With the recent leaked information that the Dragon Ball series will be getting yet another form of Super Saiyan, this time with pink hair, I couldn’t help but notice how much we just didn’t care. At all. I see this time and time again from games to movies to tv shows, a formula is created and when information leaks we just see the exact same thing we have seen before. Naturally we get tired and bored of the information, it just isn’t new or interesting. At all. After having a few moments to gather my thoughts, I felt it was time to put my ideas down on paper and give them to you the public.
What is wrong with DBZ?
There is a basic concept in game design dealing with the differences in scale verses the differences in kind. Essentially, differences in scale deals with changing the numbers, or power levels, of challenges without changing anything else, whereas differences in kind deal with changing everything but the numbers. For an example, imagine a game where you fight the exact same boss ten times, but each time his hp and power go up. Contrast that with a game where you fight ten completely different bosses that require different tactics for each boss (Just look at any fighting or Mario game). Now you have a good idea of the differences between scale and kind.
While both are very different and used in different situations, both are still necessary. While differences in scale are far less interesting and very two dimensional, they do provide an immediate feedback for objectively comparing two things. It creates an instant understanding that the bar has been raised, as have the stakes of the fight, but the effects of that understanding wear off extremely quickly. DBZ unfortunately uses the differences in scale far too much with their main characters, rather than delving into the differences in kind.
Why is it bad that DBZ uses differences in scale rather than differences in kind?
In DBZ, the main characters are seen constantly rising in level, their power seeming to have no limit, creating conflict with ever increasing power as well. While this was an effective use of scale in the earlier days of DBZ, after a while (around the Majin Boo season for me) it starts to become just the same thing over and over again. Nothing changes to be more interesting, its just a simple “oh now he hits a new power level, and has a new hair style”. At this point, when we see a new scale of Super Saiyan we are uninterested, we have seen it before, we are used to it. Its boring. We need differences in kind to offset the differences in scale.
Some more general concepts.
Before we can start fixing the unending torrent of boring power level increase we keep seeing and not caring about, we need to start at the core concepts used in the show. More specifically we need to look at the core concept of how weapons are viewed and how they shape our characters.
Generally speaking, weapons are viewed differently in eastern culture than they are viewed in our western culture. In the east, a characters weapon is viewed as an extension of one’s self, it is a part of them, it is part of their identity. The weapon is a physical extension of the character’s will, their character, or their power. We see this constantly from games like Megaman to shows like Digimon and Naruto. The primary “weapon” is linked to the character that belongs to them, and this is always an important plot line. Whereas here in the west weapons are generally seen as a tool, a guide to help the character exert dominance, or their will.
With this concept in mind we can see how the DBZ characters have their own special moves, their own way of exerting force, their own style. In the earlier episodes, characters learn new moves while they have some kind of character development as well. While this idea is not touched on in the story, it is pretty apparent if you are looking for it. Contrasted to later episodes where characters are simply increasing their power level and not changing their attacks nearly as often.
In addition to that concept, we must also look at the idea of raw power is not as strong as controlled power, or the old adage of “power is nothing without control”. Again, we don’t see this concept talked about specifically in the show but we do have a perfect example of the concept when our Saiyan heroes are training to defeat Cell. We see Vegeta and Trunks in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber training to increase their power, growing ever stronger, the evidence of which is the gigantic muscles they have. They increased their raw power as far as they could but they were still unable to defeat Cell, they were too slow, too uncontrolled to match him.
Now we take a look at Goku and Gohan, they trained to control their power. They learned how to completely control their power while in Super Saiyan form and were able to increase their power without having to sacrifice speed. That was the key to their power and thus defeating Cell, control.
Putting it all together:
With all the concepts we have gone over already, let’s start putting them together and seeing how we change the current pattern from differences in scale to a pattern of differences in kind. A super basic way to add in differences in kind is to add in the classic elemental alignment. Now I’m not suggesting that character attacks are aligned to a single alignment only, we aren’t trying to make Avatar. The energy attacks of each character simply have the same energy waves as an element. We can also look at the four mythical beasts of the eastern culture which are also aligned to elements themselves. It is incredibly basic, and done all the time, so we won’t spend much time on that idea and move on to other concepts.
