WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers from the Granolah arc of the Dragon Ball Super Manga. Read ahead at your own discretion!
The Granolah arc is bringing about some major character development to our boys Goku and Vegeta & it never ceases to amaze me.
Ever since the T.O.P, Vegeta has been looking to sketch his own path to power. Beerus gives him a sense of direction by pointing out his Saiyan roots, resulting in Vegeta achieving a new form/technique – Ultra Ego.
However, the guilt of the sins committed by himself and his ancestors puts a dent in his progress. He struggles to let go of the past, rise above the duality of good and evil to perfect the Destroyer Gods’ signature technique.
Vegeta Vs Granolah and the parallels between them have been at the forefront of the arc’s beginning. But unlike them, Goku and Gas share opposing parallels wherein, Gas displays an egoistic but a mentally enslaved character whereas Goku outshines as a charming and liberated personality. Goku has simple goals that are very difficult to attain. And only Goku can show that much vigor to achieving it while others only scratch the surface.
Funnily enough, there’s another character in another Universe who shares very similar lore and characteristics to our Saiyan protector.
Kung Fu Panda, as the name suggests, uses Chinese mythological and philosophical elements as its basis. It also depicts several Daoist and Confucian themes. Various Kung Fu Movies like “Hero”, “House of Flying Daggers” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” influenced the making of the trilogy.
Instead of injecting a serious tone, Director Stevenson decided instead to make an action-comedy Wuxia film that incorporates the Hero’s Journey narrative archetype for the lead character.
Dragon Ball’s story is built around the concepts of Daoism and Indian philosophy along with various Sci-Fi elements. Toriyama was highly influenced by Journey to the West, Bruce Lee, and Jackie Chan films, and included many elements from them into his story.
So you can see the parallels exists right at the production stage itself.
Without further ado, let’s get into the juicy details – Analysing the similarities between Goku and Po!
Commonalities from straight out of the womb
Coming to the characters themselves, Po and Goku had very similar origin stories.
A prophecy spoke of Shen’s demise at the hands of a Panda. In order to prevent this from happening, Shen led his wolves on a genocidal raid against the black and white creatures, killing Po’s mother as she sacrificed herself to save her newborn.
This is akin to Frieza being afraid of the Super Saiyan legend and annihilating the entire Saiyan race before it could come to pass. Bardock and Gine decided to remain on Planet Vegeta and sacrifice themselves to protect Goku and launched him out of the planet in a pod.
Culturally & vegetatively rooted names
Po’s foster father, Mr. Ping, found him outside his house, chewing on some radishes. He took him in, gave him the name “Xiao Po” and raised him to be a healthy panda who was destined to become the Dragon Warrior.
In Dragon Ball, Grandpa Gohan found Goku in the woods, took him in, gave him the name “Son Goku” and raised him into a well-mannered martial artist who was destined to become the Legendary Super Saiyan.
Although Mr. Ping uses the direct translation “my little panda,” Xiao Po also means “daybreak dawn”. In this context, it can be interpreted as the one who sees the light or enlightenment, which reminiscents his pathway to achieving inner peace.
Sun (孫) is comprised of two radicals that mean “monkey” and “grandchild.”
Go (悟) means “aware,” “enlightened,” “awake to,” or “wisdom.”
Ku (空) means “empty,” “void,” “vacuum,” or loosely as “space.”
In other words, it means “Grandchild aware of Emptiness or void”, implying that Goku, like Wukong, is already a liberated soul but has come to this world in order to show the world how to achieve enlightenment through example.
Their real names, “Li Lotus” and “Kakarrot”, are based on plants and vegetables.
Also, it seems the creators of Kung Fu Panda too have the habit to name characters after foods and puns. Guess what Po’s cousins are named after?
Looks like it’s not just a Toriyama thing after all.
Goofy & pure-hearted characteristics
Both Po and Goku share a lot of goofy and innocent traits. Stupidity isn’t exactly the right word to describe them but naivety is. They have that childlike purity that makes their actions Karma-less.
It’s a fact that both of them are liberated souls. The breakdown of Son Goku’s name & the fact that the enlighted soul Master Oogway instructed Po on how to master Ki through the “Universal Mail Service” & Po to become his successor.
Becoming his successor means, he’s not only in charge of maintaining peace within his valley but also enlightening anyone he encounters.
I can’t help but feel at home with their goofiness because they are devoid of arrogance. This world is filled with ruthless, heartless, bastards (like Frieza) filled with giant ass egos, itching to lord over or bully others and conquer lands.
