Dragon Ball isn't necessarily well-known for its emotional moments. It's better known for its intense action and lighthearted comedy. However, it also has well-written and engaging characters. Seeing all these eccentric personalities bounce off each other makes them feel real and resonate with the viewers. When something big happens to these characters, viewers can feel it on a personal level.
Some of the emotions conveyed in Dragon Ball can be overwhelming. Watching these characters' endeavors episode by episode and seeing what they amount to can create surprisingly profound and evocative scenes. Moments like these are enough to bring about physical reactions from anyone watching. Here are some of the scenes throughout Dragon Ball that have left fans with tears in their eyes.
1. Future Gohan's Death and Trunks' Super Saiyan Transformation (Dragon Ball Z: The History of Trunks)
Deaths are usually undone with a wish on the Dragon Balls, so the ones that last tend to be more impactful. Future Gohan's death is a good example of this. After he falls in battle against Androids #17 and #18, he cannot be brought back because the Dragon Balls no longer exist in his timeline. When his mentee Trunks finds his corpse lying face down in a rain puddle, he suffers from grief, anger and frustration over not being able to do anything about it. The raw emotions he feels in this moment become the catalyst for his first-ever Super Saiyan transformation.
Future Gohan's death is sad in itself, but the setting, music, animation and atmosphere all work together to create misery unlike anything else in Dragon Ball. The History of Trunks is a very melancholy Dragon Ball story overall, but this is the scene that really sticks with fans.
2. Yamcha's Death and Bulma's Reaction (Dragon Ball Z Episodes 23 & 36; Dragon Ball Z Kai Episodes 9 & 17)
Memes aside, Yamcha's death is among the saddest in all of Dragon Ball. In the Saiyan Saga, he rightfully wins against a Saibaman, but it self-destructs and kills them both. Puar and Bulma break down crying as they see Yamcha's corpse on TV. Krillin feels responsible because Yamcha fought in his place knowing something like this might happen. For all those who knew Yamcha personally, his sudden death is both shocking and tragic.
The worst part about this death is its second act. With the Dragon Balls gone, Yamcha's death is seemingly permanent. When Bulma goes to retrieve the body, she insists that she's feeling better. However, it soon hits her that her longtime boyfriend is gone, possibly for good. More tears roll down her cheeks as she stares off into the distance. Dragon Ball Z Kai adds to this scene by playing "Over the Star" in the background.
3. The Erasure of Universes 2 and 6 (Dragon Ball Super Episode 118)
Fans were expecting Universes 2 and 6 to lose the Tournament of power, but nobody could have predicted how bittersweet it would feel to see them go. The episode features Team Universe 7 finishing off the last fighters of the two universes. When Team Universe 2 loses, they're not necessarily sad about it. They bid farewell to everyone cheering them on in their universe and smile to the very end. The fact that this universe's inhabitants are actually shown to the audience makes their erasure feel all the more real. They depart with respectable dignity and grace.
The real clincher comes with Universe 6's erasure. This universe houses a number of fan-favorite characters, including Cabba and Hit. It's also a heavy loss for their friends in Universe 7. When their time comes, the farewell is brief but meaningful.
4. Vegeta's Atonement (Dragon Ball Z Episode 237)
One of Vegeta's most tear-inducing moments is his ultimate sacrifice fighting Majin Buu. By this point, he has spent years working to defeat his rival Goku (or "Kakarot"). Feeling he's grown soft living on Earth, he allows the wizard Babidi to use the evil in his heart to bring out his inner strength. He does awful things in this state, but it's still not enough to beat Goku. He decides to both close the gap and make up for his past mistakes with something he's never tried before; fighting for those precious to him.
The moments leading up to Vegeta's atonement are also highly emotional: holding his son, going into a battle that's guaranteed to cost him his life, asking Piccolo where he'll go when he dies and committing to it despite the unflattering answer. The proud Saiyan Prince's self-destruction is a beautiful progression of his character arc.
5. Gohan's Ascension to Super Saiyan 2 (Dragon Ball Z Episode 184)
Gohan's greatest achievement is marred with difficulty. In order to force the boy past his limits, Perfect Cell threatens to kill all his friends and his father right in front of him. Despite this, Gohan cannot bring himself to call on that hidden power because he fears losing control of it. It's only when Android #16 tells Gohan to let go and Cell kills him that the boy snaps and becomes an Ascended Super Saiyan.
What's really meaningful about Gohan's transformation is the context behind it. Gohan has been built up throughout Dragon Ball Z as somebody with deep reservoirs of untapped potential. It all culminates at this moment when he uses his power to surpass everyone and everything that has come before him. Toei Animation celebrates this milestone by giving the scene the attention it deserves, including beautiful animation and the insert song "Day of Fate."