You don’t have to be some power level nut to know this stuff. I think it’s safe to say that pretty much any DB fan who’s familiar with the Cell arc would consider the above sequence to be accurate. It’s all basically part of the plot. My question is: if we start with Bulma or Farmer with a Shotgun or whoever, and keep working our way up in this “nobody familiar with the series would deny Character A is significantly stronger than Character B” sort of way, how many links until we reach Vegetto? Without just going “Vegetto > Bulma” of course. So a minimalist type approach, but one that still tries to be comprehensive. A maximal minimalism.
I thought I’d give it a shot. If only to see what the minimum you can whittle stuff down to is. Again, I’ll try to stick purely to the main series, and even then mainly reference what we see, or what’s necessary for the plot. No battle powers, no multipliers, no Daizenshuu 7 bios, no Chinese editions of the GT anime comics, etc. Exactly what counts as “necessary for the plot” can get more than a little subjective, but if nothing else I’m trying to err on the side of minimalism. I want a list of things you could show to any fan and they’d go “no shit”, as opposed to a list of things that might be logical and well substantiated but would only be obvious to guys who write battle power charts.
Also, I’m just sticking to the manga. Even with the whole “minimalism” thing, I still don’t feel like trying to tackle Broli or Super Saiyan 4 or whatever the hell is in RoF right now.
Search for the Dragon Balls
For the first story arc, the main setup is you’ve got Bulma (an ordinary girl), then lots of fearsome but relatively conventional menaces (thugs with guns, wild animals, dinosaurs, big bear bandits with swords), and then Goku. It’s taken for granted that Bulma’s no match for the threats, while Goku can handle them all fairly easily. Yamcha’s the only character to give Goku a decent fight, and even then Goku takes him down pretty quickly once he’s got a full stomach (although I bet a lot of people just view the two as basically equal due to how their first fight plays out). Yamcha’s also seen easily taking down armed thugs, so we can consider him a cut above such “conventional threats”. Apart from Yamcha being set up as Goku’s closest thing to a rival, there’s otherwise no real attempt to rank the various other threats in terms of strength. Well, there is Boss Rabbit’s carrot touch, but that’s a special ability unrelated to overall strength, so I’ll just choose to ignore it.
Though they never fight, it’s made fairly clear that Kame-sennin is much stronger than Goku at this point. Oolong also assumes Goku’s no match for Gyuumao, and in the anime Goku fails to scratch him. Oozaru Goku is also much stronger than regular Goku, by definition. None of them fight each other, so for the sake of this story arc I’ll just chuck them all into a general “Off the Chart” category since they’re all stronger than Goku (even if Gyuumao’s a bit iffy, if we’re leaving out the anime), and leave a more detailed analysis for some other day.
If we say based on their rematch that Goku’s a cut above Yamcha, we end up with the following:
- Off the Chart: Oozaru Goku, Kame-sennin, Gyuumao
3. Armed thugs, etc. (“conventional threats”)
4. Bulma (ordinary people)
21st Tenkaichi Budokai
This is where things get a bit tricky. Once Goku finishes his training, he’s obviously way stronger than he was before. That’s the whole idea behind the training. But exactly how much difference is there? In practical terms, what if pre-training Goku had fought Giran or Namu? Or Bacterian and Ran-Fan, for that matter. It seems clear that Goku’s much stronger than Kuririn, but how does post-training Kuririn stack up against pre-training Goku? The tricky part though actually isn’t tackling these questions; the tricky part is trying to tackle them in a way that would be useful and convincing for a casual fan. Is there a way of settling this that doesn’t involve pouring over loads of strength quotes and character feats? What’s the big picture?
Well......Goku gets stronger by training. I already said that, but still, that’s all I can come up with as far as fundamental bedrock for this story arc goes. Last story arc, Kame-sennin definitely seemed stronger than Goku, but after training Goku gives the old guy an embarrassingly close fight. You might argue that Kame-sennin could have won easily if he had just used the Bankoku-Bikkuri-Sho right off the bat, and if there hadn’t been a full moon, but I think most people would consider them equal. If need be we could just say they’re at opposite ends of the same general level. And since regular Goku’s about on par with Kame-sennin, then Oozaru Goku must logically be way stronger than either. On the opposite end of the spectrum, post-training Kuririn seems a step or two below Goku, but also way stronger than Yamcha, at least based off of how long the three last in their respective fights against Kame-sennin.
