After dealing with androids and the time-traveling supervillain Cell, the culmination of Dragon Ball Z's second act reached its epic conclusion in the Cell Games Saga. Spanning episodes 166-194 of the original anime series and chapters 388-420 of the manga, the storyline served as the Z Fighters' final battle against the synthetic supervillain Cell in his mock martial arts tournament to determine the fate of humanity. With Goku and his son Gohan leading the charge, the heroes would be shaken to their core, with more than one fighter playing the ultimate price before Cell was finally brought to a decisive end at a young hero's hands.
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Here is a quick rundown of the biggest, most shocking moments from Dragon Ball Z's Cell Games Saga.
Goku's Secret Plan to Defeat Cell Confuses Everyone
After training for a relative year in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber over the course of a single day, due to its strange, time-bending effects, Goku and Gohan emerged significantly stronger and comfortably maintaining their Super Saiyan transformations at all times. Vegeta quickly realized this was to mitigate the physical strain that the transformation puts on one's body, but the real surprise came shortly thereafter.
Goku briefly confronted Cell as preparations for the Cell Games began and announced that the villain was indeed stronger than him. Despite this revelation, Goku appeared content to allow himself and Gohan relax for the ten days leading up to the tournament rather than going back into the Time Chamber for another round of training, confounding the Z Fighters -- and probably most Dragon Ball Z viewers.
Goku Concedes Defeat in His Fight Against Cell
Goku decided to be the first participant in the Cell Games -- to Cell's visible disappointment, as he felt the competition's mightiest fighter would go out first. This led to an epic battle between the Super Saiyan and the synthetic nightmare from an alternate future, that seemed to end when Goku hit Cell point blank with an Instant Kamehameha Wave.
However, when Cell regenerated from the mortal injury, Goku stunned everyone by announcing he has conceding his bout without continuing to put up a fight. Even more shocking, Goku allowed Cell to consume a Senzu bean to restore his strength ahead of his clash against Gohan to determine the Earth's fate.
Gohan Refuses to Fight Back Against Cell
While Gohan began his fight against Cell, he quickly realized that Goku intended for him to lose his composure and lash out against the villain with his true potential to win the fight. Rather than give in to his anger, fearful of his own potential whenever he lost control, Gohan largely opted to stand down and let Cell knock him around.
This prolonged reluctance to fight led a frustrated Cell to continually goad Gohan into standing up for himself, including generating the powerful Cell Juniors to attack the Z Fighters. However, it wasn't until Cell personally destroyed Android 16 that Gohan finally snapped and showed his full power by transforming into a Super Saiyan 2.
Cell's Desperate Self-Destruct Play Kills Goku
In a reversal of his previous position in avoiding to fight, the enraged Gohan at Super Saiyan 2 deliberately prolonged his revenge on Cell, taking time to inflict as much pain as possible to avenge the death of Android 16. This emotional vendetta would backfire after Gohan hit the villain so hard that he regurgitated Android 18, resulting in Cell deciding to destroy himself -- and all of Earth along with him.
Cell quickly grew to epic proportions, with enough explosive potential to consume the entire planet as part of a sacrifice play to defeat Gohan. Running out of options, Goku stepped in and used Instant Transmission to teleport himself and Cell to King Kai's planet, killing himself, Cell, King Kai and his friends but sparing Earth. This move would lead Gohan to grieve his father and become guilty over inadvertently causing his death.
Cell, Stronger Than Ever, Returns to Face Gohan Again
While the Z Fighters thought Cell's self-destruction resulted in the definitive end for the supervillain, they were quickly proven wrong when Cell made a surprise return to Earth, immediately heralding his arrival by killing Future Trunks and gravely injuring Gohan. More shockingly, Cell returned in his perfect state, despite lacking both Androids 17 and 18 in his body.
Cell announced he was not only able to completely regenerate from his self-destruction, but the genetic memory of reaching his perfect form made his return to this state part of the regeneration process. Even worse, the Saiyan genetic material in his synthetic body made Cell stronger than he'd been before, now on par with a Super Saiyan 2 himself. This led to the Cell Games' true final showdown as Gohan stepped up to avenge his father in one of Dragon Ball Z's greatest-ever showdowns.