Combat Mechanics: What has the Greatest Battles Ever?

Today I feel like analysing something. Having just read volume 23 of Hunter x Hunter in which the various characters fight using their Nen powers, I realised one thing. Yoshihiro Togashi may be a lazy piece of crap with horrible art, but his logical intelligence is probably the highest of all living mangaka. Hunter x Hunter continues drawing the fans, even if the art is frequently backgroundless, without shading, and little more than sketches at times. How?? Through meticulously planned battles, tactics, rules etc that make every battle completely different and strategic in nature. A stark contrast to Bleach’s style over substance type of fights.

Bleach’s brute force battles have its perks too. There isn’t a need to stress your mind, you can just sit back and enjoy what is basically "My daddy is bigger than you." And those are some powerful daddies with cool Japanese names.

Damn It’s Another 1 v 1!
Think of battles like a dance, they need to be choreographed by the mangaka/anime staff. And hence it’s mostly 1 v 1s as any number above that will result in exponantial difficulty in planning. You’ll just get the ol’ big powerful guy beats down small guys that attack one at a time scene if done incorrectly. Tag team battles have synergy between teammates and this adds a lot of dimensions to the battle making it a lot more interesting.

Why Hunter x Hunter has the Best Combat Mechanics
 I shall just explain why Hunter x Hunter has the greatest fighting sequences in the history of manga. All the following paras are points of their own.  I could probably come up with more if I tried.

They have to practise, rehearse their group attacks. Killua and Gon actually spend weeks drilling themselves on the plan of action before an attack on a stronger enemy. When they attack, they don’t do the Naruto Rush, but everything is set with a gameplan.

Everyone’s power has a fixed set of rules to prevent the irritating wildcard system. A battle in Hunter x Hunter is like a game of chess. Each character thinks up several possibilities and analyses them to find out the best course of action. And these are all very logical choices.

The very rigid terms of using Nen means there is a lot of room for strategic exploitation. And all this will leave you nodding with agreement at the sheer faultless logic involved. A concrete example. A cheetah beast fights a guy with a big pipe and smoke attack. The cheetah is inexperienced and rash but he can run at light speed. He trains up a power, "Those he tags will be transported along with him to another dimension the size of a baseball field. In 8 hours, the tagged guy has to touch the cheetah." The cheetah with its pure pace thinks it can’t lose. But the guy knows that with 8 hours, the key to defeating him isn’t about speed but rather patience. So he just sits back and sleeps for 5 hours while the cheetah nervously paces around. What happens next is basically classic Shikamaru style entrapment – doing a long flank with a smoke rope and binding the cheetah’s legs. Not the best fight but I remember it clearly as I just read it.

Nen is a concept that is very richly developed. WIth six different main types of Nen, each has its strengths and weaknesses. Every Nen user belongs to one type,and can then develop his own special skill from the base set of skills. There’s stuff like a guy throws a punch with 50% of his Nen focused on his fist, and the other 50% used for defence all over his body. The receiver then has to judge exactly how much Nen the puncher is using and deflect it with the equal amount. Any more would be wastage that could be used for counters, and any less = damage suffered.

Fleeing is often done. There’s no nonsense like "I can’t lose!! I’ll fight to the death" These guys all know that death = Game over so they try to prevent that at all costs.

The process of developing special skills is shown. Entire chapters are devoted to showing how they train. It’s not like "Oh 3 years have passed and our heroes have gained new skills". Killua gradually gains his electric ability and he can use it for so many purposes. Seniors also point out the flaws and mistakes in the less experienced ones’ moves. I’m sure someone in HxH would point out that Rasengan is pretty obvious and can be dodged by a blind man on high heels.


Finally a related picture eh.

Nobody shouts out move names except Gon. They all sneakily do it. Even Gon does it as a distraction so the enemy cannot guess which move he is going to do. As that big guy in Nadesico points out when he sees the Gekiganger 3 pilots shouting their moves, "Are their moves voice-operated? Why are they shouting?"

