Fist of the North Star

Back in the 90’s Manga Entertainment had a knack for flooding the UK anime market with ultra violent, foul mouthed, sex fests and Fist of the North Star falls under at least one of those categories. Before you get your hopes up it was the first one. Under a sea of sub par releases few stood out but this was one of them, it had a certain charm and unique style as well as having trademark violence that was so over the top that at times it reached peaks of  hilarity. Beware though this series is so manly that anyone watching it will have a thick layer of stubble by the end of a single episode, yes even the ladies.

They story revolves around Kenshiro, a master of the North Star technique, who is searching for his former friend Shin, master of the South Star technique, who betrayed  him years ago and kidnapped his lover, Yulia and left him for dead in the wasteland. Easy enough except the catch is that some point in the 90’s the world was almost destroyed and mutant biker punks have overrun the Earth preying on the innocent with extreme violence. Only Kenshiro can bring order to anarchy by poking and punching his opponents power points, leaving them to die in a grotesque mess. Along the way he also meets Bart, a teenager who plays the harmonica and drives a bitchin’ car, and Lin, a young girl who is looks about five years old and has a dog that resembles a marshmallow with a face drawn on it.

All in all it’s an acceptable if not tired and oudated setup for a series. We’ve got the maiden in distress, the evil overlord, the unstoppable hero and the sidekicks that get in the way but at times provide some amusement. There’s a certain formula to most of the episodes in that the three comrades, Ken, Bart and Lin, travel from town to town helping the downtrodden villagers. They usually have a long winded story to tell and I don’t know if it was intentional or not but eventually Kenshiro just looks like he’s thinking, ‘Yeah yeah, let’s kill some bad guys already’. I know we are. Unlike most other Shonen Jump shows it doesn’t mess around with single fights carrying on over several episodes often. It’s in, kill everything, out, onto the next one.

Which leads to another point. It’s very straightforward in terms of heroes and villains, perhaps to the point of oversimplifying a little too far. Shin is the bad guy, Ken is the good guy and that’s the end of that as far as the show is concerned. It seems like a perfect opportunity to raise questions like should Kenshiro be revered as a hero if he kills and tortures his enemies with no mercy at all. No, the show doesn’t care about that and nor should you, so be quiet and watch him be the good guy ridding the planet of scum. Leave questions like that for Death Note.

As far as characterization goes it’s again laid out pretty blatantly with few twists and little development. Shin is mad with power and wants the captive Yulia to fall in love with him but Yulia is defiant and is waiting for Ken to return and save her, it’s just classic. She rarely has much to say anyway and most of her dialogue involves her telling Shin that she hates him or saying ‘Ken’ in a mournful voice with the image of his face flying in the clouds above. Personally I think she’s crazy for not falling head over heels for Shin, what with it being made in the 80’s and Shin looking like the lead singer of Def Leppard rather than waiting for Kenshiro, a man who resembles Bruce Lee with the added feature of having eyebrows that resemble severely overcooked Chicken McNuggets preparing to mate on his head. I guess she must eat a lot of Happy Meals and that tipped the balance.

I was surprised when I received this collection that it had a Japanese language version on the set which while it doesn’t interest me much was a nice unexpected bonus. After seeing it years ago on VHS I have a certain nostalgia attached to the English dub on these DVD’s. Differences include the music from the original Japanese version being replaced by a drum and bass soundtrack by Mike Egan which I find to be often more effective in capturing the mood and tone than the original score although admittedly occasionally becoming overly intrusive. The classic fan favourite Japanese theme song featuring the lyrics ‘YOU WA SHOCK!’ is not present on this release and has again been replaced but although the Japanese theme is missed, the new theme is effective in getting you pumped up for the action. You’ll almost be shouting ‘WATAH!’ and ‘WATATATATATATATATATA!’ before they’ve finished rollling.

Despite everything, the series still manages to be genuinely entertaining if not for the pure fact of it being so fun to rip apart like one of Kenshiro’s victims. If you’re into drinking games this is one of the best candidates I’ve seen. I’ll end with some quick fire suggestions…

  1. Have a drink every time someone sees a giant flying face in the clouds.
  2. Have another when those faces in the clouds start to talk back.
  3. Have a drink every time Kenshiro tears his shirt off only for a new one to appear in the next scene. Everyone else wears little more than rags, where does he get his constant supply of red T-shirts from?
  4. Have a drink every time a victim of Ken’s attacks begs for mercy with the words, ‘No! I can’t die like this!’.
  5. Have a drink every time Ken performs an attack and feels the need to announce it complete with on screen text.

You’ll be hammered in no time.

In Summary
Fist of the North Star is a ballsy action show with nothing at all too strenuous for the brain except violence that’s so improbable you’ll either be scratching your head, rolling your eyes, laughing in your boots or cutting yourself some hairy Chicken McNugget eyebrows to wear out of an old blanket. With a main character that has more powers than Superman and seems to make new ones up as he goes along it can be a little tiring when you know he’s going to be able to beat everyone easily until the final showdown but the series’ strong point is that it has that retro charm and it’s oddly satisfying to see a main character that doesn’t have a ‘no kill’ rule and who’s main goal is revenge above all else.

Even though this set is now out of print it constantly pops up on ebay, if you’re lucky you’ll be able to pick it up for about £20 like I did and for about 36 episodes it’s more than worth it. You’ll either love it , hate it or simply love to hate it.

6 / 10