East VS. West-Weight Physics in Anime

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Fullmetal Alchemist for the third time. Despite my current job-training situation forcing me to watch it in stages, I’ve been noticing something interesting about its attention to detail with its focus on injuries and fight sequences. True, it really isn’t too detailed when it comes to the layouts of its fights, especially compared to Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, but this show still amazes me because, despite its limitations, the fights and injuries are weighty. You feel each hit to the head, each shattering of an arm, every scrape and bruise the characters receive. I’d call this show an anomaly in that regard, but it’s something I’ve noticed with a great deal of anime.

Before anyone asks, this won’t be a “Which is better: anime, or Western animation?” piece. I’ve tried tackling that subject before, and it’s gotten me nowhere each time because both have their strengths and weaknesses. But I do want to zero-in on a specific area where I feel anime excels, notably its attention to detail in fight scenes and injuries. I say this because, with exceptions, Western animation still has yet to really master this element of immersion.

How about some examples?

We’ll begin with TV shows. After all, they’re cheaper to make, so there are more options to choose from. Anyway, in the West, a fight scene might consist of a punch or two, maybe a kick for good measure. And sure, the in-show sound effects, or foley, might create the illusion of injury, but do you see the injury? And if you do, is it that big a deal? You might get a scratch or two, or the odd trickle of blood that sneaks past the censors, but for the most part it’s not so noticeable. The character is merely implied to be injured, and if you care about him or her you’ll feel invested.

Contrast that with anime action shows. In anime, when a character is injured, you see the injury as it’s happening. The character looks hurt, the attack has real detail and weight to it. If a person is badly scratched, they look it. There’s no illusion, it’s all in the animation. And it’s far-and-away more noticeable than in the West.

Compare these two clips for measure:

The first is from Justice League Unlimited, and it’s one of my favourite fights from that show. This is an example of high-end action from the West, with real effort behind it. Notice how so much of that fight is focused on staging? The foley? The use of quick shots to indicate punches and throws? The lighting? The damage to the areas surrounding the combatants? Notice how Supergirl’s most-obvious injuries are in her clothes and not her face?

Now, let’s take a clip from an anime fight, animated and choreographed on a much smaller budget (Spoiler alert):

Ignore the laugh at the end, it was all I could really find. (Courtesy of piegoose.)

This is from Fullmetal Alchemist. And you can already see a difference here! The individual strikes come with real damage, even if they’re not serious. There’s blood. The characters look bruised. There’s staging here too, but while in the former your imagination filled in the gaps, here you have literal after-effects to look at. In the case of Supergirl, you had to imagine in your head what her pain felt like based on what little information was provided. With Mustang, he really looks hurt.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Both are high-end action shows, both have budgets behind them and both have real talents animating them. Surely not all anime is like that when compared to Western animation, right? Wrong. In the case of even casual, low-end shows, anime still wins in the “realistic damage” category. Because Western animation is usually about quick, fast-paced slapstick. The shows are aiming for humour, not realism. Factor in that most Western animation is meant for kids, and that the censors wouldn’t allow for drastic pain, and you have light injuries that can be easily recovered from.

Anime, on the other hand, isn’t like that at all. It’s a medium for people of all ages, so there’s a lot more you can get away with. Also, anime aims for a more realistic feel, which means injuries, even in cheap, dumb comedies, are that much more noticeable. A simple jab in the nose is different in both scenarios; where as Western animation would be a simple gag for laughs, anime would be an actual jab, i.e. complete with injury. You’d feel the jab and the immediate consequences of it. In other words, you’d get this:

By the way, this is considered “funny”. (Courtesy of user Dakota Beaudoin.)

It’s details like that that make anime stand out. Where as a sliced person would look like steaks in the West, in the East they’d spurt blood everywhere. Where as a cut in the West would be marked by a small trickle of red, in the East you’d get a sense of diameter, dimensions, how deep the cut is, how much blood is dripping, how recent it is, even whether or not it’s life-threatening. These are extra details that really help the experience. After all, animation is still about audience immersion at the end of the day, so anything that sells that is an asset.

