Snap Discussion is the weekly round table discussion on a topic relating to Japanese pop culture as selected by the almighty Snapodile. Each week the SnapThirty team will weigh in with their thoughts on that week’s topic all with the hopes of providing some interesting and perhaps even conflicting view points on the matter at hand. This week’s topic is With All Your Might – Anime and Manga’s Greatest Fights.
For this topic we each looked at some of the greatest fights. A good fight can thrill, but a great fight is an emotional rollercoaster that etches itself permanently into your mind long after its over. Here are some of our own personal favourites.
For me, an unabashed Togashi fanatic, it should be no surprise what fight I have chosen for this week’s roundtable. It is of course the epic clash between Gon and Hisoka at Heaven’s Arena in Hunter x Hunter.
While there are many other incredible fights in this series, none really hit the same level of pure emotion and gravitas as this one. The stakes are high and the battle plays out much like a game of chess, albeit a game in which one pawn must take on the entire army. That pawn is Gon and that army is Hisoka.
Part of what makes this fight so special is that it provides catharsis and conclusion to what is a rivalry that began right at the beginning of the series. After being punched and utterly rocked by Hisoka during the Hunter Exam and being given his badge out of pity, Gon becomes obsessed with becoming strong enough to return the favour to Hisoka and in this fight he does just that.
The first major portion of the fight is comprised almost entirely of Gon trying to land even just one hit on Hisoka and with a bit of ingenuity and wit, he ultimately does, immediately returning the badge to Hisoka. The favour had been returned. But now stood in front of Gon the real challenge: actually defeating Hisoka.
What makes this fight so very remarkable in spite of its wierdness and complete subversion of your typical shonen style fight, is that although Gon ultimately loses to Hisoka, he atleast redeemed himself, so in a way he did win. It is an interesting trade off that Togashi plays out in poetic fashion.
Of course it only helps when you have a studio such as Madhouse animating the fight in exquisite detail bringing every motion to life in one of the most breathless fights ever put to animation.
Since anime first started to spread its fledgling wings, there has been one aspect that stood far above all others, at least in popularity. I speak of course of the fight sequence, the moment in which heroes and villains alike hold their convictions firm and throw everything they have forward. Though some would tell you that the true battles are ones fought through dialogue and the trial of coming to understand ones opponent, there are just sometimes when you need a good punch to start negotiations. Is it a perfect system? Probably not, but it sure as hell is a cool one. And, if we’re on the topic of cool things, I can think of no better place to focus on right now than a little series called Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
Okay, so this might not be the freshest example when it comes to the “Best Of” combat genre, but that is in no way going to slow down my love for this series and, more specifically to the point at hand, its fight scenes. However, for the sake of brevity and the fact that it is the clearest example in my mind, let us jump ahead to the final confrontation in this series; the clash between team Dai Gurren and the Anti Spiral. As you may assume, being the clash that wraps up the series, this battle is the culmination of everything that came before. Having spiralled from a boy and his drill to a tale that spanned the universe and beyond, Tengen Toppa was always a creature that revelled in its absurdity. Which is awesome. So, naturally, this stance transferred into its fight sequences and provided us with some of the most insanely over the top battles in the history of anime. Seriously, I don’t think anything that has come since has topped the sheer insanity of throwing galaxies like shuriken…galaxies people. As in that thing we all live in. It’s ridiculous, it’s utter nonsense, it’s anime condensed to its purest form…and it is glorious.
