Wherever he appears, chaos follows!
Fist of the North Star is the original bone-crunching, shoulder-popping, teeth-shattering, knee-rendering, spleen-puncturing, head-splitting, eyeball-stomping, arm-wrenching, body-breaking anime. Imagine Beyond the Thunderdome, but starring Bruce Lee and directed by Lloyd Kaufman.
Though often dwarfed by the hundreds of newer, better animes released over the years, when it comes to providing a good ol' fashioned mindless bloodbath, Fist of the North Star cannot be beat. Manga has done a fine job of preserving a historic (albeit slightly unpopular) anime for future generations to enjoy when they get sick of all the "good" anime.
Like you need well-written stories and interesting plot developments. Pshaw.
Facts of the Case
The world teeters on the brink of destruction, ravaged and devastated by a global nuclear meltdown of catastrophic proportions. Humanity survives as a shred of its former self, scrounging the ruined cities for food, shelter, and water. The land is contaminated; nothing can grow.
Worse, the radiation levels have spurred the development of horrible genetic freaks, demented human behemoths that torture and slay the pockets of human beings for their belongings and food. There are no nations, no laws—only the strong survive, and gangs of traveling warlords run rampant across the desolate landscape. Human existence is a nightmare.
But still, humanity survives. And those who are strong can stand up and fight for the good and the just. Kenshiro is the Fist of the North Star, master of the ancient martial art "Hokuto Shinken." It is a study of the internal, of pressure points and deadly body manipulation. With the touch of a finger, Kenshiro can heal a deadly illness, cause bodies to distort with strength and muscle mass, or cause internal organs to rupture and explode, tearing a body apart.
His fighting prowess is legendary. He is the man with the seven stars, the chosen one, and the savior of the people. Ken is fair and just, but shows no mercy upon his enemies. His scars are badges of honor, survived from a vicious encounter with Shin, the Fist of the South Star—his best friend who, ultimately, betrayed him and turned to evil.
But there can only be one Fist of the North Star, only one true student of the Hokuto Shinken, only one to pass along the 2000-year-old tradition, and Ken's three older brothers all secretly yearn for the secrets that Ken is destined to receive. Greed and lust have twisted their hearts, corrupted them. They all have grandiose plans of glory, once Ken is out of the picture, and will stop at nothing to destroy him—and when Ken learns that his brother Jagi turned Shin against him, Ken swears revenge on his brothers once and for all.
So, Ken wanders the post-apocalyptic wasteland with a small group of companions, trying to trace the movements of his brothers in an attempt to end the blood feud—for there can only be one true Fist of the North Star, and Ken is the chosen one.
He will not wait for his brothers to come looking for him—he will find them first, and make them pay!
Fist of the North Staris an anime not held in the highest regard. Long dwarfed by other, more popular animes that had small unimportant extra details like storylines that made sense, interesting plots, good animation, non-cheesy dubbing, and the like, for years, Fist of the North Star has been something of a lame duck anime—passed over, forgotten. Sure, the animation is somewhat crude, the dialogue is wooden and ineffectual, and each episode is almost identical to the last. But Fist of the North Star is arguably classic anime at its best/worst, and its influence can be felt in every good ultra-violent anime produced in the last 20 years, through anime like Ninja Scroll and even more obvious, Dragonball Z, which is basically Fist of the North Star if the show went on for seven years, but with less blood.
The front cover of this DVD features Ken sporting a giant arrow bloodily protruding from his chest. The opening credits feature a body count higher than a Britney Spears concert. This should give you a good idea of what this DVD is all about. For those of you unfamiliar with this anime staple from the 1980s, Fist of the North Star features some serious beatings. Bodies contort and explode, arms get torn apart, heads go "pop," and lots of…err, white fluid comes gushing out of every orifice.
It makes more sense after all; as far as bodily fluids go, white is…ah, far more preferable then red. Those wacky Japanese censors. If bodies exploding at a consistent rate give you the heebie-jeebies, then beware: the squeamish should stay far away from Fist of the North Star, probably on another continent.
Every episode is almost a parody of the last—Ken, just walking around, manages to run into wave after wave of brutish, multi-colored Mohawk-sporting urban warriors looking like participants in a drag queen re-enactment of Mad Max. Ken throws some fingers around, hits some magic pressure point, and people start exploding. One episode ends and the next one begins, except this time with a higher body count, with more lavishly dressed villains wearing shades of pink and lime green.
This is campy 1980s anime at its finest. Magnificent. No plot, no smart dialogue, just beatings, beatings, gore, gore, and body parts scattered over a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Sure, there are better, smarter, more intelligent, sharper, cleverer anime out there; but when you need a solid, mindless thrill, Fist of the North Star is the best around.
This is the Bloodsport of anime. This is the Troma of anime. This is the good stuff.
Eight episodes are contained on this DVD, making it pound-for-pound an incredibly beefy anime disc. On most television anime discs, you are lucky to get three or four episodes. Credit to Manga for jamming lots of goodness into one disc, and giving anime fans more bang for their buck.
