Future Trunks is the best character in the entire Dragon Ball Z franchise, and I’m sure that a lot of fans feel the same way. Plenty of videos and blogs have discussed this character in great length, how he is the only character to fight with no inhibitions and get things done, and while I could also gush about how cool Future Trunks is, I want to instead focus on his contributions to the franchise’s tone and storytelling.
Warning: minor spoilers regarding Future Trunks’ origin and the major story arcs revolving around him in Dragon Ball Z and Super. If you haven’t watched these and are interested in doing so, turn back now!
Up until Future Trunks was first introduced at the beginning of the Android/Cell Saga, Dragon Ball Z’s narrative was comprised of action-packed arcs that, while they could be dramatic at times, focused primarily on the fighting itself. Little was done in the way of having a true story, instead having a strong adversary appear as a threat and pitting Goku against him because of his status as the Earth’s best fighter. As for the fate of Earth? It could be in danger sometimes, but the emphasis was on the explosive, bombastic battles, not on complex narratives or deep character growth. Future Trunks’ introduction changed that, and set a new tone for the series that hadn’t been seen before.
Future Trunks’ story in Dragon Ball Z is distinctly dark and bleak; Trunks is a young man who travels to the past in his fight to save his future from further destruction by the Androids. He takes up the mantle of hero in his timeline, and after the death of his teacher Future Gohan, he vows to save the lives of everyone he can. For a time, his world is at peace following the ending of Dragon Ball Z, but in Dragon Ball Super, his world is threatened once again, and he wastes no time traveling to the past to find a way to save the people he cares about. In both cases, while they are similar, the story and tone of the show as a whole becomes more serious and intense. The narrative takes precedence over the comedy and mindless fighting, proving that the reasons for fighting truly matter, something Future Trunks carries close to heart.
Future Gohan’s death in his world is a reminder of the lives that are lost and cannot be revived because the Dragon Balls no longer exist in his world. Their power can’t be abused to revive anyone whenever it’s convenient, and this grim fact is responsible for the way Future Trunks fights as well. Unlike Goku, Vegeta, and even Gohan at times, who foolishly toy with their opponents and let them power up, Future Trunks fights with the intent of destroying the enemy immediately. He is a very selfless and noble character because he fights understanding the harsh reality that should he fail, his world will be destroyed, and these qualities make him stand out as one of the most serious characters in the series.
While Future Trunks does fight for a greater cause, this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t make mistakes. He certainly does, and his fight against Perfect Cell perfectly encapsulates everything he stands for. Future Trunks mistakenly raised his power level to Super Saiyan 2, believing that he needed more raw strength to defeat Cell, but that wasn’t enough. Cell used this power against him, striking a blow to Future Trunks’ pride as a fighter. It shows that his noble, courageous strength of fighting for the greater good could also be turned into a flaw, and it was quite well done.
The Future Trunks Saga in Dragon Ball Super returns with a darker story, but also gives Future Trunks some much needed character development and growth. Future Trunks suffers from PTSD following the death of his mother in the future and the worldwide devastation caused by Goku Black, dredging up painful memories of the past and a grim reminder of the peace he failed to keep. The arc doesn’t exactly end happy either, but I won’t spoil that here. What I will say is that I applaud the writers for going new places with the story by maintaining the sense of hopelessness and showing – arguably the first time ever – that sometimes things don’t always go the way people want, and it was a satisfying change of pace.
The arc had decent writing story-wise, but its greatest contribution was the amount of time it took to inject new personality into Future Trunks’s character, and the writers did an excellent job. By giving him a softer, affectionate side through his relationship with Future Mai and allowing him to have genuinely fun, relaxed interactions with characters like Android 18, a now domesticated Gohan and his family, Bulma, Vegeta, and Kid Trunks, Future Trunks is humanized in a way that was never really been seen before. He has real desires and fears that are compounded by the time he spends in the past, ultimately giving him the resolve he needs to fight again. Seeing his character struggle and grow was incredibly refreshing to see, and it added a level of mature writing to a series that is hardly known for having meaningful character arcs.
Ultimately, what I want to get at is how much I appreciate the maturity in both of Future Trunks’s stories. I had been enjoying Dragon Ball Z quite a bit (becoming attached to Gohan in particular), but it wasn’t until the Android/Cell saga that I began to take it seriously and understand why the series is so well loved all these years later. Future Trunks’ return in Dragon Ball Super was much appreciated as well, and while I don’t expect him to return again in the show, I’m happy that the character was revisited and fleshed out.
Future Trunks’ introduction into the franchise is part of why the series is so fondly remembered, and why his character is so loved by so many fans as well. His story was responsible for adding a new flair of drama and urgency to the storytelling in Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super, qualities that I hope will return soon.