Despite the immensity and intensity born from using existence as a literal stepping stone, there is a much deeper level in the animation of this particular sequence that add much to its strength. During the extended brawl, the titular Tengen Toppa (born from a fusion of our heroes own personal mechs and their very souls) utilises a variety of weapons specific to a select few of the main cast. Though this seems like it is simply done for the sake of cool, it is an interesting process that allows us to see the strength born from the unification of our champions’ powers. Simply put, it does not feel as if the entirety of this fight rest on the protagonist’s shoulders, despite him being the strongest by leaps and bounds. He is not alone in this and the use of a gun that dwarfs space itself shows us this in spades. However, as it is one to outdo itself each and every time it can, this ideal is presented one final time in a striking climactic visual that is symbolic as it is cool. Having been born of the various iterations of Gurren throughout the series, Tengen Toppa contains within it the physical forms of its predecessors, which literally means that there is a man piloting a robot, which is piloting a larger robot, which is piloting a larger robot, which is piloting a larger robot…also the first robot is actually two robots fused together…but I digress. Throwing everything into their final strike, the heroes’ mechs are systematically destroyed, each allowing Simon (our protagonist) to force a path to the enemy. The result of this, apart from victory, is a physical representation of the journey that preceded this fight and a reminder that each successive accomplishment was a stepping stone to the next. No effort was wasted and, although some characters and powers were no longer as effective as they once were, they were never left behind and they were never forgotten.
Believe it or not however, the physicality of this fight is not what led me to choose it, rather it is the emotion behind it all and the uniqueness of the stakes. Having deigned to shut down the evolution of the universe, the Anti Spiral stand as an ominous threat to the entirety of humanity. Yet, rather than humanise them in an attempt to gain sympathy, the series strives to isolate them as an enemy that is inherently opposite to our heroes. Though plenty of villains are a simple decision away from their previous, less-than-evil selves, the Anti Spirals are a force that has trodden so far down the alternate path, that it is nigh impossible to see the light at either end of their tunnel. Though their final moments show some sense of understanding, it still comes across as an alien emotion, so close yet so far away from what our heroes feel. It’s an oddly haunting moment born amidst a sea of chaotic combat, halting even the soundtrack itself. A chilling prelude to the cheers of victory.
Before this end however, comes a plethora of speeches, doctrines, beliefs and guttural roars that plant firm and true in your mind that this is an anime fight to end all anime fights. With no true personal connection to their foe, Team Dai Gurren is 100% fighting for the survival of humanity. There are no vendettas, no plans for revenge, they simply stand as the planet’s last line of defence. To this extent, the usual anime defiance is pared down to its core and we are presented with some of the most inspiring words I’ve ever heard in an anime. Are they ultra specific to this series? Most certainly. But the atmosphere that surrounds them, the vibe that this fight channels into each and every pore leaves you with few options other than to enjoy the adrenaline high and cheer for humanity’s champions. Sure, inspiration might not be unique to this franchise, heck it’s half the reason people dig anime in the first place, but you look me in the eyes and tell me that Simon’s words don’t stoke a fire in your soul.
“MARK MY WORDS…! This drill, will open a hole in the universe. And that hole will be a path for those behind us. The dreams of those who have fallen! The hopes of those who will follow! Those two sets of dreams weave together into a double helix, drilling a path towards tomorrow! And THAT’S Tengen Toppa! That’s Gurren Lagann! My drill is the drill, that creates the HEAVENS!”
So there you have it, the mother of all fights that saved existence and still gives me chills every time I watch it. It might not have the best choreography, or the most intricate instigation, but it is the heart of anime fights brought forth. It is a clash of ideals between two sides who cannot afford to be defeated and will not falter on their paths. And what happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force? Fireworks.
Early on in Naruto’s fictional timeline there was an arc that pit young Ninja against young Ninja, regardless of ability, for the sake of gauging just how capable they are of reaching the next combat rank and joining the likes of their superiors in not only leading, but protection, and education. This arc was titled The Chunin Exams, and showcased the combat prowess of the series’ early cast of characters, with each of them given enough “page-time” to prove to audiences that they’re worth a damn, regardless of how little or how much they appeared in the manga previously. While the well-known fight against Naruto Uzumaki and Neji Hyuga is seen as the quintessential match of the arc in question, which served as an allegory teaching the audience that hard work will always overcome natural born ability, but I feel as though there was an earlier bout that did it far greater.
