The notion of power levels in the DragonBall Z universe was always compelling and interesting for me. Although Akira Toriyama dropped the concept quickly following the exit of the Freeza saga (and just so, as the power levels were easily in the tens of millions at that point!), it gave nerds like me something to chew over, and, accurately or inaccurately, a measuring stick for what constituted survival in the DragonBall Z universe. That being said, let’s break down DBZ’s power level system!
(All values used are courtesy of research by “Duo” from the website MyFavoriteGames.com, link here: http://www.myfavoritegames.com/dbz/power-levels(new).htm)
What has always remained in my mind after the entireties of the Saiyan (and later the Freeza sagas) was determining how the various levels described dictated your survival with other entities. Could winning only occur via equally matched power levels, levels of significant greatness over another, or was tactical intelligence being factored in by the Scouters?
Let’s assume, for example, that the last statement is a given. It’s alien technology, after all, there’s no reason to believe that they somehow figured out how to calculate someone’s cunning in coming up with a power level value.
The first mention of a power level is the poor farmer that Raditz meets after his ship lands on Earth. He is rated at a 5, which appears to be the basic fitness level of an adult. Supplementary material rates Raditz himself at a titanic 1,220. After making short work of the farmer, he uses his scouter to seek the nearest strongest power in the area, leading him to meet Piccolo.
Piccolo, who was demonstrated to us in the first DragonBall series as being quite the powerful antagonist, is rated by Raditz’s scouter at a seemingly measly 322. Piccolo’s own energy blast is shrugged off with indifference by Raditz, a fact that genuinely puts chills down Piccolo’s back. After locating Goku, he flies off to meet up with him, and well, you know the rest - theft of Gohan ensues, followed by epic battle between the two mortal enemies-become-unlikely allies of Goku and Piccolo to defeat Raditz via Goku’s heroic sacrifice.
In this arc, a few things are revealed to us:
*Goku and Piccolo are still the strongest possible beings on Earth at the beginning of DragonBall Z, and, assuming no big battles since then, more or less the same people (albeit slightly stronger) they were at the conclusion of the first DragonBall.
*Raditz is capable of easily leveling entire mountain ranges with minimal effort. In the previous DragonBall series, Piccolo was shown to be able to do this only through an incredible amount of effort on his part to summon up the necessary energy. It stands to reason that Goku requires the same effort on his end as well.
*Piccolo and Goku’s values as rated on the scouter are 322 and 334 respectively. We soon learn that these are their “at rest” values, and are capable of ramping up their energy to their full potential (Goku’s Kamehameha can be unleashed at 1080, and Piccolo’s Special Beam Cannon (Makankosappo, if you’re a stickler to details) is downright lethal and at least 220 units over Raditz’s own level at 1440 (1330 at the first missed shot)).
*Goku’s Kamehameha forces Raditz to actively defend himself, and Piccolo’s Special Beam Cannon drills straight through, impaling Raditz AND Goku at the same time.
*Gohan’s anger-charged headbutt is rated at 1307, which genuinely surprises/scares Raditz, and, when he connects, damages Raditz enough that Goku is able to successfully hold him in a full nelson.
From these observations, I infer the following “rules” and “constants” are in play:
*A power level of at least 900-1000 is needed to cause significant countryside/city damage. Goku and Piccolo were at this level at the conclusion of the original DragonBall.
*As Raditz himself is unaware of suppressing/increasing one’s energy and controlling it throughout battle, he is more or less continuously at his level of 1220, and remains so throughout the fight until he is damaged/killed.
*Power levels that are about 60-70% of his are not of particular threat to him: even after Goku and Piccolo both remove their weighted clothing and armour, he still kicks them around easily. It is only after they start revving up their high-energy desperation attacks that Raditz is forced to concentrate and actively defend himself.
*Fighters (or attacks) that are close to (within 200 or so units) his own power level becoming significantly damaging, and once they start going beyond his own level, become serious/lethal.
