I've had a love / hate relationship with Anime over the years and right now I'm lovin' it! There are many recent titles that have been knocking me out including - Paranoia Agent, Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. and Gantz to name just a few, and with Gatchaman (a.k.a. Battle Of The Planets), Robotech and Star Blazers all available in remastered editions, I am rediscovering a genre I loved growing up and haven't had much exposure to since. I was familiar with the Fist Of The North Star franchise as both a manga and an anime series from the '80s, not to mention a god-awful live-action flick from 1995 starring Gary Daniels and Malcolm Macdowell. This three part OVA (Original Video Animation) New Fist Of The North Star: The Complete Collection lies somewhere in between the two, falling well short of the legacy created by the original series, but still a far more worthy successor than Gary Daniels could ever offer.
For those of you not familiar with the earlier incarnations of this series, Fist Of The North Star is set after a nuclear holocaust has destroyed civilization and left the survivors to fight over clean drinking water, a commodity now more precious than gold. Wandering these wastelands is Kenshiro, the last heir to the legacy of Hokuto Shinken, a powerful martial-arts technique that utilizes the pressure points of the himan body with devastating and deadly effects. As the heir to Hokuto Shinken, Kenshiro is able to survive almost anything making him one of the most powerful men on the planet, but also instilling in him a sense of justice for the common man and a desire to help others. We're introduced to him doing just this, as a group of bandits led by Giese from Last Land are killing a group of villagers who dared to dig a well, thereby providing an independent source of water for themselves.
We're introduced to Tobi, a smart and resourceful fellow who was separated from his young brother before the war and has been looking for him ever since, as Kenshiro's lightning fast reflexes spare him an arrow through the eye. Giese takes Kenshiro one-on-one, but proves to be no match for the heir as his head explodes in a shower of blood, bone and brain. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Hokuto Shinken is so deadly, that even the touch of a finger on the right pressure point will cause your head to swell-up grotesquely before exploding. Kenshiro takes Tobi to Sara, a healer in a neighboring village who displays mysterious abilities of her own. Watching her heal with the touch of a finger he wonders if she somehow knows the mysterious art of Hokuto Shinken too?
It seems Sanga, the ruler of Last Land and controller of all the fresh water in this part of the world is having difficulty controlling his subjects, so he creates a god. Giving people the child known as Lord Doha to worship, they believe him to be the source of all the clean water. Sanga has quelled them once more, but for how much longer? Hearing rumors of the beautiful healer, Sara, Sanga has her kidnapped, leading Kenshiro and Tobi on a quest to Last Land to get her back. Sara's healing talents work wonders for the mute amnesiac Doha, who turns out to be Bista, Tobi's missing brother. Kenshiro faces and defeats the vicious Sanga, but Bista is wounded in the process. Kenshiro volunteers to pass through the valley of the Clifflander's to get Bista the medicine he desperately needs.
Sadly, this next installment is heavy on the dialogue and goes light on the action as Kenshiro is stopped by the mysterious Clifflanders, who also seem to practice a form of Hokuto Shinken, which has quickly become the world's least secret "secret" martial-art. After a brief fight and a loooonnnnnggggg talk, he learns that they taught a young man, Seiji, the arts of Hokuto Shinken and that he has left the valley to revenge himself against his father, Sanga. Realizing his friends are in danger he takes the medicine and headas back to Last Land, but of course he's already too late. Saiji showed up before the dust from Kenshiro's jeep had even settled. He's taken over Sanga's army, his palace and even Sara, who shares a mysterious connection with him, forcing Tobi to flee with Bista for their survival.
If all three volumes hadn't been included, I'm not sure I would have been able to make it to the third and final installment. Sadly, it's another gabfest, with Kenshiro behind bars for most of it. He gives Bista the medicine only to have Tobi imprison him in a locked room that even his formidable strength cannot open. Using the people's love of "Lord Doha" to his advantage, Tobi sends his followers on a holy war against Seiji and his army in Last Land. The city is tearing itself apart, and only when Sara frees Kenshiro to put an end to the bloodshed do we get the climactic showdown we've been waiting for. Except that there's never really a pay off, because the whole time we're yelling for Kenshiro to finish the guy, everyone else is telling us what a good person Seiji really is and that he's just a victim of his father's abuse. So instead of a knock-down, drag-out fight, we're treated to an elderly woman (Seiji's Aunt!) popping up like a deus ex machina to offer insight into his character and solace for his pain. I guess that all the tongue wagging was too much for him, because Seiji opts to do himself in, and I would have too if only I'd known Hokuto Shinken.
The three episodes included on this disc are:
Episode 01: "The Cursed City": We're introduced to Kenshiro, Tobi and Sara as they battle Sanga, the vicious ruler of Last Land and his armies. They must also try and free Tobi's brother Bista, who's been christened the Lord Doha, from his control.
Episode 02: "The Forbidden Fist": Sanga has been defeated, but Bista lies dying from his wounds. Kneshiro must make a desperate pilgrimage into the valley of the Clifflanders to try and bring back medicine to save the boy. To make matters worse, with Kenshiro gone, Sanga's son Seiji show's up to claim what's rightfully his, Last Land.
Episode 03: "When A Man Carries Sorrow": Kenshiro returns with the medicine to save Bista, but finds that Last Land has been in the throes of a holy war. His friend and ally Tobi, mad with power, traps him in an unbreakable prison. Only with Sara's help can he defeat Seiji and save Bista and all of the Last Landers from themselves.
Since this is the "Complete Collection," as the title would indicate, it contains all three episodes of the series, each running close to an hour for a combined running time of 175 minutes. You would think that with close to three hours available to him and relatively little story to get in the way, director Takashi Watabe could have at least made good on the series potential for balls-to-the-wall action. While he delivers copious amounts of the trademark gore that the franchise is known for (there's more exploding heads and rupturing organs than you could shake a stick at) it tends to get repetitive and with long stretches of little to no action the gore just isn't strong enough to stand on its own.
Picture: This DVD is presented in a 16.9 letterbox presentation and looks fantastic. Originally released in 2003, the series combines traditional 2d hand-drawn animation techniques with 3d computer rendered animation, usually in the form of vehicles or buildings, with moderate success. The colors are bright and bold and the picture is crisp and clear.
Audio: There is a Dubbed English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Track and a Japanese 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Surround Track with optional English subtitles. Lately I have gotten into the habit of watching Anime shows with the English dub (sacrilegious, I know) and the subtitles on. For some reason, I feel like I have been getting more out of the shows this way. The English dub was actually pretty good and what little I heard of the Japanese track sounded fine.
Extras: There are no Extras included on this disc, which is a disappointment as the individual releases had interviews with the English language cast, as well as footage of them recording their dialogue, character bios, interviews with actual martial-artists on the feats performed in the film and press conferences announcing both the launch of the series, featuring the manga's original authors, as well as that Japanese Rock Star Gackt Kamui will play the voice of Seiiji and also compose the closing theme song. I guess these had to be sacrificed in order to include all three episodes on one disc.
Conclusion: Given the time period it's from, I can certainly understand the lasting appeal of the original series, but for New Fist Of The North Star they tweaked the series in all the wrong places. Characters talk and posture as much as in six whole episodes of Dragon Ball Z, but then barely battle longer than a commercial break. While I admire the enhanced levels of highly detailed grue and gore that are served up, there is way too much talking and the fight scenes are sorely lacking. Let's face it, that's a lot like buying a pit bull without any teeth. Skip It.