The world is devoid of compassion and pure-heartedness. That’s why characters like Po and Goku appeal to me.
Pureheartedness attracts. Self-absorbed bigots are repulsive.
If only people like them existed in this world…
Masako Nozawa also nods her head in agreement:
“There’s no one as nice as Goku. If there were ten of Goku, the world would be a far better place.”
Anyway, here’s a sample of each of their shenanigans.
It’s only because Goku’s a liberated & pure-hearted soul that he was able to befriend the Omni King Zeno-Sama, while the others, even his own servants, were terrified of him.
This is heavily rooted in Vedic Philosophy where only Pure Devotees in performing loving devotional service to the Supreme Lord Krishna can see him as a friend, son or lover.
Both Po and Goku demonstrate their compassion for their enemies by trying to make them change their ways. In Buddhist and Vedic traditions, it’s the duty of a pure or liberated being to go around enlightening the fallen out of their causeless mercy.
Just by being around him makes others get attracted to him and follow his example. We’ve seen Goku do that many times (with Piccolo, Vegeta, Frieza, etc.). Of course, it’s up to the person’s free will to accept the message and change their ways.
Shen and Frieza, the two villains who made our heroes’ child life a living hell, didn’t respond positively to Po’s and Goku’s kindness. Some demons are so deeply enveloped in darkness that the only salvation for them is to be killed by God or a pure being.
Even after their entire plan is fumbled, the two tyrants still acted ungratefully and tried to kill them. But Po and Goku have Karma on their side and emerged victoriously.
Inner Peace & Ultra Instinct
Inner peace is a term in Kung Fu Panda that refers to a calm state of mind and spirit. Po was able to beat Lord Shen’s weapon with a specific Kung Fu method incorporating gentle Tai Chi movements, which is possible only through inner peace. It also allowed Po to fully recollect his past at the Panda Village.
Tai chi is the practice of making suitable changes in reaction to external forces, of submitting to and engaging an attack rather than facing it with an opposing force. Physical fitness is a critical component of effective self-defense.
The attention and serenity generated by Tai chi’s meditation practices are considered vital for sustaining health and in the application of the form as a soft style martial art.
These concepts are similar to Ultra Instinct where the tranquility of both mind and heart along with high stamina play a key role in its effective utilization. Both Po and Goku initially had no idea how they pulled off their respective techniques.
Another important parallel is that both inner peace and Ultra Instinct are mastered in the user’s own unique way.
Speaking of Ultra Instinct, it basically involves letting your body do what you need to do. Po’s dad’s instruction to his son is pretty similar symbolically.
Also, both the Universes heavily use the concept of Ki or life energy.
Unlocking a precious memory
A symbol on an enemy’s armor triggered Po’s memory of his mom keeping him in the basket. Similarly, a scouter with Bardock’s voice recording triggered Goku’s memory of his parents placing him in a pod and sending him away.
Who Am I?
Both Po and Goku lost their memories of their tragic past and find themselves pondering on their actual identities. Po knew he was a Panda but he didn’t know who he exactly was in a deeper sense and his place within his race.
Similarly, Goku knows he’s a Saiyan but what exactly is his position within the Saiyan race? Is his nature similar to theirs or is it made up? Self-actualization is a fundamental concept in Eastern Philosophy so it’s no surprise it shows up from time to time.
Po thought he knew who he was, but like Goku, it was on a surface level. In Kung Fu Panda 3, Po asks himself the question again but on a much deeper level. His definition of a Dragon Warrior was incomplete.
The whole conversation between Shifu and Po foreshadows Po’s next step in truly realizing who he really is and his potential.
If you only do what you can do, you’ll never be more than you are now.
I don’t wanna be more! I like who I am.
You don’t even know who you are.
What do you?… Of course I do. I’m the Dragon Warrior.
And what exactly does that mean, Dragon Warrior? [He turns around to see Po at a loss for words.]
It means… you know… just going around and punching! And kicking! Defending the valley! And stuff.
Punching and kicking? You think that is what the great Master Oogway saw for you? A five hundred year prophecy fulfilled, so you could spend your days kicking butt and running through town high-fiving bunnies?
SHIFUSource: Kung Fu Panda Wiki
No! [facepalms and sighs] Oogway saw greatness in you, Po. Against my better judgement… More than you can see in yourself. Incredible power awaits you. Power beyond anything you can imagine.
Shifu then proceeds to channel his Ki and directs them towards a dying plant. The plant slowly rises back into life.
