The Android Arc (a.k.a. the Cell Arc) is the third story arc in the Dragon Ball Z series.
Short SummaryTime passes after the events of the Namek Arc and everyone goes on with their lives. The peace ends abruptly when Frieza, now a cyborg, arrives to exact his revenge for his defeat. Before the Z-Fighters can confront him, a mysterious teenager named Trunks intercepts and easily beats him, revealing he too is a Super Saiyan. After Goku arrives back on Earth, Trunks reveals he's from the future and that a major threat is on the horizon in the form of androids that will kill the Z-Warriors and decimate the Earth. Goku won't even be able to help as he dies from a disease before their arrival though Trunks has brought a cure to prevent such a fate. With this, the Z-Warriors get to work training in the hope to counteract the threat. But there turns out to be some unexpected surprises that even Trunks was unaware of leading the Z-Warriors to face their greatest threat yet.
Divided into three sections:
- Android Saga: Frieza's brief return, Goku returning and learning of the bad future. The fight against 19 and 20, and then 17 and 18.
- Cell Saga: Cell makes his appearance terrorizing and absorbing humans. The Z-Fighters try to stop him while also dealing with the androids. Cell absorbs 17 and 18, becoming Perfect Cell.
- Cell Games: Cell initiates his own World Martial Arts Tournament with the world's best fighters (and Mr. Satan) against him. Leading into the final confrontation against him.
Amazed at the power of the mysterious Saiyan, the Z-Fighters are told by him that Goku will return in three hours. They wait around for him, but questioning the man on who he is yields little information, though he keeps looking at Vegeta (to whom Bulma notices a resemblance). Sure enough, Goku returns from space just as the man said he would. After being introduced to the man, the two talk alone, and after the man confirms Goku is powerful, he properly introduces himself in secret - his name is Trunks, and he's a half-Saiyan from twenty years in the future. Not only that, but he's also Vegeta and Bulma's son, much to Goku's amazement. However, the future is evidently bleak, as he reveals that on May 12th, three years from now, two androids made by Dr. Gero, former lead scientist of the Red Ribbon Army, will appear and devastate the Earth, killing all the Z-Fighters save Gohan (who ends up dying thirteen years later) and Trunks. Worse, Piccolo is also among the dead, so that means no Dragon Balls to undo the damage. To top it all off, Goku won't live to see that dark day - he's due to die of a heart virus that the present has no cure for! Fortunately, in the future Bulma developed medicine for it, which he gives to Goku. He then departs in his time machine to assist the Z-Fighters three years from now. Although Goku is sworn to secrecy, the story is overheard by Piccolo, who recounts the tale of the incoming android threat to the others, while making sure not to endanger Trunk's conception by hiding his identity.
Meanwhile, Goku shows off a new trick he picked up while in space - Instant Transmission, allowing him to teleport almost anywhere. Discussing what to do, the gang agrees to train as hard as they can to stop the android threat three years from now (Bulma's suggestion of using the Dragon Balls to find Dr. Gero and stop him before he creates the androids is brushed off by the others). During the interim, Bulma and Vegeta grow more attracted to each other, and Bulma eventually gives birth to baby Trunks.
Three years later, the Z-Fighters head to Sasebo, where the androids are due to first appear. After Goku nearly blows Trunks' identity, the two androids appear and fly into the city. Since the androids don't use ki, no-one can sense them, requiring them to split up and search for them. Before long, the androids - the fat, mime-like Android 19 and the old man Android 20 - begin terrorizing the populace and curb-stomp Yamcha (par for the course at this point), revealing that they can absorb the energy of others. Sensing this, the gang find them, rescue Yamcha and confront the androids, though not before bringing them to a desert away from innocent bystanders. Goku offers to fight 19 first, but he's obviously not feeling too well - little though he knows it, the heart virus is now afflicting him six months later than it was supposed to. Though the androids' strength was adjusted based on Goku's battle against Vegeta, him turning Super Saiyan is a surprise to them, since Dr. Gero never saw the battles on Namek. While Goku initially has the upper hand against 19, the virus worsens and takes its toll on him, and before long 19 almost drains his energy before Vegeta appears and saves him.
As Goku is brought back home, Vegeta takes on Android 19, revealing that he too can now become a Super Saiyan, and swiftly obliterates 19. Outclassed, Android 20 attempts to flee as the Z-Fighters take pursuit. Hiding within canyons, he plots to absorb the gang's energy to power himself up, and manages to goad Vegeta into firing a ki blast which he absorbs before fleeing again. His attempt to drain Piccolo's energy go sour, however, and the Namekian rips off his right hand to prevent him from draining more energy. As Android 20 realises how screwed he is, Trunks appears and tells everyone some shocking news - these androids aren't the ones he warned them about! Piccolo, in shock, reveals Trunks' name, and Vegeta learns the powerful Saiyan is his own son. When Bulma (carrying baby Trunks) shows up, 20 uses the opportunity to shoot her down and flee back to Dr. Gero's laboratory, where the real android threat, Androids 17 and 18, will be activated. Though no-one is badly injured, Vegeta doesn't care for his family's wellbeing either way. Revealing that 20 is actually Dr. Gero himself, now a brain in a robot body, Bulma tells the Z-Fighters that his lab is north of North City and they race off to stop him.