Okay, what about movies? After all, the budgets are higher and the censors more lenient, so you can see the weight in injuries more, right? Well, yes…but anime still wins here. Keep in mind that, despite greater creative freedom, Western animation is still largely a kid’s medium. That’s not to say the movies aren’t adult-friendly, but for the most part it’s relatively tame. The action scenes rely a lot of staging to be believable, and even then a good chunk of the injuries are comical. Sure, you feel the weight a little more, but the difference isn’t drastic.

Anime, on the other hand, has none of these restrictions. At all. They still go the extra mile to emphasize the weight of injuries. More so, perhaps, because they can afford it now. Therefore, despite being cheaper than the West, you can see the damage much more easily.

I’ll use two of my favourite action scenes, one from each hemisphere, to demonstrate what I mean. First, the climax in The Incredibles:

Courtesy of XStats23.

And then the encounter between San and Lady Eboshi in Princess Mononoke:

The contrast is stark. Remember, the latter was made on a budget of roughly $20 million US, with the former at least 6 times that amount. And yet, you feel the weight more in the cheaper movie. I love both films, but The Incredibles relies more on timing, sound and staging to give off the illusion of pain. It’s easier to buy into the destruction of the cars and buildings than, say, Violet Parr being knocked out by the robot, or Mr. Incredible being smushed by its claw, simply because you don’t feel the damage as easily. They get hit, recover quickly and get back on their feet like nothing happened. The fight is engrossing enough to compensate, but still.

On the other hand, Princess Mononoke shows its damage and injuries. Ashitaka’s cut looks painful because it’s deep and fresh. The individual swipes of the swords and knives are finely tuned, and each clang is felt irrespective of sound. When San bites Ashitaka’s arm, you see her teeth dig in. And when Ashitaka knocks both women out-cold, you see them collapse. This is the less-detailed of the two films, but the animators took careful consideration to animate what mattered: the weight of the injuries. So while a lot of its background characters aren’t moving, I can forgive that because what’s important is present.

This is a trend I’ve noticed for animated films in general, both East and West: East is more real and heavy, West is more light and comic.

Mike screaming in pain from getting cooking spray in his eye? Light and comic.

Haku bleeding profusely from his lacerations? Real and heavy.

Nemo getting stuck in a coral shell? Light and comic.

Charles, Henri and Louie getting in a fist-fight with some locals? Okay, that’s light and comic. But their injuries are real!

There are obvious exceptions, Watership Down has some of the most graphic injuries I’ve seen in an animated movie, but in general Western animation lacks the weighty injuries that anime has. This doesn’t mean it’s inferior, it compensates in other ways, but I do wish the West had the ambition to tackle realistic injuries. Because the Avatar series has demonstrated this sort of weighty damage to be possible, even though it doesn’t exactly go all the way.

Bottom line: anime is more weighty than Western animation. (Also, Fullmetal Alchemist is really good!)


  1. You make some very good points here, and I don't think I can much dispute your overall theme. That being said, I do think there are times when Western animated efforts are doing the right thing for their product by giving the violence less "weight". You allude to the comedic overtones in much Western animation and frankly, I'd argue the west's way of handling violence is -depending on the intended overall comedic style- often the funniest way to handle comedic violence specifically.

    For serious, dramatic scenes of violence, though, I think I'm more inclined to agree with your comments- kids can sometimes handle more than one might think. I notice you singled out Aang's battle with Ozai as a step in the right direction. I believe that fight found a happy balance between eastern and western fight styles, honestly- though had the show had a rating higher than TV-Y7, they would have been justified in going a little further, methinks.

    Then again, I'd also say one can go too far with showing violence, until it overwhelms the intended point. How far is "too far" will depend on the nature of the story and the intended demographic, of course. But even allowing for that, I still agree that western animation could go a little further with non-comedic violence.

    1. I guess it's all a matter of context too. Then again, slapstick is my least-favourite kind of comedy anyway, and combining that with violence isn't gonna be a favourite of mine either. Also, like you said, kids can definitely handle more than we give them credit for, so a little pain every now and then would be nice. It won't happen, but it'd be nice nonetheless...


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