animefringe october 2003 / reviews

Fist of the North Star: Master Edition Vol.1
Format: right-left color manga
Production: Raijin Comics / Buronson / Hara Tetsuo
Comments: A skimpy plot drenched in great action.
Animefringe Reviews:
Fist of the North Star: Master Edition Vol.1

One of the first anime movies I ever watched was the feature-length edition of Fist of the North Star. It's amazing that it's taken this long to get a domestic version of the original manga in the States. After all, FotNS was originally published in 1983, so it's been more than twenty years since it first came out in Japan.

All I can say is it's about time.

This month marks the first time I've read stuff from Raijin Comics. City Hunter, Fist of the Blue Sky, and Slam Dunk were also serialized in the domestic version of the weekly manga anthology, so you'll probably hear me talk about those, as well.

While the aforementioned titles were released in TOKYOPOP-sized editions, this printing of Fist of the North Star is something special. Not only is it much larger (about the size of an issue of Raijin Comics, actually), but it's also in full color. It makes me glad to see so much care given to such an old series, but if you're a longtime fan of anime in the US, you're most likely familiar with this story, either from the theatrical version or the TV series.

In fact, if you've seen the movie, you probably still have bloodstains on your clothing from the "extreme brutality" the film tossed at you in bloody chunks.

Nowadays, we all know better, but back when I first encountered Fist of the North Star, it represented the best anime had to offer. It was extremely violent, visually impressive, and didn't make much sense.

It was perfect.

In retrospect, it's not as grand as I once thought it was, but reading the manga offers a whole new perspective from which I can examine the story yet again.

After a nuclear apocalypse wiped out most of mankind's achievements, civilization began to break down. The only laws are those created by powerful people who control others through fear and violence.

Kenshiro, the hero of our tale, is the latest in a long line of martial artists who has been trained as a master of death. As the bearer of Hokuto Shinken, Ken has the ability to kill a person with a tap on one of the body's various vital points. A style most useful for assassins due to its frightening mortality rate (100%, really) and practical untracability (foes die messily of apparently internal wounds), it is only entrusted to a single person for every generation.

Betrayed and left for dead years ago, Kenshiro wanders the ruined Earth helping those in need while seeking his purpose for living. An honorable soul, he uses his deadly art for good whenever he has the opportunity. But in a time when evil far outnumbers good, it is not easy following the path of righteousness.

This "Master Edition" of the original work is impressive, indeed. As large as the CPM Manga titles of yore (bigger than Viz's old standard size, roughly the size of a sheet of loose leaf paper), this release is in full color, reads from right to left, includes the original sound effects, and only costs $14.95.

How's that for value?

The artwork is pure 80's, but I mean that in the most respectful loving way possible. Characters tend to look similar to one another, and the only emotions in Buronson's dark future are terror and malicious anticipation, but perhaps that says more about the state of Kenshiro's reality than the artist's skills. The coloring is done rather well, bringing to vivid life the crimson spray that inevitably follows Ken's encounters with any foe, large or small.

I'm always surprised to find how pressurized the human bloodstream is after every downed villain spouts a geyser of red liquid fifteen feet into the air. I guess Ken is just that cool.

What we have here, then, is an interesting dark science fiction story with a strong current of martial arts running through it. So far, the story hasn't been developed too much, but I'm not really here for the plot. I'm here for the action, and in no small part, for the nostalgia. I try not to think about the things I've developed fond memories of (some people reminisce about The Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind, I think about Crying Freeman and Fist of the North Star), but they exist nonetheless, and reading this book reminds me of a simpler time, when all anime seemed to be ultra violent and pointless.

It's not that I don't appreciate the content-enriched tales of today, but I do miss the rather simple visceral storytelling methods of the past. Check this out if you're an action buff and don't mind seeing innards tossed into the air like fruit guts at a Gallagher show. If you're the more sensitive type, then maybe Basara is a better post-apocalyptic tale for you.

This is a nice edition of the story, regardless of what you think of original work, and I hope that Raijin Comics keeps up this level of quality and devotion to its properties. If so, I'll be supporting them even more in the future.