Why Dragon Ball Z‘s Zarbon Is a More Sympathetic Villain Then You May Realize (and Why He’s My Hero)

Screw Vegeta, THIS is MY prince.
Source: Rhandi-Mask @ DeviantArt

So, I’m still on a bit of a Dragon Ball kick from the last article I wrote on the topic. Team Four Star recently released Episode 50 of DBZ: Abridged, I’ve been re-watching the original series when I can, and I just downloaded Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle on my tablet.

What’s more, the research that I did for that article turned up some details that got me doing deeper studies of the individual characters. Of particular interest to me was a villain that I was quite fond of – the elegant, but frightful Zarbon.

Now, I know I’m in a very small camp of people that actually like Zarbon. Most people I know balk at the idea of him being a respectable character. They hate the fact that he’s coded queer and seems very self-centered. But the information that I found was enough to make those traits more endearing (to me at least) and reaffirmed my fan status.

First, let’s start with Zarbon’s most dominant trait – the foppish antagonist stereotype. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this character in any medium, let alone anime. But, in the best stories (in my humble opinion), this trope of male characters acting more archetypically feminine is used to extenuate and/or cover up an important aspect of the character that will come into play later. The two that tend to come to mind when I think of this are James/Kojirō from Pokémon and Yuda from Fist of the North Star.

In James’ case, we often see him disguising himself as a woman a la Bugs Bunny and acting completely subservient to his lady partner in crime in Team Rocket Jessie/Musashi. However, it’s important to note that his cross-dressing is not portrayed as sexual, but as a means to an end; namely to complete whatever mission they are pursuing that day. As for his submissive nature, we are given multiple hints that he’s like this because he has legitimate feelings for Jessie and only wants to make her happy. In fact, the manga series The Electric Tale of Pikachu ends with the two tying the knot and a shot of a clearly pregnant Jessie (adorably enough, people who like to pair these two are often called “Rocket Shippers”).

As for Yuda, we see him constantly dressed in flamboyant garb and heavy make-up and surrounded by people who are forced to worship his beauty. We later learn that his evil actions are greatly influenced by the fact that he was utterly shown up by his former colleague Rei which started him down a path of self-hate. In other words, he surrounds himself with superficial beauty to hide the fact that he feels spiritually hideous.

From what I’ve seen I believe that a similar story is happening to Zarbon. Bare in mind that he is the prince of his home planet (the royal-looking cape and headdress aren’t just for show). As such, we can assume that he would be under great pressure to portray an image of grace and elegance to his people that would likely stick with him long after he was deposed by Frieza.

But even that doesn’t touch on the REALLY heartstring-tugging part. Take note of how differently Zarbon acts when he shifts to his “Monster Form.” He starts off respectable and honorable, but ends up displaying extreme machismo that errs on cruel barbarism, especially during the brutal headbutting sequence of his fight with Vegeta. It seems the transformation is psychological as well as physical. He even refers to the two forms as different sides of himself – “The Beauty” and “The Beast” respectively.

This is why I love Zarbon as a character so much. To be perfectly blunt, he’s using a coping mechanism to distance himself from a very cruel part of himself… a part of himself that I once saw in me in my youth.

I often catch flak for “not acting macho.” I enjoy body grooming (man-scaping if you will), I use make-up to hide scars and ache when I can, and I often will actively find ways to soften my image where ever possible. I do that because when I acted like the man others expected me to be, I was not proud of what I did.

I grew up in a rather ugly neighborhood with addicts, street toughs, and a terrible school (seriously, I don’t know another school with a 50% drop out rate). Of course, when you go to a high school whose principal was a football coach in your father’s day who encouraged his players to cripple the other team, you can’t rely on the grown-ups to help you against twisted people. My only option for survival was to be as mean or meaner than everyone else.

After I left public school to finish my studies at home and in college, I slowly started to realize overtime what I had done. I was short-tempered, pushed good people away, and was even a bit of a womanizer just to blend in with the scum I was living among. I took up the role of non-traditional male values as a way to distance myself from that life as well as to remind myself why I never want to be that man ever again.

To sum up the longest and most soul-bearing essay I have ever written, Zarbon, despite the acts of evil he committed under another man’s orders, is my hero because we share a common burden – we both err on the side of this…

… because we would sooner die than willingly become this…