Hey again! Thanksgiving is literally just around the corner, but I know not everyone is able to enjoy the holiday, so I won’t dwell too long on it. I’m personally lukewarm on it, but I know some people don’t have a good family environment that can really take away from the spirit of the holiday. Some holidays also remind others of painful life events, and others with severe social anxiety also dread going to large gatherings. Therefore I’m honestly thankful I have a good family that I enjoy being around as well as the blessing of a good mental state that allows me to appreciate it. Sorry if that’s a bit much for this light-hearted post about anime characters beating each other up, but I think it’s important for people to know it’s okay if you don’t celebrate or do anything big for any holiday, be it Thanksgiving, Christmas or any other one for that matter. One last Thanksgiving related note is that I’m genuinely quite thankful for both the opportunity to write these articles and expand my skill as a creative, as well as for all of you that help give my humble attempts to speak out into the ether some meaning. So truly, thank you for being here, and I hope you’ll be here for many more years to come. With all that said, let’s get back to the list!
#5: All Might vs. Nomu
Visual Stimulus– 8
Plus Ultra!– 8
I won’t lie, this one is a personal favorite of mine. Season one did a lot of great work setting up the series for success, and this fight is the pinnacle of all the groundwork they laid. Rarely do you see early fights in an ongoing series that are this good when compared to later ones, but this one does a good job standing out. Narratively speaking the stakes are moderately high, as if All Might fails not only will he die, but likely several of the students. It’s also an assault on his status as the ‘Symbol of Peace’, for his failure would shatter that image. Nothing as world shaping as some other fights but there’s definite weight behind this fight and the outcomes implications. This fight has a lot to live up to as well as the first true showing of All Might battling a villain he doesn’t just completely outclass.
As far as choreography goes this fight is beautiful in a lot of ways that you might not realize on your initial viewing. Many times when we see fast characters the fights make them appear to be fighting at regular speed so we can understand what’s happening better. This is true here, however there are a lot of cool details that help remind us just how fast this fight is happening, as well as showcasing All Might’s incredible speed. Before the fight starts we see Shigaraki, who has already had some pretty impressive speed feats of his own such as blitzing Deku before he could react, running towards the kids for several seconds. However in the span of a second he and the Nomu rush up to each other and if you look carefully you can see they each covered as much distance as Shigaraki did in his sprint in 1/5 of the time (in the gif Shigaraki is just behind the Nomu).
We also see at one point All Might throwing the Nomu into the ground from up high, lands next to him and sends him flying with a full charge punch all while the Nomu is still bouncing from the initial toss. It’s details like this that help make this feel as impactful as it’s characters set it up to be. Another great factor that plays a part beyond just spectacle is the strength of their clash creating shockwaves that send the other characters flying away, preventing any interference.
For characterization this does a great job solidifying everything we’ve been told about All Might. He’s absurdly strong, heroic, self-sacrificing and tenacious here. I also love that it showed All Might trying to fight cleverly rather than simply brute forcing it, at least initially. It makes sense when you think about it too, since he was already at his daily limit going into this fight and wanted to resolve the matter as efficiently as possible. This ends up characterizing both All Might as well as the villains, for they have clever solutions to his techniques that help make them more credible as foes. When All Might tries to bury the Nomu with a suplex to stop its movement, Kurogiri uses his portal making power to pop the Nomu back up near All Might’s weak spot. This is also the first time we’ve ever seen All Might without his signature smile and it lets us see just how scary mad All Might is. Shigaraki also shows up with hundreds of villains that he has no qualms using and discarding to get what he wants which shows his ruthlessness, and he does manage to figure out Eraser Head’s weakness too. What holds this back from a perfect score is that the only character that has perfect characterization here is All Might, the villains have decent characterization but it’s a far cry from what this show has to offer in this category, especially for Kurogiri who is essentially a polite but otherwise generic ‘yes man’ for Shigaraki.
