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Recap / Dragon Ball Z Android Arc

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Story Arcs: 1: Saiyan Arc | 2: Namek Arc | 3: Garlic Jr. Arc | 4: Android/Cell Arc | 5: Majin Buu Arc

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Evil, Manufactured

The Android Arc (a.k.a. the Cell Arc) is the third story arc in the Dragon Ball Z series.

Short Summary

Time 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.

Main Summary

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A year and a half following the events on Namek, the world is at peace and life is good, save for the fact that Goku is still MIA in space. Having failed to find him, Vegeta returns to Earth and lives with the Briefs (with Bulma starting to develop an attraction to him), having nowhere else to go. Unfortunately for everyone, it turns out that Frieza's Not Quite Dead; even after being reduced to a torso and half a head when Namek exploded, he survived and is taken in by his father, King Cold to be reborn as a Cyborg. A cyborg with an army, looking for revenge on a planet without Goku, at that. Despite the massive odds against them, the Z-Fighters head to the Northern Wastelands as Frieza's ship lands. However, no sooner do his minions disembark when a mysterious young man wielding a sword appears and effortlessly slices them apart. He then takes on Frieza and reveals himself to be a Saiyan as he promptly turns Super Saiyan, scaring the daylights out of the tyrant. The next thing he knows, the man makes literal mincemeat out of him and kills King Cold, effortlessly quashing Frieza's reign of terror before it begins.

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 day has no cure for! Fortunately, in the future Bulma developed medicine for it, which he gave to Goku, because sometimes, history is worth changing. 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 Trunks' conception by hiding his identity.

Meanwhile, Goku reveals how he survived Namek's explosion before showing 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 finds them, rescues Yamcha, and confronts the androids, though not before bringing them to a desert away from innocent bystanders. Goku offers to fight 19 first, but he's not feeling too well - little does he know, 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, his 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 goes sour, however, and the Namekian rips off his right hand to prevent him from draining more energy. As Android 20 realizes 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 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 well-being either way. Revealing that 20 is 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, first by punching through Gero's body, then kicking his head off and stomping on it. As they plan to activate Android 16 - an android Trunks had never known of - Trunks 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 afterward 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 ponders what to do next, especially as these androids are much stronger than the ones in Trunks' 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. The 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. Realizing 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 either 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, realizing it could only be so high if he were facing the androids, races toward 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 does not affect 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 wants 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 than 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.

Well, bugger. Now the entire world is surely doomed, or maybe worse than that.

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 and saves 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. If no one can defeat him, he's going to destroy the Earth.

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 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 not a crime for him to fight for what is right, to protect his loved ones and his planet, and he tells Gohan to release all that anger that's built up inside of him, 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 is 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 begins to self-destruct, threatening to take the Earth with him. Well, this is it. Gohan's arrogance has gotten the best of him, and now it's going to cost him their planet. And there's nothing anyone can do... unless someone's willing to sacrifice themselves to save the Earth... which Goku does. He uses Instant Transmission to send himself and Cell to King Kai's planet before he explodes. 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.

Suffice to say, everything seems to be heading swiftly down the shitter.

However, Goku contacts Gohan from the afterlife and convinces him to keep fighting. While he manages to use a one-handed Kamehameha, Cell's is significantly 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, allowing Gohan to 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 decides to stay dead both because he had already been revived once before and mostly because he believes his presence brings powerful evil beings 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 the 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...

...at least, for seven years.


The Android Arc has the following tropes:

