One of the most iconic, enduring hallmarks of Akira Toriyama's beloved Dragon Ball franchise is the Super Saiyan transformations that showcase Goku and his fellow Saiyan warriors visibly attaining new levels of combat strength signaled by the change in physical state; most prominently displayed by each form's change to the fighter's hairstyle.
Now, we're taking a closer look at Super Saiyan transformations, Toriyama's rationale for the escalating changes to the fighters' appearances, and how the change in physical state may be supported through attempted scientific explanation.
Super Saiyan Transformations
The first Super Saiyan transformation occurred roughly a third of the way through Dragon Ball Z, with Goku achieving the transformation after becoming enraged at the death of his best friend Krillin at the hands of Frieza. Goku's personality became noticeably crueler, his skin paler, and his normally black hair transformed gold and stayed up while he gained a similar golden energy aura. Over the course of the main anime series, Trunks, Vegeta, Gohan and Goten would achieve achieve this form with similar appearances.
Increasingly more powerful Super Saiyan transformations would be unlocked as the franchise continued by its cast of Saiyan characters. Later in Z, Gohan would become the first fighter to achieve Super Saiyan 2, with his hair growing slightly lower and standing more on end as his aura grew more electric. Goku would secretly achieve Super Saiyan 3 while training in the afterlife, enlarging his brow and making his golden hair grow down to his waist. The now non-canon Dragon Ball GT had Goku and Vegeta transform into Super Saiyan 4, their torsos covered in red fur while their longer hair reverted to its natural black. Dragon Ball Super would feature three different Super Saiyan transformations linked to divine energy dubbed Super Saiyan God, Super Saiyan Blue, and Autonomous Ultra Instinct, transforming the fighter's hair to red, blue and silver, respectively.
Akira Toriyama's Explanation
Creator Akira Toriyama would explain that Saiyans possess a large amount of S-Cells -- not unlike the midi-chlorians that create a link to the Force in Star Wars -- would be able to transform into Super Saiyans, triggered when they experienced a sudden upsurge in anger. As such, training and anger alone would not be enough, with Toriyama hinting that a gentler spirit would lead to an increase in S-Cells, which is why Goku, Gohan, Trunks and Goten had achieved the transformation; the normally aggressive Saiyans back on their planet had trouble suppressing their violent nature leading to lower S-Cells.
Toriyama would also note planetary conditions on Earth were less harsh than Planet Vegeta, helping cultivate Super Saiyans that grew up on the planet. Additionally, with Gohan, Trunks and Goten each inheriting a large number of S-Cells from their respective fathers Goku and Vegeta, the three human-Saiyan hybrids unlocked the Super Saiyan transformation at a much earlier age.
The Scientific Rationale
From a behind-the-scenes standpoint, Toriyama wanted to create a visible transformation to signal to readers of the original manga that Goku had reached an entirely different physical state. Coupled with Toriyama feeling constantly inking hair black for the black and white manga had become tedious, Toriyama decided that the change in hairstyle should be blonde, which would result in minimal inking on his part.
Nerdist science consultant Kyle Hill would theorize that the amount of electrical energy that Saiyans generated would create the golden energy aura sparked from the positive electrical charges sparking around them. Similarly, the static electricity would cause a Saiyan's hair to stand up on end while the increased velocity of electrons linked to the Saiyan would cause an electron avalanche that would ionize the sodium within their hair causing the golden color change.
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