What is DRAGON BALL if not the fights? From the very beginning of the series, nearly every arc is characterized by threat. The part about DRAGON BALL, DRAGON BALL Z, and DRAGON BALL SUPER that anyone can recognize is the stylistic combat. But for those fights to be entertaining, we need good villains too. Villains develop the plot by forcing reactions from heroes. When an irredeemable foe tries to destroy the world, they create a sense of urgency. Suddenly, the priority isn’t just ‘becoming the strongest’ or training for oneself. Instead, with lives at stake, the priority is saving something. Villains create the impetus for heroes to be heroes.

However, not all villains are created equal. Generally, from the trend of landmark DRAGON BALL battles, the best villains are those who inspired new transformations for the Z fighters. But that understanding of villainy is short-sighted and gives the wrong characters too much credit. If the only requirement for an iconic villain is ‘does cool stuff and causes a new transformation for Goku,’ then the villain isn’t really impressive. Rather, its the transformation that seems cool while the villain is the afterthought.

This is where Zamasu stands out. He’s one of the only major villains throughout all of DRAGON BALL that was incredible in and of himself. While you may be tempted to defend Frieza or Cell to your dying days, keep in mind what really makes a good character. Connections to the broader history of a series and thematic links are just as valuable as combative strength. But even then, Zamasu is still one of the strongest villains on top of his incredible development and mindset. As the series progresses more and more, Zamasu needs to act as a standard for quality antagonists that’ll keep the story fresh and unique.

Building from DRAGON BALL History

With the advent of DRAGON BALL SUPER, the franchise faced tremendous difficulty in expanding. Now that Goku and Vegeta were capable of handling most threats in their own universe, the series had to go farther. During the earliest parts of DRAGON BALL Z, we were introduced to the idea of Gods and their respective hierarchy. We understood that the universe was divided into quadrants under the provisional authority of celestial beings. And during the Buu saga, we learned that some threats can affect every part of the universe. With Zamasu came the possibility of even ostensibly ‘good’ beings becoming threats at that level.

This is the first reason why Zamasu was such an interesting villain: his origin. He was not bred for villainy. Plus, he didn’t come from an evil organization or really have any power to begin with. He is the only villain that I can think of who has true, visible on-screen development. He was born a member of the divine race that goes on to become Gods in the DRAGON BALL world. This is important because of two pretty cool reasons.

One, it shows us that Gods are corruptible. Like humans, beings like Beerus or the Supreme Kai are susceptible to evil and malicious intent. Forcing this sort of characterization onto a God in training created an interesting template for a villain. And two, it let Zamasu serve as the conduit between the future arcs of SUPER and the past arcs from Z. He bridged our understanding of seemingly omnibenevolent Kais with the cold ruthlessness that most Gods end up showing throughout SUPER.

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An Explanation of Timelines

On top of bridging that gap, Zamasu also made use of various aspects of the DRAGON BALL universe. He found a way to abuse time travel much like Trunks. Unlike other villains, his plan was complex and incredibly well executed. The only other villain with the degree of cunning that Zamasu had was Dr. Gero, who ended up being killed by his own creation. Zamasu instead acted in ways that maximized and guaranteed his own survival. Not only does this make for a more interesting villain to observe, but it makes him important to the series as a whole.

DRAGON BALL SUPER's Beerus using his powers as a God of Destruction.
Beerus erases the normal timeline’s Zamasu before he can become evil | Image: DRAGON BALL SUPER Blu Ray

Without his constant time jumping and creation of new timelines, we wouldn’t understand how they work. Zamasu actively created exposition for a whole new side of the series. This is the sort of framework necessary for a miniseries like DRAGON BALL HEROES to make sense on screen. And, by exploring new timelines, the anime could reconcile the fate of Future Trunks and his world. Zamasu more or less combined that with time travel as a source of power, tapping into one of the most easily abused parts of the DRAGON BALL world. Recall that if not for Bulma building a time machine and sending Trunks to the past, every Z fighter but Gohan would have died in the Android saga.

Time travel has long been a tool of keeping others alive, but Zamasu flipped that trend on us to form the root of his evil schemes.

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Logical Frustration

Zamasu is a unique, complex form of evil that other villains can’t hold a candle to. For the sake of brevity, I’ll mostly be comparing him to villains from Z and SUPER since the original DRAGON BALL is pretty distinct from later series. Frieza was just pure, cold evil. Cell was interesting as a coalescence of all the Z fighters’ abilities and moves. Buu was…just Buu. Even non-evil antagonists like Jiren were just powerful but there wasn’t much more to it than that.

DRAGON BALL SUPER Villain Zamasu
The two evil Zamasu | Image: DRAGON BALL SUPER Blu Ray

Zamasu’s methods may not have been agreeable, but his anger was logical. He saw the development of mortals tending toward self-destruction. But, as an apprentice, he was constantly told not to interfere. He was forced to play a passive role in a position that had the most potential for action. For Zamasu, that was unforgivable, and it made sense. Imagine watching a world cast aside higher pursuits and destroy itself with careless warfare. On the flip side, with villains like Cell, Frieza, and even Piccolo, was a villain seeking bland power and destruction. Their reasoning seldom went beyond ‘rule or destroy everything.’

