Dragon Ball is a well known series written by a man who improvises as he goes along, meaning that sometimes plot twists can be well executed and make sense... or we have an ass pull, a twist or power that has little to no build up and will make the audience scratch their heads of what happened.
This is a compilation of all the seemingly contrived power-ups and plot twists in the franchise.
Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z
- The existence of the Ultra Divine Water straight up comes out of nowhere, and retcons Korin's teachings. Originally, the Sacred Water was part of a myth created that hid the real method of getting stronger; trying to catch Korin. When Goku lost to Demon King Piccolo and needed something to make him strong quicker, Korin is suddenly revealed to have actually had something that matched the stories around him, but refused to give it to Goku because it would potentially kill him. It's clear that Toriyama needed a way for Goku to get stronger, but because of how the pace of the arc was going, couldn't find another way for Goku to defeat Piccolo (other than months of training, which wouldn't have fit in the arc), and so invented the Ultra Divine Water to fix that. It's especially jarring since this was the first time, and one of the few times in the series where Goku was handed a power-up instead of training and earning his power, which feels disconnected from the themes of the story.
- Possibly the most stark example is when King Piccolo hits Goku so hard his heart stops, only for it to restart in the next Chapter with no given reason so the story can continue.
- Dragon Ball Z and the whole "Namek blows up in five minutes" thing was later revealed in other material to be one on Frieza's part. His attack was meant to be an out-and-out Planet Killer, but panicked as he feared that the explosion would be too much for him to survive and held back.note Caught with egg on his face, Frieza threw out the five minutes number to save face.
- Piccolo fusing with Nail came off as this since up until that moment, it was never hinted that Namekians could fuse with each other if they were the same type.note We only knew that Piccolo could reunite with Kami since they were once the same person.
- The Zenkai Boostnote seemed to only exist to allow the Saiyan characters to catch up during the Namek/Frieza Saga, most notably for Vegeta. This ranges from incremental boosts (like the fights with Zarbon) to suddenly leaping up to the main villain's power (the fight with Frieza's 1st form) and sometimes flat out doesn't exist (the Curb Stomp from Perfect Cell did nothing). It doesn't help that it went from being near-death to simply getting injured, as Zarbon's fight gave Vegeta a minor boost after requiring life support to live, yet Recoome's fight left Vegeta fully conscious and standing yet multiplied his power from being weaker than Recoome, to being on par with Frieza in his first form. This later reoccurred in the same arc when Goku, who was stronger than Ginyu, got badly hurt, healed during everyone else's entire battle with Frieza, yet winds up being equal to Final Form Frieza at 10% power.
- The Hyperbolic Time Chamber. It has been at Kami's Lookout for the whole series, and Goku even trained in it as a child. This not only opened a Plot Hole asking how Goku as a child survived a month with ten times gravity, but couldn't move on King Kai's planet as an adult. It also raises the question of why no one used it sooner. No one was strong enough to survive an entire day before the Android/Cell Saga, but if kid Goku could survive a month, the humans could have lasted just as long during the Saiyan Saga. Yet, Kami nor Popo even mentioned it. It also raises a ton of questions about why the human characters didn't use it during the training to fight the Saiyans in the Saiyan Saga, especially since all of them at that point in the story were stronger than Goku was going in originally.
- Cell's From a Single Cell ability, especially since before that, his regenerating used part of his ki whenever he did it. Taken to immense extremes when regenerating from his self-destruct as Semi-Perfect Cell restores his Perfect form despite regurgitating #18, who was needed to achieve the form in the first place. There was also him getting a boost from near death like a Saiyan. Cell up to that point has been beaten up several times and never once got a boost from it. Yet, being reduced to a single cell somehow did it.
- Goten and Trunks having already achieved Super Saiyan before the beginning of the Buu Saga and no one knowing about it except Chi-Chi in regards to Goten. Up until this point, Super Saiyan was a hard form to achieve even for the halflings.note However, both Goten and Trunks were able to achieve Super Saiyan and control it better than the adults without trying. This is lampshaded by Gohan and especially Vegeta, with the latter calling it "a Super Saiyan bargain sale". This was later explained by Toriyama many years later as them accumulating large amounts of "S-Cells" which... has its own confusions and controversy as a concept.
- Super Saiyan 3. When Goku is asked to kill Buu, he says point blank that he is only equal to Vegeta and that there is no way he can beat Buu. Then, when he fights Buu to buy time for Trunks to get the Dragon Radar, he reveals without warning that he had achieved Super Saiyan 3. It's never explained how Goku got this form, how it was even achieved, and there was no foreshadowing for it, unlike the other Super Saiyan forms. It's so out there that even the other characters think he is bluffing. Worse, Gotenks manages to achieve Super Saiyan 3 without even knowing about it. The anime makes the latter issue a little better by having Goku personally show Goten and Trunks Super Saiyan 3 before his time is up.
- Vegito defusing in Super Buu. Old Kai states that the Potara Fusion is permanent, unlike the Fusion Dance which only lasts for thirty minutes. However, the moment Vegito drops his barrier when Buu absorbs him, he defuses. There's no explanation other than Goku's guess of "bad air" or some weird magic within Buu. This raises the question of why Gotenks didn't defuse when he was absorbed. Dragon Ball Super revises this. Vegito defuses because the Potara Fusion is only permanent when a Supreme Kai is involved in the fusion. For mortals, the fusion lasts only an hour.
