Power-ups are the topic for today — and no, we aren’t talking about the Fairy Tail friendship kind. I want to dive into the ocean full of anime power-ups and transformations and pick my top 5 — from numerous different series, of course. Without any further delay, let’s Shounen JUMP right into it… I’m sorry. (See me in my office, please. I just want to talk – Ed.)
Super Saiyan (DragonBall Z)
It’s a no-brainer that DragonBall’s Super Saiyan would be on this list — it’s a classic! I’ve spoken in past pieces about how much I rate this particular transformation as it was so insanely hype. Ignoring how long it took us to finally get to the point in the series where it first appeared, everything that built up towards this power-up was so well done.
Saiyans are a warrior race built on the foundation of growing after every fight that they survive through. As these warriors steadily grew in power throughout the years, Frieza decided to destroy planet Vegeta to thwart the possible threat of a Super Saiyan. Originating as nothing more than a legend, the Super Saiyan is a tremendous surge in power granted to those with a need, not a desire.
Intense feelings of anger and sadness can be the initial driving force behind this transformation, and this explains why Goku was one of the first to acquire this form. Being a warrior race forced Saiyans to become hardened warriors who did what must be done, regardless of their emotions. Goku, however, was a Saiyan raised on Earth, and Earthlings are emotional creatures who wear their hearts on their sleeves. Goku had the warrior spirit and a human heart, allowing him to attain a power of legend.
The scene and form are universally known, and its influence would inspire numerous Shounen Jump authors for years to come. It would be a dishonour to omit the Super Saiyan from this list.
Shikai and Bankai (Bleach)
I think there is something great about the power system in Bleach. Zanpakutou swords are a form of power that every Soul Reaper is equipped with. The Zanpakutou is a reflection of the user’s soul, so the power that comes from the sword is unique to that user. It has a unique blend of beauty and power from the simplicity of the sword combined with its unique power-up state — one that almost always subverts expectations.
Zanpakutou are originally sealed and have two powered up states: Shikai and Bankai. Shikai (First Release) is achieved when the Soul Reaper calls the name of their sword. This process takes time and training in order to communicate with the spirit inside the sword — each sword has its own name, you can’t just give it one! Upon learning the name and release call, such as “Howl! Zabimaru!”, the sword will change shape and gain new abilities.
Bankai (Final Release) is the second and final released form of a Zanpakutou. This form requires the user to be able to materialise and summon their Zanpukatou spirit into the physical world. The Soul Reaper and sword spirit then fight, and throughout this battle the Soul Reaper will be met with all of their negative sides — both physically and psychologically. Once they overcome this, both the user and the sword learn Bankai simultaneously.
I always loved the idea of a sword spirit reflecting the user’s soul; it takes the culture of Bushido and the belief that “the sword was the soul of the samurai” to a fantastical level.
Sharingan was the OG eye technique among the numerous that the Naruto series would eventually introduce, and it still sits at the top for me. The Sharingan is a form of ocular jutsu exclusive to members of the Uchiha clan. Exclusive bloodline techniques like this are known in the series as Kekkei Genkai (Bloodline Limit) — and there are quite a few of them.
Sharingan was the most appealing to me throughout the story, and that was even before the technique’s depth began to be explored. Sharingan is acquired after an emotional event occurs, releasing a unique form of chakra (the power system in Naruto) which affects the user’s eyes, awakening the ocular jutsu. This is why the power is also known as “the eye that reflects the heart”.
Sharingan gives the user access to numerous powers. First is the ability to see a person’s chakra — though not as clearly as with Byakugan, another form of ocular jutsu that specifically focuses on seeing chakra. Second, it provides incredible clarity of perception to the point of being able to read someone’s lips or mimic something almost instantaneously. This power can be trained to the point that it offers almost predictive capabilities. Lastly, the user can copy any form of jutsu they see: Ninjutsu (ninja arts such as elemental manipulation), Taijutsu (body techniques), and Genjutsu (illusory techniques). Sharingan users can copy these techniques with almost perfect accuracy.
Naruto has a ton of different power-ups, but similarly to Bleach’s Zanpakutou, I find the more simple yet cool abilities of Sharingan much more appealing than the ability to physically transform or summon beasts.
Gear Second (One Piece)
I was tempted to talk about the Gear system as a whole, but there is something so awesome about Gear Second in particular. It helps that this power-up comes during one of my favourite arcs in the series, but it’s more than just that. When Luffy fights the members of CP9, a secret espionage division of the world government, he suffers complete defeat at the hands of Rob Lucci, the organisation’s leader.
It’s at this point that Luffy understands the wall he has just hit, and resolves to become stronger to protect those around him. All while continuing to push forward through the Grand Line — the roughest, toughest ocean on the planet.
The members of CP9 use a powerful technique known as “Soru” which allows them to move at extremely high speeds; it’s this technique that secures Luffy’s defeat as he simply cannot keep up with their movements. Luffy’s counter to this is to learn from it, and he does exactly that when he develops his Gear Second. By using his rubber body, Luffy forces the blood coursing through his veins to move at a faster speed by increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients being supplied to his muscles.
The creative use of Luffy’s power — and the fact he learned from the loss he suffered, adapted, and then overcame — fully encapsulates exactly what I loved about Gear Second.
Nen (Hunter x Hunter)
Surely everyone saw this one coming. Nen as a power system is extremely interesting, full of unique forms where each character is able to express their usage of the power in creative ways. Nen is described as a power that all living beings have, as it’s a form of life force — and it’s in learning to control the flow of one’s Nen that allows these unique powers to come into play.
Nen has numerous applications; these applications depend on the user as the use of Nen can be broadly split into six different types. There’s Enhancement, which strengthens oneself or an object; Transmutation, which changes the quality or elements of auras; Conjuration, or the creation of objects; Emission, or the ability to detach one’s aura; Manipulation, for the control of both animate and inanimate objects; and lastly Specialisation, a unique ability.
This wide array of Nen types allows for a ton of unique abilities, with one of the most interesting being Kurapika’s Emperor Time.
Kurapika is one of the main characters, and one of the last remaining members of his clan. Through the use of his bloodline power, he can change his Nen type from Conjurer to Specialist. Emperor Time allows him to use all other Nen types with the utmost efficiency, meaning that the abilities of Kurapika are effectively infinite; however, every second he spends in this form costs him an hour of his lifespan.
Gon, the main protagonist, uses the Enhancement-type Nen and makes use of his physical strength when it comes to fighting. During the events of the Chimera Ant arc, Gon performs a vow that almost costs him his life. A vow is essentially a Nen-based contract in which the user sacrifices something in exchange for power; the user must be in a very extreme mindset when performing a vow as the consequences can be potentially fatal.
The potential and creativity of Nen is fascinating and consistently entertaining to see. Ranging from a simple strength boost and the ability to manipulate lightning, all the way to more peculiar uses, such as Hisoka’s legendary Bungee Gum!
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