Of course, Dragon Ball uses the concept of Ki from the beginning, but the point here is that the identity of Po as a Dragon Warrior isn’t just Kung Fu. It’s much more than that.
Philosophers for millennia have been trying to find the answer to the million-dollar question. Even the best of modern western philosophers like Bertrand Russell was clueless at his deathbed about the nature of reality after decades of reading and thinking.
People spend lifetimes to find out who exactly they are and still fail. Not to mention today’s generation with so many distractions. People are busy thinking about how to earn tomorrow’s bread than pondering on life’s deep questions.
The current system is set up in such a way that people are living polished animal life, chasing behind money, sex and power like dogs (me included). Who am I? I am “insert birth name”. I am human. I’m from such and such country from such and such family. Such are the typical answers of everyday people.
Actually knowing who you are, enables you to live a blissful life free from confusion and stray thoughts. And 99% of the people of the world have almost 0 idea about it, going about their lives with no clue of their destination. (Hopefully, you appreciate the significance of this fundamental question.)
Po wasn’t alone initially. He continued to have a wrong idea of what the Dragon Warrior was all about.
But he ultimately reached out to his master and father to find answers. For instance, his father pointed out one part of who he is. And the other is Shifu’s Ki Control method.
In Dragon Ball, the Yardrats & Whis taught both Goku and Vegeta the nuances of Ki Control & principles of UI. Both the concepts go hand in hand in terms of mindset. And the Saiyan duo displayed phenomenal levels like Vegeta’s Forced Spirit Fission and Goku’s Giant Ki avatar (I’ll touch upon that soon).
Even so, Pybara hasn’t taught them his signature healing technique because they aren’t on a high level yet. Instant teleportation seems impressive but from his POV, that’s the most basic Ki Control technique.
This means that the Saiyan duo’s training in Ki Control isn’t done yet. There’s a lot more room for them to grow. But it’s only a matter of time before they learn how to heal themselves, for starters.
What Pybara said to Vegeta is exactly what Po’s dad told him about mastering Ki. “You’re not ready yet my son”. Sure, he himself didn’t know in actuality, but he accidentally spoke the truth.
Po then finally realizes that what he thought he was is incorrect. He breaks down and loses all sense of meaning.
As he battles Kai (the villain of Kung Fu Panda 3), he slowly puts the pieces together as he reflects on his instructions to the other pandas. If you can’t figure out how to solve your identity crisis, help others.
I’m gonna do something I never thought I’d be able to do. I’m gonna teach kung fu. [The scene cuts to Po watching different groups of villagers train for different battle skills.] You guys. Your real strength comes from being the best you – you can be. So who are you? What are you good at? What do you love? What makes you – you?
He then proceeds to instruct how Shifu instructed him, to use a person’s instinctual talent to their advantage. For example, he asked the kids to kick things better, the hugger to hug harder, the dancer to twirl those ribbons faster, the rollers to roll faster and the other kids to use the ropes to spring into the sky.
Then he urged them to use their instincts in battle. For example, the kickers could dribble with dumplings and hurdle them towards their enemies, the hugger could hug a rock and crush their opponent, the dancing chick could dance with nunchucks instead of a ribbon, and the flying pandas could be armed with firecrackers.
In other words, Po is using each panda’s own unique instincts to fight in their own ways.
However, nothing fazed Kai until Po decided to take both of them to the spirit realm (aka where dead people live) & sorta sacrificing himself to save the others. This is kinda akin to Goku taking Cell with him to King Kai’s world (afterlife aka where pious dead souls run around) and dying in an explosive fashion.
Po received energy from the others to take down Kai. This is where the creature of black and white finally recognizes who he is.
Who are you?
I’ve been asking the same question. [performs multiple stances] Am I the son of a panda? The son of a goose? A student? A teacher? Turns out, I’m all of them. [Behind Po, a chi-infused image of a dragon lingers.] I am the Dragon Warrior.
Coming to Dragon Ball, Bardock used his drive to fight, survive and win to break his limits, putting young Gas out of commission.
Both Vegeta & Goku realized what Po also did – the real pride of a race is about accepting your nature and sticking to your convictions while using them to your advantage. Each tribe has its own broad nature, divided into each person’s unique characteristics and instincts.
Both Po and Goku combined the teachings of their masters along with their inner nature, some of which already existed and the rest was resurrected by a glimpse of their past.