  • Aborted Arc: After Trunks returned three years later, there was a brief subplot of him trying to figure out who or what caused the timeline to change so drastically from his period. The last time this is brought up is after he and Bulma look at his beat-up time machine that Cell came in, and Trunks theorizes that he could be responsible for the changes. However, this never gets brought up again. Several other questions and storylines don't go anywhere either, as the introduction of Cell acts as a Conflict Killer and gives all the characters a singular threat to focus on.
  • Accidental Hero: After learning about the androids and the Bad Future, Bulma comes up with a plan: Use the Dragon Balls to locate Dr. Gero and kill him before he can activate the androids. Vegeta, Goku, Piccolo, and the other Blood Knights shoot this down and Goku points out that Gero hasn't done anything yet. So killing him would be unfair. Eventually, it is established that the conventional rules of time travel don't apply when mortals travel through time it simply creates Alternate Timelines, meaning Bulma's suggestion wouldn't solve Trunks' Bad Future. So ultimately, Goku, Piccolo, and Vegeta's plan of getting stronger ends up benefitting them, allowing Trunks to go back to the future and defeat the androids once he gets stronger.
  • Adaptational Dumbass:
    • In the manga, when Master Roshi says it'll take at least 20 minutes before Bulma can reach his island with the remote to deactivate the androids (when Cell has already reached them and fighting Piccolo), Krillin immediately says he will fly towards her plane and they can meet on the way. In the anime, Krillin doesn't come up with this idea. It is ChiChi who has to point out to Krillin, and by extension, Tenshinhan, that they can fly, followed by calling him out for not even thinking of this.
    • Bulma is told by Roshi that Piccolo is fighting the androids, for his life and she needs to reach his island as soon as possible. In the manga, she flies her plane at top speed (or at least, that is what is implied), but even then, the island is too far, hence, Krillin decides to fly to her. The anime adds a filler scene where she is flying at a very average speed, taking her sweet time, until she calls Roshi, to entertain baby Trunks, when Roshi informs her that Krillin is on his way to meet her. After hanging up, Bulma decides now is the time to speed up, instead of doing that right from the beginning.
  • All Your Powers Combined: Cell possesses the fighting skills and natural traits of the Z Warriors and Frieza.
  • Always a Live Transmission: This occurs when Cell invades a television studio to announce his Cell Games in the anime. In the manga, he just barges into the newsroom which could be justified as a live broadcast, but in the anime he walks through the front door and flies up to the top of the building, crashing through each floor on the way. And the Z Fighters can track him by channel hopping, implying that EVERY show that studio broadcasts are live.
  • 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.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Unlike Trunks, who discovers Third Grade Super Saiyan form and thinks it makes him the strongest Saiyan alive, Vegeta and Goku both instinctively understand the weakness of the overly muscled form. Goku can explain it to Gohan and immediately assesses that it's not the goal of their training, whereas Vegeta uses the effect of what the form does not to transform outright, but to charge his ultimate attack and dare Cell not to dodge it, an effort which comes far closer to target than Trunks' direct attempt to challenge Cell in that state.
  • 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.
  • The Bad Guy Wins:
    • Although Cell is ultimately slain and the Earth is saved, Dr. Gero ultimately gets what he wants: Goku is dead. Unfortunately for 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 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 can 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.
    • And then Cell makes the same mistake with Gohan during the Cell Games, intentionally trying to anger him to draw out his hidden power. Which he is then completely outclassed by.
  • Big Bad: After displacing the Androids, Cell takes over as the second main villain of the series.
  • Bishounen Line: Cell's transformations provide the page image. He spends the first part of 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Gohan defeats Cell and Trunks becomes powerful enough to save his timeline from the Androids, but Goku dies stopping Cell from destroying the Earth, and decides not to be wished back to life. The latter two events eventually become reversed, for better, and for worse.
  • 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.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Piccolo decides to merge with Kami because the Earth is confronted with a dangerous menace, and that a powerful warrior capable of defending the Earth is needed, not a god who merely watches it. Kami agrees but seeks to assess how events take place. Piccolo scoffs at this because Kami knows full well that the Z-Fighters were completely trounced by the Androids, but Kami notes that the group provoked the Androids into fighting them and that events are playing out differently from Trunks' predictions.
  • 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.