Earlier on in the Chunin Exam arcs the Village Hidden In The Leaves hosted a preliminary combat stage which, as you may remember, featured members of Team Dosu (Orochimaru’s entrants) that were quickly disposed of by the more-than-capable Ninjas participating in the exams. This leg of the exam period featured a heart-pounding clash that saw The Village Hidden In The Sand’s homicidal maniac Gaara face of against The Village Hidden In The Leave’s Jutsu-challenged oddball Rock Lee. It was this battle that truly highlighted the difference between those born with great ability and those with nothing that must have worked their entire life to achieve even a sliver of what their opponent now has.
As far as Shonen writing goes, this is perhaps one of the most well-written battles of all time, even to this day: Gaara, being a rotten killing machine, is slowly introduced to the audience as the enemy that Naruto will have to, eventually face…which he does, but for Rock Lee to be the first to go toe-to-toe with him, dishing out more than he took, and being the first to physically hit the guy in years is something that is, in most cases, unheard of. The battle shows a side of both fighters that, at that point in time, the audience had never seen, and thought that they never would. Rock Lee was always shown as the strange Ninja that said weird things, and did things even weirder, but during this match he was nothing but pure aggression and power, quickly proving to all those around him that, if he so chose, he could singlehanded wipe the floor with each of them. Gaara’s character development during this match was, in fact, the total opposite of Rock Lee’s: Gaara was always approached in fear, at any given moment he had proven that he would use his abilities to physically crush anyone that even looked at him the wrong way, using those same abilities to shield himself from anything his opponent could use to counter, with no-one ever successfully doing so…except for Rock Lee.
This match also ended in great tragedy with Rock Lee’s arm and leg being crushed to dust by Gaara’s sand manipulation techniques, quickly becoming the catalyst that will save the Ninjas of The Village Hidden In The Leaves by showing them that the Sand are not to be trusted with a Ninja like this in their ranks and that, to beat him, one will have to overcome his incredibly powerful ability. Naruto, who was shown keeping a close eye on the match, will one day come to face Gaara not only for the sake of the village as a whole but as somewhat revenge for ending the Shinobi career of his friend Rock Lee. Now, seeing as Rock Lee lost, you may be second guessing the lesson that this battle attempts to teach, which is that hard work pays off. Well, despite it’s ending, the moral of the story still stands strong considering the simple fact that not even Jonin level Sand Ninja could get past Gaara’s sand manipulation and Rock Lee, not having access to any Ninjutsu whatsoever, was able to run rings around him and, eventually, land a hit directly on Gaara’s cheek unshielded by his sand.
To this day, it is this battle that continues to keep me going when things in life start to get a little tough. Sure, you’ve worked yourself to the bone up until this point, and sure, maybe things havn’t quite worked out, but keep fighting forward into the future with an undying spirit and the ambition to get better, not for the world’s sake, but for your own. This is the lesson I was taught even at a young age by this fight alone, and it is one of the few reasons I, even after falling out of love with this series thanks to Shippuden, still see Naruto as a Manga pivotal to my growth in my younger years. No bad writing can take that away, not when you’ve already been exposed to the majesty of lesson-learning like this.
I’ve waited a long time to write about this, but could never find the right moment or context. Perhaps this weekly forum with my brethren is as good an opportunity I will ever get. I must have written this article a million times in my head, and now I’m actually putting it down in real worlds… so here goes… the greatest battle in anime and manga… well, according to me that is.
So far in this weekly forum I’ve mentioned Rurouni Kenshin twice, but this trifecta is perhaps the most important context within which I express why I will forever in my mind hold Rurouni Kenshin as the greatest anime and manga that ever was or ever will be. The sole reason behind it all? Even above the endearing characters and themes? Is the Kyoto (i.e. Shishio Makoto) arc.
