I never really understood why Saiyans are called apes. Goku was based on the Monkey King from "Journey to the West", and Saiyans have tails. Apes do not have tails, it's actually one of their defining characteristics.

Is this a case of translation error or some other confusion?

  • I don't know a lot about the show, but picked up a bit from a friend... Ape is an easy descriptor/insult for people, it has a history and a depth of connotation since apes are fairly close to humans, but still not sapient. Tailed people might be apes for the people-connotations (and/or insults), or else they might have tailed apes on their world since they have tailed people, similarly evolved or something. And they needed tails or something like for a detachable, re-growable, concealable, visible marker, for plot-points etc.
    – Megha
    Jul 17, 2017 at 1:49

2 Answers 2


Well. Probably it is just a translation refuse. Let me explain:

The original name of the "Great Monkey" form is

大猿 Ōzaru

猿 or Saru (the s becomes a z due to a rule called "rendaku" - see here, link courtesy of Pleiades.) means Monkey. The or Dai character instead just seems to mean "big/large". (As to why the name is transliterated into Ō-zaru instead of Dai-zaru I have no clue. I know that Ō is an honorific form, so the term could also be interpreted as "Honorable Monkey", but I have no further clue).

So basically the translation of the name would just be a generic

"Great" Monkey

which does indeed fit the "monkey king" theme. Also worth mentioning is that Sun Wukong did indeed had a tail (even if it is not so prominent in most of the historical painting featuring him): that was a problem for him since one of his weakenes was that the tails often did not fully transform, limiting the forms he could assume because of this. And unsurprisingly enough - the tail is also a weakpoint for saiyajin too.

Anyway, back to the question. I sincerely doubt whoever made the translation had in mind the difference between apes and monkeys at the time (see here), so he probably just picked the word that sounded best (also worth mentioning is that probably it sounded more intimidating). What really matters here is that the Japanese name does not seem to specifically refer to just apes.

Also, I suspect whoever made the original translation just though "this is King Kong"... and since King Kong is an actual "giant ape"....

  • 1
    Minor nitpick, but 大 is not exactly the same thing as the honorific お. It's true that they occasionally serve a purpose to make something sound grander, but in this context, 大 really just means "great" and is meant to mean "great monkey" in reference to Sun Wu Kong, as you mentioned. Also the /s/-->/z/ sound change is called "rendaku". Here's an article about it if you'd like to read more: tofugu.com/japanese/rendaku
    – Pleiades
    May 14, 2019 at 13:46
  • @Pleiades Oh, interesting. Thanks for the notice. I have edited that information in. Also, if you don't mind... just a question since you seem far more expert in Japan language than I am. Since apparently 大 is pronounced "Dai"... why are they called Ōzaru instead of Daizaru?
    – SPArcheon
    May 14, 2019 at 14:13
  • So that has more to do with how kanji is read than anything else. Most characters have at least two ways you can read them--on'yomi and kun'yomi. When combining characters, you'll typically see words with one of those two types, though there are rarer combinations where you'll see a blend of both. In this case, though, "saru" is the kun'yomi reading of 猿, meaning that when 大 precedes it, that kanji takes on the "oo" reading. I'm sure there's a more detailed reason for why this is, but that's not something I could answer on my own. Japanese.SE might be able to explain that distinction better.
    – Pleiades
    May 15, 2019 at 19:10

The original name is Oozaru. "Oo" translate to "Great" while "Zaru" is a japanese word used to refer to any non-human primate (both monkeys and apes) so it could be translated both as "Great Ape" and "Great Monkey". Obviously a transformed Saiyan is neither related to earthling monkeys nor apes (they are aliens afterall). Having said that, it's true that apes don't have tails, but you have to consider other features of the transformation as well. I think most people would agree that aside from the tail, the transformation more closely resembles an Ape. However that's not the reason they decided to call it an Ape.

Monkey have been used and is still used as a derogatory term/insult because monkeys are further down the evolutionary ladder. So they decided to call it "Great Ape" because it sounds better.

The Oozaru is also called in some translations "Were-Gorilla". That make sense since the Oozaru is based on werewolves and also help explain his unnatural look: werewolves are tipically depicted as very different from real wolves in appearence (especially the classic wolfmen seen in movies) so it make sense that the Oozaru looks different from real-life gorillas and apes. On a personal note, I find ironic how Dragonball's weregorillas have tails unlike real gorillas while werewolves do not have tails unlike real wolves.

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