    • Downplayed, then Played Straight with Android #17 who boasted that he is the most powerful being on Earth, gets a mild humbling from Piccolo - who had merged with Kami since their first encounter, and then gets brutalized by Cell, who had come to absorb him and #18. It's even worse in the anime when you see more of how much punishment Cell is giving him.
  • Brutal Honesty:
    • Piccolo outright tells Kami who he seeks to merge with, that he is of no use to anyone anymore save for keeping the Dragon Balls functional. As vexing as that was to hear, Kami admits that Piccolo is right.
    • Fresh from the Room of Spirit and Time/Hyberbolic Time Chamber, Goku asks Korin to assess how he'd measure up against Cell. Korin tells him that he is still no match for the living bioweapon.
    • An Invoked example: Piccolo decides that the interim before the Cell Games is a good enough time to enter the Room of Spirit and Time/Hyperbolic Time Chamber. Goku catches after he's recently come out and says he's improved significantly. Piccolo says he knows that Goku thinks he still doesn't hold a candle to Cell, and Goku simply replies, "Yep".
    • A few of the Z-Fighters, especially Piccolo, do not mince their words on what they thought of Goku's plan to have Gohan battle Cell during the Cell Games.
  • Call-Back: Goku powering up for Cell in the anime references the first opening Cha-La Head Cha-La where Goku does the same pose and movement except that he does so in Super Saiyan rather than base form. The links for the opening and scene from the Cell Games are provided for comparison.
  • Came Back Strong: A villainous example with Cell. After regenerating following his self-destructive attemptnote , he not only regains his Perfect form despite having lost Android 18 note , but the Saiyan genealogy within him gave him a major Zenkai boost, topped off with having gained Goku's Instant Transmission technique in the explosion. Needless to say, he was quite elated with this turn of events.
  • 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" appear to have 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, #18 herself is more guilty of this, especially after #17 gets absorbed.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Android 18 is pissed at Krillin for him thinking that she and 17 were a couple and revealed she and 17 were actually twin siblings by the end of the arc and angrily flies off, though not before thanking him for removing the bombs from their bodies. Subverted in the next arc, though, where it's revealed that because of Krillin's selfless act would ultimately lead to him and 18 falling in love to the point they got married and had a daughter during the Time Skip.
  • Didn't See That Coming:
    • Cell mostly sees the Cell Games as a way to make theater of engaging Goku: The World's Best Warrior in all-out brawl. He (and everyone who knew Goku) didn't see Goku surrendering in favor of Gohan.
    • Another example came when he pulled his Earth-Shattering Kaboom Taking You with Me. He didn't expect to not only regenerate from it but also become stronger than ever.
  • 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 to 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, he and #17 are evenly matched, and the fight only signals Cell to their location via sensing Piccolo's Ki rising.
    • 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 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.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Super Saiyan 2, despite debuting in this arc, wasn't named until the Buu arc. As a result, supplementary materials gave it the name "Super Saiyan Grade 5".
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When first trying to find the androids on South City, Goku muses that it would've been easier if Trunks had shown him a photo of them. This helps set things up that the androids the Z Fighters encounter are not the ones Trunks had warned them about.note 
    • 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.
    • During Piccolo's fight with Cell, the Androids react to a shockwave hundreds of miles away. #16 reveals that he can detect power levels, and says that one of them (Piccolo) is as strong as #17, to which the latter scoffs at. When Piccolo and #17 clash, they turn out to be evenly matched.
    • 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 do 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.
    • Once Cell becomes Perfect, he becomes so overconfident in his strength, he almost takes a point-blank Final Flash from Vegeta - prompted by the latter's goading: the attack shocks and nearly kills him, exposing at least one (psychological) weakness: his pride. Goku exploits this completely by facing Cell off then subbing in Gohan - knowing that his ego either wouldn't allow him to take Gohan seriously or he would arrogantly force him to release his hidden power, which is what led to his downfall.
    • Goku uses the Instantaneous Movement technique to save Piccolo and Tien from Cell, which the latter expresses interest in (In the first English Dubs, he even says "I gotta learn how he did that"). During their fight in the Cell Games, Cell forces a situation where Goku uses it again with a Kamehameha powerful enough to devastate the Earth. Then Goku uses a similar strategy with his Kamehameha yet combines it with the Instanteous Movement to take Cell off-guard.
  • 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.