Unfortunately, Gero makes his way to the lab and activates 17 and 18; cyborg teenagers who, unlike 19 and Gero himself, run on infinite energy. However, the two don't follow orders well, and as the Z-Fighters arrive Gero meets his end as 17 kills him. As they plan to activate Android 16 - an android Trunks had never known of - Trunks completely destroys the laboratory, but to no effect. The androids are unharmed and 17, 18 and the newly-activated 16 fly off. Vegeta, eager to battle them, pursues them to a highway. He challenges Android 18, but eventually tires out while the perpetually-powered girl breaks his arm with no problem. The other Z-Fighters meet similar fates from her and 17, though Krillin and Android 16 stay out of the fight. Revealing to him afterwards that they intend to kill Goku because they see it as a game, the androids leave them beaten, but alive (18 kissing Krillin before leaving). Recovering via Senzu Beans, the gang ponder what to do next, especially as these androids are much stronger than the ones in Trunk's time. Vegeta flies off in a rage, while Piccolo leaves for the Lookout and confronts Kami, who is aware that he wishes to fuse with him to deal with the android crisis.
However, it turns out something far worse than the androids has reared its ugly head, prompting Kami to fuse into Piccolo, granting him immense power and wisdom, but causing the Dragon Balls and Shenron to cease existing. As Goku (receiving treatment for the heart virus) is being moved to Kame House before the androids arrive, Bulma, Trunks, Krillin and Gohan find out that another (albeit aged) time machine identical to Trunks' exists, with a bizarre shed exoskeleton lying nearby. Then familiar power levels are felt as Gingertown's populace suddenly vanishes, leaving empty clothes in the streets. As Piccolo investigates, he finds out the reason behind all this is a monster named Cell. Like Trunks, he comes from the future, and is yet another android of Dr. Gero's. However, he is biomechanical; made up of the DNA of warriors like Goku, Vegeta, Piccolo and Frieza, granting him access to their abilities like the Kamehameha, regeneration of body parts, and more. Even worse, he seeks to absorb 17 and 18 to unleash his full power, and since in his time Trunks defeated them, he went back in time to absorb them in the past. After a brief scuffle, he flees to absorb more people. Vegeta is naturally pissed that between the Androids, Piccolo and Cell, everyone and everything seems out to surpass him.
Meanwhile, the androids reach Goku's house, which has been abandoned. Realising the next logical place Goku could be is Kame House, they fly over there. As Krillin and Trunks return to Gero's laboratory to destroy the basement where the young Cell is being created, they find the plans for Android 17 and 18, taking them before destroying the lab in hopes of finding a weakness. As Trunks leaves to find Vegeta, Goku manages to recover from the heart virus, though is in no condition to fight the androids or Cell. Finding Vegeta and Trunks, the three and Gohan leave for the Lookout, where the Hyperbolic Time Chamber - a room where a year inside is a day outside - lies. Since only two people can enter at a time, Vegeta and Trunks go in first, intending to surpass the power of the Super Saiyan state, as Goku and Gohan wait outside. As Cell's rampage is tracked on the news, the androids arrive at Kame House, and Piccolo challenges Android 17 to a one-on-one fight on a deserted island. Unaware of the Namekian's newfound power, 17 accepts and the two give their all. Cell senses Piccolo's energy and, realising it could only be so high if he were facing the androids, races towards it. Having absorbed so many humans, his power now surpasses that of Piccolo's, and he easily overpowers the two. However, Android 16 attacks Cell, who is unable to absorb the completely mechanical android, and is almost brought to a standstill, though 17 and 18 remain despite 16's orders for them to flee, and Cell absorbs the cocky 17, becoming Semi-Perfect.
Now far stronger, Cell sets his sights on Android 18, who flees along with 16 as Tien appears to hold Cell off with several Neo Tri-Beams. Though it has no effect on Cell, it buys the androids precious time, and Goku appears to take Piccolo and Tien back to the Lookout. Meanwhile, Bulma uses the plans from Dr. Gero's lab to create a remote that will shut down Android 18, denying Cell his Perfect form, which she gives to Krillin. Trunks and Vegeta emerge from the Hyperbolic Time Chamber far stronger than before, having done a year's worth of training in one day. As the Saiyans suit up in armor Bulma made for them, Trunks and Vegeta head after Cell as Goku and Gohan enter the Hyperbolic Time Chamber; Goku wanting Gohan to not just become a Super Saiyan, but to also reach a level beyond it. Cell, meanwhile, destroys several islands in his search for 18, but before he finds her, he is confronted by Vegeta, who is now faster and stronger than him thanks to his Super Saiyan's newfound Second Grade state. Krillin arrives on the island, but having fallen for 18, he can't bring himself to deactivate her and destroys the remote. Cell uses this opportunity to plea to Vegeta's pride - by absorbing 18, he'll become more of a challenge for the Saiyan prince, who relents until then. Trunks, having more sense then pride, tries to stop Cell, though Vegeta fights him so as not to interfere. Standing up to his father, Trunks knocks Vegeta away and attempts to stop Cell. However, he manages to absorb her and become Perfect Cell.