Goku transforms into Ultra Instinct Sign against Gas cause’ his heart ain’t tranquil enough to activate the silver-haired form. But the ultimate goal is to control his emotions enough to use Ultra Instinct in his base form anytime he wants. So my sense is that he’s going backwards to try controlling his emotions amidst the fierce battle to the death. That’s why we see him using UI in his base form for a brief period of time.
This level of focus is possible only when he has a certain level of detachment from his body, mind and externals. This is indicated by Goku being nonchalant about the possibility of dying at the hands of Gas. And that’s just who he is.
When he finally achieves his pinnacle, Goku will either say something serious like this or gives some goofy-ass answer when he finds out what he is. “I am Son Goku, and I am hungry” or something like that.
Just like Po, the identity Goku seeks isn’t just about his Saiyan origins, instincts or Earthly bring-up. Is he the grandson of Grandpa Gohan? The son of Bardock? A Saiyan? An Earthling? A husband? A father/grandfather? A student of the Turtle hermit school and Whis?
The first time he activated Ultra Instinct, he yelled out “I’m Son Goku of the Turtle School!”. But this time, he’ll accept all of his identities and use them to sharpen Ultra Instinct. But, his primary identities, apart from being a spirit soul, are his urge to fight, protect and change those around him.
The Hero’s Journey is applicable in both cases. Po & Goku understands who they are and became masters in their own right, spreading their love for martial arts and purity around.
Now I shall touch upon two Sagas where Goku and Po use a move that sent ripples in their respective fandoms.
Moro and Kai – Commonalities within their Sagas
Seems Po and Goku aren’t the only ones who share similarities. Moro and Kai have more in common than I originally thought.
Kai was a bull-faced ancient warrior who was banished into the spirit realm by Oogway 500 years ago. He has the ability to steal energy or Ki from living creatures, absorb and add it to his army of Ki troops. Kai fought Oogway again, absorbed him and escaped into the Mortal world years later.
This is akin to Moro’s magic getting sealed by the Daikaioshin and sent to the Galactic Prison 10 million years ago. He too had the power to steal energy and absorb beings like Seven-Three.
Moro, too, faced the Daikaioshin again, this time using the Namekian Dragon Balls to reclaim his magical powers that had been trapped away. As an outcome, he began consuming planet after planet.
Kai’s first contact with Po is very similar to Moro and Goku. Both villains were aware that they were being observed and were determined to steal the tracker’s Ki.
Kai isn’t as vicious as Moro. He merely takes what he needs and then leaves. Moro, on the other hand, betrays and walks across a pile of corpses casually. Both Po and Goku had to struggle to fight for their lives, but they were able to win with the support of their friends and family.
Goku and Po summon Giant Ki avatars to defeat their enemy
The similarities between Po and Goku defeating their respective enemies are too much to ignore. It’s pretty startling in fact but not surprising.
As Po and Kai duke it out in the spirit realm, the former had trouble keeping up and was about to get absorbed. That’s when Mr. Li (Po’s biological father), Mr. Ping and the other pandas decided to channel and send their energy to Po. That’s when Po sort of “awakened” and brought forth a brand new power.
Oogway prophesized that a master of Ki will be the one to take Kai down. And he didn’t disappoint.
The collected Ki not only restored Po’s strength but manifested a gigantic Ki-based dragon with his real body at the center.
The Dragon warrior toys around with Kai before sending an enormous amount of energy for Kai to absorb. But it was too much for the bull demon to handle and eventually, his greatest ability became his own undoing as he explodes like a red giant star.
Sounds pretty familiar don’t you think?
Yupp. You guessed it. It parallels the climax of the Moro arc.
Moro couldn’t contain Merus’ overflowing God Ki and bloats up. He then becomes one with the Earth, spreading out that Ki all over the planet.
Ultra Instinct Goku zooms forward to break Moro’s forehead crystal but is caught within his grasp and feels his Ki slipping away. In response, the gang shares some of their energy with Goku to finish off the Goat.
With the last big ball of energy from Uub, Goku begins to glow and out comes a giant Ki avatar, with his real body inside the forehead. Finally, he proceeds to shatter Moro’s crystal, resulting in the release of all his energy which caused him to explode like a volcano.
Now, what is this? Some kinda weird ass power that came from nowhere?
There’s a lot to be told about this maneuver but I’ll save it for another post and keep it brief.
It’s a technique quite common in Wuxia tales where the user taps more & more into their spiritual side, overflowing themselves with Ki that they’re able to manipulate it as an extension of their bodies. It’s not like those hand Ki swords Zamasu whipped, but the form of that Ki avatar represents you as a manifestation of the heart.
