Fight scenes are everywhere in anime but some stick with the viewer long after the closing credits. Here’s my favourite and why.
While it might be argued that fight scenes are fairly prolific and most follow a fairly routine delivery method and so there is little variation other than the animation between one anime fight sequence and another, I find that for me there are a few key ingredients to making a fight sequence that I am both thrilled by while watching and it sticks with me long after the anime has finished airing. For a fight scene to really stick the landing it does need to be technically proficient. Frantic cuts and messy effects all over the screen can’t hide lacklustre animation or characters who are going off model more often than not. However, there also needs to be a solid reason to care about the outcome of the fight and the character involved (and I don’t mean by pasting a last minute flashback in to try to suddenly elicit sympathy for an otherwise unpopular character right before they die).
Considering those two components, I’m drawn back again and again to season one of DanMachi (Is It Wrong To Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon) episode 8 which is appropriately titled ‘Argonaut’ and then depending on whether you view it on Crunchyroll or AnimeLab comes with the subtitles ‘wanting to be a hero’ (Crunchyroll) or ‘a hero’s aspiration’ (AnimeLab). Incidentally if you haven’t watched episode 8 of DanMachi, I’m going to suggest that you go watch the episode first before reading the rest of this post because there will be spoilers for the fight below. That and it is just a really cool fight that kicks off around the 9 minute mark of the episode.
I’ve also discussed this fight previously as it topped my list of favourite fight sequences involving a blade of some sort. I get there are better sword fighters out there but this scene remains a personal favourite and I’m going to break down why this scene works so well for me.
So why does the scene work?
For those who have watched DanMachi, you will know that the minotaur is a recurring enemy that Bell has to face off against. Now this isn’t a floor boss or a world destroying threat of any kind. For high level adventurers, like Ais and most of the Loki Familia, the minotaurs are just a nuisance that they kill off only to protect weaker adventurers when they venture onto the higher levels of the dungeons.
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For Bell, the Minotaur represents a major failure for him on his journey to become a hero. In the very first episode of DanMachi we see Bell running in terror from a Minotaur that had evaded the Loki Familia and entered the upper levels of the dungeons where newer and less experienced adventurers were learning their craft. He’s quickly cornered and is about to die when he is rescued by Ais. There’s trauma in this situation caused by Bell nearly losing his life before he’s accomplished his goal of becoming a hero, there’s hero worship as he sees his ideal in Ais’ cool and effective response to the threat, and there’s also general humiliation of needing to be rescued – which is further compounded later in the episode when the Loki Familia are having drinks and one of them recounts the story of the young adventurer who was pretty much covered in minotaur blood after being rescued.
While episode 8 is not a season finale and this isn’t the big-boss that Bell ultimately comes up against, bringing back a minotaur (not the same one obviously) for him to face off against when he’s a little bit stronger and yet still very inexperienced brings up a whole range of emotions and this fight has meaning for the character and for the audience.
These emotional stakes kick the sequence off as we hear the first rumbling footsteps of the Minotaur approaching Bell and his supporter Lily. It is very clear that Bell hasn’t overcome his earlier trauma involving the Minotaur given after turning to face the looming threat he freezes. It is Lily who makes the first move, diving to push Bell out of the way of the Minotaur’s opening strike and getting injured in the process.
Even then, we clearly see Bell’s fear in the first phase of this fight. He’s striking out blindly using magic and nearly obscuring his enemy to his own detriment more than once. Bell takes an early hit and his light armour is smashed leaving Bell with pretty much just his speed and agility and he’s wearing himself out fast between the injury taken from the hit and his own lack of control in the face of fear. If not for his desire to protect Lily, it is quite possible the fight would have ended fairly quickly and with the Minotaur being victorious.
However, after Lily runs away (at Bell’s behest) we enter the second stage of the fight (keep in mind this battle wraps up in the one episode so we’re not going the bloated shounen route of three episodes to power up a single attack here).
The second stage very much has Bell calming himself. He draws Hestia’s knife as well, takes a more controlled stance and we see him using the skills he’s learned in his short time training with Ais. His movements are definitely more purposeful now but he’s still barely avoiding blows that will crush him if they land. This stage really emphasises the size and power difference between the two with Bell getting pushed back as he blocks, low angle shots looking up at the Minotaur as it strikes down toward Bell, and even a number of foot stamps that Bell struggles to avoid.
Still, the audience can see how much Bell has grown in the first half of the season. While he’s still outclassed and outmatched here, he’s using everything he has to stave off death and land even small strikes against his opponent. And more importantly, while he’s still afraid, he’s not wanting to run. He’s looking for an opportunity and he’s holding on until he can find it.
That said, the fight is realistic in that eventually Bell misses his timing and is cut and then thrown. He’s down and if he wasn’t a protagonist in an action anime he’d probably be dead. It’s at that moment that the Loki Familia make their appearance and Ais moves between Bell and the Minotaur, ready to take down the threat.
For Bell, this is the worst possible outcome. To be rescued once again. To realise his own weakness once again. It is humiliating and it strikes at his own aspiration and desire. He enters the dungeon because he wants to be a hero. Heroes don’t lie on the ground while their idol rescues them from death. So by the power of grit and determination (which is almost as powerful as the power of friendship when it comes to writing anime plots) Bell gets back on his feet.
This clear link back to the opening scene, the demonstration of character growth, the purposeful motivation of the character for continuing this fight (personal stakes rather than some nebulous world-saving goal that could as easily be accomplished by another) all work together to give this fight real emotional weight. The fact that each stage is well choreographed to show exactly Bell’s mental state just elevates the entire sequence to something that, for those invested in the series, becomes impossible to look away from.
When you combine the smart narrative choices with solid visual work and direction, and toss in a beautifully thought out sound design, moving from the ominous footsteps, to the sword scraping, to the slow build-up until we get to Bell’s battle song essentially by the final stage of the fight as well as the ringing sounds of the blades, the breath and roar of the Minotaur and Bell’s own thoughts and movements, you get a sequence that really carries the viewer into the moment. And what a moment it is.
The final phase of this fight is one where the Loki Familia stand in for the audience, watching this rookie adventurer taking on a superior foe and actually getting the upper-hand. They are awe-struck and mesmerised even as they see the flaws in Bell’s assault, they respect the effort and that even as the fight progresses he’s finding new strength.
At the close of the battle, as Bell stands completely drained of magic and energy, there’s a real sense that something amazing has occurred and the audience cheers for Bell even as we too want to know what has changed with his status after that momentous feat.
Everything about this fight works for those invested in the series and even for those who go in without liking the character or much knowledge of the story, will definitely find that there’s a real thrill in watching this fight. That’s why even after so many other anime and so many anime fight sequences, I always remember DanMachi and Bell vs the Minotaur. This is one fight that deserves to be remembered and is a truly excellent anime moment.
Images in this article from:
- Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon. Dir. Y Yamakawa. J.C. Staff. 2015
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