Everyone has their favorite Dragon Ball Z character. While Vegeta, Goku, and Piccolo are among the usual faves, one of mine happens to be none other than Chi-Chi, a character many people gloss over or dismiss.
I feel like Chi-Chi is one of the most misunderstood characters in Dragon Ball Z. She’s often stereotyped as being loud, angry, killjoy. But some of this stereotyping lies squarely at the fault of Dragon Ball Z creator Akira Toriyama, who has never been the best at writing women characters. Too often, the women’s journeys are centered around men. For instance, when we first meet Chi-Chi, she’s a young girl wearing too skimpy an outfit (another criticism of Toriyama: his tendency to hypersexualize young girls, including teen Bulma, who is always leered at by Master Roshi). She’s a princess, the daughter of the Ox King, and she has everything she wants in life except Goku as her boyfriend. Much of her childhood revolves around helping Goku on his various missions and hoping that one day, Goku could love her as much as she loves him.
Even as a teen, Chi-Chi uses her prowess as a fighter to impress Goku by entering into the World Martial Arts Tournament. Again, Toriyama shows his weakness when it comes to writing women. Chi-Chi could have entered the tournament for her own gratification. She could have been a self-possessed woman who had grown out of her puppy love stage and was ready to take Goku on as a real opponent. But it’s once she becomes a wife and mother that Chi-Chi takes on much more importance as a character and becomes, in my view, much more realistic and familiar to me. In fact, she reminds me of my mother.
Chi-Chi could have been a powerful fighter like Goku and the rest of Earth’s warriors. But instead, she chose to focus entirely on her young son Gohan, the same choice my mom made when I was born. My mother wasn’t a fighter like Chi-Chi, but she was someone who quit her job to take care of me and, eventually, the rest of my siblings. It was a decision that she made on her own, and it was a decision that was within her rights as a feminist.
Mainstream feminism often forgets that women’s rights don’t just include the right to work. It also includes the right to express that femininity however they see fit, including choosing a career as a homemaker. I know a lot of people believe that women who stay at home are somehow not living up to the feminist credo, and having grown up under the wing of my mom, I know firsthand how erroneous that thinking is. There is a lot to be said for a woman who will dedicate her life to her children in this manner.
My mom essentially homeschooled us until we were old enough to attend kindergarten. The early years of my life revolved around PBS, reading, and educational activities, some of which my mom would use her own creativity develop. She fashioned a toy out of a shoebox, shoelaces, buttons, and a zipper to help me learn the motor skills needed to tie my shoes, button my shirts, and zip my coats. She would make homemade Playdoh and listen to nursery rhymes. She was, in effect, running a personal preschool for her children.
Chi-Chi is similarly passionate about education and also homeschooled her children, particularly Gohan, who didn’t start public school until he was in high school. Of course, much of his life was taken up by fighting, but when he wasn’t fighting, he was being taught advance courses by his mother with the hopes of him growing up to become a successful, lucrative member of society. Even though Dragon Ball Z glosses over it, Chi-Chi poured everything into her son, and it shows later on. It’s common practice for Dragon Ball Z fans to chide Gohan for becoming a boring, corny adult in a green tracksuit, but he’s also one of the few characters who actually work for a living. He’s also one of the most level-headed and realistic of the Dragon Ball Z characters. I’d say that being raised by Chi-Chi had a lot to do with how well-adjusted Gohan turned out.
Chi-Chi’s ability to raise Gohan to be so well-adjusted needs special commendation because she raised him in a broken home. Let’s be honest with ourselves here: Goku might be the savior of the world, but he’s not a great dad. When he’s at home, he’s constantly training and ignoring Chi-Chi’s demands that he get a real job to support them. When he gets bored with domestic life, then he flies off to find a fight. When there is a credible threat to the Earth, he usually ends up getting killed, only to be later revived again by the Dragon Balls. Goku never gives Gohan real fatherly advice and instead acts like Chi-Chi’s child instead of her husband. There’s a reason why there are tons of memes and fan chatter about Piccolo actually being the best dad Gohan’s ever had.
For Chi-Chi to somehow maintain her wits in this type of environment and raise children is something that should be commended. It also speaks to the power of mothers. We’re not all lucky enough to be raised in perfect households, but many mothers out there try to do right by their kids and make things as stable as they can. Life can be messed up, but more often than not, it's our mothers who want us to see that there could be a brighter tomorrow. Chi-Chi does this all the time, particularly with how much she focuses on Gohan’s education. She wants a better future for her son than the one he could have if he followed in the footsteps of his father.
I wish Chi-Chi got more respect from the Dragon Ball Z fanbase and from Toriyama himself. She’s not a throwaway character. I’d argue she’s one of the most important characters Dragon Ball Z has. Green tracksuit or not, Gohan is still one of the coolest characters in the franchise, but he wouldn’t be that without the loving influence of his mother.