Saiyan Power, known to the fandom as Zenkai (全開; lit. "Full Release" or "Full Throttle"), is a Saiyan genetic trait that allows their combat prowess to continually increase as they fight. This is done by the Saiyan instinctively imprinting on new experiences to lessen the chances of same injury happening again and likewise dramatically increasing their raw might after recovering from injuries.
"Around and around he goes...working his body and chi almost to death and then refreshing himself by eating the Senzu... Whether he realizes it or not, Goku is living and reliving one of the primal cycles of the Saiyans... Gaining strength by facing and overcoming death!"
— Narrator - Premonitions of War
After drinking the Ultra Divine Water and almost dying, Goku presumably got a power boost from not just the water's powers, but also from his Saiyan Power. He also possibly got one after his near death encounter with King Piccolo. During the Namek and Frieza Sagas, Saiyan Power is an extremely important element of the series, which allows Goku, Gohan, and Vegeta's powers to increase in order to "catch up" to Frieza and his men. After the Frieza Saga, most of the Saiyans had already become Super Saiyans. In the Cell Games Saga, when Cell returned from his botched self-destruction on King Kai's planet, his power amplified to the point that high amounts of energy surrounded his body to mimic the aura of a Super Saiyan 2.
Saiyan Power seems to increase exponentially after each use. When Vegeta recovers from his first fight with Goku, his power level went from 18,000 to 24,000, and another was received after being nearly killed by Zarbon's transformed state and healed in a Medical Machine, resulting in a power level of 30,000. After Vegeta was near-fatally injured after fighting Recoome, his strength strangely skyrockets enough to have an even power struggle with Frieza's first form (stated to be 530,000), and another, final Saiyan Power increased his power enough to see Frieza's movements and Death Beams at first, before he begins to put in even more effort. Goku was able to tap into the Saiyan Power's during his gravity training (which in total boosted his power from "over 8,000" to 90,000), and again receives an enormous boost after recovering in a Medical Machine from his battle with Captain Ginyu (increased to 3,000,000). To force a boost in power during the battle with Frieza, Vegeta tells Krillin to brutally injure him and have Dende heal him, which after greatly increased his power, though still not nearly enough to defeat the space tyrant (who by that point had just transformed into his most powerful state).
The primary drawback from the Saiyan Power boost appears to be its lack of consistency. Although a saiyan is supposed to become "more powerful" after recovering from an injury, exactly how much power that is gained appears to be random and arbitrary, in stark contrast to other power boosts such as Kaio-Ken or Super Saiyan, which always boost the users' power in a consistent, set multiplier. This is best displayed during the fight against Frieza. At the beginning of the fight, Vegeta was able to fight on par with 1st Form Frieza, suggesting that his power level was around 530,000, nearly three times as high as Goku's power level of only 180,000 during the battle against Ginyu. When Vegeta strategically exploited the Saiyan Power boost, he expected it to give him enough power to defeat Frieza, but his predictions were wrong. Meanwhile, Goku went from a power level of 180,000 to a power level of 3,000,000 after only a single Saiyan Power boost, despite there being no apparent reason why his power should balloon to that level when Vegeta's didn't. This lack of consistency may explain why the Z-Fighters do not rely on the Saiyan Power boost after the Frieza saga.
Goku experiences a Saiyan Power upon eating a Senzu Bean in the movie Dragon Ball Z: Cooler's Revenge. In Dragon Ball Z: Broly - The Legendary Super Saiyan, it is stated that Broly survived his execution and grew stronger due to his Saiyan genes. In Dragon Ball Z: Broly - Second Coming, it is implied that Broly grew significantly stronger while in a coma for seven years after being beaten by Goku and recovering.
In Dragon Ball Super, Goku Black is able to upgrade his power through this ability following each battle against Goku and the other Saiyans, thereby obtaining his Super Saiyan Rosé and likewise enhance his techniques. Once again the benefit of this ability seems to scale in an inconsistent fashion; Future Trunks claims that Black powered up slowly each time he fought him. However, after being heavily damaged by Goku in only a Super Saiyan 2 state, he powers up upon recovering enough to be unfazed by the attacks of Super Saiyan Blue Vegeta in his base state.
During the Frieza Saga, Vegeta tells Krillin that a Saiyan cannot increase their power if the wound is self inflicted, which is the main reason why Vegeta convinces Krillin to injure him so Dende could heal him, allowing him to grow stronger. However this limitation is disputed by Goku's increase in power after consuming Senzu Beans to heal from the injures he received during his extreme gravity training and by Cell powering up after his self-destruction. One possible explanation for Goku receiving a Zenkai during his training is that while some of his injures where self inflicted such as getting hit by his own energy wave, his power increased after healing due to the extreme nature of the training as the extreme gravity also took its toll on Goku's body thus Goku increase power after healing may have been the result of the damage done to his body by the extreme gravity and training itself as a whole, as a opposed to the damage he inflicted on himself by his own attacks (meaning it is possible that his self-inflicted injuries did not contribute at all to Goku's increase in power, and that it was the gravity and training to the brink of death that increased Goku's power after he healed). It should be noted that while Cell's self-destruction qualifies as a self-inflicted injury, it should be noted that Cell is an artificially created lifeform that is only partially Saiyan so he may not have the same limitations as pure Saiyans like Goku and Vegeta or even natural born partial Saiyan hybrids like Gohan.
