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The Art of Mortal Kombat

May 9, 2010

I’ve done a dirty, shameful thing recently. I bought a whole bunch of Gundam because they were on clearance. Not just that, but because of my foul, filthy purchase, I went and checked out some Gundam fight clips. I saw a bunch of them, such as OO Gundam vs Reborn Gundam and the follow-up Exia vs O Gundam. I even went so far as to watch the Wing vs Epyon fight.

And they all sucked.

Which brings me to the meat of this rant.

Watching those Gundam battles was an exercise in morbid masochism. They exemplified all that’s wrong with battles. Don’t get me wrong, they were well animated with lots of flying and even a little dodging. OO Gundam vs Reborn Gundam was the best of the bunch. But for all the screaming and dramatic camera angles, they had about as much substance as a Michael Bay film. Which is to say, none.

The problem wasn’t the animation. It wasn’t that there wasn’t activity on the screen. But the flow and consequence was about on par with the 2007 Megatron vs Optimus battle in Bay’s Transformers. Essentially, the problem I had with those fights was a lack of effective build up.

The fights I saw basically ended with one hit at the end. It didn’t really matter what had transpired before that. It didn’t matter if the good guy’s Gundam had it’s arms and legs blown off and his cockpit was compromised. He just had to get one shot in, one stab with his beam saber, and poof, he won. I understand that it’s very dramatic to have the hero beaten down and then win via a dramatic one hit KO, but while it is indeed dramatic, it’s also not good.

Because it makes no flippin’ sense that the enemy’s mech, which is supposed to be on par or greater than the hero’s, which is also more or less undamaged up to that point, to go down to just one shot. And not even necessarily a good one. Sometimes a grazing shot’s all that’s needed. The whole “real robot” argument doesn’t work because if that’s the case, the hero’s damaged mech should have exploded long ago.

This leads me to one of the best fight moments in anime. Airmaster vs Number 1, in the final Airmaster ep. Here’s what happened. Airmaster has been having a rough and tumble against this guy for quite awhile. She got some good hits in, but it’s obvious that they haven’t done any real damage. At the end of the fight, Airmaster finally gets one beautifully executed, perfect kick in… then she gets punched in the face and the series ends with her loss.

While not my favorite Airmaster fight, in retrospect, that ending was just a thing of beauty. The last time I saw something like that was back in 1990, when Stephen Chow took on Jimmy White in Legend of the Dragon. In that movie, Stephen was a snooker playing prodigy who was forced to play against world class snooker player, Jimmy White (played by world class snooker player, Jimmy White). For several frames, Jimmy’s been dominating the match. Chow wasn’t able to score a single point due to the pressure of knowing that his family’s land was being used as stakes in the game.

Finally, Chow was able to overcome his jitters and he ported a single red ball (1 point). It was beautiful. There was slow motion and dramatic angles and all that cool jive. When Chow scored that single point, he and his family exploded into celebration… until the bad guys noted that it was just 1 point and that they were still losing badly.

FYI, Chow gets back in the game and managed a comeback win and everyone lived happily ever after.

But the point is, the idea of a one hit comeback KO is usually ridiculous in the context of a fictional battle. Sure, it happens in real life. Look at Mike Tyson vs Francis Botha. But that’s real life. Fiction has to make sense.

For the most part, the one hit comeback KO doesn’t work in fiction because there hasn’t been proper build up. And that’s my beef with a lot of fictional fights. It’s the lack of proper build up. Build up doesn’t have to be something that’s done on the fly. It can be something that’s established early on. Take Rurouni Kenshin for instance. It’s been established early on that Kenshin has an overpowered one hit KO move. Thanks to the sacrifice of all those otherwise worthless mooks, we have a proper basis to believe that Kenshin can turn any fight around with one successful slash of his sword.

On the flip side, a fight that drags on and on with hundreds of punches thrown doesn’t mean it’s a good fight. Take for instance the anime version of Hajime no Ippo. In the manga, they make a big deal out of Ippo’s punching power and almost every punch is given significance. But in the anime, everyone is throwing out punches like they’re Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star and the punches look like they have no effect at all. And then Ippo’s opponent just keels over for some unexplained reason. The worst case has got to be Ippo vs Hayami match. Hayami was one of Ippo’s tougher fights in the manga, but since his gimmick is that he could deliver bursts of high speed punches, this is completely unadaptable to the anime. As a result, the Hayami fight is skimmed over without Hayami going down like some damn punk.

In all fairness, the newer Hajime no Ippo series tend to have a better balance between fast paced action vs exposition.

So in conclusion, because this rant isn’t going anywhere… Gundam fights tend to be pretty bad, but if you want to watch how to do fights right, watch Air Master. Heck, watch Gun X Sword or Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann for good mech fights. Or catch a clip of the 1986 Optimus Prime vs Megatron fight.

A proper fictional fight isn’t one where someone wins or loses. It isn’t about being over in a flash or being dragged out. It isn’t about the drama or whether someone dies or not. A good fictional fight merely has to have you NOT go “WTF? That doesn’t actually make sense in the context of the fictional world. Laaaaaaaaaaaaaame!“.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 9, 2010 1:55 AM

    >But that’s real life. Fiction has to make sense.
    What?

    I do agree, though. It always bothers me when a main character effortlessly takes down a bunch of grunts, in a decently paced battle, only to have his/her ass swiftly handed to him/her by the grunts’ boss.

  2. Landon permalink*
    May 9, 2010 10:02 AM

    Yeah, far too often a fight ends with the hero winning for the simple fact that the hero has to win. It isn’t because the hero was a better fighter, or because the villain fucked up, or because the hero cheated or got help, or any sort of plot-based reason. The hero wins because, meta-speaking, he has to win.

    Unless this is some sort of self-aware story where that sort of thing is intentional, such endings usually suck.

    Funny enough, I don’t mind the situation KING mentioned above where the villain does the exact same thing. Then again, I like to root for the villain. I’m evil like that.

  3. May 9, 2010 10:13 AM

    Yeah, what Landon said. Villain bosses getting the win after the mooks do battle is usually fine, as the mooks are but extensions of the bosses, who are higher level in any case. Although some series do manage to fail even this simple formula.

  4. May 9, 2010 9:11 PM

    For good duels, check out Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, also Char’s Counterattack, also 08th MS Team.

    For amazing duels, see Macross Zero, and Macross Plus.

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