Another brief and simple concept would be to have character’s power, or attacks, more powerful when they are aligned with different emotions or human conditions. Think of it like the different types of power in the Green Lantern universe. While this idea is only slightly more complex than the elemental alignment, it is also done constantly by other stories but I felt it was important to at least bring it up.
Let’s take the ideas so far one step further, let’s use something already established within the DBZ universe so we aren’t copying what has already been done. Instead, let’s use the guardian dragons of each world and align a character to them. Say for instance, a character begins being aligned or connected to the dragon of the character’s birth world. Now that would be an interesting concept! Different dragons from different worlds would have different power on their own right, they would be better or worse at different types of energy manipulation, and their age and experience can improve their own knowledge. Now characters can not only learn attacks and moves as they have throughout the show, but they can also commune with the guardian dragons and learn moves that are special to their world.
Let’s go even further. Suppose characters can then learn new moves from the guardian dragons of worlds that they visit. Now you have reason for the characters to explore if you want to go that route. On the other hand, you can now have enemies that have been traveling from planet to planet, learning from guardian dragons or just outright destroying them and absorbing their power! You can still make the bad guys as varied and interesting as they always have been, but now you can add an extra spin of context that binds all characters together.
Don’t like that idea? Perfect! Let’s look at another idea. The core of any good story is conflict, its what makes a story interesting and creates meaningful choices for the characters. Outside of just raising the stakes of the enemies in DBZ, how can we create conflict with the characters? One idea is to do the exact opposite of what the writers have been doing with their characters and putting a power cap on each character.
Now I don’t mean an arbitrary number attached to each character where once a character hits that level they will never go any higher. No I am talking about associating consequences to increasing power over the limit that is set. What if the power of a character begins to become so intense that it begins to take a tole on the character’s body? What happens when the character decides to keep going?
Picture this: when a character hits Super Saiyan level 2, gold lines begin to appear on the skin, running along major veins and coming out from the eyes just a little. At Super Saiyan level 3 the lines become thicker, more pronounced, and covering a greater area of the body. At this point the body is at least half gold lines. These lines are the raw power of the character escaping from the character’s body, burning lines into the skin as it escapes. If a character pushes the limit of his power to the next step without some other form of change or control, the raw power of the character is so intense that the entire body of the character is completely destroyed, leaving a golden body made of pure energy (with blue eyes of course) you can even continue the progression, a gold body with lines of blue that start forming, eventually leading to an all blue body with white eyes. So on and so forth.
Besides being a totally awesome visual experience, this idea opens up a number of possibilities for character development. Suppose at the end of a great battle where a character has shed themselves of their body and become a being of energy, after the battle is over their energy level begins to descend, thus the character is beginning to fade. The character not having a physical body to come back to as power comes back down, that character could vanish from the universe. Or perhaps that energy merely dissipates into the nearest geographical location, making them linked to that location. Maybe they go to a spiritual location where they can converse and learn from the planet’s guardian dragon. Other interesting aspects of this dilemma, if a character does want to become physical again they must either find a body, or wish for a new one. The former opening up some interesting ideas, perhaps a “body” could be built like an android, or the body can be formed by the earth itself creating massive stone golem like “bodies”.
These are just a few ideas of how I personally would make characters in the DBZ universe function, all are simple examples of how DBZ can be improved. But while we can churn out all the ideas we want all day long, the number one idea that should be taken away from this article is that anyone who is writing needs to be simply cognizant of how they can increase the differences in kind, verses the differences in scale. As I’ve shown before, there doesn’t even need to be a complex system in place and it can still be expanded upon. Differences in scale are cheap and easy, differences in kind are difficult but far more worth it to include.
I hope you were able to enjoy this article and I hope to write more later on!
Email me: Timewasterz07@gmail.com
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