Mercy is not given. People die and they drop like flies. Just because a girl is cute doesn’t mean she doesn’t die. Likewise for cool guys. This makes battles all the more thrilling. You never know who’s dying next.

The strongest guys aren’t the main characters. They are in the middle range.

The power are all amazingly creative and are multi-layered. A power is like a tool. It can be used for as many situations as the imagination allows.

Information collecting and experience plays a big part. The fighters all seek to maximise their knowledge of the opponent without giving away their own abilities. This facilitates strategising on their part. The dumb ones who just rush are slaughtered. None of the main characters are dumb. Actually, no character except grunts are dumb.

A lot of tag team battles are involved. The players on each side actively work together to maximise their strengths and eliminate weaknesses. There are X number of combat possibilities with just a 1 v 1. When there’s a 2 v 2, there’s X square (or something I have forgotten my permutation) number of possibilities. HxH takes all these into account. Most mediocre battle royale sequences just look like BR on the surface, but is actually  simultaneous multiple 1 v 1s occuring. Not HxH. This is tag team at its finest.

The elements of surprise, stealth and preparation are heavily emphasised. This is in accordance with all realistic strategy books.

The first few arcs of HxH focuses less on fighting, but a lot on puzzle solving. Then as the Chimera ant arc comes into play, it’s all hard core fighting. I’m really very impressed with the perfect execution of the fights. This is only possible if the mangaka, Yoshihiro Togashi, is a genius of logic. Please read this.

The win rate of the main characters isn’t high. Gon loses A LOT of times and there’s never the usual "friend jumps out and saves" thing happening. He gets bashed hard. He only survives because the enemy finds him very cute and interesting.

Having plowed through all that, I have listed down the generic types of battles a lesser anime/manga has. Seeing how bad the competition is really makes HxH shine.,

Wildcard
One of the characters has a hidden beast or talent. He will unleash it when he is about to lose and own the previously unstoppable opponent. The fight generally is the guy with the hidden talent being pummeled till there isn’t enough space to draw more bruises. This is very common in Shounen series.

Pros

  • It is very easy to plan and draw since it’s so one dimensional.
  • Kids get really excited over it as well.
  • The trick is to not set any fixed rules before the fight, the good guy has an unknown factor that can turn the tide at an exciting moment.

Cons

  • Cliche
  • Retarded
  • More mature viewers are turned off by the predictability.


Inventory
The battlers just toss stuff out of their inventories until one guy runs out or is overwhelmed by the sheer force of one item. It’s like playing cards, essentially a pretend battle. The items in the inventory may not be a physical one but a move. Read Samurai Deeper Kyo for the perfect examples. Kyo launches an attack with a fancy name, opponent counters with another fancy name and repeat till the names get too fancy and Kyo wins. MAR is another one and it doesn’t even bother to hide this. The guy with the best arm wins. And all the good guys keep getting new ones.

Pros

  • This is again, very simple to plan, so less skilled/creative mangaka find it easy to execute.
  • Sells Products

Cons

  • What’s of difficulty is coming up with new moves that are interesting. As long as the moves are cool, the audience will not mind.
  • Repetitive and retarded

Shouting
This is quite similar to the Wildcare type battle but there is a big difference. The character need not have a hidden power but he wins through pure will and a lot of shouting. "I WILL NEVER LOSE!! I MUST PROTECT!!"

Pros

  • The easiest to plan. Just add a textbox where you feel like ending the fight.
  • Even 2 year old kids understand.

Cons

  • Illogical
  • Leaves readers feeling short-changed. Like "Wtf was that, how can he just win like that?"

One Trick Pony
Everyone here has only 1 or 2 attacks. And they are super cool ones with rich visuals. The attacks will always kill in one hit. The enemy has similar attacks but theirs always miss or deal pitiful damage. Sounds lame? But somehow its sheer predictability is its beauty. The whole episode hinges on just that one moment when the attack is launched and the enemy dies. Think Akazukin Cha Cha and her magic arrow, Sailor Moon and her Tiara, all those old robot shows etc.