And to further complicate things, beings like Goku and Vegeta exist and are common. Zamasu went mad because he was unable to reconcile being a God and unable to use his power while mere mortals could reach Godly levels of strength. For a villain, this is a much more thematically satisfying origin than any other in the series. Zamasu’s anger is logical; selfish, sure, but it rests on principles that we can understand and contextualize. All of that creates a character that exists independent of the fights he’s in. Truly, Zamasu is probably the only villain with a compelling narrative that guides his evil.

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Meta Level Mentality

Zamasu’s superiority complex functions like a rebuke of the series itself. In the same way that it can be frustrating to see Goku and Vegeta get power-up after power-up, Zamasu despises their strength. Because of this, we get a really good look into god mentality and what it means to be a god. Plus, Zamasu simultaneously exists in three forms. We see two separate forms of a villainous Zamasu and a Zamasu that is close to becoming evil. The duplicity of self he showed via those forms was absolutely essential for really understanding what it means to be a God in the DRAGON BALL universe.

DRAGON BALL SUPER villain Zamasu as he questions rules of the gods.
Zamasu questioning the Supreme Kais’ doctrine of non-interference | Image: Crunchyroll

In combat, this manifested as a stylish, absolutely disrespectful form of badassery that I have seldom seen before. Not only is Super Saiyan Rose by far the coolest looking transformation in all of DRAGON BALL, it’s also one of the most powerful. Zamasu has somewhat unique access to the form since his ki essentially mixes with Goku’s abilities. He fights like a true deity, preferring divine poses and majestic attacks. Even his signature technique, divine lasso, feels like it’s straight out of a mythological epic. Other villains have cool fighting styles as well, sure. But their style isn’t specific to them, and they opt for the same flurries of punches and kicks as everyone else.

Supreme Kai started off with this mentality in DRAGON BALL Z. Unfortunately, after Goku threatened to kill him, he became more punk than God. Zamasu continuously went toe to toe with three of the series’ strongest Saiyans.

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Zamasu, the Insurmountable Enemy

This brings me to the best part about Zamasu. He didn’t really lose in the traditional sense. And he won fights using the same asinine methods that main characters get away with all the time. For years, the anime has kept the Dragon Balls in their back pocket. Deaths didn’t really matter all that much because you could always just come back. Arguably, the only series that tried to rectify this was DRAGON BALL GT, but it was too much of a steaming pile of garbage to do it properly.

DRAGON BALL SUPER villain Merged Zamasu and his assault against Goku and Vegeta
The merged Zamasu wielded incredible destructive power | Image: Crunchyroll

But, Zamasu used the Super Dragon Balls against the Z fighters. Rather than train to become stronger or die fighting, he stole a strong body and wished for immortality. He set up camp in a timeline where no one strong enough to oppose him existed. And he went about his Zero Mortals Plan relatively unopposed. This is probably the smartest villain plan in the entire series. Instead of doing something foolish, Zamasu planned ahead and used the most overpowered elements of the series against its own protagonists.  Then he used their own Saiyan powers against the Z Fighters to body them multiple times.

In the end, it took Zeno erasing an entire timeline to defeat Zamasu. He was enough to pressure Super Saiyan Blue Vegito, the strongest hero in the series at that point. He was so powerful that it was necessary to erase all of existence to undo the effect of his tyranny, and that’s worthy of respect.

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The New Standard for DRAGON BALL Villains

When DRAGON BALL eventually returns with yet another saga (because let’s be real, they’re never letting it end), we’ll need new arcs and villains. The series’ growth right now is tending toward arcs that go beyond the universe of the Z Fighters. In order to properly handle this massive world of the anime, and keep the story satisfying, villains need to be good.

Many fans took issue with Jiren’s lackluster backstory during the tournament of power. He’s a model for what future villains need to not be. Now that the series has enough of a developed world to make villains more complex, just being super strong isn’t good enough anymore. That strength has to have a context. DRAGON BALL SUPER has a wonderful opportunity to do this in the next movie featuring Broly. Broly has one of the most annoyingly simple reasons for hating Goku, but the movie can improve him. If it takes Zamasu as a standard, Broly can become more than just a screaming behemoth and take a role as a villain worthy of canon status.

Zamasu is the perfect model for that new age of heroes. Not only is he just better than the villains of the past, he set a standard for future villains and antagonists. In terms of power, motivations, and style, Zamasu is very much so the pinnacle of character in DRAGON BALL, outclassing all of those before and after him to this point. But who knows, maybe we’ll eventually see someone even better?

Featured image from DRAGON BALL SUPER Blu Ray

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