Fight scenes are practically synonymous with manga and anime. Few people can think of anime without thinking of two over-muscled men throwing energy beams and punches at each other while screaming for minutes on end.
These people are wrong, and most likely stopped paying attention to anime and manga back when Dragonball Z first came out in the west. Not only is there obviously much more to manga than fighting, but even shounen manga, the posterboys for fighting series, go beyond two muscled mastodons beating the crap out of each other.
Fight scenes in manga can range from straightforward, brutal beatings to calculated strategic encounters between two opponents. The purpose of this column is to explore the many flavors of fight scenes found in shounen manga, as well as some shoujo and seinen manga.
For many manga fans, Naruto was one of the first series they ever read. And while the series’ value is hotly debated among the various camps of manga fans, it cannot be denied that in its early run, Naruto was very different from the typical shounen battle manga. Fights were developed and executed in a much more cerebral way, making them far more interesting to read.
The most indicative of this style is in volume two, chapters twelve to fifteen—the first fight against Zabuza. The fight begins with Zabuza being set up as a serious threat, both through his actions and the words of others. He is shown as being on par with (and momentarily superior to) Kakashi, who until this point has been the strongest ninja in the series. With Kakashi (a ninja who has already bested Naruto and his team) incapacitated, the protagonists find themselves facing an opponent they cannot best physically.
So they do what they did not do when fighting Kakashi; they use teamwork and tactics. The climax of the fight involves Naruto using a complex strategy involving turning into a throwing star to get get behind Zabuza and free Kakashi.
Some might say that Naruto and Sasuke failed, as Zabuza was taken down by Kakashi in the end. And they would be correct, if not for the fact that the purpose of the fight was not to defeat Zabuza, but instead to free Kakashi so that he could defeat Zabuza. With this goal accomplished, the fight was a success for Naruto and Sasuke. And since two twelve year olds taking out an adult is ludicrous, this is essentially one of the only ways to have resolved the fight while remaining believable, or as believable as any shounen manga ever gets. Masaki Kishimoto understood his characters’ limitations, and set up a battle in which they could be victorious while still remaining true to those limitations.
The fight focuses on intelligence over brute force, and if one thinks of fight scenes as a mystery plot in which the mystery to be solved is how the opponent can be defeated, then it becomes easier to determine what makes a good fight scene. No one would ever consider a mystery story where the protagonist stumbles upon the answer rather than working it out for themselves to be a good example of the genre.
Likewise, sudden powerups only work to a fight’s detriment. What sets Naruto apart in the early chapters is that most of the fight scenes progress like the fight against Zabuza did, with focus being given to fighting tactics rather than power levels. The way opponents are defeated involves intelligent solutions more often than not, which makes the fights more intellectually stimulating than their cousins.
Derek Bown writes anime and manga reviews at Burning Lizard Studios. If you have any fight scenes from manga you want him to look at, mention them in the comments.
Sara K. saysJanuary 17, 2012 at 10:17 am
Great new column! I love me some good battle commentary!
First of all, I request that you cover Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. I don’t have any particular fight in mind, but I would love to see your take on Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. I take that back – I do have a specific fight I’d really like to see you cover: the battle that takes place inside Joseph Joestar’s brain (I forget which volume that fight takes place in, though).
I’d also love to see you cover some shojo fighting action. It would be particularly wonderful if you could cover the battle in the middle of volume 6 of Evyione: Ocean Fantasy, but it’s never been published in English, and is highly spoilerish (if you’re interested, though, I could send you digital photos of that scene – and it might be interesting to analyze a battle where you don’t know the context and don’t understand the dialogue).
And you must do some posts about sword fights. Sword fighting is my favourite form of violence-for-entertainment.
Derek Bown saysJanuary 17, 2012 at 8:04 pm
I have yet to read all the way through JoJo, so that one is definitely one I’ll keep in mind. Which series specifically does the fight in Joseph’s brain take place?
As for the Evyione, I think it would be interesting to just look at the scene and analyze it based on the pictures presented alone.
And don’t worry, there will be many sword fights ahead.
Sara K. saysJanuary 19, 2012 at 10:14 pm
The battle in Joseph’s brain happens in Stardust Crusaders. Speicifically, Volume 6 of the Viz edition (I looked it up).
When I have time, I’ll send you photos of that scene from Evyione. I am curious what somebody who doesn’t know anything about the characters and their relationships would make of that scene.
Monorum Pho saysMarch 10, 2012 at 4:33 pm
The irony of how I first saw this fight was that it was not from reading the manga but from watching the anime.
The fight was actually very well done for Naruto back in the day. It makes perfect sense to not have two twelve year olds taking on a full grown adult since I would have a real hard time trying to believe that was even possible. I never thought about fighting with a mystery element to it. But it beats just having two guys fighting each other head-on without even thinking logically.