With Creed III, Michael B. Jordan Brings The Series Into Anime Territory

"Rocky" is one of the most iconic franchises of all time, one that captured the change in Hollywood from the rise of independent dramas of the '70s into the bombastic action films of the '80s. Yet the franchise started losing popularity, never capable of recapturing the awards praise of the original film or the commercial success of "Rocky IV."

Which makes the "Creed" movies kind of a miracle. The first "Creed" is a rare legasequel that actually works, a film that takes what made the first "Rocky" movie special but adds something new while paying off the past. It felt both fresh and familiar. Now in its third installment, Michael B. Jordan takes on the role of director in addition to wearing the fighting gloves, and he brings in some very cool additions to the franchise. 

Not only does Jordan bring different aspects of boxing — like the chess moves and careful planning in each round, or different types of injuries other than swollen eyes and bloody noses — but he also brings in a passion for anime that informs the whole movie, from the action scenes to the emotional core of the story.

"Creed III" takes place three years after Adonis retires at the top of the world. Except his quiet life doesn't last very long, because a shadow of his past shows up. Enter Damian "Diamond Dame" Anderson, played by the intimidating Jonathan Majors. Damian was Adonis' best friend growing up, but now he's full of anger and resentment, and the two become rivals, and then mortal enemies.

Epic rivalries and stunning fights

The anime influence really starts with Damian and Adonis themselves, and the classic shonen manga and anime trope of best friends turned rivals. Shows like "Dragon Ball Z," "My Hero Academia," but especially the relationship between Naruto and Sasuke in "Naruto" are key influences in the relationship between the two boxers. 

Jonathan Majors even spoke in an interview about how Jordan showed him his favorite anime in order to understand the dynamic between the two characters, so they could translate that into the movie's final fight, which is not just externally about two boxers, but internally about two former best friends.

Indeed, what makes "Creed III" different from other sports dramas and their rivalries is that it clearly grabs from anime the sense of competition and complex friendship that is present in shonen manga and anime. Characters like Sasuke and Naruto don't just fight, they push each other equally to be better and to be stronger — even as they at times try to kill each other.

Then we have the fights. Speaking with Polygon, Jordan talked about using parallax shots in order to put us inside the characters and see them plan out their next move. Then there is the use of stop-motion to give emphasis to the punches, the extreme close-ups of eyes for shots that look like they were drawn on animation cels.  Jordan even offers direct references like a shot of Adonis and Damian landing a punch on each other at the same time — a staple of anime, found in basically every show from  "Tomorrow's Joe" and "Hajime no Ippo" to "Digimon Tamers" and "Gurren Lagann" — or a gut punch that causes the sweat on Adonis' back to jump out, just like in "Dragon Ball Z."

This franchise has always been anime

The most anime scene in the entire movie is when Damian and Adonis enter a sort of metaphorical void, with the audience disappearing around them. As Jordan told polygon, many action anime have fight scenes taking place in empty, all-white or-black abstract spaces where the opponents have a little talk before they punch it out. It is one of the unique things about anime that make it such an exciting medium, and Jordan found a way of translating that to live-action: "It was about these two dudes who couldn't emotionally say what they had to say with their words, so they had to physically get it out through fighting."

The thing is, "Rocky" has always been like anime. American sports movies, particularly those of the '80s, are already pretty close to shonen anime, with a strong focus on friendships, underdogs who want to be the very best like no one ever was, unexpected power-ups in the middle of climactic fights, and very earnest characters with over the top cartoony villains. Of course, the most obvious example is "Rocky IV," a movie that feels like a shonen anime acquired and licensed by 4Kids Entertainment in the late '90s, with cheesy music, dubious treatment of foreigners, and over-the-top dialogue that nevertheless results in a very fun movie. 

Now, "Creed III" shows you actually can not only do a good live-action anime, but you can also take lessons from the medium in order to make live-action cinema much cooler.