In the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, however, Gohan finally becomes a Super Saiyan when he feeds off the rage of being too weak to help those who helped him. Cell, meanwhile, swiftly dominates everyone save Vegeta and Trunks. The latter, unknown to the former, is the stronger of the two, but he refuses to use his full power out of respect for his father's pride. He's eventually forced to bring it out as a Third Grade Super Saiyan when Vegeta gets kicked in by Cell (not that the latter is completely defenseless - a Final Flash visible from space would've killed him had he not moved so "only" half his body gets blown apart), but while he is far stronger than Cell, he's also much slower, which Cell uses to his advantage to defeat him. Goku, meanwhile, discovers this weakness and comes up with a different plan - be a Super Saiyan for so long it's almost natural, so as not to waste energy powering up and keep a balance of speed and power. Amazed at how quickly Vegeta and Trunks grew in power, Cell spares them and announces on TV that he will hold a tournament - the Cell Games - to show his power before the world in ten days' time.
Goku and Gohan (now significantly taller than when he entered) emerge from the Hyperbolic Time Chamber as "natural" Super Saiyans, and Goku transmits to Cell to gauge his power. Even with all his training, he believes Cell could easily defeat him, but what really surprises everyone is how Goku isn't bothered by this fact, with him claiming he discovered a secret while in the chamber. The Z-Fighters spend the remaining nine days training for the Cell Games, though Goku and Gohan only bother doing so for three days; during the remaining six, they go to New Namek and make Dende the new Guardian of Earth. In addition, he makes a new set of Dragon Balls and a new Shenron - one that can grant three wishes like Porunga. On the day of the Games, the World Champion Mr. Hercule Satan steps up to fight Cell, but gets easily beaten (claiming the fight was full of "tricks and illusions" and faking stomach cramps to avoid fighting him again). Goku fights Cell next, and he manages to keep up with the android to the point where Cell destroys the ring and makes it an all-out fight. Despite managing to blow apart Cell's upper body, Cell regenerates it, and Goku throws the match, believing he can't defeat him without destroying the planet and/or dying with him. Shockingly, he decides to have Cell fight Gohan. Even more shockingly, he tosses Cell a Senzu Bean, completely restoring his energy.
Gohan refuses to fight Cell, as his full power only comes out when enraged, but this only encourages Cell to push the half-Saiyan to his limit. Eventually, Android 16 attempts to blow himself up to destroy Cell, but unfortunately Bulma had removed his internal bomb when repairing him earlier. This results in 16's body (save for his head) being destroyed by Cell. To enrage Gohan, Cell creates miniature Cell Juniors to attack the Z-Fighters, which brutally beat them up. Going even further, Cell orders them to kill everyone, but Hercule finds the still-functional head of Android 16 and throws it over to Gohan. 16 tells Gohan that it's OK for him to fight to protect his loved ones and his planet, but Cell promptly crushes him. Finally at his breaking point, Gohan snaps and ascends to a level beyond a Super Saiyan - Super Saiyan 2.
Cell's desire to have a strong opponent swiftly backfires, as Gohan almost completely defeats him with two punches, even when the android was at full power. Although Gohan could easily kill Cell there and then, he decides to have some fun with him, despite everyone's pleas. Taking on a stronger but slower form like Trunks had done earlier, Cell is still no match for Gohan, with one kick to the stomach causing him to vomit out Android 18 and revert to his Semi-Perfect form. Enraged and with nothing to lose, Cell began to self destruct, threatening to take the planet with him. Goku, however, uses Instant Transmission to send himself and Cell to King Kai's planet before he explodes, sacrificing himself to save Earth. No sooner does everyone process what's happened when Cell, having regenerated From a Single Cell, reappears in his Perfect form and more powerful than ever, kills Trunks, overpowers a distraught Vegeta, wounds Gohan's arm and prepares to destroy not just the Earth, but the entire Solar System.
However, Goku contacts Gohan from the afterlife and convinces him to keep fighting. While he manages to use a one-handed Kamehameha, Cell's own Kamehameha is signficantly stronger, though Gohan's gradually grows as the Beam-O-War reaches a stalemate. Although everyone assists Gohan, Cell gradually starts to gain the upper hand before one attack from Vegeta momentarily distracts him, giving Gohan the opportunity to completely overpower Cell's Kamehameha, unleashing his full power as the android breaks apart and is completely destroyed. With the world at peace, Dende heals everyone and uses the Dragon Balls to revive Cell's victims (Trunks among them). However, Goku remains dead both because he had already been revived once before, and because he believes his presence brings powerful evil to Earth, ergo it would be better for him to remain dead.
After Krillin's wish to turn Androids 17 and 18 back to pure humans can't be done, he instead wishes to have their bombs removed, which 18 is thankful for despite her tough attitude towards him. Hercule takes credit for the defeat of Cell and revival of his victims, Trunks returns to his own time to defeat his androids, Piccolo trains Dende to become a good Guardian, Goku remains in the afterlife with King Kai, and peace on Earth is established once again...
The Android Arc has the following tropes:
- All Your Powers Combined: Cell possesses the fighting skills and natural traits of the Z Warriors and Frieza.
- Antagonist in Mourning: After Cell is defeated, Vegeta is deeply disappointed over the fact that his driving motivation and greatest Saiyan rival, Goku is gone. He doesn't get his long-awaited rematch with him, and vows to never fight again. It doesn't last of course, but this is a critical character point that carries over to the next arc.
- Arc Hero: Future Trunks.
- The Cell Games section has Goku, until he performs a Heroic Sacrifice and passes the title to Gohan.
- Armor-Piercing Question: Piccolo: "Goku, does Gohan even know about your plan? Did you discuss it with him?"
