Vegeta, the prideful prince of all Saiyans from the planet of the same name, a planet he was destined to rule. He's so prideful, in fact, he'll go to any length to get what he wants, including killing his partner, Nappa, who he saw as a liability to his goal of attaining the Dragon Balls.
However, the Saiyan warrior underwent many meaningful changes in the years following his initial invasion. One of the most important was having a son with Bulma named Trunks. By the time Trunks grows into a young boy in the Majin Buu arc, Vegeta is depicted as a more active parent to his child, including helping him with his training.
It's fair to say Vegeta undergoes one of the most drastic changes in the series. What could have caused someone only interested in pursuing strength, who would kill his adversaries without a second thought, to become a caring father? We asked educational psychologist Daisuke Akamatsu to analyze Vegeta's complex psyche and were floored by the surprisingly emotional aspects that came to the forefront.
Interviewee: Daisuke Akamatsu
Lecturer at the Kyoto University of Education. After completing the master's program at the Kyoto University of Education, he finished his graduate studies at the Nagoya University Graduate School of Human Development, earning a doctorate in psychology. His research focuses on student motivation and learning methodology in secondary education world language education.
Interviewer: Ryuta Shimabukuro
A freelance writer. Reporter for web-based outlets primarily, with bylines on Shueisha Online, Gendai Business, Biz/Zine, and more. He became a first-time father in 2023 with the birth of his son. He loves to dote on his adorable son, so chances are he'll be a Mr. Satan-like father in the future!
・ Vegeta: Raised Without Knowing What a Father Is
・ Psychologically Speaking, Vegeta and Bulma's Marriage Is Quite Natural
・ Awareness of Fatherhood Grows Through Parenting
・ Looking at the Two Trunks' Personalities to See the Bond Between Father and Son
・ How Familial Love Helped Vegeta Overcome His Mid-Life Crisis
—Vegeta is a warrior with a strong sense of pride at his core. What do you think caused him to develop that type of personality? Did Vegeta losing his father at such a young age play a role?
Daisuke Akamatsu (hereafter Akamatsu): From what I've read of the manga's dialogue, it doesn't seem like the death of King Vegeta affected him that much.
Ordinarily, young children develop a strong attachment to their parents. So, losing someone that important at a young age has a profound impact that lasts the rest of their lives.
However, during his fight with Dodoria, Vegeta says, "I could care less about the planet, my fellow Saiyans, or my parents," which leads me to believe he does not have much affection towards his father. Since Saiyans are a warrior race that are raised in a capsule during infancy, my guess is they don't develop a bond with their parents the way most children do.
—Would that have had an effect on Vegeta's personality?
Akamatsu: It's certainly possible that his lack of an attachment to his parents influenced his personality. Infant children develop a framework for relationships called an 'internal working model' based on their interactions with their parents. Since Vegeta's father died when he was so young, he was unable to form an internal working model, which is why he isn't good at forming personal relationships with people he meets.
—Vegeta never knew what a real father was from the get-go. And yet he takes a great amount of pride in being the prince of Planet Vegeta.
Akamatsu: Yes, even in the latter half of the story, his emphasis on being the prince of all Saiyans is strongly linked to his sense of self.
—Why do you think Vegeta is so obsessed with being a prince even though his planet was wiped out before he could assume the throne?
Akamatsu: To Vegeta, the fact that he's a prince and comes from a royal pedigree may be more important than actually assuming the throne. He draws a great deal of encouragement from telling himself, "I'm a prince, therefore I must be strong."
—Vegeta eventually settles on Earth and takes Bulma as his wife. What kind of psychological changes do you think Vegeta went through during this period?
Akamatsu: Vegeta and Bulma's relationship isn't depicted that much, so this is just conjecture on my part, but Erik H. Erikson's psychosocial theory of human development may give us a hint regarding Vegeta's psyche.
The psychosocial theory of human development states that humans grow in a healthy manner by mastering certain developmental tasks during each stage of life. Vegeta also mastered an important developmental task hypothesized by this theory and appears to undergo a psychological transformation as a result.
—What developmental task did he master?
Akamatsu: Vegeta appears to be in his 30s when he marries Bulma. According to the psychosocial developmental stages, a person that age is in the early adult stage of development, a stage in which a person should master the developmental task of "intimacy". In this stage of development, creating an intimate bond and finding a partner is important for healthy development. On the other hand, failure to do so results in isolation.
In the Cell arc, Trunks as a teenager explains that the reason his father and mother ended up together was because Bulma saw how lonely Vegeta looked. My guess is that he was still wavering between "intimacy" and "isolation", but in the end wound up creating a relationship with Bulma.
—So even someone like Vegeta was able to find a partner and build a relationship with them. Why do you think that partner ended up being Bulma?
Akamatsu: From a psychological perspective, there are many possible reasons. For example, there are cases where prolonged exposure can play a role. This is called the mere-exposure effect. This phenomenon is when someone grows to like something they had no interest in previously by becoming more familiar with it. After Planet Namek was destroyed, Bulma took it upon herself to invite Vegeta to live at her compound because he looked lonely. That means they would have had frequent contact with each other over a long period of time. This may have resulted in both of them developing an attraction towards one another even though none existed previously.
Moreover, to Vegeta, it's possible Bulma provided him with a "sense of authenticity". In psychological terms, it broadly means the ability to be true to oneself.
