Anime Vice News

Do Power Levels Even MATTER In Anime? -- BURNING QUESTIONS

Do power levels suck? Or should Sam suck it up? The first edition of Burning Questions opens with the definitive answer!

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...

(I’m not touching where I fall on the Goku/Superman debate with a 50-foot Power Pole...)

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!!!”

Thanks, Google search for "Anime Power Levels."
Thanks, Google search for "Anime Power Levels."

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

Marshal Victoryon Feb. 1, 2013 at 2:53 p.m.

Sorta quick story time. Was some teangers used to come into a game an hobby shop me an my friend would watch over. An one of their favorite sayings was "The burning question is..." Finaly broke them of it when i told the the answer to their burinng question is penicilin. :)

Back almost on topic. Naw power levels at best can be a writers tool .At worst its a fanboys cruch that all writers will kick out from under them.Seriously they are even remaking movies about David and Goliath!

Not sure who it is vs the Impeached President B.J.Clinton.But if it has any thing to do with what "is" means im sure its comic errr cosmic power level.

Lurkeroon Feb. 1, 2013 at 3:53 p.m.

Of course power levels do not matter. DBZ is the perfect example of power levels increasing into obscurity. Those scouters were cool when they were first shown, but then they would always either break or rise at exponential levels and then it no longer mattered.

Power levels only serve as a lazy exposition for where characters currently stand. Writers often change power levels inconsistently so that they can write a convenient narrative for a character. When writers start doing that power levels become an annoyance,

"What!? How could he have defeated me!? I was 10 levels above him! Who would have known he had so much potential?"

Donwunon Feb. 1, 2013 at 4:51 p.m.

lol, this reminds me of a video one of my fellow anime youtubers made.

YotaruVegetaon Feb. 1, 2013 at 5:13 p.m.

Power levels never matter, because the hero's only going to die if the creator wishes him to. It also doesn't matter because if a hero is too weak, then the author will then just create a way for the hero to surpass the villain.

Most shounen fighters use it, and it's just a way to get young viewers to go "Ooh!" when numbers are put on the screen.

I just like shows like One PIece, where it's more like rock paper scissors than a power level conflict.

BTW, I loved the Superman Vs. Goku death battle. It put that pitiful saiya-jin dog- I mean it took time to actually analyze the strengths of each character, rather than being homers (like we all tend to be).

KingOfAshon Feb. 1, 2013 at 7:50 p.m.

I didn't anime up to just over a year ago because I thought it was all about power levels and different moves and all that. It wasn't until I watched Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood that I realised that it wasn't always . So Others take the power levels.

Turambaron Feb. 1, 2013 at 9:49 p.m.

Sam, that's the Shining Gundam you got in the banner, not the Burning Gundam.

secretzfanon Feb. 1, 2013 at 10:42 p.m.

You know what I never got about Superman vs Goku.... They never included Superman's vital weakness krypton. No one has brought up krypton

redbird3rdboywonderon Feb. 1, 2013 at 11:02 p.m.

That screwwattack battle didn't seem well done to me honestly seemed a little biased a bit IMO if anything but whatever

Destinyheroknighton Feb. 1, 2013 at 11:24 p.m.


You know what I never got about Superman vs Goku.... They never included Superman's vital weakness krypton. No one has brought up krypton

That Superman home planet, it not a vital weakness of The Man Of Steel. Now, kryptonite is, but they did bring it up when Superman crash into LexCorp and was weaken by it, but Goku destroy it because he wanted a fair fight

Now for power levels, I never like them

Yes Vegeta, they are :)

ComicMan24on Feb. 2, 2013 at 2:26 a.m.

Of course they count. Up until the point where the main character starts screaming and suddenly becomes the strongest character in the anime that is.

rubberluffyon Feb. 2, 2013 at 6:39 a.m.

This is why Hunter x Hunter and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure are more interesting than your regular "power level" type shonens. Everyone in HxH and JJBA is on the same level when it comes to Nen (HxH) or Stands (HxH), and it's all about how creative they can use them. Like the person in JJBA who can create zippers on objects and people, a power that on paper seems like it wouldn't be all that great (especially compared to other crazier powers) but the user is incredibly dangerous in how creative his use of it is. There's a character in Part 4 who has an incredibly powerful ability (erasing things with the swipe of his hand) but he's a total idiot and never uses it to its full extent. You can't train a Stand, you have to learn to use its ability in a smart way.

samweller999 staff on Feb. 2, 2013 at 11:15 a.m.

@Turambar: I knew someone would call me out on it. But you have to admit, "Shining Questions" doesn't have quite the same right to it, yeah?

YotaruVegetaon Feb. 2, 2013 at 12:37 p.m.

@secretzfan: Usually people just want it to be purely about power, not weaknesses.

YotaruVegetaon Feb. 2, 2013 at 12:46 p.m.

@samweller999: You know what you deserve, Sam? You deserve the BURNING FINGER!

The old Sam Weller has fallen, but a new Sam Weller arises.

Turambaron Feb. 2, 2013 at 5:43 p.m.

@samweller999 said:

@Turambar: I knew someone would call me out on it. But you have to admit, "Shining Questions" doesn't have quite the same right to it, yeah?

I was also going to say, you should rename it "Godly Questions" in honor of its proper name :o

samweller999 staff on Feb. 2, 2013 at 8:08 p.m.

@Turambar: But then I'd feel terribly presumptuous (I mean, god? Yes. Perfect? Not by a long shot.) And then I'd be forced to adhere to every true Japanese translation of anything. Who has that time to hear all that hiragana? *rimshot*

Kino88on Feb. 3, 2013 at 12:04 p.m.

It,s been a very long long time since I ever took power levels' seriously, I could care less about any of that crap,

I rarely spend much time with shonen stuff anymore anyway,

DBZ_universeon Feb. 3, 2013 at 7:04 p.m.

Power Levels are nothing.

Look at Broly for example.

samweller999 staff on Feb. 16, 2013 at 12:40 a.m.

@YotaruVegeta: BTW, love this.

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