Dragon Ball Z movies
- The Non Serial Movies loved to give Goku new techniques or powers without explanation, likely because giving Goku a canonical powerup might make them fit in even less. Particularly obvious ones included Goku developing a completely unexplained transformation in Lord Slug (meant to be Super Saiyan, but wholly inconsistent with the real thing), Goku and Vegeta somehow managing to give the infinitely more powerful Big Geti Star a Phlebotinum Overload in Return of Cooler, Goku absorbing a Spirit Bomb to get stronger in Super Android 13, Goku having everyone channel their power into him to One-Hit Kill the villain in Broly the Legendary Super Saiyan, Gogeta having an unexplained "stardust" power to purify the Big Bad in Fusion Reborn, and Goku gaining the Super Dragon Fist out of nowhere to One-Hit Kill the vastly more powerful Hirudegarn in Wrath of the Dragon.
Dragon Ball Super
- Goku Black's extreme Zenkai Boost despite not being nowhere near death. Yet, he gets absurd power boosts. While, the heroes don't get anywhere near his power despite being constant destroyed by him and Zamasu.
- The "Super Trunks" Super Saiyan form that Future Trunks receives, later named Super Saiyan Rage/Anger, was this going by the anime only. There was little explanation behind how it works, how it was unlocked, or why he got it when he did other than intense rage. Most other transformations could at least be speculated from past elements, (i.e Super Saiyan Rosé being essentially a corrupted Super Saiyan Blue), but this one scratched some heads. It has since been stated elsewhere that it is a unique variation of the rage boost SSJ2 Vegeta used against Beerus, as exemplified by they having similar instances of the users' eyes temporarily whiting out before going back to normal, followed by intense abnormal power.
- Goku Black's Sinister Scythe rips a hole into space-time. This isn't unprecedented, as Super Buu and SSJ3 Gotenks have done the same, but it creating clones of himself was since it wasn't an explicit ability of his own, with the only real explanation offered being a result of his anger at mortals. However, this was acknowledged In-Universe as even Goku Black says he doesn't know what he did or how it happened.
- The Spirit Bomb Future Trunks unconsciously creates to defeat Fusion Zamasu's physical body. Although it's symbolically appropriate, it's never explained how it happened. Up until that point, no one had been able to create a Spirit Bomb except Goku and he has to consciously ask for the energy. note Most, interestingly, don't mind this since they feel it fits the theme of mortals saving themselves and it's an awesome finish... even if ultimately futile. In addition, many who hated the Spirit Bomb backed down a lot after the events of Episode 67.
- Zamasu's spirit merging with the multiverse. It comes at the last moment with seemingly zero foreshadowing and appears to exist solely to create a (near) Downer Ending. With previously mentioned Ass Pulls, fans could at least devise a fairly simple explanation. In this case, every explanation seems to raise more questions, especially since the series never had an immortal before except Garlic Jr.
- Buu suddenly having to take a nap right before the tournament of power. It came right out of nowhere and reeks of desperate Deus Exit Machina. Especially after all the time they spent hyping him up to the audience and showing off his new form.
- Goku Black receives a second Zenkai Boost after Future Zamasu healed him of some bruises, allowing him to reach Super Saiyan Rosé. However, the Zenkai Boost only happens when the Saiyans are revived from the brink of death, which is what happened with his first one.
- The manga version does not do Zamasu's fate much better. Fused Zamasu's fusion time runs out, but he wills himself back from separating, and he takes on a half-Goku Black half-Future Zamasu state, a moment that is taken advantage of by Future Trunks to cut him in half. Goku Black and Future Zamasu seem to be defeated. However, as Future Trunks stabs Goku Black, the latter gets back up, and transforms himself into Fused Zamasu. Future Zamasu appears behind Goku and also transforms himself into Fused Zamasu. Vegeta blows them into bits, but each piece of the two Fused Zamasu's regrow into more Fused Zamasus.
- Gowasu revealed that Fusion Zamasu would only exist for an hour since he wasn't a Supreme Kai. Black and Future Zamasu usurp the position. This twist came out of left-field since up until that point Black and Future Zamasu were shown to be Supreme Kais since they could use the Time Rings, something only Supreme Kais could do. The only explanation is that you don't need to be a Supreme Kai to use the Time Rings, only the Potara Earrings, while the Potara Fusion worked under a different guide set, but this just brings more questions.
- In Chapter 25, Goku is able to do Beerus' Hakai technique. While awesome and badass, it had no foreshadowing since unlike the anime, Goku never saw the technique on scene.note It raised the question of when Goku and Vegeta saw it since they clearly know about it. Much like Trunks' Spirit Bomb sword, fans don't necessary mind this, but wanted more build up.
- Another aspect not very well explained in the manga is that Trunks develops healing powers. Apparently, he got them for being a disciple of Future Shin, however he did not know of this fact until Shin and Gowasu revealed it to him. That raises many questions like why the hell Future Shin never told him this important fact.
- Master Roshi using a less powerful version of Ultra Instinct to fight Jiren in Chapter 39, with Goku learning it by watching the fight. Not only does it come out of nowhere, it makes no sense that Roshi can even remotely fight Jiren. The only justification seems to be that because Roshi is a skilled martial artist, he can apparently do it.