The Prince of All Rating Systems: The Vegeta Level

There are many areas in which we can judge anime and manga. We can talk about animation quality, narrative consistency, excitement factor, or even just emotional resonance. Recently, I’ve come up with a system that I think provides a new perspective on how we view titles—I call it the Vegeta Level.

Named after the Prince of All Saiyans from Dragon Ball, determining a work’s Vegeta Level starts with a simple question: “How many Vegetas are in this?” In other words, are there any characters who embody—in part or in whole—the qualities of Vegeta, and if so, how many of these characters are there? Vegeta qualities include but are not limited to: short, spiky hair, intense, arrogant, a rival status, current or former villain with a smidge of emotional development. Sometimes, there’s an intangible quality where you can’t quite say why they’re a Vegeta, but you can definitely feel it. 

A series with a relatively high Vegeta Level can have one extreme Vegeta, or it can have so many partial Vegetas that they add up to one or more whole Vegetas. The degree to which each Vegeta quality is present can also factor in. For reference, Vegeta himself is 10 out of 10 Vegetas.

The genesis of this idea actually came from the volleyball anime Haikyu! When I first started watching, one of my recurring thoughts was, “There sure are a lot of Vegeta-like characters in this show.” Hinata and Nishinoya are both short, spiky-haired hotheads with something to prove. Kageyama is a scowling and hyper-competitive “king.” Tsukishima has all the arrogance in the world. And then, as you expand to the other teams, the number of Vegetas only grows—see Bokuto to some extent, and especially Hoshiumi. There’s Vegeta-like energy in all of them.

Even though there’s a clear standard for this metric—Vegeta—there’s still room for subjectivity. In a sense, how you perceive a Vegeta is as much based on how you see Vegeta, whether you’ve actually read/watched Dragon Ball or not. Bakugo in My Hero Academia is very clearly a Vegeta, but how Vegeta is he? One could argue that only Vegeta should be a 10 out of 10, but Bakugo is so nasty and angry and has such a character arc that he might be considered just as Vegeta if not moreso.

So let’s work through an example. Dragon Ball is clearly at least Very Vegeta due to the man himself. Are there any other Vegetas? Technically, there are literal relatives of Vegeta in here, but this is more about personality and archetype. Of his kin, his dad King Vegeta is probably around an 8/10, and Future Trunks (but not modern-day Trunks) is more like a 6/10. Among antagonists/rivals, Tienshinhan, Cell, Piccolo, and Frieza are all fairly Vegeta—I’d say about 4/10, 5/10, 6/10, and 7/10 respectively. From that rough look, that’s 49 Vegeta points. Again, it’s not wholly objective, much like the star rating system in professional wrestling, so there’s room for argument.

So what use does the Vegeta Level have? Well, if you like Vegeta, it’s probably a great way to find a series that interests you. But also, Vegeta as a character is so embraced not just by fans but also shounen manga in general, and I think the presence of Vegeta-like characters are a way to give a series an extra edge without necessarily making it “edgy.” That being said, an all-Vegeta series would make for about the edgiest thing ever.

Does such a series exist? One friend suggested to me at least one series that could outstrip it: The Sopranos. According to him, practically every character in that show is a high degree of Vegeta. 

Food for thought: Could there theoretically be a work with a Vegeta Level that’s over 8000 or 9000?

Does the Japanese “Vegeta” Voice Not Translate to English?

Amidst the announcement of Dragon Ball FighterZ, a Guilty Gear-esque 3-on-3 fighting game based on the popular Dragon Ball franchise, one of the old debates between fans has cropped up: do you play with the Japanese voices or the English ones? Frequently, choices have to do with familiarity (what did you grow up on?), as well as the divisiveness of Nozawa Masako’s performance, which some fans see as not fitting for Son Goku’s masculine appearance.

Because of this, I began diving into old sub vs. dub threads, and to my surprise I found that quite a few people were also not big fans of Horikawa Ryo as Vegeta. On the occasions that commenters preferred Christopher Sabat’s Vegeta, it frequently had to do with Sabat making Vegeta sound more gruff and “badass.”

English and Japanese Vegeta have a lot in common. They’re both extremely arrogant and prideful, and even their caring sides will be expressed through anger. However, I find that each of them brings a different feel as well. If both of their performances could be likened to boulders (big and powerful), then Sabat’s Vegeta would be rough and jagged, while Horikawa’s would be smoothed and polished.

I’m beginning to wonder if the Horikawa-style Vegeta is somehow “lost in translation,” as if the effect doesn’t come across properly. The reason I’m considering this at all is that I also see other cases of similar characters coming across differently in English performances.

One example is Meta Knight in Smash Bros., who sounds more like a noble knight in Japanese but has a deep baritone in English. (In the dub of Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, they went for an odd Spanish accent, but that’s more a directing choice than anything else.) Would the effect Horikawa has as Vegeta work better if a voice akin to English Smash Meta Knight’s was used?

Another example is Kaiba Seto in Yu-Gi-Oh! In Japanese, Kaiba’s performance is more curt than anything else, like he has no time to waste on being nice or courteous. In English, Kaiba sounds more actively mocking and malicious. Would the former have not been as memorable? All of these different performances (as well as different scripts) can change people’s impressions to the point that they can almost be viewed as different characters.

I’d like to believe that it’s possible to successfully translate the feel and intent of a character at least for the most part when dubbing a series, but I have to consider whether or not cultural context actually changes how a given voice “sounds” to a person. It’s not uncommon to see dub anime fans complain about all the “high-pitched voices” in Japanese, but fans of Japanese voices might lobby the opposite criticism towards dub actors making high schoolers sound like 40-year-olds. It’s almost impossible to get an “objective” opinion on how a character sounds across different languages, especially because the actors themselves will slowly evolve their performances over time.

If dub Dragon Ball Z was ever able to perfectly adapt Horikawa’s Vegeta to English, would it actually have garnered him a somewhat different fanbase than he possesses now among English-speaking fans? Does the core character of Vegeta transcend voice, or is it a major factor in defining how the character lives?