Very popular anime meets the innate desire to see characters fight against each other or duel to death. But some shows create a niche for themselves by dedicating a lot of time to physical exchange between characters with long cuts of just hand-to-hand combat choreography.
There are countless ways to animate action that include tons of categories of animation, from walking to running, floating animation to effects work, etc. Many popular shones are characterized by bombastic displays of superhuman abilities, shown through unique and expressive effect animations and simple choreography done more especially thanks to great key animation, or Genga (原 画) in Japanese.
While many anime has good battles, there are some that go beyond creating action that borrows more from the real martial arts. The results are some of the most hyped fights found in anime. Specifically, this article covers shows or movies that consistently deliver battles with this mentality.
5 Vivy: Flourite Eye’s Song
Vivy is a love child of Wit Studio and director Shinpei Ezaki, and the anime is about an android that has the mission to make everyone happy and try to save the world. It has been lovingly referred to as Terminator but with an idol singer as the main character and the longer the show lasted, the more the action began to stand out to the viewers.
By episode 9, there were already prominent action scenes, but the ninth episode was probably what convinced many viewers who had not yet seen it to check it out. The episode’s big fight was animated by Masahiro Tokumaru who can be called a wrong genius considering their work on this show and the pilot film, seen below.
Choreography is impressive in animation because of how elaborate movement can be achieved through greater or fewer frames and still looks fantastic. The fast and frenetic movement to VivyThe fight scenes emphasize powerful kicks and androids that hit each other through walls. In this way, the sound design helps the shots land correctly, but Tokumarus’ animation goes an extra step by implementing slow motion.
Animating slow motion in the hand-drawn Genga is a complex process, and the effect seen in Vivy is not only smooth, it is edited with a noticeable warp effect. The fact that the show is animated as smoothly as it is, while preserving the detailed art design that attracted many eyes to this series, is a testament to the beauty of this production. [watch here]
When the main theme hits and Vivy starts attacking the opponent, it is impossible to ignore. Tokumaru’s work in particular is so impressive that it confuses his mind how he has not become more popular. It is a source of compliments among his peers, such as the character designer Shizue Kaneko, who said about Tokumarus’ previous work with Monster Strike film:
“Masahiro Tokumaru did the singing scene in this movie. I was impressed with his key animation, which was as thick as a dictionary.”
-Shizue Kaneko (source)
4 Jujutsu Kaisen
Many shone animated matches are based on martial arts styles in the East, as do several of the entries on this list. Naruto is a good example of an anime that, despite low points in the production, has featured some of the biggest fights in the medium. FOLDERS Jujutsu Kaisen is the latest shone to inspire awe, and the action choreography is one of the best in recent years.
Same year as Jujutsu Kaisen was sent, also directed the director, Sunghoo Park High school god for Crunchyroll Originals. Needless to say, it was a busy year, but their touch felt no less influential Kaisenwhich continued with critical acclaim for the characters, the music and of course the animation.
Jujutsu Kaisenthe cast has unique weapons, fighting styles and abilities, but when the characters get close, the fast-paced battle is a constant. Take, for example, Itadori and Todo’s iconic battle against Hanami. Not only is the choreography tight, but the use of the characters’ abilities in tandem is very clever, and creates an extra layer of excitement.
Many of the calculations used to select anime on this list have to do not only with the speed and the literal complexity within a time frame, but also the character animation that is displayed. “Character animation” mostly refers to sakuga focused on imitating movements that are lifelike or otherwise express identifiable emotions.
In episode 17 of Jujutsu Kaisen, an episode centered on many of the female characters, the battle between Maki and Miwa illustrates character through action. The use of speed bumps to slow down and emphasize expression, and the true-to-life reactions to attacks emphasize the fight. This fills the moments between battles with tons of character and gives the fight a narrative flow.
3 Mob Psycho 100
Mob psycho is remembered mainly for its bombastic and at times abstract representations of psychic abilities, which often lead to a lot of effect animation. However, the psychic fighting styles of certain characters lend themselves to more close combat. And even with characters whose styles do not, the action finds unique ways to get them involved.
Some of the most impressive choreographies and storyboards come from season 2, when a group of psychics put an opponent in the corner with teleportation ability. Equal Jujutsu Kaisenthe action takes into account each combatant’s abilities and then causes them to collide in a relentless fight where every second counts. [watch here]
One group desperately tries to do as much as a scratch on the teleporter, but all their abilities become invalid. The match has so many moving pieces to convey how important the match is, but also how serious the effort is. A lot of Mob psychotheir matches move at one kilometer per minute, but the best action scenes provide a good basis for how much planning is put into these matches.
2 Cowboy Bebop (specifically the movie)
To favor Cowboy Bebop the movie over the series may seem weird, but it is not easy. Yes, a lot of Bebophis action draws inspiration from Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do martial arts style, and the total of 26 episodes features a lot of fantastic martial arts. However, the film is all good with the show, but taken to another level.
Studio Sunrise produced the TV series back in 1998, but the film was created by the then new Studio Bones, a company created by former Sunrise executives. Bones has gained a reputation for anime with phenomenal action choreography now (Mob psycho included), but Bebop the film was somewhat transcendent.
From the opening sequence in the convenience store to the fight with Elektra, to the train fight and the last confrontation on the tower, Bebop the film never misses the action. The ways the action changes depending on the environment are also a testament to the details of the animation.
In the train battle scene, the arena is dense and claustrophobic, which requires very precise punches and catching maneuvers to do damage without getting into a turn. When they have an open area to themselves at the end of the film, on top of a huge tower, they hold nothing back. Neither did the animators, who put everything into topping the series’ action by a mile.
1 The stranger’s sword
A cult-anime classic, many may remember watching this movie’s last fight on YouTube at some point in the last decade. The stranger’s sword was an original story by Fumihiko Takayama about a Ronin who comes to protect a young boy from a militia who plans to use them in a ritual.
Masahiro Ando, animation director for Cowboy Bebop film, was to continue directing this film in 2007. It has been fondly remembered as having one of the greatest sword fights ever put into animation.
As a whole, Strangerhis loving tale of camaraderie is marked by some of the most kinetic and entertaining sword fights in an original animated film. The last battle is what most people take away from the experience, it is the culmination of an entire film waiting for the main character to take off his sword.
What really makes this fight a cut above is that it was key animated by one man: Yutaka Nakamura. Nakamura’s name is well known in sakuga circles where his work on Studio Bones anime has been praised endlessly, but this fight was many’s first exposure to his work. A two minute long cut with brilliant sword play set against Naoki Sato’s triumphant original score.
This fight and this movie is a big reason why many fans of anime became interested in sakuga and the creative process behind the medium. Entire communities have formed over a shared passion for dissecting anime like the ones on this list, finding out who worked with them and giving credit where it should.
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