Known for its explosive fights (that creatively defies the laws of physics) and imaginative hair styles, Dragon Ball Z has been the gateway to countless people of all nations to anime as a whole. This includes celebrities such as Spanish tennis champion Rafael Nadal, UFC Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey, action star Jackie Chan, and a good number of hip hop artists (like Soulja Boy and the controversial Chris Brown).
Other features that appeal to fans and adds to DBZ’s distinct formula are the power up transformations. From Oozaru (or were-monkey) to God mode, this list will explore the top 10 transformations in Dragon Ball Z (with a bit of the other installments as well).
10. Master Roshi Buffs Up
Even though the series already introduced shape shifters such as Puar and Oolong, Master Roshi’s buff up is the very first power up transformation within the Dragon Ball saga. In addition, it was also the debut of the franchise’s most famous attack, the Kamehameha. The character was already previously introduced as a martial arts recluse and the trainer to Gohan, Goku’s grandfather, and Gyuumaou, Chichi’s father. With Gyuumaou’s castle on fire and having ruined the only tool that could put it out, Roshi finally demonstrates his abilities despite his relaxed and perverted nature.
He takes off his shirt to show he's as skinny as a stick, but all of a sudden, he expands his muscles to the size of a champion bodybuilder and shows the incredible power of the Kamehameha by not just putting out the fire, but consequently destroying the castle. This transformation would only be used a few more times, but was recently brought back in the new Fukkatsu no F feature film when he helps fight Freeza’s soldiers.
9. Oozaru Goku
Though only used on two occasions, long before Super Saiyan, this was Goku’s first power up transformation. This transformation is of significance because it explains the purpose of Goku’s tail during his childhood. Unfortunately, the Oozaru mode makes him lose all rational thought and only causes destruction. His first transformation helps him, Bulma, Yamucha, Puar and Oolong escape Pilaf’s capture but unfortunately put them in danger. Thankfully, the crew knew of Goku’s tail being a weakness and cutting it off was used to reverse it.
Sometime later, Goku’s tail re-grows and once again turns Oozaru during his debut at the Budoukai causing a bit more mayhem and Kami-sama (or God), makes sure it does t grow back again. And prior to the beginning of the series, Goku’s transformation cost the life of his grandfather. After his fight with Master Roshi, Oozaru Goku is gone but not largely forgotten.
8. Giant Piccolo
Another long and somewhat forgotten (recently reintroduced through the games) transformation, this is most memorably used during Piccolo’s (as in Ma Junior) fight against Goku in the finals of the Tenkaichi Budoukai, and in the anime exclusive story arc of the return of Garlic, Jr. King Piccolo uses it but not to the same extent and size of his reincarnation/son. The only other instances viewers see this transformation with other Namekians is with Lord Slug in a non-canon movie, and it can be argued that the Great Elder of Planet Namek is using a giant mode.
It appropriately increases their physicality and offense, but in the fight against Goku, Piccolo came to learn that the transformation would not work in the long run and that it also heavily burdens a Namekian’s condition. It's a nice addition to this because viewers get to see it only twice (though if anyone watches Kai, it's only once) and there may have been instances it could have been useful (like when Gohan first went Oozaru).
7. Super Saiyan 4
Despite GT’s controversy amongst the fans, in addition to its spirited Japanese soundtrack, it does have its other appealing qualities. GT was a decent attempt at trying to go back to Dragon Ball’s roots as an adventure oriented series as opposed to action, but Super Saiyan 4 allows the opportunity to go back to what made the franchise an international hit, and introduce something new while being faithful to the source material. In order to achieve this new transformation, Goku needed his tail back.
Then after turning into a golden Oozaru, as opposed to rage which always triggers the Super Saiyan mode, it was his love for his friends, his granddaughter, and the earth that makes this new power up happen. Thankfully, the transformation allows him to grow back to an adult and go toe-to-toe with his new competition. As opposed to the traditional golden hair, the design compliments the feral nature of Oozaru, keeps it in a more contained and human size form, and gives a more barbaric look to stay in tune with Saiyans being a warrior race.
6. Super Saiyan God SS
Recently introduced in Fukkatsu no F, it is a the power up of the Super Saiyan God mode from the previous film, Kami Tai Kami. As opposed to requiring the Ki of additional Saiyans with the regular God mode, intense training (under Whis, probably the strongest warrior in the universe) was necessary to achieve this transformation. Other upsides is that the transformation lasts longer, more sustainable, and gives Goku and Vegeta a higher chance of defeating Bills.
As a homage to the original Super Saiyan transformation happening in Goku’s original fight with Freeza, the rematch of the century with Freeza’s gold form gives the heroes the opportunity to do battle with their new found abilities. But due to a Saiyan’s warrior pride, despite having the upper hand, they still enjoy lengthy battles for the thrill and temporarily experienced some consequences.
In the end, the Super Saiyan God SS mode was more than enough to once again take out Freeza. With the recent Dragon Ball Super series debuting and possibly introducing more God-like characters, this transformation may come in handy.
