This one’s going to be an interesting one, since there’s no research basis for it, just anecdotal stuff. Also, it’s one I’ve tried writing before, but came up to a dead end. So with that ominous beginning laid out for you, let’s get into it. To paraphrase Ts Madison, the question of the day, and every single day—is Piccolo black? ‘Cause just look up some combination of “Piccolo” “Dragonball Z” and “black,” and you’ll find group after group discussing if Piccolo is an analog for a black character.
Now, the original jist of this post was going to be if Piccolo was influenced by Ye Olde Japan, since at some points in the manga, he’d talk in what could be the equivalent to a Shakespearean way of speaking. But from I looked up at various sources, it was just a translation issue. I guess. In any case, nothing substantial came from my research.
But, being the blerd I am, I always felt a kinship with Piccolo because, just from looks alone, he was the odd man out. Turns out his looks weren’t all that were different about him.
To get into my personal feelings about Piccolo, I always felt he was from the Panthro School of Black-Not-Black Aliens, since he and Panthro do have quite a few similarities. The first two similiarities: They’re a strange color and they’re both are the strategists for their team and generally don’t get the full credit they deserve, with most of the shine going to the “Superman” of the group.
The third reason is a bit more complicated. Goku is to Clark Kent in that they both can fit into society without no one noticing them. Lion-O’s a freakish cat creature, but even still, he’s been gifted with standard “white” features, which subtly indicate to the audience that he’s supposed to be the hero. Piccolo is to Panthro is to other green and blue humanoid characters in that their coloring and facial features denote “Other,” which immediately leads to ostracism. Even among the cat creatures, Panthro’s the only blue one, and he’s the only one with features that don’t adhere to a Western form of “beauty.”
Piccolo is a demonic Namekian, but he was born on Earth and only visited Namek when he was a grown-up, during the Frieza battle. If we got into the life of Kid Piccolo, we’d find he didn’t have anyone who’d consider him less than a monster simply because of how he looked. He was one of a kind, and for a long time, that was a curse. It wasn’t until he found friendship and, according to Dragon Ball Wiki, father-son bond with Gohan, that he realized there could be someone out there who saw him for more than what he appeared to be.
Having your appearance exoticized, criticized, and not always represented in the culture you live in goes to the heart of what many people feel all the time, and I think that’s why characters like Piccolo, Panthro, the Martian Manhunter and others speak to a large section of non-white comic book and anime fans. We might not be green or blue or have pointy ears, but those of us who grow up in a Eurocentric society see a lot of ourselves in these characters who have been told they don’t fit in.
If you ask me what my favorite anime is, I’ll have to say Dragonball Z takes the cake, even though Rurouni Kenshin, Outlaw Star, Gundam Wing, Sailor Moon, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Tenchi Muyo give it a run for its money. Dragonball Z has the nostalgia factor for me, certainly, since it and Sailor Moon were the first anime shows I was introduced to. But Dragonball Z also has Piccolo, someone who, aside from being Gohan’s actual father figure (YES, I SAID IT, Goku fans!), showed that you could become the hero of your own story, even if you didn’t look or act like how society states the hero should be. And, as Piccolo shows, you can be yourself, be a hero, and still have someone rooting in your corner (because we all need a Gohan in our lives).
Screencap from Dragonball Z. From Dragon Ball Wiki