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So I decided to revisit Dragon Ball Z because why not. And I can't seem to find a good answer to this - why do the fighters let each other power up/transform? It seems to take a great deal of time - and, much of the time, they realize in the middle of it that the opponent's power really is climbing up, and that it isn't a bluff. And yet, they tend to stand by and let the opponent scream themselves to next level instead of attacking.

At first I thought the assumption is that it's all actually happening very fast, and is slowed down for the viewer's pleasure - even if the amount of reaction and exclamation that happens in the meantime seems like a stretch.

But, in episode 40, the following happens during Frieza's third scream-transformation:

  1. Frieza starts screaming.

  2. Vegeta tells Krillin to beat him up to near-death. Krillin expresses apprehension, then attacks, but not with full power. Vegeta insults Krillin and tells him to attack with full power. Krillin attacks. Vegeta gets damaged and makes a parabola for the ground, thinking about his future power as a Super Saiyan. Gohan looks on and asks "what happened?!" in surprise. Frieza keeps screaming. Piccolo yells at Gohan to get away. Gohan agrees, looks at the screaming Frieza, picks up Piccolo, and starts flying off with him. They have a short conversation about whether Piccolo is OK. Frieza keeps screaming, plus a little laughing and levitating small rocks. Piccolo and Gohan have a conversation in which Gohan mentions Dende, and how Dende can heal Piccolo. Krillin lands next to them. Vegeta and Dende, meanwhile, are having an argument because Dende isn't sure he wants to heal Vegeta. Vegeta reacts with anger because that's his only mode. Dende explains why Vegeta doesn't deserve healing. Vegeta objects. Dende flies off, Vegeta collapses. Krillin and Gohan are running (not flying) to get Dende, and chatting about Vegeta's power. Krillin explains what's up with Dende. Dende flies over them towards Piccolo. Frieza keeps screaming, plus now he's a little pink. Dende reaches Piccolo, Piccolo asks if Dende can heal, Dende says yes and heals Piccolo. Krillin and Gohan come up. Piccolo gets healed, and everyone is in a good mood while Frieza is screaming. Frieza, while screaming, is having an epiphany about how Dende can heal people. Piccolo remarks how this is amazing, and has a short conversation with Dende about whether this ability is only unique to some Namekians, or if everyone can do it. Krillin, appropriately, says "never mind Dende," and calmly explains to Dende how Vegeta may be a bad guy, but he needs to be healed. Dende is having a moral conflict about this. Piccolo tells Dende to do it for him. Dende relents.

  3. Frieza explodes and completes his transformation.

Now, whether any of them attacking Frieza would have been any good is debatable. Piccolo got healed, but even he would have not been strong enough. But I think it at least shows that transformations aren't implied to be instantaneous.

So is there an in-universe reason for the transformations usually going uninterrupted? The stakes are often high. Not everyone who waits is some honorable fighter for whom etiquette is everything - plus that seems weird when the other guy wants to kill all your friends and maybe everyone on your planet.

So why do characters wait? Have any of the creators of the Dragon Ball universe commented on this?

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  • 3
    I didn't know about that scene, otherwise I would just have assumed Talking Is a Free Action.
    – DavidW
    May 22, 2020 at 17:49
  • 3
    Most of the characters enjoy fighting so they wait for the power ups
    – Cody Aldaz
    May 22, 2020 at 19:33
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    Professionals have standards
    – Möoz
    May 23, 2020 at 0:42
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    @Mary That seems like iffy reasoning when the potential cost of letting them transform is the death of all your friends and everyone else on the planet. Especially since not everyone who waits is able to transform. Krillin, Gohan, Piccolo, Vegeta, Goku, etc- most of them don't transform (or know they can) until later in the series. Nor do they necessarily get the same treatment from the bad guys when they need to take their time. For instance, a few episodes after this Goku generates energy for a Spirit Bomb; Frieza then wonders why he's just standing there, and starts knocking him around.
    – Misha R
    May 24, 2020 at 22:31
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    @DuncanDrake I think you mean specifically Dragon Ball Z, nor Dragon Ball. The original Dragon Ball is actually quite excellent, and is one of the very, very few animes that I like. As for Dragon Ball Z, I agree. But it works well for background when you're working from home. You can focus on your work almost entirely, and pay attention to the show maybe one minute out of every fifteen - and you'll miss pretty much nothing.
    – Misha R
    May 25, 2020 at 19:21

4 Answers 4

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In most cases, it seems to be a matter of pride. Who wants to beat your opponent when they're not at their peak?