One of the absolute best parts of Fist of the North Star is the hilariously long-winded and apocryphal episode titles. Some examples from this DVD are, "Episode 29: IT'S TOO LATE FOR YOU TO BEG FOR YOUR LIFE! To Hell With You, Boss Fang!" and "Episode 32: THE FOUR LINKED FISTS OF RAGE! Jagi! I'll Wait For You In Hell!"
Seriously. It doesn't get any better than that. Just reading the episode listings cracks me up consistently, even days later.
The original Japanese audio track is included, and boy, does it sound terrible. It sounds like it was recorded 100 years ago through a tin can and then transferred to DVD via the telephone. You will never hear DVD audio sounding this bad in your entire life. Ben Franklin would be disgusted by the lack of fidelity, compared to his phonograph. The Japanese track sounds like it was recorded on a soup tin lid.
To call it "dated" would be a severe understatement. I say again: the sound is dreadful—terribly aged, degraded, compressed, tinny, and just overall awful sounding. However, it has authenticity going for it—the sound effects and music have been completely re-done in the English dubbed version, and so watching one version and the other evokes an entirely different viewing experience. The English version is fist-pounding and modern, while the Japanese track evokes the campy, 1980s anime feeling that some people really go for. But for everyone else who actually likes to preserve the functionality of their eardrums? Stick with the English Dolby 2.0 track.
The strange, synthetic, space-funk soundtrack has been replaced by a fast-paced drum-and-bass score in the English dub, which, as mentioned before, radically changes the entire Fist of the North Star experience. I am glad both are included on this DVD; viewers can choose which they prefer. I shall speak no more about the horror that is the Japanese track. Thankfully, the English track sounds great, with clear dialogue, well-camouflaged music, and bass-thumping impact. Curiously, some of the atmospheric music involves repeated clicks in the high frequency range, which is a strange soundtrack indeed; and unless you recognize this curious noise as the soundtrack for this DVD, you may end up outside with a broom trying to discourage squirrels from copulating on your front lawn standing in front of a megaphone.
It is hard to get a good critical read on the visual quality. On the one hand, this is an old anime, and it shows its age. There is an unavoidable graininess and dirtiness to the image, but Manga has done a great job of cleaning up the transfer and re-mastering it. Though scratches and damage show through quite noticeably, the colors look solid and impressively rich. Reds and oranges in particular are very well represented. Black levels are deep, dark, and dense. Overall, this is a very pleasing transfer of an old, mistreated source material and, under the circumstances, the best looking picture quality short of a three million dollar Citizen Kane-esque restoration you are likely to see. Don't hold out, because this is likely as good as you'll ever see Fist of the North Star.
The English dub gets a bit creative sometimes in comparison to the subtitles, and occasionally takes liberties in the common sense department. Were it not for the terrible state of the Japanese audio track, this reviewer would recommend the subtitles to provide a much clearer and concise Fist of the North Star experience. Extras include character bios, a photo gallery, a prologue, the Japanese credits, and some extra trailers to boot—thin, but for an anime DVD, quite acceptable (even generous).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I cannot stress enough how bad the Japanese track is. It stuns, it boggles, it rends, it bleeds, and it hurts. I am all for the preservation of historical accuracy, but this is like, the Holocaust of audio tracks—important to remember and respect, sure, but not something you want reproduced in your living room on a Tuesday night.
It may be historic, it may be groundbreaking, and it may be cultish and obscurely popular, but sadly, Fist of the North Star is not exactly an enduring anime classic. This is bloodthirsty, mindless entertainment. It lacks absolutely any semblance of sophistication, and thusly, is an acquired taste.
Some of the English voice acting, as well, is just awkwardly painful, putting viewers between a rock and a terribly bad Japanese track. The English voice actor who does Ken, for example, does an incredibly annoying Bruce Lee kung-fu impression that, metaphorically speaking, has a similar effect of a cheese grater on your eardrum.
Alas, the biggest complaint of all is if the care that went into the visual transfer went into the audio restoration, this would be a fantastic DVD indeed. Instead, not so much—still an awesome anime DVD, but slightly short of its potential.
In terms of sheer bloody beat-em-up, ultra-violent anime excitement and entertainment, nothing beats Fist of the North Star. If you like your bodies beaten, and your blood milky-white, then this DVD has your name written all over it.
Fist of the North Star may be showing its age, but in a classy, sophisticated way, like a fine bottle of wine. This DVD is the perfect way for a new generation to experience the high-action martial art world of Ken and Shin.
The more sophisticated and experienced anime connoisseurs may sneer and jeer at Fist of the North Star, but nothing beats the school of Hokuto Shinken for good solid old-school entertaining carnage.
"I HAVE NO PAST TO LOOK BACK ON! Just My Hatred For Evil That Will Destroy Toki!"
Hey, at least it's better than the live action version! Case dismissed.
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Studio: Manga Video
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