In order to gain a sense of authenticity, you need a person who accepts you and an environment that allows you to be who you are. As someone laser-focused on becoming stronger, the advanced technology on the Capsule Corporation's headquarters provided Vegeta with the ideal place to be his authentic self. Even after marrying Bulma, Vegeta continued to use the facilities at the Capsule Corporation for his training.
—During the Android and Cell arcs, Vegeta has a son, and the teenaged version of his son also enters the picture. Despite becoming a father, we don't see much change in Vegeta's personality or how he conducts himself.
Akamatsu: True. He treats Future Trunks as another warrior, rather than as a son.
—Why do you think that is?
Akamatsu: A father who isn't there for his partner's pregnancy or birth and then doesn't interact with his child after they're born won't feel like he's a father and it will be difficult for him to feel affection towards his family.
Awareness of fatherhood grows in someone through the experience of, for example, soothing a crying baby at night or finding ways to compromise with a child who's being selfish. Since Future Trunks appears suddenly as a teenager, it's only natural Vegeta wouldn't have any fatherly feelings towards him.
—In other words, it takes more than just the birth of a child for a man to feel like a father.
Akamatsu: On the other hand, near the climax of the Cell arc, Vegeta becomes blinded with fury at the sight of Future Trunks being killed and rushes head-first at Cell. At that moment, he clearly felt love for the future version of his son.
—It was definitely out of character for Vegeta to charge at Cell under those circumstances. At what point do you think Vegeta began to care for Trunks?
Akamatsu: I recall that there was a scene in which Vegeta and Future Trunks train together in the Room of Spirit and Time. I believe the time they spent there provided the opportunity for them to develop a relationship. However, it's not clear if their relationship was father/son or master/student.
—So there's a possibility that training together formed a master/student relationship rather than father/son one.
Akamatsu: Precisely. However, even in regular families, there's overlap between father/child and master/student relationships, and it's believed these overlapping relationship dynamics fulfill the same purpose. In the worlds of kabuki and sports, for example, simultaneous parent/child and master/student relationships are fairly common, and I think Vegeta and Future Trunks shared a similar relationship.
At any rate, the way Vegeta flew into a rage upon seeing Trunks die makes it clear he developed some sort of affection towards him. In other words, Vegeta slowly but surely began to develop some awareness of fatherhood throughout the events of the Android and Cell arcs.
—Vegeta comes across quite differently in the subsequent Majin Buu arc. For example, when he's training with the smaller Trunks from his timeline, he actually offers to take him to the park if Trunks can land a single hit on him.
Akamatsu: It seems that his experiences during the Cell arc allowed Vegeta to grow as a father. After making the offer, Trunks responds quite enthusiastically. He's not simply happy for a chance to go to the park, he's happy to have his father accompany him there. In other words, young Trunks has a clear affection for Vegeta.
Vegeta had no love for his father King Vegeta, so he grew up not knowing what a father is. However, he clearly loves and cares for his son Trunks. He was able to build the father/son relationship with his son that he never had with his own father.
—Wow... That's so moving.
Akamatsu: The manga doesn't delve into their relationship in detail, but I think you could make a case that Vegeta raising his son Trunks had a deep impact on him. The reason I think is because of how different both versions of Trunks are.
The teenage version of Trunks is cool and straightforward, while the child version of Trunks is a bit of a scamp and quite proud of himself. Both versions of Trunks have the exact same genetic makeup, so in that sense they are the exact same person. Despite this, their personalities could not be more different. This could be due to the different environments each one was raised in and how much that impacted their respective development.
Vegeta died when Future Trunks was still very little. If Vegeta wasn't around for the Trunks of his timeline either, that version of his son might have developed a similar personality to his future counterpart. But since they're both very different types of people, it's reasonable to assume Vegeta played a role in his son's upbringing, which had a significant impact on his personality.
—What kind of psychological changes do you think Vegeta went through throughout the story?
Akamatsu: I think Erikson's psychosocial theory of human development theory that I mentioned earlier can be applied here. After entering the early adulthood stage, Vegeta avoided isolation by mastering the developmental task of intimacy and became a partner to Bulma. From the Majin Buu arc onwards, Vegeta enters middle adulthood, where he has to master generativity.
In middle adulthood, it becomes time to contribute to helping raise the next generation. Vegeta trains his son Trunks and watches over his development, meaning he's cleared his mid-life developmental task as a result.
According to Erikson's psychosocial theory of human development if one is unable or unwilling to make this contribution to society, they may be overtaken with stagnation, which can shake their identity to its core. This is often referred to as a "mid-life crisis", which may be a perfect metaphor for what happens to Vegeta when he sells his soul to Babidi during their fight with his minions.
—You're referring to the scene where Vegeta allows Babidi to brainwash him in order to defeat Goku. Vegeta declares to his rival, "I wanted to be the way I used to be!!!! I wanted to be the ruthless and cold-blooded Saiyan!! To fight it out with you—not caring about anything else!!!!" So, while he took pride in raising his child, he was also suffering because he felt like he was losing his desire for strength, which is an instinct all Saiyans possess.
Akamatsu: Yes. I believe he was feeling a sense of stagnation. However, before using a self-destruct technique in order to defeat Majin Buu, he tells his son, "Trunks... Take care of mom..." After struggling between generativity and stagnation, Vegeta ultimately accepts who he's become and accepts the love he has for his family.
—That is such a wonderful story.
Akamatsu: I would say that Vegeta is a good example of someone mastering developmental tasks and, slowly but surely, becoming a father as a result.
—Thank you very much for being here today!
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