7 Heart-Pounding Swordfights
by Jacki Jing & Lynzee Loveridge,
Nothing gets my blood pumping more than watching a well-choreographed sword fight. Two people squaring off in close combat with the shing! of blades slicing into one another. Will the hero manage to complete a series of faster-than-the-eye swipes and sheath his blade with a click before his foe falls on the ground before him? That sequence gets me every single time. I'm also prone to clapping any time a fighter manages to hop atop his opponent's sword before doing a crazy back flip and cutting them down simultaneously. I'm always down for a good anime sword fight, and these are a few of my favorites from over the years.
Nanashi vs. Luo-lang (Sword of the Stranger) Perhaps I shouldn't open with a contender for the best fight of all time, but this final fight is amazing for a number of reasons, primarily because it's INTENSE and makes full use of its environment to heighten that intensity. Nanashi and his foe Luo-lang face off on the roof of a collapsing structure dusted with powdered snow. Wind blusters in the background as they spin, counter, and slide to narrowly avoid being bested by one another. The skirmish never lets up, even as the structure falls down around them. It's a major nailbiter the whole way through.
Kenshin vs. Shishio (Rurouni Kenshin) Both Kenshin and Shishio fight under their own respective 'handicaps.' It is morally imperative to Kenshin that he only fights with the dull side of his blade while his cruel foe Shishio can only fight for so long before his permanently burned body begins to break down. The second round of their fight begins after Kenshin's allies are bested one after the other by Shishio. Kenshin is injured and his opponent's body temperature is beginning to rise rapidly when Yumi essentially becomes a human shield and allows her beloved to stab through her in an attempt to best Kenshin. (It doesn't work, though.) After she passes, Shishio continues to give it his all before spontaneously combusting.
Jin vs. Mugen (Samurai Champloo) Shinichiro Watanabe's Samurai Champloo is full of stylistic anachronisms, but my favorite is Mugen's hip-hop influenced fighting style. The best way to appreciate his topsy-turvy approach to combat is to contrast it with Jin, a very traditional swordsman. The two characters first encounter one another inside a restaurant where Mugen is busy breaking a man's fingers. He overhears that Jin has skills and before anyone can catch their breath, he's pounced over in his geta, bouncing from ceiling support beams to tabletops in the hopes of getting the drop on Jin. This is another fight that makes awesome use of its environment. The characters interact logically with the objects around them to block attacks or enhance their advantages, and then everything gets set on fire.
Jubei vs. Mujuro (Ninja Scroll) Jubei faces a motley crew of assassins in Ninja Scroll, but none of the fights are as heart-pounding as when he faces the blind samurai Mujuro in a fight to the death. Mujuro is hardly slowed by his lack of sight and keeps pace with Jubei as they run through a bamboo forest. Jubei hopes to obscure Mujuro's adept sense of hearing among the stalks but Mujuro manages to turn Jubei's sight into a handicap, blinding him by reflecting light from his blade. You could argue that Jubei didn't fight fair. His accomplice Kagero is just as responsible for Mujuro's defeat as Jubei. She attempts to attack Mujuro from behind, misses, and leaves behind a dagger in a bamboo stalk. Mujuro gets the upper hand against Jubei but doesn't know the dagger is still there. He swings his sword into it, giving Jubei the opening to stab Mujuro.
Juri vs. Utena, 2nd battle (Revolutionary Girl Utena) This battle once again sees Utena face down Ohtori Academy's strongest fencer, student council member Juri. From an action standpoint, this duel is less impressive than the others on the list, but its emotional resonance is why I felt it couldn't be overlooked. Juri has developed an identity around her cynicism after being deeply wounded from the fallout of a love triangle involving herself, Shiori, and Ruka. For this fight, Juri attempts to beat Utena on a platform peppered with crashed cars. She seems to have the upper hand, but when Utena misses her rose and instead breaks the chain on her locket containing a picture of Shiori, Juri forfeits in a state of shock. There's many parallels between this fight and Juri's past duels with both Utena and Ruka that offers great insight into Juri's character as a whole. It's an emotionally devastating sequence.
Shiro vs Archer (Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works) ufotable shows off everything in its arsenal when Shiro and Archer, both dual-wielding matching blades, go head to head in a magic-infused clash. Shiro makes use of his own magic to recreate his broken weapons at a moment's notice and Archer, the more skilled of the two at this point, finds his opponent isn't as soft as he looks. For the most part, Shiro seems to be on the defensive while Archer lashes out at his idealism. Then the insert song plays, Shiro awakens his inner determination, and things get real serious. One of the best parts is the "weapon cam" as swords fly through the air and repel off one another.
Gintoki vs Takasugi (Gintama) Many might think of Gintama as a slapstick parody show, but there's a reason Gintoki is known as the "White Demon." He faces chief antagonist Shinsuke Takasugi in the anime's fourth season (2015) where the pair clash in a bloody altercation that would have blinded Gintoki if he hadn't blocked a stab to the face with his own wrist (ouch). When both parties knock each other's weapons out of their hands, things turn into a brawl of fists and feet. The whole fight is crazy good from an animation standpoint, but almost difficult to watch as the characters scrounge to stay alive.
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