New Fist of the North Star Vol. 2
There’s nothing like a trip down memory lane to help remind me why I got into anime in the first place. Since Fist of the North Star was one of the first feature-length anime releases I saw in America, New Fist of the North Star easily takes me on such a journey.
Unfortunately, it also reminds me of how much better we have it now.
For the most part, this series is a gooey puddle of squishy, bloody fun. It boasts a classic science fiction premise that’s been used relatively often in anime, but then, that is mainly because the original version of this series popularized this kind of tale in animation.
The background story is easy to summarize. In essence, the people of Earth screwed up. Someone started a war and ended a civilization. All that remains is a scarred landscape, a polluted water supply, and a society where survival is the only goal, and acquisition of power the only motivating force. Of course, those with power also use it to “motivate” others to serve them.
Kenshiro, the main character of the series, is more a force of nature than he is a man. I wouldn’t say that he is like the wind, or the earth, or the ocean. All are respectable representations of the strength of the natural world. No, more than anything else, Kenshiro represents the one natural event that overpowers every living thing. Kenshiro is death, personified.
He’s the sole inheritor of the deadly martial art known as Hokuto Shinken. With an intimate knowledge of the way the human body works, it only takes a precisely placed finger for him to force a foe’s body to no longer function. With one touch, he can paralyze a person. With one touch, he can cause the blood pressure in a man to build up to an explosive (and lethal) level.
Just like the manga that spawned it, New Fist of the North Star is an extremely gory series, and again reminds me of the truthfulness of the “Warning: Contains Extreme Brutality” disclaimer on the box of the original theatrical release. This series (and other incarnations of it) feature people in various stages of death by explosion, and part of the goriness is due to the fact that these deaths usually aren’t fast. It takes a good five seconds or so for a person to die from Kenshiro’s touch, and a lot of pain comes from that brief period of time.
That’s one of the reasons the series caught my eye all those years ago on VHS. We had to wonder, what exactly IS extreme brutality? Since then, I’ve seen more violent shows than this, and I’ve seen more disturbing shows than this - Battle Royale is a story that is both.
In truth, so much of the violence of this series is so incredibly far-fetched, it’s not sickening so much as it is darkly humorous. In fact, my girlfriend’s reaction to the first death-by-explosion scene was laughter.
Everything in the series is over the top, from the bulging muscles of every single character (How does one become so massively built in a future devoid of nutritious food or potable water, anyway? Radiation?), to the pleasantly plump bosom of Sara, the main female character of the show (actually, she’s one of the ONLY female characters in the show), to the bizarre red spray of death that accompanies every fatality inflicted by Kenshiro, this is a series that revels in exaggeration.
However, it is that unbelievable aspect of the show that makes it thrilling to watch, and valid as a sort of twisted parable presenting a true view of right and wrong, justice and tyranny.
The animation is very smooth, incorporating CG in practically every scene. Sometimes, it works rather well, but then occasionally the rendering frame rate drops below 20 frames a second.
It’s always a little frustrating when the 3D capabilities of my Dreamcast rival what I see in an animated video. But then, my Dreamcast’s 3D capabilities are pretty significant.
Overall, the look of New Fist of the North Star is very sharp, and surprisingly, at times I’d even say it was pretty. It may be set in a post-apocalyptic run-down future, but there are some bright colors (besides red) to be discovered in the series.
Character designs will either scare people away or draw them to the show, as Hara Tetsuo’s style is distinct and impressive, even if it’s not something people always enjoy looking at.
This was an OVA release in Japan, and it is presented in its original widescreen format. The disc also boasts dual-language 5.1 surround sound. I didn’t get a chance to hear the dub (though there is an entertaining extra showing members of the dub cast on the disc, and they sounded pretty good to me there), but the Japanese language track features a drawing point that everyone will love – Gackt, the best J-Pop star ever, plays the voice of Kenshiro’s opponent, Seiji. [2 paragraphs stuck together] Okay. Maybe Gackt’s not my favorite J-Pop vocalist, but he does do an admirable job of bringing Seiji to life as the brutally insane, power-hungry, wounded soul that he is. Even better – Gackt performs both the opening and ending themes!
Generally, Kenshiro’s adventures in Last Land (that’s what the characters call the story’s setting) are a blast to watch, and I almost feel as if they’re over too soon. [2 paragraphs] In fact, that is my primary gripe over this release and the reason why I wish it didn’t remind me of how the anime industry used to be. How is it possible to justify charging practically $30.00 for a 55 minute release in this day and age? This is not a long series, and the entire run could easily fit on a dual-disc set, but then I guess it wouldn’t be as profitable. It’s exceedingly frustrating to see such a good series parsed out over an unnecessarily long release cycle – especially since ADV is releasing terrific older series under their essential lineup.
I’d suggest everyone simply run out and get a copy of the affordably priced (recently re-released) Bubblegum Crisis 2040 for now and wait until this disc is made more affordable before you buy it. And while you’re waiting, check out the fantastic, color, oversized editions of the original manga series, published by Gutsoon comics. We’re getting Vampire Hunter D in English later this year…I wonder if we’ll ever see translations of the original Fist of the North Star novel.
If you don’t mind experiencing a bit of the old ultraviolence every once in a while, this is a very fulfilling series to enjoy.