As for shortcomings of the fight there are only minor issues: like I’ve mentioned in other entries the only reason this awesome fight isn’t higher is that other fights are even better. The villains are serviceable but nothing noteworthy here character wise. I respect seeing Shigaraki’s growth as a villain that parallels Deku’s growth as a hero, and his later feats provide a contrast by his lackluster showcasing here. I genuinely appreciate the groundwork laid, however it still means strictly speaking he’s a bit lacking for this fight. Kurogiri is also just a generic subservient minion here, and while Nomu is terrifying he’s also (by design) without personality or any interesting character traits. Kurogiri is also quite ambiguous as to how much we’re supposed to fear his presence. On the one hand he easily overpowers Thirteen, but on the other he’s easily overpowered repeatedly by the students. We don’t have any idea what he could do with his quirk other than displacement, coupled with the fact that he isn’t able to use his quirk during the fight because ‘he can’t get near them’, it contradicts some of the ways we’ve seen his power be used.
Lastly I need to point out that this is literally the moment that showed us what ‘Plus Ultra’ means and why it’s more than a simple catch phrase, so it had to get a high score in the Plus Ultra category. It’s also a fight that I can re-watch a dozen times and still feel just as pumped as I did my first time viewing it. It has a soft spot for me and does exactly what it set out to, and I’ll always appreciate what this fight adds to the story.
#4: Deku vs. Bakugo Round 2
Visual Stimulus– 9
Plus Ultra!– 8
Now I know I say all these fights are beautiful, but damn is the animation in this fight superb. It’s fluid, stylized, fast paced but clearly presented so we can follow along. So often you see shaky camera’s and blurry focus to cover up for shortcomings and make fights appear faster and more intense, but this fight takes the exact opposite approach and presents everything in so much clarity that you can feel the speed and power behind their movements. Just like how the combatants give their opponent no time to breath before they launch their next attack, their are no pauses in this battle.
Animation isn’t the only way to make a fight beautiful, Narrative and Characterization play a part as well, and this fight doesn’t slack off in these categories. These are some of the rawest emotions we’ve seen these characters experience. Bakugo’s actions initially appear to just be more of his usual angry shenanigans, but as his frustrations boil over that falls by the way side with him finally cracking his aggressive front and showing us just how much he’s hurting emotionally. He feels responsible for All Might’s retirement even though he’s the person he aspires to be like the most, and these issues are compounded by the fact that All Might and Deku are so close. Deku’s also has great characterization here. He initially refuses to fight because he sees no purpose to do so, but after Bakugo pours his heart out he realizes just how bad Bakugo is hurting. That he’s full of emotions and this is the only way he knows how to deal with them. Even though Deku knows it’s against the rules and it’s stupid, he fights him because he feels partially responsible for how Bakugo is feeling. He also admits the truth to why he was always following Bakugo around. That he was amazing and, while All Might greatly inspired Deku, Bakugo was a source of inspiration directly in his life. I also love that Bakugo takes responsibility for starting the fight immediately afterwards when Aizawa questions them, he doesn’t use excuses or try and pin it on Deku and it’s a good show of his character.
While the stakes of this fight are about as low as it gets on paper, the Narrative that sets up this fight and the payoff for its outcome offset this greatly. This fight is something that came naturally from the events that happened in the story as well as the emotional baggage that followed. Not to mention battles between rivals always have hype surrounding them. Deku and Bakugo have such a strange relationship that defies typical conventions of rivalries, because at this point in time it’s entirely still a one sided rivalry. In his attempts to preserve his self image Bakugo has refused to acknowledge Deku as a rival, however this battle changes all of that. It also has a big narrative weight involving Bakugo figuring out the secret of One For All and being the only person Deku can discuss it with.
A big part of what sells this fight for me is the voice acting. Both before and during the fight there’s some really potent emotions being conveyed expertly by both characters but especially Bakugo. I also like the protagonist losing this fight but it still having a positive outcome for him with their newfound ‘rivalry’ forming afterwards. The only real shortcoming this fight has as far as execution goes is the ending feels a bit too sudden and out of left field. I remember watching it thinking “wait, it’s over”, and Deku sort of just does nothing at the end, it feels out of place for the character. I get he’s pinned down but he doesn’t even attempt to struggle or break free. Otherwise this fight is an easy contender for top five and more than earns its place here.