- Awesome, but Impractical: The Second and especially the Third Grade Super Saiyan states turn out to be this - while they certainly allow the user to hit harder, their muscle mass greatly hampers their speed, so good luck hitting an agile target with it.
- Bad Future:
- The future where Trunks comes from is this. 17 and 18 have pretty much ravaged the Earth just for kicks and the Z-Warriors were powerless to stop them. Eventually, Trunks returns from the past with a massive power up and wastes them and Cell.
- The future Cell comes from is even worse: although Trunks had deactivated the androids, Cell is still around, and civilization is still ruined. Cell even kills his timeline's Trunks before stealing his time machine. As it's told by Cell's point of view, we never even hear about what happened in his timeline after he left.
- It may not be that bad. Sure, the Z-Warriors (including Trunks) are all dead, but the Androids are too and Cell eventually leaves. The survivors would presumably be able to rebuild with no more homicidal androids around.
- The Bad Guy Wins:
- Although Cell is ultimately slain and and the Earth is saved, Dr. Gero ultimately got what he wanted: Goku is dead. Unfortunately for Dr. Gero, he didn't live to see it happen, and Goku eventually comes back come the next arc.
- The Androids score a total victory over the Z-Fighters in the final battle of the Android Saga. Unfortunately for them, Cell has emerged and is out there waiting for them, leading into the Cell Saga.
- Bait-and-Switch Boss: Starts off with Android 19 and 20 (a.k.a Dr. Gero) then 17 and 18 before finally ending with Cell as the Big Bad for the remainder of the arc.
- To an extent, Frieza is this, as he mainly exists to show how deadly the Androids are, given that Trunks is able to wipe the floor with him but still can't defeat them.
- Beam-O-War: The climax of the arc with Cell and Gohan clashing with energy beams. The others help the best they can in distracting Cell and Vegeta manages to do so enough that Gohan can finish him off.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Vegeta willingly lets Cell off the hook so he can absorb Android 18 and complete his evolution, with the bargain of giving him a Worthy Opponent to face. Vegeta gets exactly what he wanted, receiving a devastating hard elbow in the back for his trouble.
- Big Bad: Cell.
- Bishounen Line: Cell's transformations provide the page image. He spends the first part in his screen time in his monstrous Imperfect form, before transforming into his somewhat humanoid Semi-Perfect form by absorbing Android 17, and then his downright handsome Perfect form when Vegeta allows him to absorb 18. He then un-crosses the Bishounen line when Gohan beats 18 out of him, before re-crossing it as Super Perfect Cell.
- Bookends: This arc has the final power level read aloud by a Scouter - 5, the same number as the first power level read aloud in the series.
- Break the Haughty: Vegeta gets this twice. He achieves the power of Super Saiyan and becomes slightly arrogant, but his Curb-Stomp Battle over Android 19 causes his ego to shoot through the roof. Vegeta decides to challenge 17 and 18 all by himself. He receives a broken arm from Android 18 for his trouble. Later on, Vegeta gains the Ascended Super Saiyan form and dominates Semi-Perfect Cell, except his arrogance gets the better of him once more and lets Cell absorb 18 to get his Perfect Form, believing that it wouldn't make a difference. He gets elbow smashed to the ground for his trouble.
- Can't Catch Up: This is the arc where this trope firmly takes hold of any non-Saiyan member of the Z-Fighters.
- Changing of the Guard:
- This arc sets up Gohan as the new protagonist of the series as Goku remains Killed Off for Real. However, by the next arc, Goku promptly takes his job back.
- In general, this arc moves Goku out of his role as the central warrior and into a mentor role. He only has two fights in the whole arc and he loses both of them, with his primary role in the story being his training of Gohan. In the next arc, he is mainly a supporting character and doesn't truly become the main character again until Gohan is absorbed.
- To a lesser extent, Dende replacing Kami as the Guardian of Earth and creator of the Dragon Balls is this.
- Crutch Character: Goku staying dead is justified by him not wanting to be this. He didn't want everyone relying on him to protect Earth, and being without a powerful enough protector for when he inevitably dies of old age.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: After Vegeta is defeated, the other Z-Fighters (sans Krillin) jump into the fight against Androids 17 and 18. The twin androids proceed to completely mop the floor with the heroes.
- Cyborg: Aside from Frieza, most of the "androids" that appear actually some variety of this. Cell, Dr. Gero's ultimate creation, fights #16, and attempts to drain his life force, and is shocked to discover that he can't because he actually is an android.
- Deer in the Headlights: #17 and #18 have a nasty case of standing still and not running once Cell enters the picture, even when given ample amounts of time to run away.
- Did Not Get the Girl: Android 18 is pissed at Krillin by the end of the arc and angrily flies off. Subverted in the next arc, though, where it's revealed they got married during the Time Skip.
- Didn't Think This Through: Goku's plan to have Gohan defeat Cell had some clear holes he didn't realize. See What the Hell, Hero?.
- Downplayed in Piccolo's case regarding his fight with Android #17: They come at the Kame House looking for Goku. Piccolo decides to fight them, and notes that if just one of them is destroyed, Cell can't achieve his completion. However, him and #17 are evenly matched, and the fight only signals Cell to their location.