5. Freeza’s Final Form
The first character to really abuse the concept of repeated power up transformations, Freeza is a force of nature. In his base form, he is already capable of destroying planets with the tip of his finger (which he did to the Planet Vegeta), and made easy work of Nail, Planet Namek’s reigning and defending champion.
Seeing that his base form was no match for Gohan, Kuririn, Vegeta and Piccolo, Freeza would transform more and more the moment he knew he could not win. When it came to his final form, Freeza reversed back to his smaller stature. Toriyama-sensei intended him to be small to make him unassuming and in turn more frightening. Even by using a small fraction of his power in his final form, he could toy with the likes of pre-Super Saiyan Goku like nothing.
4. Vegeta turning Oozaru
Though both Chibi Goku and Chibi Gohan pulled off these transformations on a couple of occasions, they went wild and caused a lot of destruction. But in the case of Vegeta, even in broad daylight and without a moon (all thanks to Piccolo on that account), Vegeta was able to use a technique to simulate a full moon to give him his Oozaru transformation.
The most different and worst thing about Vegeta’s Oozaru transformation is he is still capable of rational thought, speech, and flight. Combine that with a strong body that is powered by 10, and that's a recipe for disaster. But thanks to Yajirobe and the past experiences with Goku’s incidents, the Z Warriors managed to cut off Vegeta’s tail and reverse his transformation.
3. Future Trunks turning Super Saiyan
Growing up in a world without Goku since he died of a heart condition, the rest of the Z Warriors perish due to these androids and is now in ruin. The only ones left capable to defend the earth to some extent is a battle scarred adult Gohan, and his 14-year-old disciple, Trunks. Gohan can turn Super Saiyan but his power is not enough to defeat the androids for good and is in the process of training Trunks to become one. Unfortunately, it takes the brutal death of Gohan to finally trigger this transformation.
In the Japanese version (I would like to disclaim that I have never seen the English version of the Trunks special), in addition to the dark background music track that is played to set the atmosphere, Kusao Takashi does an excellent job of portraying Trunks’ emotions that transition from denial and sadness to rage just by repeating Gohan-san, and screaming with all the anger in the world to achieve that transformation.
2. Gohan turning Super Saiyan 2
Throughout the series until his fight with Cell, Gohan always had this inner potential that could make him the strongest of all the Z Warriors. Though he was stronger than Chibi Goku in his debut fight, the quality of competition was just too much and in the fight against Nappa, he did wuss out a bit out of hesitation. In some instances, his hesitations in other battles did continue to haunt him.
In order to provoke his hidden power, Cell unleashes his Jr. Cell's to attack his friends in order to turn his rage into power. But it was not until the remaining head of Android 16 pleaded with Gohan to protect the animals and nature of earth only to be stomped on by Cell while trying to trivialize his last words. It was that moment that Gohan’s anger became his ultimate power.
In the original Dragon Ball Z cut, the song Unmei no Hi Spirit vs Spirit (also covered in the Top 10 Dragon Ball songs in the user topics section) was a great way of setting the mood. The chords after the hook perfectly compliments his scream in the Japanese version and the lyrics perfectly symbolize this significant power up and the conditions it took to make it happen. The design of the Super Saiyan 2 mode not only makes Gohan look more frightening, he looks more mature, and his man tears also helps humanize the monster that he becomes.
1. Goku turns Super Saiyan for the first time
After giving everything he got against Freeza from Kaio-ken times ten to a giant Genki Dama, Goku was running out of options in taking him out for good. Out of humor and spite, after killing numerous Namekians and Vegeta (who pleaded with Goku to be the savior of the Saiyans), Freeza then kills Goku’s best friend, Kuririn. Goku finally has it with Freeza’s treachery and despite his kind hearted nature, his rage gives him a new frightening power. Not only does it change his hair to gold, it makes him the most powerful warrior in the universe.
Even though after the introduction after Future Trunks, the remaining Saiyan characters could go Super Saiyan, this transformation just changed Goku for both the best and the worst. Despite the power he gains, he was nearly full of rage and despite always being gentle to Gohan, he went as far as frightening him. Goku does his best to give Freeza mercy as he did against Piccolo, but Freeza throws it back in his face and this time, Goku counters with a Ki blast showing no mercy like he was a member of the Cobra Kai from the old Karate Kid movie.
Transformations are always going to be one of the most iconic characteristics, though somewhat abused features of Dragon Ball. Thanks to the context of the story and how each villain raises the stakes(and even the heroes), a new mode is always introduced as a solution to win the battle. Some honorable mentions to this list are Goku’s Super Saiyan 3 transformation, Vegeta turning beyond the Super Saiyan, Cell achieving his perfect form, Teen Gohan becoming Mystic Gohan after his training with Kaioushun, and Majin Buu being able to revert back to his real form.
Will Dragon Ball Super give us more? Guess we have to wait and find out.