#3: Iida, Deku and Todoroki vs. Hero Killer Stain
Visual Stimulus– 8
Plus Ultra!– 8
This fight was an instant classic when it aired, and I remember tons of discussions popping up on social media and forums about whether or not Stain was in the right. One thing that really sets this fight apart from several other clashes with villains is that this is a villain who believe whole-heartedly that his cause is just, and whose actions have caused some ‘good’. Stain believes that the idea of the commercialized hero has destroyed what it means to really be heroic. That people that pose as heroes for a camera to get their paycheck are detestable frauds that must be purged if true heroes are ever to see a return. He travels across the country killing ‘fake’ heroes and maiming others to spread his message. He will purge several in one city before moving on, and his methods have lead to a decrease in crime in the areas he’s been active in, as brutal as they may be.
One of the things that makes this fight so interesting is how it’s essentially divided into several smaller fights that span over its total length. Iida, Deku and Todoroki all have one on one fights with him over the course of the fight, and they all feel dynamically quite different. This is also the first case where we see someone who’s extremely powerful without a strong quirk. While in theory a power that paralyzes someone is strong, the fact that he has to lick their blood and that its duration varies depending on blood type makes it notably less potent than if he had simply poisoned all of his blades. Yet despite that he’s still one of the strongest combatants we’ve seen yet. He’s someone who routinely battles people that ‘outmatch’ his power and come out on top and it shows. There’s a lot of strategy at play here, mostly coming from Stain, but it keeps every attack launched in the fight fresh.
Narratively this fight has some pretty large implications to the world of MHA. Footage of Stains convictions ends up spreading like wildfire and causes villains to flock to his ideals. This changes the League of Villains and the world at large quite a bit, however it’s more so happenstance and luck that causes this massive of a narrative shift rather than the fight having that reach naturally like it did with AM vs AFO. It also has some major implications for the character arcs of the three students going forward as they face the consequences of their actions, both good and bad. Of course the philosophical clash is at play here too.
All the characters presented here (aside from Native) also have a good portrayal of their characters, albeit usually more one-dimensionally than in other battles. Iida overcome with rage and hatred for the man that crippled his brother is a powerful driving factor that also brings light to one of the difficulties of being a hero. That you can’t let your emotions sway your judgement. He’s so blinded by his desire for revenge here that he doesn’t even notice that stain had already injured someone and he tries to convince Deku and Todoroki to leave this fight alone because it has nothing to do with him. As someone who’s best friend is my older brother I can sympathize greatly with what Iida is feeling here and wonder if I’d have done any differently than him. Todoroki is only here because he already overcame trauma, and while this is a big moment as a sort of first step for him it’s otherwise rather plain. Deku is also proving once again that he has the making of a true hero, only fighting Stain head on when he realizes there’s no other way to save the others. Stain’s acknowledgement of this is also an almost cathartic feeling for the audience as Deku is recognized as a true hero by Stain to the point that he even saves his life after the fight. It probably goes without saying but Stain is portrayed flawlessly here. This is our main scene to understand this character, and we do so completely to the point of even somewhat rooting for him by the end.
This show is also an expert in subverting expectations in interesting ways. Todoroki arriving and declaring backup is on the way immediately shifts the goalpost to something much more plausible. Rather than defeating Stain they just have to hold out now. It creates a clear expectation for how the fight will end that is then immediately subverted when they managed to knock Stain out due in large part to his recklessness. The fact that the cavalry was on the way saw him act rashly to try and kill the ‘fakes’ fast and left him open for a big attack from the trio. The last thing I wanna touch on here is that this has one of my favorite voice lines ever. Tenya Iida is one of my three favorite characters, I’m sure partially due to his V.A. J Michael Tatum being my favorite voice actor. His delivery of ‘RECIPRO EXTEND’ at the end of the fight sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it.