- Trunks has to spell out to Vegeta that letting Cell go to absorb Android #18 to get a Worthy Opponent was a very bad idea, and that he might grow stronger than the both of them. Vegeta is only amused by the prospect. He stops laughing once Cell starts beating the crap out of him.
- Do Not Adjust Your Set: Cell announces the Cell Games to the world by hijacking TV broadcasts.
- Dub-Induced Plot Hole:
- The original Japanese version referred to the androids as "Jinzoningen" (or "Artificial Humans"), since the antagonists were either humans that were artificially enhanced or completely artificial. The English translation went with "Androids", as in a machine resembling a human, and while this is accurate for 16, 19 and 20 (though the latter is also a Brain in a Jar), this does make it easy for viewers to think 17 and 18 are mechanical too, and get confused for why Cell can absorb them but not 16. Some translations use "Cyborgs" instead, but then you have the inverse problem...
- Amusingly inverted in regards to Cell - in the original Japanese, when he explains how he regenerated following his failed suicide attack, he mentions that one of his "core" cells within his head survived, and he could regrow from just that. However, earlier Goku had completely destroyed his entire upper body, head included, and he recovered just as easily. The English translation instead claimed that every cell in his body had a life of its own (though it does make one wonder why another Cell never grew out from one of the original's lost ones).
- The Funimation dub has Goku remember encountering Dr. Gero before, even though he never appeared in the original Red Ribbon Army arc.
- The Funimation dub changes Tao Pai Pai/Mercenary Tao to a full time member of the Red Ribbon Army with the ranking of General, even though in the original series, Tao was only an assassin-for-hire that the Red Ribbon Army enlisted the aid of and had no relation to the organization otherwise.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: Unlike the others killed by Cell, 16 is not revived by the Dragon Balls, and probably knew this would be the case. His death is arguably the most awesome in the series, as he sacrifices his existence to give Gohan the will to fight, and dies with a smile on his face.
- Empty Piles of Clothing: Except for 17 and 18, who he Swallowed Whole, all that's left of Cell's victims is their clothes.
- Energy Absorption: Androids 19 and 20/Dr. Gero can drain energy from victims using their hands. They can even absorb Ki Manipulation with no ill-effect.
- Executive Meddling: This is the entire reason Androids 17, 18, and Cell exist, and why Cell transforms.
- When Android #20 explains how he and #19 were created by Doctor Gero, and that he gave them their mission to exact revenge against Goku for putting an end to the Red Ribbon Army, Piccolo notes that he's speaking as if he's Gero himself, but #20 steadfastly dismisses that notion. It's only Bulma that confirms Piccolo's suspicions were correct.
- After Androids #17 and #18 easily defeat the Z-Fighters save for Krillin, they notably don't kill him or the others, and they even have a brief conversation. Even #16's behavior was largely serene throughout the fight, tending to animals instead. After #18 on a whim kisses him on the cheek and they leave, it gives the first hint that the Androids may not be as evil as Trunks warned. Krillin even has to ask Trunks again to describe the personalities they had.
- Right when Goku is leaving, Chi-Chi asks him to promise Gohan will not fight Cell. Goku gives her a nervous look before leaving and not saying a word. This pretty much spells out what his mystery plan was.
- In the English dub, when Cell learns from the heroes that Goku is alive in this timeline, he thinks to himself, "I'll deal with him later". Guess an planet-destroying Superpower Meltdown is one way of ending Goku.
- After Vegeta and Trunks return from their training in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, Vegeta proudly boasts that he will take care of Cell himself, while Tien and Piccolo sternly warn him not to underestimate Cell. While Vegeta could handle Cell by himself, he underestimates Cell in other areas beyond just fighting...
- Most of the characters marvel on how strong Goku became after training in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber. The only one who isn't shocked or trembling was Gohan. He did train with him, but it also hints on Gohan's true power.
- Just before they arrive in Cell Games, Goku meets up with the others, and sees most of them upset that Dende can't make Shenron wish a person back to life twice. Goku just says it's okay because all they have to is not die. Yeah, about that, Goku...
- When Goku, Piccolo and Gohan are flying to meet the Artificial Humans for the first time, Gohan flies ahead of them and Goku tells him to slow down, as he's wasting power. Gohan not realizing how fast he's flying is the first indication that Gohan is surpassing his father.
- From a Single Cell: This arc is the Trope Namer. However, it's a case of Lost in Translation, as what Cell is actually saying in Japanese is that he uses the cells from his core (i.e. brain) to regenerate. The line was altered because the original created a Plot Hole in that Cell's head, which contained said core, was vaporized by Goku's kamehameha, but he regenerated from that just as well as from any other injury.
- Fusion Dance: Kami and Piccolo merge back into the nameless Namekian they originally were in this arc (though for simplicity's sake, he still calls himself Piccolo). Which makes Piccolo strong enough to fight on an even level with Imperfect Cell and Android 17.
- Gambit Roulette: Surprising but true. Goku's infamous fight with Cell? He never intended to defeat him in the first place, and went knowing full well he'd likely lose. In fact, it's the reason why he wanted to go first. He only fought him so that his son Gohan would have a good idea of how strong Cell is. The problem was no one, not even Gohan himself, could really tell if it would work, seeing as Gohan was the kindhearted reluctant warrior of the group up against a mass-murdering cyborg. Even Goku himself had some doubts. Then, Android #16 decided to push things a little with his last speech, Gohan turned Super Saiyan 2, and the rest is history...