  • From Bad to Worse: The situation involving the androids escalates in rapid succession. First, during the initial confrontation with the androids, Goku, who at first looked like he didn't contract the heart disease, ends up succumbing to it much later than initially, temporarily putting him out of commission. Then, just when Android 20 is on the ropes and it appears things will be wrapped up easily, Trunks shows up and says the androids the Z Fighters had been dealing with were not the androids terrorizing the future. When said androids, #17 and #18 appear, they bring along another new android, #16, followed by demonstrating that even with three years advanced notice and training, the Z Fighters are heavily outmatched. Finally, a second version of Trunks' time machine is discovered, leading to the introduction of Cell.
  • 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.
  • Godzilla Threshold:
    • With Android 19 destroyed and himself being outmatched by the Z Fighters, Dr. Gero was reluctantly forced to activate 17 and 18, knowing how dangerous they were. Unfortunately, this decision costs Gero his life when the Androids destroy his deactivation remote, followed by lopping off his head and crushing it.
    • After seeing Cell absorb every one in Gingertown, Kami realized the threat he posed was so great that he agreed to Piccolo's request that they fuse back together, even though it meant Earth's Dragon Balls would become inert.
  • 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.
  • Happily Failed Suicide: A very dark variant in that Cell initiates his self-destruct sequence, intending to take Gohan and rest of the Earth with him. But Goku swiftly teleports him to King Kai's planet to save the Earth, leaving the deaths only to Goku, King Kai and his pets. Cell not only turns out to be alive, to his own surprise, but even stronger than ever - and even gains Goku's Instantaneous Movement skill to menace the heroes and the Earth once more.
  • Heel–Face 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 (along with 17) ends up being wished to have both her's and her brother's inner detonation bombs removed and 18 becomes married to Krillin with an adorable daughter in the next arc.
    • Android 17 got just as much of a happy ending as his twin sister did as he's shown to have married a female zoologist off-screen in the interim between Z and Dragon Ball Super, and is revealed to have 3 kids of his own, one being born naturally, the other two are adopted and he has since become a park ranger, likely to honor Android 16's memory.
  • 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 BSoD: Trunks' new powerup against Perfect Cell appears to match him in power, but then he can't so much as hit Cell. Cell decides to reveal to him that he can bring about a similar 'transformation', and mocks Trunks for thinking greater power is all he needed to win. Trunks realises that Vegeta (who was easily defeated by Cell earlier) must have figured it out which is why he didn't bother to use it, his confidence utterly shattered, he powers down, and says that Cell should get it over with and kill him. Though Cell, after some consideration, has other plans...
  • 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 as is Android 17 who was still trapped inside Cell at the time, since Goku took Cell to King Kai's planet. He manages to save the Earth, though unfortunately, Cell regenerated from that.
    • Later, he pulls another when he chooses to stay in the Other World instead of being wished back to life.
  • He's Back!: Goku when he recovers from the heart virus.
  • 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, keeping the Z-Fighters off his heels until he had absorbed enough people and grown strong enough to take them head-on.
  • Hold the Line: Tien holds off Semi-Perfect Cell by firing off his Neo Tri-Beam/Shin Kikoho technique, while Android #18 escapes with #16 into an archipelago. He very nearly dies, but Goku rescues him.
  • 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.
  • I Can't Sense Their Presence: The Z Fighters quickly discover that due to being machines, the androids don't give off any Ki, so not only are they unable to sense their level of strength, but they're extremely difficult to find.
  • I Choose to Stay: When the gang plans to try and revive Goku following Cell's defeat, he decides that he should instead remain in Other World, believing that he has been a walking Doom Magnet for the universe's worst villains. It doesn't last too long when the Majin Buu Arc starts.
  • I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Krillin makes the wish to Shenron to remove the detonators from Androids #17 and #18 as he took pity on them, and while #18 scoffed at the idea of him and Krillin being together, Krillin took solace in that at least #18 and #17 could be together. #18, who happened to be spying on the Z-Fighters the whole time, clarifies that #17 is her twin brother, not her partner, and gives the rather ambiguous "Later" to Krillin to fly off to parts unknown note . It turns out that #18 deeply appreciated Krillin's selfless gesture, and by the next few chapters, her and Krillin are seen Happily Married with a child.
  • Informed Ability:
    • In the anime, it's stated by the main cast that King Cold is even stronger than Frieza, 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 and Namek arc Frieza.
    • 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.
  • Irony:
    • Android 18 is warned by Future Trunks to be one of two responsible for the death of millions in the future. In the anime's depiction of her fight with Vegeta, Vegeta actually kills far more people in the resulting collateral damage than 18 ever does.