Ranking the other tournament competitors seems murky, so for now I’ll just settle for this:
- Off the Chart: Oozaru Goku
1. Kame-sennin (Jackie Chun), Goku
Even though there’s a bucket-load of new characters throughout this story arc, the constant seesaw power inflation of the later parts of the series haven’t kicked in yet, so Goku sails through most of it with more or less the same strength he had at the tournament. Or so it seems. When Goku beats up Blue, Kuririn declares that Goku’s gotten a lot stronger since the tournament, but we pretty much just have his word for it (this does imply though that tournament!Goku would have had a much harder time against Blue). We’ll ignore this for now. Goku also says that Arale and friends are stronger than him, but if we try to fit Dr. Slump into this we’ll be here all day. Goku also says Android No.8’s punch was stronger than him, but since he never does much fighting outside that one punch he’s hard to get a handle on.
So it’s really not until Tao Pai Pai shows up that we get a solid, definitive enemy stronger than Goku’s ever faced before. Then Goku powers up training under Karin and…well, I want to say he’s a level above Tao Pai Pai after that. During their rematch he definitely seems to have the upper hand from start to finish, but I don’t know if I’d say there’s as big a difference between them as (for instace) Jackie Chun and Kuririn at the tournament. But again, I’ve resolved not to get too hung up on their being equal distances between the rungs of my ladder, so for now we’ll settle on this:
- Off the Chart: Arale and co., No.8 (?)
1. Goku (post-Karin)
2. Tao Pai Pai
3. Goku (pre-Karin)
Goku beats the pants off of everybody. The end. Even Grandpa Gohan seems the underdog in their fight, though it’s a closer match than with Tao Pai Pai. On that note….during the 22nd tournament, Goku talks about using “match power” for tournament matches and (confusingly) “battle power” for life-and-death struggles. He fights Tenshinhan at full “match power” for a bit before switching to “battle power” when he sees Tenshinhan’s trying to kill him. So, is it possible Tao Pai Pai and Gohan are really closer than they seem, and Goku’s just not fighting as hard against Gohan since it’s just a tournament match? I mostly bring this up because at the 22nd TB, Kame-sennin’s amazed that Goku defeated Tao Pai Pai, even though he watched Goku and Gohan’s entire fight. It’s not exactly a huge plot hole that cries out for a solution, but the thought occurred to me. For now though, I’ll just treat Gohan as roughly on par with Goku.
Kame-sennin says tournament!Goku probably couldn’t beat the Mummy guy. Which if nothing else is weird because while the Mummy guy easily beats Yamcha, he doesn’t beat him nearly as quickly as Kame-sennin himself beat Yamcha back at the tournament. So did Yamcha get a lot stronger since the tournament? And are we supposed to assume the Mummy’s stronger than Kame-sennin too? I’m not saying it’s impossible, it just seems a bit strange. Either way, Uranai Baba says each of her fighters is stronger than the last, and Akkuman does way better against Goku than the Mummy…despite still losing really easily.
- 1. Goku, Grandpa Gohan
I’ll take a break here and try to combine the lists for the first four story arcs into one. Here they all are again for a quick refresher:
I’m treating RR arc pre-Karin Goku as roughly the same as 21TB!Goku (geez, this terminology gets cumbersome fast). Kuririn and Yamcha are presumably the same too. I’m continuing to ignore Blue. OK, so is the Mummy really stronger than 21TB!Goku? If so, then Akkuman should be too. Mummy’s obviously way weaker than Tao Pai Pai (he goes down in one punch), but I can halfway imagine Akkuman as roughly Tao’s equal, though it’s a stretch. All of this is really more “into the weeds” than I wanted to bother with for the moment.
I’d rather die than try to tackle Arale and co. Android No.8 though….it’s not too hard to imagine Goku surpassing him training under Karin. He’s really just got that single “more powerful than Goku’s” punch to his name. Still, he theoretically could be as strong as No.16 for all we know.
Alright then, let’s go with this:
- 1. Goku (post-Karin), Grandpa Gohan
2. Tao Pai Pai
3. Kame-sennin (Jackie Chun), Goku (21st TB)
4. Kuririn (21st TB)
5. Goku (initial)
7. Armed thugs, etc (“conventional threats”)
8. Bulma (ordinary people)