"Mary Sue" is a Meaningless Term
Dragon Ball has never and will never be a literary masterpiece—there’s plenty of bad writing and I won’t try to tell you otherwise. And though I like these characters, I can see (and in some cases maybe even agree with) some of the issues people have with them. Criticism is healthy. But calling a character a Mary Sue isn’t criticism, it’s just dismissive, and always inconsistent. What one person considers a Mary Sue is different from what the next person considers a Mary Sue, and more than that, the same person can point out a “Mary Sue trait” in one character and totally ignore its presence in another. People rattling off reasons why Caulifla’s a Sue don’t seem to realize she actually has a lot in common with the main character, Goku, and saying that Kale is only ever written poorly when she has one of the most realistic character arcs in the franchise (unlike her predecessor Broly, who is now infamous for his stupidly petty motivations) just isn’t true. But okay, if we’re going to use reasons x, y, and z to define a character as a Mary Sue, do you know what Dragon Ball character fits the ever-changing mold surprisingly well?
Easily one of the most popular characters in the franchise, yes, but let’s review:
-Showed up literally out of nowhere after the Frieza Saga
-Immediately and effortlessly transforms into a Super Saiyan, mere chapters after the form had been introduced, and that was after immense build-up, thinking there could only be one (and that it was main character Goku), and seeing Goku go through a lot of anguish to achieve it
-Kills Frieza, the biggest, baddest villain in the series at that point, who main character Goku took forever to beat, by either one-shotting him (in the manga) or toying with him in a curb-stomp battle (in the anime)
-Then proceeds to effortlessly kill Frieza’s father, who was stated to be somewhere near Frieza’s level
-Gets to spar with main character Goku for a bit
-Reveals he is the son of Vegeta, another exceptionally popular character, and Bulma, a long-time staple who at this point has little interaction with and no visible interest in Vegeta
-He came from the future, because only time travel makes that parentage work
-In the future he was trained by the son of main character Goku
-Said future is basically an apocalyptic wasteland
-Later on he gets a unique transformation that makes him exceptionally more powerful (even if it does turn out to be functionally useless)
-Gets temporarily killed in the final battle with Cell to spark very sudden character development in popular character Vegeta, and then is immediately revived
-Gets an entire episode at the end of the Cell Saga dedicated to going back to the future and effortlessly defeating his timeline’s incarnation of the saga’s three major villains
-Also he carries a sword he rarely uses in a series that typically doesn’t use weapons (swords are cool)
Now if you were reading a fanfic and saw a character like that, what would you think? And that’s all just in Z: Trunks is made a main character in GT and Future Trunks is brought back in Super solely because of this character’s popularity, and that’s not even scratching the surface of how central he is to dedicated fanservice games like Xenoverse and Heroes. He’s so popular he can be shoehorned into anything and people rarely complain. He ticks so many boxes common on Mary Sue trait lists, and…nobody notices? How weird is that?
And just to be a complete hypocrite: I also like Future Trunks. It’s almost like even a character with tons of “Mary Sue traits” can still be entertaining depending on how they’re handled, and that calling a character a Mary Sue means nothing other than “I don’t like this character and choose to blame the writer and insult anyone who thinks differently.” Imagine that.
I still can’t really figure out why people are perfectly fine with Future Trunks but have such huge problems with Caulifla and Kale. Huh, though now that I think about, out of those three Trunks is the only one that’s a guy…nah, that couldn’t possibly be it, right?