In the Dragon Ball Super manga, Future Trunks theorizes that due to Vegeta and Goku training to their limits, they are no longer able to grow stronger after recovering from near death explaining why his father is unable to grow stronger after getting beaten by Super Saiyan Goku Black and consuming a Senzu Bean. This potential limitation is only mentioned in the manga.
Video game appearances
In the RPG Dragon Ball Z: Super Saiya Densetsu, when a Saiyan reaches less than 5 HP, using a full heal item on him (like a card of Kami) will result in him receiving a Zenkai and raise his level by 1. This can be used early on against Raditz, to boost Goku's level extremely high. Also in the game, there is a glitch with Zenkai: if a player chooses to level Dende to level 3 (9999 exp earned twice), Dende can heal a character as well. Should he heal a Saiyan that is at 5 HP or below, the Saiyan receives the Zenkai, but not the level up. This allows certain characters like Gohan or Vegeta to be boosted to higher-than-usual power levels. Using the Moon Card on Gohan, however, restores his power level to the level it should be.
In Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z, a customize card named "Saiyan Power" can be equipped onto a character and raises their attack power every time they are knocked out. This card is based on Zenkai.
In Dragon Ball Xenoverse, Zenkai is one of the Saiyan race's unique traits. When a Saiyan falls in battle, and is revived, either through teammate assistance or a Battle Item, they gain a large power boost that lasts for the duration of that battle. A Zenkai effect can be applied to non-Saiyans through Z-Souls such as Vegeta's "Saiyans are a Warrior race!" or through Super Perfect Cell's "That was a handy miscalculation".
"How many life-or-death battles have you been through? After all, Saiyans get stronger when they're on the verge of death. You keep getting stronger, too, so you must've nearly kicked the bucket any number of times, right? I've also nearly died... or should I say, actually died a number of times, heh heh heh."
— Goku talking about Zenkai with the Saiyan Future Warrior in Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2
In Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2, Saiyan characters can receive a Zenkai in the same manner as they did in Xenoverse.
During the Unknown History Saga, as Super Saiyan Xeno Bardock fights with Mira inside the time rift he had trapped himself and Mira within, Mira notices that Bardock is growing stronger as he fights and combined with the alterations Towa had done to his body while he was brainwashed as the Masked Saiyan, it is implied that it allows him to ascend first into Super Saiyan 2 and before finally transforming into his Super Saiyan 3 form, allowing him to defeat Mira before his mysteriously disappears from the time rift, leaving the defeated Mira behind but alive.
As part of the Super Pack 1 DLC, Cabba grows stronger like other Saiyan characters do in Xenoverse 2. Interestingly, he will reference this after being revived by saying "I feel great!". This indicates the Saiyans of Universe 6 also possess the ability to receive a Zenkai like their Universe 7 counterparts.
- The term Zenkai is used in the first Dragon Ball Z ending theme, "Detekoi Tobikiri Zenkai Power!"
- The Meta-Coolers' Auto-Repair Ability also corrects any flaw that allowed the unit to take damage, similar to Zenkai.
- Hit's Pure Progress ability allowing him to grow stronger as fights is also similar to Zenkai.
- While the dub incorrectly implies that Zenkais only occur with Elite Saiyans, Goku a Low-Level Saiyan, receives them many times. This is confirmed by how Krillin states how Goku always grew ever stronger after recovering from fighting devastating battles.
- In chapter 303, Vegeta states that a Saiyan cannot experience Zenkai if the wound is self-inflicted. However, Goku, received a Zenkai after healing from injuring himself with a Bending Kamehameha and Cell likewise did after regenerating himself from self-destruction. However, Goku's Zenkai may have come from his extreme gravity training or the external nature of Goku's attack and Cell's Zenkai from his augmented/mixed Saiyan, Namekian, and possibly Frieza's race cells.
- It should be noted that Goku's Zenkai occurs before Vegeta reveals that it cannot be obtained by self-inflicted wounds, while Cell's occurs long after.
- In the manga version of the "Future" Trunks Saga, it is theorized by Future Trunks that Saiyans can only grow powerful a finite number of times with the Zenkai. This came from Vegeta showing no signs of improvement against Goku Black after healing from the previous skirmish.