Fighting and anime are like peanut butter and jelly and the two have been together practically since the medium’s inception, but older fans may notice that anime today don’t give fight scenes the same weight they once did. Even when the current industry puts a lot of resources in fight animation and choreography, these battles tend to not be given a lot of screen time, and that’s a trend that has to change.
Some of the greatest fights in anime are really long, like really, really long. Joe vs Rikishi, Goku vs Frieza, Yusuke vs Toguro, Rock Lee vs Gaara, Luffy vs Lucci and so many more of anime’s greatest fights are all close to or even over an hour long in running time and for good reason. That time was spent progressing each one of those battles in a manner rarely seen outside of the medium, elevating skirmishes between boxers or ninja students to operatic levels, each one an elegant dance of clashing ideals and stylish character growth. They often capped off major story arcs, yet each could also be seen as its own self-contained narrative in a way, with a fully developed beginning, middle, and end.
When looking at the best examples of long anime fights in a vacuum, it seems preposterous to suggest the tradition should ever die out. But to be fair, long anime fights weren’t always done that well. The best ones were unforgettable because they took so much time and used it all effectively, but others used that time ineffectively thanks to poor animation, lazy choreography, and one overly long, drawn-out shot after another, all of which were pretty big mood killers. Plus, it started getting really hard to find shows without long fights for a quicker action fix. Almost all anime fans at the time were absolutely willing to accept prolonged showdowns, but variety is the spice of life and with the market oversaturated with long battles that weren’t always that good, an understandable demand for shorter action scenes was sure to follow.
Thankfully, the industry acquiesced and many great shows came about because of it. Soul Eater had bite-sized battles crammed to the brim with intricate movements, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood put a lot of creativity into bouts that rarely went longer than 5 minutes and even Dragon Ball Z—the butt of many long fight jokes—was edited into a much more truncated show with vastly shorter fight scenes in the form of Dragon Ball Z Kai. The anime industry had successfully introduced a refreshing shakeup to the status quo and for a time, everyone was happy.
But after a while, that shakeup just became its own status quo and anime has spent most of this soon-to-be-ending decade without the long, epic encounters that helped make it such a worldwide phenomenon. Shorter battles can still be exciting, but having that extra length gives an entirely different sort of thrill when done right and that’s a feeling that’s not shown up in new anime for too long.
It’s not like there’s been a lack of material that could have used this sort of approach lately, either. Hakyu Hoshin Engi was based on a member of the very same lineup of classic Shonen Jump battle manga that inspired these longer fights in the first place and yet its combat scenes are somehow even shorter than they were on the page. Tons of new worthy candidates like Black Clover have been adapted with similarly short fights as well and even Dragon Ball itself had a 131-episode TV series without a single fight that lasted more than a half hour.
That series had a much less positive reception than its predecessor and while there was a ton of good reasons for that, the fact that it took a franchise whose success was built on the back of these sorts of fights and went in a completely opposite direction was definitely one of them. Dragon Ball has a comfort zone that works really well for it and this trend made it step out of that in a way that it did not benefit from. Again, this is not to say that all Dragon Ball fights should be hours long, but as we said earlier, variety is the spice of life and going from fully following one status quo to another is not variety, it’s just a lack of variety in a different direction.
We can all still enjoy a good anime fight, but recent years haven’t seen one that’s come close to affecting otakudom like the classics of yesteryear did and we feel more than comfortable crediting the short length of modern fights for that.
The trend of shorter anime fights started off well-intentioned and refreshing, but by now, a swing of the proverbial pendulum in the opposite direction is long overdue. But what style of anime fight do you prefer? Let us know in the comments and be sure to stay posted to Honey’s Anime for more anime action.