- God Is Dead: Goku teleported himself and Cell to King Kai's planet when Cell was due to self-detonate. The blast killed Goku, along with King Kai and Bubbles (and Gregory in the anime). King Kai was, at that point, the highest ranking known deity. But it's okay: All that happened is that they got transported back to Snake Way with halos above their heads. King Kai is merely annoyed about the whole thing.
- In the Bad Future however, Piccolo's death by the Androids means that Kami dies as well, and that the Dragon Balls are permanently inactive. This has much more dire consequences, and is partly why Trunks time travels to the era when the Z-Fighters are still alive.
- Greater-Scope Villain: He was killed in the first part of the arc (which was to be expected, given Trunks' prediction), but Dr. Gero and his desire for revenge drives the entire arc.
- HeelFace Turn: Each of the Androids wind up pulling this in their own ways once the Cell Saga begins. 17 is forced to turn over a new leaf quickly when Cell arrives on the scene, who is itching to absorb him and 18. 17 and Piccolo team up to fight Imperfect Cell. Android 16 develops an appreciation for life and nature on the Earth, and pulls off a Heroic Sacrifice in an attempt to stop Perfect Cell, Android 18, however, got the happiest ending of them all, as at the end of the saga, 18 ends up being wished to have her inner detonation bomb removed and becomes married to Krillin in the next arc.
- The Hero Dies: The second time Goku is killed and once more through a Heroic Sacrifice, proving that Goku only dies when he says so.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Goku uses Instant Transmission to get the about-to-self-destruct Cell away from Earth. King Kai and his pets are also victims, since Goku took Cell to King Kai's planet. Too bad Cell regenerated from that. However, he makes a true one when he chooses to stay in the Other World instead of being wished back to life.
- Hit-and-Run Tactics: Dr. Gero relies on this, more so in the anime, when he ambushes Krillin just miles away from his secret lab. Cell also uses this in his Imperfect stage.
- I Am Not Left-Handed: Android 18 for much of her fight with Vegeta. She actively avoids exerting herself, while Vegeta comes at her with increasing intensity. As Piccolo deduces, she's getting Vegeta to burn through his energy and will stop holding back once he does.
- Informed Ability:
- In the anime, it's stated by the main cast that King Cold is even stronger than Frieza's, but this is never demonstrated. Notably, in the manga, it was stated that King Cold was weaker then him (though both were stated to still be massively stronger then the Z-Fighters at the time, and the heroes consistently group them together when sensing their ki, implying they're pretty close).
- Cell claims he could use the Spirit Bomb if he liked, but he's never shown using the technique, as any energy he could gather from Earth's lifeforms would be useless, given that the same attack was incapable of killing Saiyan arc Vegeta.
- Dr. Gero/Android #20 claimed that he was mightier than #19, but since he ran away shortly after this claim from Vegeta, and noting him getting a beatdown from Piccolo (even after he absorbed some of his ki), he never shows it. At least, 19 got to bloody Vegeta's lip (it's possible that he was stronger than him when they both showed up, but was weaker after 19 powered up a bunch from absorbing Goku and Vegeta's energy).
- Ironic Echo: When Trunks fights Perfect Cell, he becomes far stronger than him, but the power-up is useless since he loses speed, allowing Cell to dodge his every attack, which he mocks Trunks for. Once Cell fights Super Saiyan 2 Gohan, he powers up to a similar state, and Gohan dodges his every blow.
- Just Toying with Them: Android 18 appears to be on the ropes against Vegeta, who is matching her blow for blow, only to come back and easily smack him around once Vegeta becomes fatigued. Android 18 outmatched him all along.
- Make Way for the New Villains: Done twice through the whole arc. Android 19 and Dr. Gero are introduced as the first antagonists, then 19 is destroyed and Dr. Gero activates Androids 17 and 18, who proceed to kill him, then Cell finally appears as the ultimate threat and later disposes of 17 and 18.
- Mauve Shirt: King Cold, despite being Frieza's father, has virtually no importance and is killed off with little fanfare. Supplementary materials even claim that despite being the real leader of his son's empire, Frieza holds more influence than he does.
- Monster Delay: There was quite a bit of suspenseful build up to Cell's first appearance, from learning about the existence of another time machine, to finding Cell's shed larvae skin, to the strange disappearance of Gingertown's residence followed by the news crew being attack offscreen by Cell, to finally Piccolo searching Gingertown for Cell who slowly appears from the shadows.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Done a few times by the heroes through the arc:
- Krillin when his decision not to deactivate Android 18 lets Cell become complete.
- Goku when he realizes that his attempt to get Gohan to unleash his hidden power against Cell was going to lead to his son's death.
- Gohan has the biggest one when his decision to prolong his battle with Cell resulted in him deciding to pull a Taking You with Me on the entire planet. It got even worse when it resulted in his father senselessly sacrificing his life and Cell returning more powerful than ever.
- Next Tier Power-Up: After some early success, the Super Saiyan Transformation eventually becomes So Last Season against the Androids, thus forcing Goku and Vegeta to seek out the power beyond that of a Super Saiyan. Vegeta and Trunks discover the Second and Third Grade Super Saiyan forms, which quickly prove useless due to the Awesome, but Impractical nature of the transformations. Goku decides to train the Super Saiyan state into a mastered form to some success, but it still isn't quite enough. Gohan is the one to have the breakthrough, unleashing his hidden power to unlock the true ascension, Super Saiyan 2.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: This might as well be called the Nice Job Breaking It, Hero! Saga considering how many of the problems were due to bad decisions on the part of the protagonists.