Do these assumptions hold up for later in the series? Let’s find out with the arrival of Nappa and Vegeta. In supplementary material, Nappa is rated at 4000 and later going as high at 8000, while Vegeta (as revealed on Namek by Cui) is seemingly godlike at 18,000, easily the strongest known Saiyan period (discounting Broly and Paragus).
In this arc, the following is revealed to us:
*Nappa annihilates a city via an unexplained energy attack that is somehow able to erupt from underground. He barely shows any effort for this.
*When he takes on the Z fighters, he makes extremely quick work of them. Tenshinhan is dispatched rather viciously despite making some extremely impressive attacks (his Kikoho, rated at an extremely high (for humans) 2500, merely scratches Nappa), Gohan’s Masenko is punched away (though Nappa admits that it stings), and Chiaotzu’s self-destruct attack does little more than damage Nappa’s armour.
*Krillin’s Destructo Disk (Ki-en-zan for the sticklers), however, seems to actually pose a risk to Nappa, as Vegeta orders the latter to dodge it lest his head get cut off. Krillin himself in supplementary material is rated at 1083 in this fight.
*Piccolo’s highest power level reached is around 2000, and to protect Gohan from Nappa’s attack, takes the full brunt of it and, while not being blown to bits, seems to sustain incredible internal damage.
*When Goku appears (and begins charging up, leading Vegeta and Nappa to say their most famous lines), Vegeta angrily notes that Goku is hovering around 8000 (9000 in the dubs), which freaks Nappa out.
*In Vegeta and Goku’s fight, Goku’s Kaioken technique allows him to boost all the way up to 16,000, then to 24,000. During Kaiokenx3, Vegeta begins sustaining damage that forces him to defend himself, first with more focus and then with increasing rage and frustration as it is revealed to him that Goku is actually a match for the Prince of Saiyans.
*In frustration, Vegeta launches his Galick Gun, which ramps his own power level to 41,000, and threatens (in his words) to destroy Earth in one shot. Goku is forced to respond with a Kamehameha, amplifying it with a Kaiokenx4, going up to 48,000, overpowering the Galick Gun’s blast and sending Vegeta into the stratosphere.
*Vegeta, however, doesn’t sustain any disintegrating damage from the blast and somehow rides it until he is able to pull himself off the beam, which continues up into the sky.
*In frustration, he transforms into his ape form and proceeds to thrash Goku. He precedes it by noting that even for him, this form is of particularly formidable power. Supplementary material says that this form is around 100,000.
The arc ends with Vegeta gradually being worn down by the combined efforts of Yajirobe, Gohan’s own ape form, and the Spirit Bomb, forcing him to retreat.
From this we can infer:
*Fighting while being less than half of an opposing power level is basically a deathwish; even one’s strongest efforts will do little unless one is able to focus their energy towards sharpness/cutting as opposed to blunt force energy blasts.
*Power levels very near or equal to one’s own power are a consistent concern for one’s own survival. However, one can still survive combat against higher power levels, albeit with continuously decreasing chances of victory as the difference becomes greater.
*Energy attacks appear to keep going long after the wielder has ended the technique on their end (no “firehose” effect). Prior to Nappa and Vegeta’s arrival, Piccolo destroys the moon via energy blast to prevent Gohan from morphing into his giant ape form. Considering that the moon is around 356,000 to 406,000 km from Earth and about 1,738km thick (to its core, assuming that somehow destroying the core destroys the planet in the DBZ universe), this means that somewhere just past 1200, someone is capable of destroying a moon, and between 1200 and 41,000, one has the ability to physically tear apart a planet. It should be noted, however, that it could be Vegeta’s hyperbole talking…(*note)
We also discover:
*Nappa and Vegeta have variable power levels of their own - an enraged Vegeta’s Galick Gun pumps up all the way to 41000, for example - but they don’t realise this is the case, or they do but don’t consider it a viable part of their tactics since doing so requires being sitting ducks as they charge up (Nappa has to take time to go up to full power, and it’s implied that Vegeta used the full force of his energy for his Galick Gun)
Join me later for Part 2!