being part of this team that protects Planet Earth.
*Sullivan posits that one purpose of same-sex friendships or "chumships" is to form the basis of a person's approach to intimacy in romantic relationships.
——What effect do you think Trunks and Goten's friendship will have on the rest of their lives?
Sudo: I think that the people Trunks and Goten become would not exist if they didn't have each other.
Goten's father, Goku, had already died when he was born, so if you think about it, it may have been that he didn't have a role model to show him how to live as a male and what to strive for. He had Gohan, of course, but he wanted to be a scholar, so he wasn't exactly the same type of man as Goku.
But then he meets Trunks, the son of his father's rival, and they play and fight together, so I think that he was likely a large factor in the formation of Goten's perception of himself as a male.
As for Trunks, I think that Goten was a great partner who helped him become closer with his father, something which he could not do alone.
They both supported each other to become stronger versions of themselves, and I think that especially in Goten's case, he might have turned out as a completely different person if it weren't for Trunks' presence.
——Another aspect of their relationship is that both of their fathers are these incredible figures, so they support each other to become stronger and thereby closer to them.
Sudo: I think it'd be almost impossible for a child to live up to or surpass such an immeasurably powerful father like Goku or Vegeta. They would also have to live with the burden of others expecting greatness from them as a result, essentially living in their fathers' shadows.
I think in that sense, it must also have been a great thing for Trunks and Goten to have somebody in that same position who understands their feelings.
In times when a child has to face some obstacle or challenge that would be insurmountable with their own power alone, having someone who will fight alongside them can really change their world. That's something that Trunks and Goten's relationship in Dragon Ball exemplified and reaffirmed for me.
Interview/Article: Natsumi Amano
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