- The protagonists' refusal to use the Dragon Balls to stop Gero from releasing the Androids in the first place. Bulma calls them out on this.
- Vegeta's insistence on letting Dr. Gero activate 17 and 18 because of his ego trip.
- Piccolo's decision to start a huge fight with Android 17, thus alerting Cell to the Androids' location.
- The Androids' refusal to run from Cell when they had the chance (especially 18, who was told over and over to get the hell out of there but just wouldn't leave).
- Vegeta's decision to let Cell absorb Android 18 because he thought Cell might be a Worthy Opponent afterwards. He got what he wanted.
- Krillin's refusal to deactivate Android 18 and kill her so Cell couldn't absorb her.
- Gohan's refusal to kill Cell when he had the chance because he wanted to make him suffer.
- No Sympathy: Krillin admits that if it were up to him, he'd have let Vegeta die for letting Cell achieve his perfect form. It was only out of concern for Trunks that he opts to help Vegeta.
- Not Worth Killing: After dominating Semi-Perfect Cell with his new power, Vegeta fails to capitalize on the opportunity to finish Cell off and end it once and for all. Instead, Semi-Perfect Cell tempts Vegeta with the bargain of giving him a Worthy Opponent if he lets him absorb 18 and achieve his Perfect Form. Vegeta falls for the ploy and the rest is history.
- A rather amusing instance happens in the beginning of the Cell Games when Mr. Satan decides to fight Cell, and is swatted aside reflexively by the bio-android for his troubles. He's knocked into a mountain but he barely survives. Piccolo surmised that even Cell didn't want to waste an ounce of energy to kill such an idiot, when he should be fighting Goku. Some of the Z-Fighters, Piccolo and Krillin in particular, openly stated that they actually were rooting for Cell during the entire 'fight'.
- Oh, Crap!:
- The rest of the Z-Fighters when they sense Frieza heading towards Earth.
- Frieza upon seeing Trunks turn Super Saiyan.
- Essentially #19 and #20's reaction when it appeared that Goku's Super Saiyan transformation made him stronger than they anticipated. Vegeta transforming into a Super Saiyan himself also provokes his reaction.
- The Z-Fighters sans Yamcha and Goku when Trunks tells them that the androids that they were fighting aren't the ones in his future.
- Doctor Gero when he learns that the Z-Fighters are heading to his lab.
- The available Z-Fighters when they witness the Androids murder Doctor Gero, just as Trunks predicted.
- The Z-Fighters once they realize that Super Saiyan Vegeta, despite his seemingly strong effort against Android 18, is only fighting a losing battle against her.
- Piccolo once he sees that Cell can perform a Kamehameha.
- Trunks after realising that Vegeta actually plans on letting Cell absorb Android #18, and he has another one when he learns that said android is on the island they're fighting on.
- Vegeta after landing a direct blow to Perfect Cell's head and seeing him completely unfazed.
- King Kai has one when he realizes Cell isn't on Snake Way with them, meaning that he's still alive.
- Papa Wolf: Believe it or not, Vegeta went absolutely berserk on Cell when he fatally shot Future Trunks. Needless to say, Future Trunks was shocked to learn that his selfish father attempted to avenge him.
- Perpetual-Motion Monster: Androids 16, 17 and 18 have infinite energy reactors, unlike 19 and 20/Dr. Gero, who need to absorb energy. This allows them to fight without ever getting tired, though 18 implies such a system is hard to control, hence why Gero didn't become that type of android himself.
- Pyrrhic Victory: Played with for both sides. The victory over Cell comes at a heavy cost, as the Z Fighters lose Goku. On the other side, Dr. Gero gets what he wanted (Goku's death), but he doesn't live to see it happen and Goku ends up coming back to life eventually.
- Revenge: The whole arc is a result of Dr. Gero's desire to get revenge on Goku for destroying the Red Ribbon Army way back in the original Dragon Ball series.
- Remember the New Guy?: Despite his high status in the organisation and the lengths he goes to for its revenge, Dr. Gero never appeared in the original Red Ribbon Army arc.
- Revenge Before Reason: Gohan becomes this, as well as a Sadist, upon transforming into a Super Saiyan 2, opting for prolonging the fight just to see Cell suffer.
- Senseless Sacrifice: Android 16, although it becomes a Heroic Sacrifice in an unintended way. He attempts a Taking You with Me on Cell by using the bomb inside of him to blow him up...Unfortunately, he didn't realize until it was too late that Bulma had removed it. Made even worse by the fact that the bomb almost certainly would've failed to kill Cell anyway considering what he survived later. Cell kills him after the failed attempt, but his death at least pushes Gohan to unlock enough of his hidden power to beat Cell.
- Series Continuity Error: In the original manga, Trunks specifies the androids who devastate his future as #19 and #20, despite him later stating that they're not. The anime removes this and makes the identity of the androids more ambiguous.
- Sinister Surveillance: It turns out that Dr. Gero had been using bug-sized spy drones to spy on Goku and his friends since the 22nd World Martial Arts Tournament. He also used them to collect the cell samples needed to create Cell.
