In Burning Questions, Sam Weller pontificates on, ruminates upon or investigates into any and all things regarding anime and manga.
So recently, ScrewAttack did a big half-hour edition of their Death Battle video series. And since YouTube decided it was “recommended for me” I just had to give it a look...
Merits of the video aside (and you should watch it - - it’s really well done), it got me thinking about how often numerical values show up in anime. Especially power levels.
There’s a very telling quote in the clip, where it’s said that Akira Toriyama introduced power levels into DRAGON BALL Z because he actually intended to demonstrate how pointless they were. By hanging a lampshade on the importance of levels, Toriyama was mocking their effectiveness and hopefully training his audience to dismiss them outright. Why is it important how strong Goku is? It only matters that he’s stronger than the last time you saw him. That’s it.
Fans ended up deciding power levels were all that were important, however, and so DBZ created a problem that we’re still dealing with to this day. And I realize that DBZ was not the only offender - - nor the first, for that matter!
Now, anime characters (especially shonen ones) seem to quantify everything they do. Whether it’s counting the number of Pokemon you need to catch, the “capture level” of beasts in TORIKO, or deciding an entire hierarchy of bad guys in shows like BLEACH... it all comes down to the numbers.
See, I don’t mind characters in anime quantifying their abilities, as long as that doesn’t become the sole focus of the show. You should just mention it once, then forget it. Power levels are great to give supporting characters something to talk about, or to build tension in the buildup to a conflict. But using them to bat back and forth between the characters makes them sound like that old schoolyard debate...
“Well, I’m strong times one million!”
“Okay! Well that means I’m stronger by a million times INFINITY!!!”
Power levels should not be absolute. They shouldn’t be a solution to a problem, nor should they distract from the story. Once a numerical scale is introduced, it creates the problem of having to continually top it and add new levels. And the further you extend your story, and then have to stretch in justifying the assigned power levels, the more you chip away at your own fiction until the audience just finds it too much to invest in.
I always thought that if by Super Saiyan 1, Goku was able to crack a planet in half, why would he ever struggle to decimate anyone that got in his path? DBZ, and other shows like it, create problems with power levels where there doesn’t need to be one. So I think manga and anime writers should just slowly back away from power levels as a whole and let the story do all the heavy lifting. Quantities in any manga and anime don’t have anything to base their value on, anyway, besides what we’re told by the characters. But words can change... and they often do.
Now what’s your take, Vicers? Am I off base by wanting some sanity to the exponential excursions of character extremities? Or am I hitting multiple nails on the head? What are some anime that use power levels well, and which ones do it poorly?
Let me know in the comments and I’ll be back later with more Burning Questions.
Sam Weller is a writer and actor who's scribed for shows like FIRST EDITION, GEEK THERAPY, and most recently BATGIRL: SPOILED. He also really likes anime. To know what is going to happen next, follow@cravesam