In the past few years, the unbelievably popular manga/anime Dragon Ball has made a major comeback. A new lengthy (and currently ongoing) series after almost 2 decades of nothing, and as of last week, a 3-chapter parody spin-off manga on the most unlikely of characters.
In Dragon Ball, the main character and hero Goku is the unquestioned “winner.” Then there is Yamcha, who was an important and strong support character in the early days. He eventually lost/died multiple times (it’s a Dragon Ball thing), couldn’t keep up with anyone’s growing strength, and became the joke of the series.
The new parody manga 転生したらヤムチャだった件 (Reincarnated as Yamcha) is the story of a real world Japanese high school student that wakes up one day reincarnated as Yamcha, right near the beginning of the series. As a huge Dragon Ball fan, he knows exactly what will happen.
This got me thinking about studying Japanese and how you’re the hero of your own Japanese studying adventure. But are you a hero like Goku? Or more like Yamcha? Goku is too strong right from the start (think Superman), and he always seems to succeed (even when he loses). This can be hard to relate to. But Yamcha? Who can’t relate to repeated failures?
If you were going to be starting this new adventure, you’d of course want to be Goku the hero, or maybe his bad-ass rival, Vegeta. Not puny Yamcha.
With Japanese studying, you aren’t super human. You don’t get any special bonuses or early boosts. You don’t get to be the main character who is of an alien race that automatically gives him special strength and fighting ability from birth. In other words, you weren’t born in Japan, or raised at a young age learning the language, with the powers of the elastic brain of youth. You don’t get to cheat.
What can you do as Yamcha? Destined for defeat? Or are you?
This is the beginning of the series, when everyone is on somewhat equal grounds. Goku, Yamcha, and his then to-be girlfriend Bulma just finished their first small adventure together hunting for the magical dragon balls. Bulma and Yamcha plan to return to the city to celebrate, relax and take it easy for a while. They invite Goku to go with them.
Goku realizes through his first adventure that he needs to get stronger. So he decides instead to go training with a martial arts master.
Unbeknownst to Goku, this would become the start of his path in becoming the strongest person in the universe. Yamcha chooses the city life of leisure. It’s easy to say here “Yamcha! What are you doing? Go train with him!” But training is hard. Japanese study is hard. Choosing the easy path is easy. And it feels good.
Just as the newly reincarnated Yamcha was ready to tread down the same unfortunate path as the original, he had a flashback of what his character was to become.
It’s clear to him.
This is Yamcha’s turning point.
This is the point where his life can be changed. He could be destined for something greater. By changing one thing, his entire fate can be changed. And maybe one day he could become the strongest person on earth?
He makes the leap. Yamcha decides to go with Goku to start training, and to see his true potential.
When you study Japanese, it’s easy to fail. It’s easy lose confidence and accept the “Yamcha fate.” However, the road to Japanese greatness is open to everyone. It’s up to you to take it.
Even if you have been studying for a few years, and have slowly become Yamcha, you too can be reincarnated. It takes one decision to change. The sooner you can make that decision, the better. Don’t head to the futuristic city with your new girlfriend. Sometimes you need to ride a flying cloud with a small strange monkey boy.