Badass: Distinctively tough or powerful; so exceptional as to be intimidating.
There are a number of formidable characters in anime, as displayed by the many scenes where their creators get to show them off. One of my favorites has to be when Erza, in Fairy Tail, takes on a full one hundred monsters single-handed, and annihilates them. But while that is an example of overwhelming power wielded with surgical precision, it doesn’t strike fear into anyone. True, no one in their right mind would want to be on Erza’s bad side, but her display is still a flamboyant show of power with thousands of cheering spectators. Not exactly terrifying.
It reminds me of something said/written by Jacob Deegan, of the webcomic Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire. Jacob is a necromancer, and he comments on how a naked skeleton, particularly one which is walking around, inspires more fear than the most glorious of knights in all his shining armor. His goal, at the time, is to emulate that economy of effort: rather than make a spectacle of himself, his mere presence, his very name, shall frighten the small folk and intimidate his enemies.
It’s basically the same as when a dog is growling at you, or you hear the rattle of a rattlesnake. You haven’t been bitten, you haven’t been hurt… at least, not yet. In fact, nothing has happened at all! It’s the threat, and the knowledge that such a threat is real, that scares and intimidates you.
Thus, the most badass thing, to me, is something which leaves everyone, and everything, whole and intact, yet with a clear understanding of who has the upper hand. That sort of thing gets very personal. Which is what real intimidation is: psychological warfare.
It reminds me of a scene from Tombstone, where Johnny Ringo is trying to disparage and intimidate Doc Holiday. It doesn’t go so well for him. Doc and Ringo match wits and words, in more than one language, with a crowd looking on. The crowd doesn’t understand the Latin words they speak, but they do know they’re goading each other. Then Ringo draws his pistol and… let’s the tension hang in the air before doing tricks with it, making the crowd laugh. All eyes go to Doc, waiting for his response, and he makes them laugh even more, using a cup instead of his pistol. But, right in front of everyone, Doc sends Ringo a message only he understands: Doc is mimicking his exact movements. Everyone laughs, and no one is hurt, but Ringo understands that he has met, in Doc Holiday, a man with the skills needed to destroy him.
Any fool can frighten the masses with a few big lights and brutal acts, but to scare a psychotic murderer in an instant, with a single, personalized, psychological attack, which doesn’t even physically hurt them? Now that is badass!
Thus, out of all the badass scenes in the vast reaches of anime-dom, I choose:
From One Piece, when Zoro defeats Monet.
I’ve mentioned Zoro at length before. He is a swordsman, and a very capable one, with his own form of honor. His job, in this fight, is to keep his opponent, Monet, from pursuing his friends, who are trying to save a number of children, the victims of heinous experiments. Zoro is something of a brute, but he’s a good brute.
Monet is a savage, brutal killer. She strongly resembles a harpy, due to someone’s experiments on her, but her true, deadly power comes from being a snow-woman. In effect, her flesh is made of snow, and she can create blizzards on a whim. Not only is she merciless, but she seems to take a certain amount of pleasure in her cruelty. She can be disturbingly intimate with how she kills her victims, such as when she bites great chunks out of their flesh, or when she embraces them and freezes them to death in her arms.
I believe the term is, “psychopath.”
So, the brutish swordsman and the psychotic snow-woman face off. Or, rather, Zoro tries to face off with her, but she keeps flitting around the room, attacking his comrades instead of him. He has to protect them first, then get them out of danger, then stand firmly in the middle of her path so she can’t pursue them. And then after putting himself in a corner so she can’t run away, they finally face off. He has made himself an obstacle she can’t go around, so now she’s stuck having to fight her way through.
Yet, for forcing her to face him, Zoro doesn’t land a single hit. No, he doesn’t even attack at all! He’s playing entirely defensive, and Monet observes that she had thought he was strong enough she couldn’t beat him, but his reluctance to attack makes her begin to consider otherwise. Perhaps she can defeat him after all.
At this point, they’re interrupted by a small horde of G-5 Navy Marines, led by Sanji and Tashigi. As Sanji and the marines momentarily gawk in adoration at Monet’s bewitching appearance, she basks in it for a moment, and then returns the favor by trying to murder and mutilate the lot of them. Being made of snow, guns and bullets are useless against her, and she deals some serious damage. Then Tashigi steps in, with her chi-enhanced swordplay, the same techniques that make a swordsman of Zoro’s caliber a threat to her normally invulnerable body. As Sanji and the marines continue on, Tashigi stays to fight Monet.
It is worth noting here, there is a difference between being courageous, skilled, and noble, and being a badass. Tashigi is being the former as she fights Monet, but Monet is really not scared of her. At all. It’s an epic scene, but not a badass scene. Which is coming up now. 😀
Tashigi knows Zoro’s skill, and knows that, far from being in a corner, he’s been holding back against Monet. Having also been on the receiving end of his restraint, she misinterprets his motivations, accusing him of taking it easy on the both of them, Tashigi and Monet, just because they’re women. Monet latches on to this, and now believes, fully, that she can kill Zoro. She just has to take care of Tashigi first, and while Tashigi puts up a valiant fight, Monet manages to get in close and start taking a bite out of Tashigi’s shoulder.
And right then, on the cusp of defeating Tashigi, soon to be followed by finishing the swordswoman off, something happens which Monet does not expect.
This is the first time he’s attacked Monet, and he uses a chi-enhanced technique to truly hurt her, making her bleed. It’s only a scratch across the cheek, but it catches her so by surprise that she screams and jumps back, her expectations upset.
And now the moment…
You want to talk about the iron hand in the velvet glove? The feather and the hammer? Attacking your foe primarily on a psychological level, to leave them crippled, helpless, and quivering?
This whole scene, where Zoro defeats Monet not by hurting her (outside a small cut on her cheek), but by warning her, in a way so clear and visceral that no part of her mind can argue with it, is phenomenal.
With practically a paper cut, a few words, and one swing of the sword, Zoro shatters Monet’s murderous resolve. He made it clear, with incontrovertible proof, that he could and would kill her if she continued to fight him. She was never a threat to him, and in the face of that, she literally can’t pull herself together!
Of course, she does manage to rally for one more attack, but she’s gone so mad with rage and fear at Zoro’s pointed mercy that she leaves herself completely open to Tashigi’s finishing blow, leaving her alive, but defeated, physically and psychologically.
I can’t really think of another scene where a single paper cut was used so effectively to cripple one’s enemy.
And that… is badass!