For example, the Dragon Ki avatar of Po represents who he is – the true Dragon Warrior, Oogway foretold and his true successor. Korra from “The Legend of Korra” manifested a giant Ki avatar of herself (the cosmic state).
The creators of the series came up with that look as the ultimate manifestation of her spiritual side was a giant spirit version of herself, taking inspirations from ‘The Guru’ episode of ‘A:TLA’ and the giant cosmic version of Aang that he saw in his vision.
Since Goku was already a liberated soul since day 1, it was natural for his spirit form to be a larger version of himself. Ultra Instinct and Spirit/Ki Control go hand in hand in terms of mindset.
Notice how both Po and Korra manifested those avatars when their minds were in a meditative state. Korra’s avatar sort of ejects from her body (like Goku) when she enters the Avatar state.
It’s akin to Goku unconsciously projecting his avatar in the silver-haired Ultra Instinct state in both the Moro & Granolah arcs.
Also, remember that he too did not consciously activate Ultra Instinct for the first time. It happened all of a sudden without knowing how. But after training with Whis and Merus, he learned how to activate it at will. The same thing will take place for his Ki avatar.
In chapter 86 of Super, Gas also uses a similar move by creating Ki extensions of his body parts but were merely applications of the principle. The mindset of Ultra Instinct (which he developed step by step since early Dragon Ball) refines Ki so much so that Goku’s Ki avatar becomes larger, stronger and more cosmic-like.
It’s basically a culmination of his training, specifically towards mastering Ki & emotional control.
But is it some random feat or grounded in culture? In Journey to the West, Sun Wukong increased his size while wrestling with a giant bull demon. The Monkey King is known for his limitless shape-changing powers, capable of taking the form of anything from Gods, monsters, and humans to animals, insects, and even objects like buildings.
The Buddha takes a giant/cosmic form as well in calming down Sun Wukong in the 2013 “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons”. The Creators of Avatar probably took inspiration from this for Aang’s & Korra’s cosmic avatars.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the creators of Kung Fu Panda and Toyotarou took inspiration from the same source material.
The student becomes the teacher
Po takes over from Oogway at the end of Kung Fu Panda 3 and formally becomes his successor. Po’s final instruction from Shifu is to master Ki and teach Kung Fu. He’s already done the first, and now comes the second. Po and the Furious 5 demonstrate the skill of Ki Control to the Pandas and valley residents in the concluding scene.
At the End of Z, Goku leaves his home to teach and train Uub, one of his worthy successors as the future leader of the Earth’s defense force.
In both cases, the student has become the master. But there’s a saying as well “In Learning by Design, teachers and students are both learners and teachers” So both Po and Goku can learn a lot from others and life in general.
Loves to stuff their faces
This is self-evident. Shifu could only educate Po by luring him with dumplings, and Goku cannot fight in a world tournament round unless he first eats. Calling them foodies would be an understatement.
Gas and the Jade Palace has Medieval weapons
Apart from Goku & Po, there is a small similarity between their two worlds.
Another cool parallel is the style of weapons used by old masters in Kung Fu Panda and Gas in DBS. It wasn’t clear in the 1st movie but when Po was excitedly looking around the sacred hall of heroes, there were ancient medieval-styled weapons kept around as memorials of their users.
Gas too creates or summons similarly styled weapons in the fight against Granolah and Goku. The ancient culture spreads across mediums.
There’s no doubt that Goku and Po are some of the purest beings I’ve ever encountered. Dragon Ball and Kung Fu Panda continue to motivate and inspire peeps to not lose hope even in the most jarring of situations.
I mean, look at Po. He’s fatter than me and he’s displayed moves that I can only dream of. Wish I could eat as much as them and still maintain Goku’s psyche though (Can’t even do 10 pullups, let alone 10,000).
Both the tales are deeply grounded in culture and philosophy that they’re timeless artifacts, capable of appreciation by any person regardless of age. Goku and Po love Kung Fu/martial arts and use it to protect others and their world. They continue to inspire billions worldwide and will stay in our hearts for decades to come.
While the Hero’s journey seemed to have ended for Po, Goku has a lot more room to grow in terms of Ki Control and mastery of Ultra Instinct.
Right now he’s at the bottom of the ladder but, it’s only a matter of time before he forces Whis to dodge seriously. It’s fascinating to observe his progress in strength and skill; can’t wait to see what future awaits him post-EoZ.
So what do you think of Goku and Po? Do you see more parallels between them apart from what was stated? Let us know in the comments below!