Even the weakest warriors in the Dragon Ball series have been shown to be strong enough to learn spectacular tactics and attacks. This is by the use of Ki, which, thanks to Power Levels, is set up to be chartable early in Dragon Ball Z.
But exactly what are the Dragon Ball franchise’s power levels—and why don’t they ultimately matter in the long run?
Power Levels apply to someone’s exact amount of Ki as a fighter. Ki is a physical representation of someone’s life force and is the energy source that drives a warrior’s strength, skill, and potential.
The character of the Dragon Ball franchise can use the explosive techniques for which it is popular with the use of Ki.
As a descriptor in Dragon Ball Z, power levels are becoming increasingly prevalent as an easy shorthand for how much more powerful newly introduced threats such as the Saiyans and Frieza are over the current cast.
With the use of scouters, the Saiyans, along with a host of other aliens, were also able to monitor power levels and measure their severity, giving them the ability to tell how dangerous an opponent could be—and how likely it would be for them to win.
Power ratings, however sometimes prove to be a surprisingly ineffective way to really gauge someone’s fighting abilities.
Over the years, Earth’s heroes have established a remarkably powerful tactic that helps them to actually mask their levels of strength, making opponents over-confident about the advantage of power.
Similarly, power levels appear to represent clearly such figures such as Frieza and his Empire, with the villain also bragging that in his second form he had a power level of one million—while still being defeated by Goku until he gained the huge power boost that comes from going to Super Saiyan.
Via processes such as Saiyans increasing their strength after near-fatal accidents, or Namekian fusion, power levels can also be increased in sudden ways that render their former levels insignificant.
Power levels often do not represent particular types of techniques that are successful against almost all potential enemies: the role of Krillin in the “Namek Saga” is a clear example of this in which the much more strong Frieza is actually killed by his Destructo-Disc.
Captain Ginyu, another figure from that storyline, is able to use his Body Shift technique to snatch his enemies’ bodies—and higher levels of ki—regardless of the strength gap between them.
Even attacks such as Self-Destruct are seen to give figures such as Semi-Perfect Cell the ability to destroy Goku, who at that stage is much more powerful than he is.
Power Levels are made even more irrelevant by the ever-increasing feats in the “Buu Saga” particularly with Babiidi, Buu, and their magical attacks being different from Ki.
When the series hits Dragon Ball Super’s threats, power levels simply stop being a factor of significance at all. For figures like Beerus, the massive amounts of energy and strength on hand minimize any established power levels in the proper series.
Even characters like Goku—suggested being much less powerful than Beerus ‘fully unleashed true strength—can keep up with deities like him with transformations like Ultra Instinct.
While Power Levels made sense to raise the stakes earlier in the franchise as a shorthand storytelling device, by this point, Power Levels are an unnecessary metric to weigh characters from the series against.