    • Trunks warns Goku of the two Androids that would wipe out the Z Fighters and to prepare for their arrival. However, due to his Heart Virus and the fact that they went after the wrong Androids, Goku never encountered the ones that Trunks was actually describing until long after the fact when they made a Heel–Face Turn.
  • 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. Turns out Android 18 was suckering him into using up his stamina while hers stayed limitless.
    • After a stint in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber/Room of Spirit and Time, Vegeta makes complete sport of his match-up with Cell in his Semi-Perfect Form. This eventually gets turned around when the former allows Cell to become Perfect, until Cell decides to gets serious and swiftly defeats him.
  • Last Villain Stand: An interesting inversion with Cell. After being overwhelmed by Gohan and losing his Perfect form after regurgitating Android 18, he decided to Rage Quit and blow himself up along with the planet, only for Goku to teleport him off the planet before the blast. Unfortunately, it's then that the true extent of Cell's regeneration abilities is revealed as he not only regrows his body, but regains his Perfect form, gains a massive Zenkai boost thanks to his Sayian biology, and obtains Goku's Instant Transmission technique all at once, allowing him to return stronger than ever and forcing the remaining Z Fighters into a Last Stand.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Dr. Gero ended up doing this to himself, believing he had gathered all the data he needed after the Saiyan saga and didn't need to monitor Goku any further. As Goku pointed out, by not spying on him when he went to Namek means that he didn't know about the fact that he could now become a Super Saiyan, which caught Gero and Android 19 completely off-guard and helped contribute to events that would lead to Gero activating Androids 17 and 18note 
  • 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.
  • Mini-Me: After Cell becomes Perfect Cell, he creates seven miniature versions of himself ("Cell Juniors") that are colored blue instead of green, and without the original's stinger. They otherwise have all of his powers.
  • 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 attacked offscreen by Cell, to finally Piccolo searching Gingertown for Cell who slowly appears from the shadows.
  • Morton's Fork: Goku's fight with Cell ultimately reaches this point. After the ring is destroyed, the two fight intensely enough that Goku figures that either the Earth will be destroyed, or the two kill each other (or more likely, Goku just dies and Cell destroys the Earth anyway). So he decides to cut his losses, and Gohan take over.
  • My Defense Need Not Protect Me Forever: Android 18 uses her limitless stamina to wear down Vegeta, where she proceeds to smack him around. Piccolo even notices this, but its already too late.
  • 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.note .
    • 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 sacrificing his life to save the Earth 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 via sensing Piccolo's ki.
    • 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), leads to them becoming Cell's lunch.
    • 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.note 
    • Goku giving Cell a senzu bean to let him heal up before fighting Gohan.
    • Gohan's refusal to kill Cell when he had the chance because he wanted to make him suffer.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Not to be deterred, Cell makes several mistakes of his own that hasten his downfall.
    • Once he becomes perfect, he's essentially won right then and there. Nothing was stopping him from just blowing up the planet or killing the Z-Fighters where they stood. But instead, he makes the tournament announcement and gives them ten days to prepare, letting them get strong enough to beat him.
    • Even during the Cell Games, he has the opportunity to kill Gohan immediately instead of tormenting his friends to try and draw out his hidden power. Naturally, this backfires and Gohan proves to be stronger than him once the child unleashes his rage.
    • After reviving after his self-destruct, he again has the opportunity to wipe everyone out after Gohan loses the use of his arm. But once again, he decides to savor their fear as they die and uses a heavily telegraphed Kamehameha. This allows Gohan to force a Beam-O-War which ultimately results in his death.
  • Nominal Hero: Vegeta in this arc. He's technically on the same side as the protagonists, but only because he happens to live on the planet the Androids are threatening, and because he doesn't want them killing Goku before he gets his rematch. Many of his actions in the arc are decidedly selfish and unheroic, and end up making things worse.
  • No Sympathy: Krillin admits that if it were up to him, he'd have let Vegeta die for letting Cell achieve his perfect form note . It was only out of concern for Trunks that he opts to help Vegeta.
  • Not Worth Killing:
    • After demonstrating their might by overwhelming Vegeta, Piccolo, Tien, and Trunks, 17 and 18 spared them, purely for sport. Vegeta in particular took this insulting.
    • 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 wearing himself out while she conserves her energy, leading to a losing battle.
    • Piccolo once he sees that Cell can perform a Kamehameha.
    • The Z-Fighters (sans Trunks and Vegeta who are in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber) when they realize Cell is heading to the location Piccolo and Android #17 are battling. Piccolo himself when Cell finally arrives.
    • Trunks after realizing 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.
