WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Season 1 of Record of Ragnarok, now streaming on Netflix.
Record of Ragnarok is the latest of Netflix’s forays into the world of fighting manga, following hits such as Baki and Kengan Ashura. Though the anime has received mixed reviews, especially from manga readers, it none-the-less is a somewhat unique take on the genre since it involves gods and mythologies from around the world, and highlights rich backstories for each fighter.
The anime has so far featured three fights between mankind and the gods in its first season. The first round is between Thor, the god of thunder from Norse Mythology and Lü Bu, the legendary general from the Three Kingdoms era in ancient China. The second round features Zeus, the king of gods from Greek Mythology and Adam, the first human ever created from the Bible. Finally, the third round is between Poseidon, the god of the oceans and brother of Zeus, and Sasaki Kojiro, one of the most famous swordsmen in Japanese history.
While the fight scenes often lack fluidity and dynamism in terms of animation, the characters are what carry the plot. Therefore, when ranking Record of Ragnarok‘s best fights, it is important to consider the characters and the emotional impact of their stories in addition to how well the fights are executed and concluded.
3. Finding Friendship in Rivalry: Lü Bu vs. Thor
As the first fight of the series, Lü Bu vs. Thor is a rather disappointing start, mainly because of poor pacing and low animation quality. This fight is supposed to be between two of the most powerful fighters from each camp. As such, it should showcase how epic the fights between men and gods can be. Instead, the animation lets down the show’s grand scale and the destructive powers that Lü Bu and Thor possess, and their actions are shown through mostly non-moving images.
In addition, neither Lü Bu nor Thor has the most charming of personalities, but they are united in their commonalities. They are both brute fighters with huge strengths, and due to their immense powers, they were constantly bored and unable to find a suitable rival… until they met each other. The friendship and mutual respect that develops during their fight could potentially have been depicted in a very meaningful way, but unfortunately, it’s rather superficial, mostly shown through bystanders’ dialogue and flashbacks that lack genuine emotions, especially from Thor’s perspective.
The relationship is elevated at the end of the fight when Lü Bu dies by Thor’s hand, and his entire army, along with his trusted steed Red Hare, asks Thor to end their lives so they can join their General in death. Out of respect for his friend, Thor obliges and Lü Bu’s troops die with smiles on their faces. It’s a powerful scene that demonstrates the high stakes of Record of Ragnarok‘s tournament. The sombreness of this scene is only let down by earlier portrayals of Lü Bu’s army, which are cartoonishly over-the-top.
2. Failure Against Perfection: Sasaki Kojiro vs. Poseidon
The conclusion of Posoiden and Kojiro’s fight is definitely the most satisfying out of the three in the series as the humans win their first round, showing the gods how it can be done. Additionally, Poseidon is depicted as the epitome of a god. He looks down on everyone and believes himself to be a perfect creation, so his loss is felt even more so by his fellow, who never imagined he — or they — could ever lose. Poseidon’s unquestionable conceit is pitted against Sasaki Kojiro and his unquenchable thirst for improvement; their complimentary traits making the fight all the more fun to watch.
This fight has some ups and downs and is unpredictable as a result. Kojiro is a skillful swordsman while Poseidon is an all-powerful god, so few are surprised when Poseidon breaks Kojiro’s sword in half. But Kojiro’s Valkyrie, Hrist, uses her special skill, “re-Völundr,” to recreate two swords, and he’s able to turn the tide around. The fight finishes in the most brutal way, with Kojiro cutting off both of Poseidon’s arms and his torso into quarters.
The biggest problem with this fight is Poseidon’s overall boring personality. He is defined by his arrogance and nothing else — more of an unmovable obstacle that Kojiro must tackle rather than an actual character. Luckily, Kojiro has enough personality for both of them. He is what makes this fight entertaining: His backstory about his quest to learn from everything, the way he enjoys gaining knowledge by losing, as well as how he carries the legacy of everyone he’s ever fought is not only inspirational but also quite moving. The fact that this is Kojiro’s first ever victory just makes the conclusion even more impactful in Record of Ragnarok.
1. Mankind’s Undying Spirit: Adam vs. Zeus
If we consider the fights in Record of Ragnarok to be a clash of personalities, then the best fight — hands down — is the one between Adam and Zeus. As the king of gods, Zeus is pompous, egotistical and an absolute showman. His entrance into the arena is accompanied by fellow god Hermes’ violin rendition of Bach’s “Air on the G String” along with dancing and fireworks.
On the other hand, Adam is touted by the announcer Heimdall as the greatest hater of the gods. When he enters the arena, he eats an apple (the forbidden fruit) and spits it out, seemingly displaying his disdain towards the gods. But he’s also surprisingly indifferent and calm even when facing Zeus.
Adam’s known hatred for the gods stems from when he and Eve were cast out of paradise due to the false claim made by the serpent god, which is humiliating for the couple. The twist is that Adam doesn’t bear any hatred towards the gods. Rather, as the father of all mankind, he sees it as his responsibility to protect his children from annihilation. It is out of complete, selfless parental love that he steps into the arena.
The fight itself is actually pretty one-sided, but not in the way most would expect. Adam is armed with the power of “Divine Reflection,” which enables him to copy any skill from the gods. So, Adam is not only able to predict and dodge Zeus’ every move, but he can also recreate his attacks and deal them back to Zeus. Adam dominates the fight while Zeus gets a taste of his own medicine.
The mental toll of Divine Reflection is what ultimately kills Adam. Technically, Zeus never really defeated Adam, he just overheats Adam’s mind and lets him die of mental exhaustion. But even on the brink of death, Adam never stops punching and is eventually able to bring Zeus down to his knees — even after already dying and still being left standing. Adam’s love for mankind and his persistent spirit moves everyone, including the gods, and his death is one of the more touching moments of Record of Ragnarok.
Though the series has some faults, it does gradually improve as it goes on. Hopefully, Season 2 of Record of Ragnarok can continue this positive streak with the exciting match-up of Hercules and Jack the Ripper.
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