Of all the storylines in the manga/anime series Dragon Ball Z, one of the biggest departures was the Great Saiyaman saga. Taking place seven years after the Cell Games, Gohan begins taking classes at Orange Star High School. The teenage Super Saiyan develops a superhero alter ego to keep his otherworldly abilities secret while publicly fighting for justice.
While fan response has been divided on the storyline's place in the Dragon Ball franchise, the Great Saiyaman saga was a key point in creator Akira Toriyama's overall story -- especially for Gohan's character arc.
After years of growing up with his family and friends, Gohan decided to attend public school and enjoy life among other people his age. Stumbling across a heist, Gohan transforms into a Super Saiyan and easily dispatches the criminals. But because of the media attention his heroics receive, which threatens to expose him to his new classmates, he develops a superhero costume with Bulma which he dubs the "Great Saiyaman." Gohan entered the 25th World Martial Arts Tournament under this persona to maintain his Super Saiyan secret and uses the Saiyaman identity again after Majin Buu's defeat -- now with his future wife Videl at his side as Saiyagirl.
The Great Saiyaman saga divides fans over two major elements. The story is a major departure from the established narrative for Dragon Ball. It also features Gohan in, really, his only jaunt as the franchise's protagonist for a prolonged period of time. As Saiyaman, Gohan isn't battling against cosmic enemies menacing the entire planet so much as he's confronting common criminals and addressing other emergencies that require his assistance.
This arc sees Toriyama moving from the fantasy martial arts epic that defined the original Dragon Ball and the high-stakes science fiction storytelling that defined the first half of Dragon Ball Z. Instead, he blends teen comedy and traditional superhero derring-do with his fan-favorite cast.
More importantly, the Great Saiyaman saga catches Gohan at a crucial personal crossroads in his life. Goku has been dead for seven years and Earth has been safe. In the meantime, Gohan is finally emerging from his father's shadow and his own shyness to integrate with the outside world after being raised in relative isolation. And while he's always been mindful and anxious about the destructive potential that comes with his powers, the Great Saiyaman saga finally allows him the chance to have fun and embrace what he's truly capable of -- behind the comfort of a mask. This stands as a stark difference from the self-serious boy who destroyed Cell seven years prior and helps him transition to becoming his own man.
More than just providing a seven-year time jump for Dragon Ball Z's story and introducing important characters like Videl, the Great Saiyaman saga provides excellent insight into how much Gohan has grown emotionally since the Cell games. The sequel series Dragon Ball Super briefly resurrects the Saiyaman persona, allowing Gohan to reconnect with his teenage superhero identity once more. And while the story might not present the usual life-and-death stakes and epic scope fans may be accustomed to, the Great Saiyaman saga is a strong reminder of how fun the franchise can truly be.