- So Last Season: Vegeta finally achieves his lifelong dream of becoming a Super Saiyan and destroys the initial Android threat, but against the true monsters Androids 17 and 18, it proves entirely useless.
- This Cannot Be!: Cell's last words before being completely destroyed by Gohan's Kamehameha Wave is this, stating he was perfection.
- Timey-Wimey Ball: Averted, which is surprising coming from a show not exactly known for rigorous plot planning. The way time travel works in the series (the past can't be changed, and any attempt will just branch off into a new timeline) makes complete internal sense, although it still winds up being pretty convoluted.
- Tournament Arc: Played with, Cell makes up the Cell Games and patterns it after the usual Martial Arts Tournament. However, it's obvious he's just using it as a form of entertainment and midway through his match with Goku, drops the pretense altogether and blows up the ring.
- Took a Level in Badass: Gohan finally manages to unleash his hidden power after going Super Saiyan 2.
- Turned Against Their Masters: Androids 17 & 18 kill Dr. Gero in both timelines.
- Villainous Breakdown: Once Cell realizes just how strong Gohan is, he completely loses his cool as he tries his damnedest to defeat him, to the point of blowing himself up. When that fails, he tries to destroy the planet and the Solar System just to end it all.
- We Can Rebuild Him: How Frieza recovered from his death on Namek. It doesn't help him against Trunks.
- Wham Episode: A revived Frieza arrives on earth, the gang realizing that they're completely doomed, seemingly setting up another battle with Frieza. However, he's beaten by a mysterious boy who can also become a Super Saiyan. And then we find out that this boy is just a messenger, warning of a threat that's even stronger than Frieza.
- Wham Line:Goku (to Cell): I give up.note
- What the Hell, Hero?: Quite a few people get called out in this arc:
- Bulma also delivers one to essentially the whole Z-Gang for being so fight-obsessed that despite Trunks coming all the way from the future to tell them about how much of a Crapsack World things'll be due to the Androids and giving them three years of prep time, they still shoot down her plan to find their creator and stop him before he unleashes them on the grounds that they want to test their strength against them.
- Goku gets called out big time during Gohan's battle with Cell. As Gohan's busy getting curb-stomped by Cell while the others stand and watch, Goku wonders out loud what Gohan is waiting for, expecting the fight to bring out Gohan's full power. Piccolo has to explain to Goku - furiously - that unlike the other Saiyans, Gohan doesn't live for battle, and that he's likely not wondering how he'll win, but why his father is letting him get beaten to death. Needless to say, this hits Goku hard.
- After King Kai gets caught up in Goku's Heroic Sacrifice to save the world from Cell, he's not particularly pleased with him, both for getting his planet destroyed and getting him stuck as a spirit on Snake Way.
- The Worf Effect:
- Frieza gets hit with this big time, getting killed off moments after his re-introduction to show how powerful Trunks (and, by extension, the Androids) are.
- Android 19 gets demolished by newly-transformed Super Saiyan Vegeta to demonstrate his newfound strength, only to get subjected to this later at the hands of Android 18 to show that Super Saiyan power is no longer enough.
- Worf Had the Flu: Goku starts suffering from the Heart Virus just as the first androids emerge, and doesn't recover until after Cell has appeared in his Imperfect Form.
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: The Hyperbolic Time Chamber is introduced in this arc, giving the main characters (in particular, Gohan) more time to train than the few days that Cell gave them.
- You Can't Fight Fate: Played with throughout the arc: Many of the events that happened in Trunks' timeline still happen in the main one, but in wildly different situations:
- The Dragon Balls still end up going inert, but it's not because of Piccolo dying to the Androids, but to him fusing with Kami, and Goku's presence helps quickly fix things.
- Gohan still loses use of his left arm, but instead of being against the Androids, it's against Cell, and it never outright gets chopped off, which means it's able to be healed.
- Trunks gets killed by Cell like in Cell's timeline, but thanks to the Dragon Balls, he is revived.
- Trunks manages to prevent Goku's death from the heart virus, but Goku ends up dying anyway during the Cell Games. Subverted, however, in that Trunks did manage to prevent the deaths of the other Z Fighters, and since Goku didn't die of the Heart Virus, he's able to come back to life in the Majin Buu saga.
- You Can't Thwart Stage One: Played with all over the place.
- Future Trunks thwarts Frieza and King Cold at Stage 1, which actually kept until the Resurrection F movie. The two don't even get to face Krillin and Tien, much less Goku and Vegeta.
- Bulma suggests using the Dragon Balls to find and off Dr. Gero before he can do anything, but as usual, the Saiyans want to fight the Androids and nix the idea.
- Dr. Gero's plan is technically thwarted at stage 1 when Android 19 is destroyed, as he didn't want to have to release 17 and 18 and only did it in desperation because the Z fighters were at his door.
- Cell himself is odd because there are three different versions of him from different timelines.
- Present Cell is thwarted at Stage 0, as Krillin kills him while he is still incubating.
- The Arc Villain version of Cell was in his own timeline thwarted at Stage 1 (by Future Trunks killing 17 and 18 before he could absorb them), and went back in time to get the Androids when they were still alive. Once in the present, he plays it straight, being able to reach his Perfect state because Vegeta got cocky.
- In the epilogue, Future Trunks meets his own timeline's version of Cell- but since he's much stronger as a result of his adventures in the past, he swiftly kills Cell right after the Future Androids.