#2: Todoroki vs. Deku
Visual Stimulus– 8
Plus Ultra!– 8
This is the rare instance of a fight Deku takes a part in that I wouldn’t consider ‘his’ fight, hence him coming second in the title. Todoroki has been presented as the far and away scariest student of class 1-A. He got into UA off of recommendations, effortlessly won his training match in seconds, did serious damage to the menacing Nomu discussed earlier and effortlessly defeated a swath of massive robots in a single move. In his match against Hanta Sero (underrated btw) he lost his cool (ironic) and created an ice wall so massive it blocked out the sun. Moreso than perhaps any other fight, you wonder how the hell is Deku gonna do anything against this opponent. What’s craziest about all this too as that this fight marks the beginning of Todoroki’s journey as a hero, not the midway point that you’d expect from these showcasing. Because in spite all his power, he’s held himself back mentally and physically from reaching his full potential out of spite for his father, and this makes up the major component for the interesting conflict that transpires throughout this fight. It’s only after, when he starts to overcome his trauma, that he truly begins unlocking his full potential.
Visually there isn’t a ton of choreography at play here, but the animation is so fluid and beautiful, and the psychological aspect of the battle more than make up for the lack of fists exchanged. It’s a brutal endurance match that’s accompanied with stunning visuals, but it’s not what carries this fight. Deku is trying to analyze his opponent who up until this point has never had a long enough fight to analyze a fighting style, and he has to do it whilst defending from his onslaught of potent ice attacks. Todoroki doesn’t just sit back the whole time either, he strategically gets in close to make his attacks more potent and harder to dodge. All that said, if not for the visuals this would probably only be at a 6 or so. Seriously, this animation is clean.
Narratively speaking this fight has relatively low stakes that still end up having some of the biggest effects on the story going forward. Todoroki was bred to surpass All Might. Todoroki recognizes that Deku is somehow tied to AM (though is hilariously incorrect on his idea how) and this has decided that he has to crush him. Deku was also instructed by AM to proudly tell the world “I am here” and make a good showing for himself as his eventual successor. This pushes them both even harder to win their match, however as the match goes on Deku realizes something he can’t ignore about his opponent. That he’s not using his full power, and thus Deku sets out to make Todoroki see the error in his ways. That he won’t give his all and still makes claims at being good enough in being a hero is insulting to his classmates working to reach that goal and to himself.
The philosophical battle that is waged alongside the physical one is what makes this fight so engaging. I’ve talked at length about it in my article here, but put simply Deku is trying to make Todoroki realize that he’s free to decide what to do with the power he was born with, and the closer he gets to achieving that goal and winning the philosophical battle, the further he gets from winning the physical one. If all Deku cared about was winning the battle he likely would have, but it’s not who he is. He can’t see someone in need and do nothing, even at great personal cost, and it’s what makes this fight so interesting and compelling. I also mentioned in my #3 entry how this show is great at subverting expectations, and this is another great example. It’s unheard of for the MC to lose the big battle during a tournament arc, but the fight and story surrounding it is constructed in such a seamless way that it would be insulting for Deku to convince Todoroki to stop holding back and still end up beating him.