Dragon Ball Super actually subverted its own trope on this front. Ribrianne is in the middle of an excessively long transformation when Android 17 attacks and interrupts her. Several other fighters, including Goku, chastise him for not allowing her to finish.

Goku: Show us your full power!

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    This is the in-universe answer. It is all about being the strongest/getting stronger/challenge. Maybe not exactly pride (except Vegeta), rather something closer to kaizen/kung fu in the stricter/original sense of the word. Jan 19, 2021 at 19:41
  • There is already a moment like this in DBZ - Trunks tries to stop Cell's final transformation, I think
    – Wade
    Aug 31, 2021 at 20:00
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This is a well known trope in anime and other media, from magical girl stories to the Resident Evil games. Some have even found examples in Harry Potter. TV Tropes has lots of examples of what they call Transformation Is a Free Action.

In many of those, the transformation is almost instantaneous in-universe, so the opponent doesn't really wait any significant time. It's only prolonged with additional camera angles, replays, comments by other characters and so forth from the audiences's viewpoint.

Out of universe you could say that producing animation costs money. If you can re-use the same uninterrupted transformation sequence in many episodes, the opponent has to wait a minute or two ;) Also, the poses, sound bites and so on included in many transformations are often very popular with the fans.

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    I'm not sure Free Action applies to DBZ, as not only do we have animation during transformations, but entire conversations between other characters. It's also a plot point in the Cell Saga that Vageta waits and allows Cell to complete a transformation instead of finishing Cell off.
    – Harabeck
    Jan 19, 2021 at 17:19
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    If you read what I wrote in the question, it's clear that the transformation isn't instantaneous. There is a lot of stuff that happens during the transformation that cannot be instantaneous, and Frieza even reacts to some of it. I have specifically addressed this point.
    – Misha R
    Sep 6, 2021 at 14:56
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well also you know that feeling before Christmas and you look at the present and you wonder what is in it. well, it's kinda like that but with power, you wanna see how powerful they are after they transform. you can see this is like Goku he is always looking for a good fight and to do so he must let them power up to their full potential or it won't be a challenge and also they may not be able to get close enough to attack.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. If you notice Cody made a comment to this effect, so the idea has already been noted. But this isn't really an answer unless you can provide some evidence that it's really the case, and not just something that feels right.
    – DavidW
    Jan 19, 2021 at 15:21
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A huge part of it is for the building of suspense for the viewer. Whether it was the network or just the made-for-American-TV copy I was watching, it was definitely edited to drag on. Once I bought the DVD copies later in life it was way more enjoyable, as those extended edits weren't in it.

With that being said, this series is based on "Warriors/fighters". The show explains at numerous points that these are people who train their whole lives to fight. They long for a challenge and to test their capabilities. There definitely is a willful ignorance in the show about letting the opponent's power up. It's really an ongoing theme throughout the series of how power corrupts the mind. Specifically the Super Saiyan ability. Basically the larger your power gets, the bigger your ego grows along side it.

I'm leaving any examples of Vegeta out of this, as his whole character is built on ego. An examples of what I'm talking about:

During the cell Saga, Goku knew he could beat Cell's perfect form. But instead of finishing him off quick and ending it, he lets Gohan fight Cell. Cell laughs at this idea, and instead of killing Gohan, his ego gets in the way and he proceeds to force him to reach his full potential. Once Gohan reaches his full potential, which Cell is no match for, Gohan turns SSJ2, he becomes reckless, he stops listening to everyone and his ego gets in the way. This leads to Gohan hesitating to destroy Cell, and Cell attempting to self-destruction and destroy everyone. There are 3 examples of ego and arrogance getting in the way.

Another example:

Anytime a fusion takes place between 2 characters, their ego is amplified ×10. This is specifically present in Goten and Trunks when they fuse to take on Buu. Season 8, episode 32... "Gotenks is born" When Gotenks finally masters the fusion, Piccolo tells them to do it again, except this time as super Saiyans. Gotenks arrogantly waves his finger and tells Piccolo no, we are more than powerful enough to handle him like this. Piccolo pleads and says it's a team effort and there's no reason to face Buu unless you are at your absolute best. Gotenks says Piccolo is scared and that he will bring back Buu dead, then proceeds to fly off and get his butt whooped by Buu.

There are examples of this in every saga, but these are the only 2 that I can think of off the top of my head. Goku is pretty famous for letting his desire to be tested/ego get in the way of fighting strong opponents.

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