  • Once More, with Clarity: We last saw Goku screaming in despair as he is unable to escape an exploding Namek. Goku's story to the others reveal more of a retcon: He spotted a space pod left behind and narrowly flies off. He then crash lands on the faroff planet Yardrat, where the inhabitants nurse him back to health, and later teach him Instant Transmission, before he returns home.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Happens multiple times:
    • When up against Android 19, Goku turns into a Super Saiyan right off the bat instead of starting in his base form. Piccolo even notes that Goku never starts a fight at 100 percent. Turns out, it's because the heart virus Trunks warned him about is starting to take effect and he's trying to finish the fight quickly before he can't fight at all anymore. Sadly, transforming causes the virus to worsen instead.
    • Goku does this again toward the end of the arc when he surrenders to Cell rather than fighting to the bitter end like he's done previously. This freaks out all of his friends, the tournament announcer, and even Cell himself, who demands that Goku eat a senzu instead. Turns out, Goku's banking on Gohan to finish the fight on his behalf.
    • In prior arcs and even in this one, Vegeta has always prioritized pragmatism: saving Gohan and Krillin from Guldo just to take out the Ginyu member in a cheap shot, berating the two of them for saving him instead of taking out Recoome, stopping the Androids from attacking the planet he's currently living on, etc. So it comes as a shock to everyone involved when Cell kills Trunks and Vegeta charges in for no other reason but to avenge him. He even apologizes to Gohan when the child gets a broken arm from defending him from Cell. Gohan admits that he never thought he'd hear Vegeta say that.
  • Out of Focus: Goku, up until the Cell Games, spends the vast majority of these arcs on the sidelines. After being established as extremely powerful after first returning to Earth from year of training in space, he only briefly fights 19 before being floored by the Heart Virus. Even after recovering from that trial, he refuses to get involved in the action because he knows that Cell has become too strong for him to handle.
  • 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.
  • Poor Communication Kills: This arc should be renamed the Poor Communication Arc since there have been events where being open or giving as much information as possible would have helped things from going south.
    • As Goku himself said, Trunks never thought to show an image of what the androids looked like, much less give a description. As a result, not only are they at a loss when the androids they think they're going to fight disappear into the crowds, they're caught off guard when he reveals these aren't the same androids. He also neglected to mention that they don't have energy they can sense.note 
    • Goku never at any point tells anyone of his plan to defeat Cell. He openly admits he'd be unable to defeat him and tells Trunks he doesn't think Cell has any weaknesses he can exploit. As such, when he reveals his plan, have Gohan fight and let Cell rile him up, he's unsure why it went south. Had Goku told at least one other person what his plan was, they'd have let him know the obvious flaw of his plan that Gohan doesn't have the same drive to fight and win that he does, making risking his son's life unnecessary.
  • Post-Victory Collapse: After he finally defeats Cell, Gohan collapses from exhaustion.
  • Power at a Price: When Dende gets ready to revive Shenron, the gang tries to negotiate upgrades to get three wishes like the Namekian Dragon Balls, but still revive large groups like the Earth Dragon Balls. It's not actually possible to get three wishes without the only one revival at a time drawback, so a compromise is made to make it just two wishes.
  • Power-Up Letdown: Future Trunks claims he has vastly surpassed Vegeta in power through his time in the Hyperbolic Time Chanber, but refuses to show his full power in front of his father so as not to break his pride. He finally unleashes this power once Vegeta gets knocked out by Perfect Cell, in the form of Super Saiyan 3rd Grade/Ultra Super Saiyan. This form is thunderous and muscular beyond belief, and Trunks is even stronger than Cell...but he can't actually hit him. Because he didn't actually increase his ki at all, but just transferred it all to physical strength, leaving him with insufficient speed relative to Cell. Cell quickly showed that he knows the same trick, Goku was showing it off while explaining its drawbacks to Gohan in the time chamber at the same time as Trunks and Cell's fight, and Cell even claims that Vegeta knows the ins and outs of this transformation as well...which, looking at Vegeta's bulging musculature when he was charging that ten-minute Final Flash that tore Cell's entire right side off when he took too long to dodge it, is entirely likely to be true. Trunks' fighting spirit is broken by this revelation and he tells Cell to just go ahead and kill him then and there. Cell instead has a fit of curiosity and evil thrillseeking and decides to host the Cell Games. This ironically leads to the bio-android resorting to the same desperate measure when he is outclassed by Super Saiyan 2 Gohan, with the same result of complete failure.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: After Cell attains his perfect form, Krillin attacks him in rage for absorbing Android 18. However, his attacks do nothing to Cell, who doesn't even notice Krillin attacking him, then sends him flying with a kick that almost kills him. After Trunks heals Krillin, he says that Cell's power has increased exponentially, saying that what Cell gave him was just a love tap.