The battle between Himura Kenshin and Shishio Makoto stands as the most symbolic and amazing battle in not just Rurouni Kenshin but in manga/anime, because it told a story like no other. You see there are battles in Rurouni Kenshin itself that are superior from a technical standpoint, Kenshin’s epic showdowns with Aoshi, his brutal near-death impromptu match with Saito, and who could forget the razor sharp precision of his duel with Sojiro? Now as technically proficient and gorgeously presented these sword battles were, they couldn’t match up to the epic grandeur of Kenshin vs Shishio.
Kenshin and Shishio were the most dangerous and influential assassins of the revolution, they were virtually identical in their prowess and sinister roles. Their lives however, took a much different course. Kenshin ended up becoming born again and embracing the era of peace the revolution brought about. Shishio on the other hand had his reasons to resent the same government he so loyally served, wishing to undo the revolution and restore Japan to its original state where he rules as god.
As much as Kenshin is the protagonist and Shishio is the antagonist, that reality only exists to us viewers, because in their world Kenshin and Shishio are two men with well justified reasons for doing what they do, for believing what they do, and fighting for what they believe is right. The difference? Kenshin stands for the future, a world where everyone has the right to live a peaceful life. Whereas Shishio is very much dedicated to the way things were: a world where the strong succeed and the weak perish. That’s his mantra, that is what the hardships of his life made him realise and believe. Is it right or wrong? Well it doesn’t have to either of those.
So when Kenshin was tasked to battle Shishio, he knew he was in an uphill losing battle. After all, how does a man (Kenshin) who has resolved never to claim another life even come close to defeating a man who believes in the survival of the fittest (Shishio)? That was the big question going into this battle. But long before that, the build up itself was something amazing, Kenshin went through a journey of soul searching and self-discovery, during which he learned the final secret technique of his sword style, but more importantly he learned that even if he couldn’t slay Shishio, his will to live was the strongest force, the value he placed on his life and on the lives of others, that will and appreciation of life alone would help Kenshin overcome anything. That was his trump card, but even then Kenshin knew it wasn’t enough.
After being built over several chapters/episodes, when Kenshin and Shishio stood in the arena face to face in the moment of truth… that scene and stare down alone gave me goosebumps, and still does. You see, this battle wasn’t even about precise swordsmanship like most duels in Rurouni Kenshin, this was about two larger than life personalities representing the battle between two eras, two beliefs… a battle that would decide the future of Japan.
So right from the get go, this battle was a slow methodologically paced epic that focused more on story and grandeur than it did on relentless back-and-forth action. Big signature moves were explained and exchanged, and shockingly Kenshin went down moments after the battle started… quite frankly he was overwhelmed by Shishio’s sheer power and the un-penetrable fortress that was his resolve and belief. Shishio’s blood lust and desire manifested as flames produced from the very tip of his blade.
Kenshin would come back into the fight, and eventually lead to the most awe-inspiring crescendo: Kenshin’s final secret move colliding head first with Shishio’s final secret sword that manifested as a tornado of burning souls. Kenshin’s biggest trump card connected… and yet… Shishio still stood up, was still stronger. How did this duel end? Well, without giving away the details, what happened was that Time and Destiny had chosen Kenshin over Shishio, Time had chosen Kenshin’s ideals because that future of peace and equality was destined to happen no matter how powerful Shishio was. Did Kenshin defeat Shishio on his own terms and power? Not at all, but what mattered that he was the one left standing when it was all said and done.
The victory was bittersweet in the end, Kenshin was broken, bruised, and scarred. In his mind, he didn’t defeat Shishio, as he too acknowledged that the sands of time had simply favoured his ideals and the future he believed in, nothing more. No battle in anime has told a story quite like this, drenched in powerful symbolism, carried by two characters with larger than life personas. It’s a once in a lifetime battle in anime, and it gives me chills no matter how many times I witness it, its implications and lessons still with me to this day.
What are some of your favourite anime or manga fights? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Next week’s topic is ‘The Mikono Effect – When One Character Ruins It All‘.