Pros

  • Easy to execute
  • Viewers like a staple diet. Everyday at a certain time they tune in and see a different monster owned by the same attack.
  • Saves on animation

Cons

  • Repetitive and simplistic nature do not appeal to some.
  • Battles are short.
  • If enemy powers up, a new move must be introduced and this one better be as good as the old favourite or else…

Good Series
GATEKEEPERS!!! Shinkuu Missile and Ultra Senpu Giri have such cool names and animation, I still imagine myself doing it.

Bad Series
All the retarded Magical Girl shit out there. I’m no young girl and I think these suck.

All is not lost! We still have the following two types of good battles.

Pure Skill
This is where there’s tonnes of dodging, parrying, attacking normally, with a couple of super skills thrown in. The skills are not overpowered and are counterable. There are also Ougis, or Final Skills. Any mangaka capable of achieving this level of combat sequences will be popular.

Pros

  • Very interesting and exciting
  • Fast paced and heart-thumping
  • Makes viewers squeal in delight
  • Combines the positive attributes of other battle types well

Cons

  • Difficult to achieve.
  • A lot of effort is needed.
  • A lot of time and space too.

Realism
No one can fly, a hit draws blood and people actually sweat. Due to lack of super effects, it does not appeal to kids. Probably includes a lot of gore.

Pros

  • May need some sense of martial arts by the author
  • Different from most fights
  • Feels real
  • Readers feel involved in the fights more.

Cons

  • No supers.

Good Series
Vagabond. These guys take a whole chapter to attack once. The fight goes on in their heads. Shura no Toki is possibly another one. The overhead slam plus kick in the neck is still the coolest melee move I’ve seen.


23 Responses to “Combat Mechanics: What has the Greatest Battles Ever?”


  • Yeah, I have to agree that Togashi-sensei is a master of logic. His “Nen” battle mechanics are really a mastepiece. That’s also the reason why I love HxH, as it offers a darn good read with every fight.

    Another one to note, but to a much lesser extent would be the magic system in Mahou Sensei Negima, with the Pactio cards, shikigami and the concept of Western and Eastern magic styles (“ki” and pure magic power). Although Akamatsu-sensei isn’t exactly on the lines of Togashi-sensei, but it is still quite good.

  • …. “All the Magical Girl shit out there”? WTF? Mahou Shoujo and Shounen are like no link you know? It’s a different appreciation. Nanoha will pwn your ass and Sakura will seal it in a Clow card. Ok fine, I’m a lolicon. Whatever. But come to think of it, Eureka Seven does the same shouting sequaences too. “I WANT TO PROTECT EUREKA!” wo0t Seven Swell. But I enjoyed it anyway. At least it’s better than unleashing your ultimate attack to knead dough.

  • “All the retarded Magical Girl shit out there”

    LOL! Well, I thought Lyrical Nanoha As to have one of the coolest fighting sequences of the recent series. It manages to avoid many of the cliches you mentioned too.

  • Or to cook food, a la Mai-Otome.

    As for the magical girl series being teh suck, well, Nanoha battles are pretty skillful, IMO.

  • I thought of Nanoha but it’s only one series. It’s like saying shounen series’ battles don’t suck just because Hunter x Hunter is from JUMP.

  • But not all Mahou Shoujo’s are about battles ya? Or are they?… hmm… Now I’m confused. CCS was good too. Maybe you could rephrase to say “Most of the retarded Mahou Shoujo” instead of “All of the retarded Mahou Shoujo”.

  • There’s only one thing that I care about: yelling. The more hissatsus and ki’ais and “YUBI IPPON FURISASENAI!”s or “ZETTAI YURUSANAI!”s or “LET’S GEKIGANG IN!”s or “TEMEE NO OMOIDOORI NI WA SASENAI!”s, or “IMPOSSIBLE!” (from the villain, of course), the more boners it generates. This is also part of the reason why I love the Sakura Taisen games. The endboss battles have such insane speechifying.

    (oh, and the phrase “magical girl shit” makes the baby Honoka cry :( ).

  • tj’s getting burned for the mahou shoujo comment :O

    Anyway, Nanoha is only of the few who can pull off awesome fight scenes. The rest are merely average.

