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Top 5 Martial Artists of Animation

by on May 3, 2010

There have been many martial artists in animation. Some of these characters are the perfect embodiment of stealth and cunning, others wield remarkable power, and still others are remarkably skilled and look spectacularly awesome on the screen. As tough as it is to choose, the following is a list of five particularly impressive animated martial artists that have more than proven their remarkable abilities. Enjoy and let loose with what you think!

5. Spike Spiegel

Mugen’s improbable breakdancing swordplay in Samurai Champloo,
there was Spike’s martial arts in Cowboy BeBop. Spike is a user
of Jeet Kune Do, a real discipline of martial arts founded by Bruce Lee
that calls on the user to use simple, direct movements with a variety of
moves from different styles–in short, to practice a style of fighting
that defies style and is flexible “like water.” Sure, he carries a
trusty sidearm, but when things get up close and personal Spike relies
on his considerable skill and finds ways to survive. Given his
difficulty against some tougher opponents like Vicious and Vincent (in
the BeBop movie) Spike isn’t quite as superior as other martial artists
on this list, but he’s got the skill and he’s got the style. When Spike
is fighting at his best, he makes martial arts look easy–and very cool.

4. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

If nothing else, the TMNT are
arguably the most famous martial artists in animation ever since the
original 1987 cartoon. They may have arguably started out being best
known for “Cowabunga!” and Pizza rather than their fighting prowess, but much has changed since the Turtles first came to television. In the original
comic by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, they were
hardcore and took no prisoners. When their second cartoon series came
along in
2003 from 4kids, much of the fun was kept but inspiration was also taken
from the Turtles’ comic book origins. Thanks to this, they were
re-imagined in a somewhat darker and edgier context that gave their
ninja prowess
plenty of chances to show off. It certainly helped that the Turtles were
mostly opposed by villains that usually offered a serious fight,
including a much meaner and tougher version of the Shredder. This trend
continued in very underrated 2007 film TMNT, where the turtles
had plenty of slick moves and were perhaps shown at their most ninja-like: lithe, agile, skilled, and more than capable at striking lethally from the
shadows. Between all these animated adventures, the turtles have taken on opponents ranging from common thugs to monstrous threats and managed to come out on top. In their long animated history the TMNT’s ninjutsu skills have certainly been tested, and one sure wouldn’t
want to bet against them in a fight.

3. Batman

How good is Batman? He is one of the most capable
American superheroes, and he isn’t super. He is a man that pushes his
considerable talents as far as he can make them go. Interestingly
enough, the nature of Batman’s martial arts prowess has been subject to
revision over the years. In Batman: The Animated Series it
was at least clear that he had studied ninjutsu, and in most
representations that are not Superfriends his combat expertise
has been palpable. It’s probably easiest to concur with the general
consensus of comic book writers these days, which holds that Batman has studied just
about every type of martial art worth knowing and is able to effectively use their
techniques as needed. All this is fine and Batman does have plenty
of useful tools and gadgets as well, but as any serious fan would agree
Batman’s greatest skills are his wits and intelligence. Yes, there is the old cliche of Batman being able to defeat anyone given enough time to prepare, but Batman also excels at thinking on his feet and predicting what actions his foes will take next before they do them. In short, Batman excels at fighting on his terms in a way that very few do. Sun Tzu said it
best in The Art of War: “Victorious warriors win
first and then go to war, while defeated
warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

2. Kenshiro

Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star was
inspired by the examples of martial arts legend Bruce Lee and Max
Rockatansky from Mad Max, but this analogy doesn’t adequately
explain just how formidable he is. Before Dragon Ball Z, Kenshiro
was pretty much overkill personified. This man does not defeat his
opponents. He dominates them, and he mostly does it with raw strength
and his martial arts skills instead of energy blasts that blow apart the
landscape. He does this through his fictional Chinese art Hokuto
Shinken, wherein the martial artist destroys or manipulates his foe by
striking his acupressure points. Some of his abilities are powerful
enough to destroy limbs, some are actually subtle enough to affect the
nervous system and make the opponent’s body act involuntarily.
Incapacitation, decapacitation, and even gruesome outright destruction
often befall Kenshiro’s foes; no defense is safe against his
flurry of fists. Woe upon the post-apocalyptic tyrants and thugs who challenge him.

1. Son Goku

This choice might risk being cliche, and it’s certainly
tempting to think of Goku as the “Japanese Superman” and focus on his
immense strength. However, this doesn’t do the hero of the Dragon
saga justice. Throughout his many adventures, Goku was a fighter that never backed down and always put up a serious fight whether he was overmatched, equaled, or clearly superior to his opponent. He was once a youth that fought just about all of his future allies at least once, earning their friendship or at least respect in return. This could never have been accomplished with strength alone, which Goku had from the beginning of Dragon Ball. He also learned much about the art of fighting from many different teachers,
destined to surpass them all in time. In the Dragon Ball Z series, he fought an incredible variety of powerful and skilled opponents over time and proved his worth against each one time and again. Take for instance his battle against Perfect Cell, who Goku was able to hold his own against despite the villain knowing just about every technique that he and his friends did. Goku didn’t win every battle he fought, but he could be counted on to come back for more and show remarkable perseverance. For most of his life Goku was the #1 defender of his adopted home, to the point that the world of Dragon Ball would be impossible to imagine without him and what he achieved with his talents.

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