It’s Debate Day here on Trope and Dagger! Today, we’re picking sides on the greatest animated fight scene ever drawn! To read up on Andy’s quite silly proposal, go here: Spike Spiegel versus Vincent Volaju: The Best Animated Fight Scene Ever. Now, to enlighten yourself about the correct pick, my pick, read on:
I am a huge fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I’ve watched the series through several times, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Season 1 is a little slow going, but by the end is truly excellent, and the series doesn’t lose that momentum through the very end of Season 3 (the final season). While many would dismiss it as a children’s show, it deals with a lot of adult themes such as obligation, rejection, vengeance, understanding, treachery, and many more. It was a show that was ostensibly made for children, but never talked down to the audience and was accessible to people of all ages. In truth, older viewers would probably get much more from the show than the younger ones.
For instance, the character of Zuko is one of the most fully-realized characters that has ever been portrayed in any medium, much less animated.
Spoilers for Avatar: The Last Airbender ahoy!
If you haven’t watched the scene, GO AND WATCH THE ENTIRE SHOW RIGHT NOW! Seriously, the show is so good. But here’s the scene by herself:
When we’re first introduced to Prince Zuko, he’s a villain, hunting down the Avatar with every resource he has at his disposal. He is the son of the Fire Lord Ozai, the ruler of the Fire Nation, and has been banished for speaking out of turn and refusing to duel his father. His father scarred Zuko’s face and send him into exile, and Zuko has been desperately seeking the Avatar to regain his honor and return to his father’s good graces.
However, throughout the course of the show, Zuko comes to recognize the error of his ways, and befriends Avatar Aang & co., becoming Aang’s firebending master. He recognizes the evil that his father is doing and turns away from that path.
His sister, however…
Azula not only doesn’t turn away from their father’s evil path, she revels in the role she gets to play. She enjoys wanton destruction, doesn’t care about the suffering of others, and actively torments her brother Zuko, considering him weak and unworthy. However, she’s both a despicable and sympathetic character. While her nature may be cruel, with some of the proper nurturing it’s possible that it may have been tempered and she could have become a good person. However, her father instead encouraged that wicked behavior and twisted his daughter into a monstrous person. She tormented Zuko throughout their young lives, and continued into their adolescence. On top of that, she became a better fire bender than Zuko, handily being able to defeat him in combat.
So when they finally meet at the end of Season 3 and Azula challenges Zuko to an Agni Kai, you know that it’s going to be a vicious fight, their entire history as brother and sister culminating in this battle. They have literally their entire history weighing on this fight, and they both know it. So they each give it their all.
From the very first blow, with Sozin’s comet above them amplifying their powers, they are each throwing everything they have at one another. And oh my god is it fucking gorgeous. The orange and blue flame colliding is some of the best and most stunning animation that I’ve ever seen. When I’m watching this scene, I’m transfixed by how the animators were able to do so much with just two colors. While other bending in the show is visually fascinating, none is as beautiful as fire bending, and here it is on full display, and you can’t help but feast your eyes upon the spectacle.
Then there’s the amazing music that fills the scene. If you listen to the music, it’s not your typical combat accompaniment. It is much slower, much more sorrowful. The song is full of regret, just as Zuko is. He doesn’t want to have to fight his sister, but he knows that she is beyond reason at this point and that she must be stopped. It pains him that he has to hurt his family and that she can’t be stopped any other way. The sad cello (one of my favorite instruments) reflects the turmoil that Zuko feels in fighting his own family. He was able to be saved by his uncle, but Zuko can’t save his sister the way Iroh saved him, and the situation is too desperate for any other resolution. He has to take her down, for everyone’s good, including her own. It’s a tragic situation for a character who has achieved so much.
Now, this fight isn’t the longest fight. It’s very short and turns into Katara vs. Azula after Azula fights dirty. The fight between those two is excellent also, with Katara outsmarting Azula and trapping her in water before binding her arms in chains, but the real meat of the fight is Zuko vs. Azula. There’s more raw emotion, more weight, and more intensity in their short combat session that in any other fight.
I almost chose the Aang vs. Ozai fight, due to its sheer scale, but the absolute truth is that this fight is simply better. Aang vs. Ozai is very one-sided one way, then it flips and is one-sided the other way. In the Zuko-Azula Agni Kai, however, both combatants are on even, extremely powerful, footing and there is more emotion behind the blows.
In the end, Zuko and Katara emerge victorious, and we see how broken Azula really is. She can’t handle the turnout, she can’t handle what she has become, and she isn’t emotionally prepared to face that she lost. She breaks down crying and you feel sorry for her, even after everything horrible that she’s done. You see her as the scared little girl who was twisted by her father into something evil. But there’s also a small twinge of hope, as you know that Zuko, as he looks upon her, isn’t going to give up on her. He’s not their father, he’s now more Iroh than Ozai, and that is what truly makes him the victor.
I love this fight, short though it may be, and I would place it above all others in animation.
The Zuko Vs. Azula Agni Kai is the Best Animated Fight Scene Ever.
So what do you think? Was I on the money with this one, or was Andy? Sound off in our poll below!