    Unless it’s DBZ,
    Gohan:ROFL I hAvE TEH 5 MILLION POWER LEVEL.
    Cell: OMFG HAX!

  • HxH is certainly the only fighting SJ style manga and anime I can look back fondly upon. That said, for me its rare to take an interest in action. Only a select few manga have action scenes I actually enjoy reading, simply because on paper they are hardly animate.

    What I like in anime battles is brief but intense bursts, such as in Utawarerumono 5 which I have just watched. I’d rather a good one on one in many cases than a mutli-layed Battle Royale because simply, as you say, its much more common to find those situations done well than it is to find a truly mutliple-factions-all-moving-simultaenously fight.

  • “It’s a different appreciation… Sakura will seal [your ass] in a Clow card. Ok fine, I’m a lolicon. Whatever.”

    Really, that’s all that’s need to be said. Not only that, she’s a princess now, too. Win for Sakura… I too follow the final part of that statement but that’s for another post.

    Anywho. I’ve had HxH at the tops of my list for a long time and this only cements its position up there. I have thought about writing about the OVAs a while back… but all I could muster was “OMG HOW COOL WAS THAT?!”.

  • OMG you know what yesterday I was dead tired from work and a lack of sleep the previous night. I got home, opened up a half written draft, and just sort of completed it in a semi-conscious state. And then I fell asleep at about 9.30 pm without watching any anime on my computer chair. Woke up cos of MSN noises, checked comments with a plate of mangoes my mum put in my hands while I was asleep, finished it, went back to sleep. I only read the completed article today morning and lol it’s pretty funny since I was too tired to think of better words and just used ambiguous words like “retarded” often. I guess that must show my true feelings towards Mahou Shoujo. I do not like it much from a combat viewpoint. I like silent lolis.

  • Some of the best realistic fight scenes in anime = Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuioku Hen (Samurai X OVA). Especially the Kenshin v. Saito battle at the end – genius. Whoever choreographed those battles was someone with a great mind…the way the fighters deflect blows and twist and turn to counter, it all creates a very real impression of battle that you don’t find in many other anime series.

    A movie with battle scenes that basically fall under the Inventory category: Advent Children. I loved the movie, but its battles are pure fluff.

    I don’t mind the mindless action of Naruto and like-minded series…sometimes…but most of the time I can’t stand a series that wastes so much of its time with overly flamboyant screaming and shouting and increasingly ridiculous super-special-finishing moves.

    Good post.

  • nooneofconsequence

    Can’t really comment on HxH, but when comes to fighting mechanics in manga I’m kinda partial towards Flame of Recca, which decently accomodates skill, strength, smarts, and genre conventions in its battles.

    If it’s more towards the presentation and choreography of fights, it’s tough to top Tenjo Tenge.

    On the anime side of things, Shadow Skill is probably the best.

    When it comes to firearms and other weapons in manga, Masmune Shirow and Kenichi Sonoda are still the best the mangaka.

  • Yup, HxH is cool that way. I’m so glad he graduated from the “Oh no I’m losing POWER UP!!!!!” school of Yu Yu Hakusho to the more intelligent and involving school of Level E and HxH.

    Another manga that’s similar (but not as good) is One Piece. Sure it depends a lot on Name Shouting, but since each person has unique abilities like those in HxH, there is far more variation and thoughts going into the battles. They have combination attacks too, though those are more for coolness than anything else. And big melee! Holy shit big melee are cool.

    Though I guess this is more in the “pure skill” classification like Naruto and Bleach than where HxH stands.

  • There’s one cliche you forgot to mention which is the ally factor. Usually allies are pretty strong at first when they first appeared but then get somewhat weaker later on during the series. The problem with allies that they don’t get the major powerups that the main characters do. If you want to see a very bad case of allied power compared to main character, look no other than Sailor Moon itself. Sailor Moon always got stronger while the other Senshi (especially the Inner Senshi) rarely get powered up. When they get an upgrade, it’s not as strong as the one that Sailor Moon gets. I want to see a series where the main characters and their allies have an even power level with each other. I don’t want to see weak allies anymore where the main character is very powerful compared to them.