  • 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.
  • Rage Quit: After Gohan makes him spit up 18, Cell decides to self-destruct and destroy the Earth.
  • 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 organization 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 monitor 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.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Bulma, in the beginning of the arc, suggests using the Dragon Balls to locate Gero and kill him before he can activate the deadly androids. The main cast, being Blood Knights, reject the idea. However, given the rules of time travel established later on, this solution ultimately would not have solved Trunks' Bad Future.
  • Stone Wall: Androids 17 and 18 are built with infinite energy reactors, allowing them to fight without ever getting tired. During the fight against Super Saiyan Vegeta, 18 takes several strong hits, only to get back up with nothing but messed up clothes to show for it. Once the other Z-Fighters (namely Piccolo) realize what's happening, it's already too late.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: Cell, having freshly absorbed Android #17 and evolved into his Semi-Perfect form, takes to hunting for #18, who is hiding on an island of a nearby archipelago with #16, and demands that she show herself, or he'll blow up the islands one by one. #18 worries about this, but #16 notes that Cell wants to be complete at all costs, so he'll be careful not to destroy her. He then muses on how Cell's drive to become complete is unusual because as he is, nothing in the universe can challenge him (though Vegeta and Trunks' post-training arrival proves #16 wrong, and Cell definitely needs #18 to challenge them).
  • Take Up My Sword: With Kami having merged with Piccolo, the Dragon Balls disappeared, meaning there was no way to bring back everyone killed by Cell, leading Goku to seek out the Namekians and find a new Guardian for Earth. Dende would end up taking up the mantle and reviving Shenron, giving him the ability to grant two wishes instead of just one. Nail, who was now part of Piccolo, internally expressed how proud he was of his little brother, having always felt he would be destined for something great.
  • Taking You with Me: After vomiting out Android 18 and reverting to his Semi-Perfect form, Cell realizes he's outmatched and, out of spite, attempts to blow himself up and the Earth with him.
  • 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.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The World Army attempts to defeat Cell, thinking they could crush him with their firepower. They're dead wrong and get wiped out by Cell in the blink of an eye.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Gohan finally manages to unleash his hidden power after going Super Saiyan 2.
  • Tournament Arc: Played with, Cell makes up the Cell Games and patterns it after the usual Martial Arts Tournament. The difference is that it's more of an endurance match, as he challenges anyone to face him and vows to destroy the world if/when everyone is defeated. 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.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: Androids 17 & 18 kill Dr. Gero in both timelines.
  • Victory by Endurance: Android 18 prevails over Super Saiyan Vegeta due to her energy and stamina reserves being limitless, allowing her to tank Vegeta's assault and come back and dominate him when he eventually gets tired.
  • 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 from a distant future, warning of a threat that's even stronger than Frieza.
  • Wham Line:
    • During Future Trunks' talk with Goku about the Androids, he reveals that he will be born from two unexpected people: Bulma and Vegeta.
    • Future Trunks returns to help with dealing with the Androids. When he comes across Android 19's remains, he becomes shocked as he doesn't recognize it.
      Future Trunks: What...? Who... who is this? What in the world are they fighting!?
    • Goku's fight with Perfect Cell ends with this line which shocks everyone in the arena, including Cell.
      Goku: I give up.note 
  • Wham Shot: Vegeta surprises friend and foe alike upon returning from his trip in space, to show off his newly-found Super Saiyan form, which puts into question about what it actually takes to be one besides "pure of heart".
  • 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.
    • Thanks to being exhausted from his fight with Cell, Goku is too weak to fight against the Cell Jrs, despite being about equal.
  • 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 Dragon Ball Z: 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, and Krillin refused to kill his crush Android 18 when he had the chance.
      • 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.
  • You Didn't Ask: When Android 16 reveals he can detect ki, he says this, complete with grin, when 17 asks why he didn't mention it before. 17 responds with a lighthearted Touché.

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Cell Returns

Despite blowing himself up, due to one of his cells surviving, not only does Cell return, but he comes back stronger than ever.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (15 votes)

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Main / FromASingleCell

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