The current arc of Dragon Ball Super, known as the Future Trunks Arc, is the tale of Cell Saga’s Future Trunks returning to the past in order to get help saving his timeline from an evil known as “Goku Black.”
While Goku Black looks similar to our hero, Goku, he seems to lack the personality and memories of Goku as we know him. His attacks and other powers are likewise unlike the original. This leads naturally to the question: If he’s not Goku, who is Goku Black?
[This article contains spoilers for Dragon Ball Super up to episode 61.]
This question has been the driving mystery of the Future Trunks Arc. With last week’s episode, the full explanation behind Goku Black has been revealed–and it’s complicated.
Early in the arc, Goku Black was suspected to be Zamasu, the apprentice Supreme Kai of Universe 10 (the main Dragon Ball universe is Universe 7)–a god with a hatred for sentient mortals messing up the beauty of the natural world. However, once Zamasu joined the fight alongside Goku Black, it was decided by our heroes that Goku Black must be an evil Goku created by the Super Dragon Balls.
The truth is they were right the first time.
How can Goku Black and Zamasu fight alongside each other if they’re the same person? The answer is a mixture of time travel and parallel universe.
But before we get into that, let’s talk a bit about the two types of time travel in Dragon Ball. The first is the kind that Trunks’ time machine uses. Instead of going to the past of your own timeline, it takes you to the past of a nearby alternate timeline. Because of this, changes in the alternate past have no effect on the original timeline.
The Time Ring, on the other hand, allows you to go forward in your own timeline (and return back to the present). You can also go to alternate futures if you wish. Wearing the ring also puts you outside of causality–even if you are killed in the past, you are not erased from time as long as you have the ring on.
Thanks to the ring and Trunks’ time machine, there are actually three different versions of Zamasu in Dragon Ball Super.
The first one we meet is the Zamasu from Goku’s current timeline. When he plans to kill the Supreme Kai of Universe 10, use the Super Dragon Balls, and get his hands on the Time Ring, he is killed by Beerus (thanks to Future Trunks’ intervention in the timeline).
Goku Black Zamasu, on the other hand, is from the original timeline–i.e., the original Dragon Ball Super timeline that existed before Future Trunks altered it by arriving in his time machine and asking for help against Goku Black. In his timeline, Zamasu murdered the Supreme Kai of Universe 10 and used the Super Dragon Balls to body swap with Goku. He then used the time ring to jump to a timeline and world without a God of Destruction to oppose him. This turned out to be Trunks’ world, as the Supreme Kai (whose life is linked to the God of Destruction’s) died preventing the resurrection of Majin Buu. But before beginning his plan to eliminate all sentient mortal life, Goku Black Zamasu recruited the only ally he knew he could trust: the version of himself from Trunks’ timeline.
This is the third version of Zamasu, “Future Zamasu.” After meeting his original timeline counterpart in the form of Goku Black, the two teamed up to kill all the Supreme Kais (and thus all the Gods of Destruction) across all twelve universes of Trunks’ timeline. They also used the Super Dragon Balls to give Future Zamasu an invincible body before destroying the balls. It’s then that they begin eliminating all life on Earth, prompting Trunks to ride the time machine back and, as a side effect, create the first Zamasu we talked about.
There is one final twist in the whole Goku Black identity issue. Technically, the Zamasu we see in Goku’s present (the first Zamasu) and Goku Black are the same Zamasu. While the original timeline was altered thanks to Trunks and his time machine, its arrival did not create a new timeline. Because of this, Zamasu being killed by Beerus should erase Goku Black as well–and it would if it weren’t for the Time Ring. Because of the Time Ring, Goku Black remains untouched as a remnant of the original path of Goku’s timeline. However, should Goku Black lose the ring, he would cease to exist.
In other words, in pride and arrogance, Goku Black has revealed the ins and outs of his identity–and thus, inadvertently revealed his weakness. You don’t need to be able to beat the Super Sayian Rose in a fight to win; you just need to cut off his finger.