  • noneofconsequence: In my original version of the post which I shortened, I actually quoted examples and went into detail for each category. Then I decided that I was sleepy and rambling so I deleted most of it and left Hunter x Hunter as the focus.

    I mentioned Shadow Skill and FoR, both of which I loved a lot. Shadowskill has one of the coolest attack skill sets of all time, while FoR appeals for unfathomable reasons. I don’t get why I like FoR so much really.

    Phoenix512: Hunter x Hunter seems to suffer from the weak ally problem as well. Only the three main characters, Gon, Killua and Kurapika level up, the rest pretty much stay there. Kurapika isn’t even a main character anymore now. But it’s not a big deal, this one. A lot of other series has this problem too like One Piece, Bleach (!!!). Bleach has it the worst. By the time Ichigo returns from Soul Society, his comrades are little more than wallflowers.

    I do not think Advent Children is in the inventory category. It’s pure skill! The only problem is the length and repetition. There’s just too many rounds of parrying and missing with NO blood at all. If Square isn’t going to give us blood, at least give us some NUMBERS. 9999 or something. lol.

  • The post was about manga, a lot of the comments about anime, and all of it about (super)humans/beasts fighting each other. I think fighting vehicles (not giant robots) pose different, maybe even greater challenges.
    My pen & paper RPG pals once tried to use real physics (albeit unlimited fuel) in a fight of 8 space ships of two sizes belonging to two parties and failed miserably.
    Animating such battles in a way the audience can follow is feat a whole genre of series tries to achieve. I want to point out Seikai no Senki (which also has other merits) with the brilliant (but most likely not new) invention of “plane space”.

  • Oh the original title of the post was “AniManga Combat Mechanics: Personnel Level Battles”. I intended to explore higher level ones in future.

    But since you mentioned it, Seikai no Senki’s battles are ok.. but I prefer Last Exile’s. Seikai’s has an interesting concept but it isn’t well represented in the anime.

  • I’m afraid, as a HxH virgin I would have to put in another vote for Nanoha being the shoujo anime that broke the rule. CCS had great potential to be a great battle anime but was really let down…

    I should do an article on it really ^_^

  • What a fucking great article.

    Yoshihiro togashi is a fucking genius. He really plans well from the start. Just like you stated.. about 6 different type of nens, and strongest against weakest, YT plans this really from the start and build it up slowly just like bringing up a baby and slowly explaining the purpose of life.

    Unlike Naruto, who comes up with some fire x earth elemental crap , ripped from Suikoden.. , and just trash it into the story at book 30 .

    YT is a genius. Hope he gets well soon and bring us more

  • Has anybody actually heard anything about him getting well enough to write something? i really mis my hxh fix.
    Oh btw, didn’t he do something very strange with nen. (similar to what kishi did with the elemental thing) Originally he explains it with the circle, wich would have meant that reinforcement types wouldn’t be able to do transformation (or not very well at least). But then when greed island starts he changed it into the graph style wich meant reinforcement 100% –> emission & transformation 75% …
    Wich completely opposes the earlier explanation. Probably because otherwise gon wouldn’t be able to do the paper attack…

  • Great article! I 100% agree on all you wrote and in fact wrote a HxH review which has similar views but alot shorter long time ago.

    I am currently drawing a HxH doujinshi , do you mind if I print the link of your article in my doujinshi?

    “Phoenix512: Hunter x Hunter seems to suffer from the weak ally problem as well.”
    I personally don’t think HxH suffer from this problem. Leo was never meant to get strong, and his goal is not to get stronger. Basically, Gon’s only ally is Killua.
    Why do most other shounen mangas suffer from this problem is because all they can do is fight fight fight, even if their goal is to get stronger , they will have to fight, follow the main character ,stay by his side and fight fight fight. Unlike HxH , all characters have different goals , that they don’t nesscarsy have to become strong. So I personally don’t really think HxH suffer from this problem, as there is just no such thing to begin with.

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