#1: Lemillion vs. Overhaul
Visual Stimulus– 9
Plus Ultra!– 9
You may have noticed that this fight is tied with the #2 slot for points. That begs the question, what makes this fight take the #1 spot? To be completely honest the ultimate decider here was the ‘Plus Ultra‘ factor, or in other words admitted bias. I ultimately enjoy this fight more for many reasons that I’ll be discussing and that’s what gives it the edge for me. I’d also like to address the elephant in the room that this being here means ‘Deku vs. Overhaul’ didn’t make my top 10. To briefly summarize my thoughts, the tension in the fight between ‘Deku vs. Overhaul’ is practically non-existent, and there isn’t really any strategy happening. Overhaul completely outclasses Deku initially, then Deku gets Eri and completely outclasses Overhaul. It’s a cool moment to see Deku at 100% but that’s about it for me. Back to this fight though…
Visually speaking a lot more interesting choreography happens in this fight than my #2 pick. Deku spends a majority of that fight just smashing Todoroki’s ice, whereas here we get to see Lemillion (Mirio) and Overhaul both make expert use of their quirk. Overhaul’s ability to turn the environment into a danger makes him a terrifying foe, and a single touch from him is enough to kill even the sturdiest of foes. Mirio’s quirk allowing him to selectively phase parts of his body would normally be a hard counter to this, but Mirio isn’t here just to defeat the villain: He’s here to save Eri. What makes this fight so tense is that on top of the terrifying things Overhaul can do, he’s also willing to kill Eri to defeat Mirio since his quirk lets him revive her if he acts quick enough. It puts Mirio at an extreme disadvantage as he has to not only evade Overhaul and his minions attacks, but keep Eri safe while he’s doing it. We really get to see here why Aizawa considers Mirio the closest to the #1 spot including all the pros here as he expertly predicts Overhauls moves back to back in order to hold an edge for him. Even when Mirio gets hit with a quirk erasing bullet when protecting Eri, he still keeps fighting and manages to keep Eri safe long enough for backup to arrive.
Narratively speaking this fight would be much higher rated if it wasn’t for the fact that the impact of Deku’s match overshadows this one, but it’s still a really important point in the story. Without Mirio’s actions here slowing Overhaul down it’s quite likely he’d escape with Eri, and since he’s perfected his ‘quirk erasing’ bullet that would have irreparable consequences on the hero society going forward. It’s also Eri’s first real showing of the brighter sides of the world that Heroes represent, as her whole life has been torture up to this point. The first step to her living a normal life again is her believing she’s worthy of living one, that she’s not a cursed being that hurts others, and Mirio tells and shows her that. Hearing about all the awful things that Overhaul has done to Eri makes us want to see him get his ass kicked.
The characterization here is superb. Lemillion’s self sacrifice and refusal to give up, as well as assure Eri that everything will be alright even as he loses everything he’s built his dream on is so heartwarming yet tragic. Overhaul is also presented as despicable but with a twisted sense of self-righteousness thrown in the mix. He believes quirks have infected society, so views the vile acts he’s taking as inconsequential when compared to his ultimate goal of destroying hero society to restore balance to this sick world. He’s hate-able but has clear reasons for acting and thinking the way he does, rather than the little presented about All For One. His minions are also given good motivations and screen time here. One villains quirk lets him force people to speak the truth when he talks to them and Overhaul told him it would be reassuring to have him there, and he ended up developing an extreme ego about how he’s Overhaul’s most important servant because ‘those were his true feelings’. The villains ultimately ‘beating’ Mirio due to taking advantage of his desire to protect Eri is also great, as the villain legitimately shoots at Eri in order to hit Mirio, since if he phases through the bullet it’ll hit her instead.
As for Plus Ultra factors this fight is loaded with them. This fight gets me so emotionally charged every time I watch it, and the voice acting is stellar (especially Mirio’s). Mirio was a character I admittedly disliked due to it feeling like he was just showing off when he fought class 1-A. That plus the fact that at the time there were tons of threads saying Mirio should have taken Deku’s spot and that the story would be better off without Deku (who is my favorite MH character) made me want to dislike him as a character subconsciously to prove them wrong. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I ended up loving Mirio, and this fight is a HUGE reason as to why. Seeing him fight on for Eri’s sake even when he loses the Quirk he spent his whole life trying to master is really inspiring and tugs at my heart strings. The only issue with this fight is that it’s too short, with the ending being more of a slideshow. However that doesn’t take away from how high quality every second of this short fight is, and that’s why it’s my #1.
And… that’s a wrap! I hope you liked the list, and I hope it got you thinking about your own placements. Any big disagreements? Any other shows you’d want me to cover? Let me know in the comments! I hope you have a good week, and get lots of food in your stomachs! Until then, thank you guys for reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed, and stay healthy!