Fist of the North Star is a rather prolific classic anime that has been brushed to the wayside by mainstream anime fans. The franchise was popular during the 80's, but since then it's slipped into the obscure somewhat (though an offshoot, Legend of the Dark Kings was released in 2008). On home video the series' license was held by Manga Entertainment, but apparently Eastern Star has picked up the series. Released in the latter part of July the first 36 episodes of the original show are featured in this collection on five DVDs.
If you've never seen Fist of the North Star then you're missing out on one of the more unique, and adult, titles on the market. Basically, the whole thing takes place towards the end of the twentieth century in the year 199X (no date is actually given). The world has literally gone up in smoke with a nuclear war that has left cities ruined and humanity on the brink of extinction. Starvation and death at the hands of gangs are what await people living in this era, and in many ways it's a very Mad Max kind of setting.
In the first episodes of Fist of the North Star we are introduced to Kenshiro, who is a wandering Hokuto Shinken master. It's a technique he picked up in China and literally translates to the title of the series. Ken uses this deadly power to strike at pressure points in his opponent's body and cause them to explode from the inside out. We get a glimpse of this fearsome technique early in the show as he's attacked by a gang of thugs. Some simple movements leave their torsos ripping open and heads exploding in a shower of blood. Let's just say Ken's the kind of guy you want on your side when it's on like Donkey Kong.
The show basically follows Ken journeying through the wastelands looking for a lost love. Along the way he makes it a point to stop and help those in need, often protecting them from the very gangs that threaten their livelihood. And believe me when I tell you there are plenty of gangs out there. He uses the Hokuto Shinken against them and builds a name for himself. Early in the show Ken protects a village and meets a kid named Bart, and a young girl named Lynn. They join him on his quest because there's really no safer place than by his side.
Eventually the plot opens up a bit and we're introduced to some of Ken's background. These revelations come slowly through the course of the 36 episodes here, which isn't really surprising considering the show's plot is spread out over 109 episodes. One thing I'll say for Fist of the North Star is that it never loses sight of what it is or where it wants to be. The plot continuously builds upon itself from episode to episode, and though it is pretty much an adventure of the week there's a great sense of continuity.
As entertaining as the series is, I can't deny that there's a cheesy element to it all. This is the kind of show where Ken rips his shirt off in every battle, and yet always seems to be wearing it again once the dust settles. Ken continuously hulks out and breaks into Bruce Lee sound effects when it comes time for some Hokuto action. It's tacky in many respects, and the dialogue doesn't help matters, but I suppose this is largely thanks to the era and production. Anyone familiar with He-Man or a cartoon of that sort will identify with what the producers in Fist of the North Star were trying to do. This show is slightly more grounded and aimed at adults so take that into consideration.
It's easy to see why Fist of the North Star has a cult-like following. Despite it's campy elements the show is a lot of fun and it's unlike anything else out there. The adult tones and over-the-top violence, combined with the post-apocalyptic atmosphere, really created something original. Anyone interested in classic anime will want to pick this up for sure!
Fist of the North Star is presented with a 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio. Considering the age of the show there are a few things you can expect coming into this release. There's grain, dirty, scratches, and some faded colors littered throughout these five discs. The look of the show is decent, but the flaws appear to stem from the original material, and aren't necessarily a result of the transfer. Come expecting an aged appearance and you won't be disappointed.
Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks are included for English and Japanese. The quality of the sound presentation is on par with what you'd expect given the age of the show, much like the video. The audio is a little muffled and scratchy at parts, but for the most part it sounds decent enough. I found the Japanese track was by far the better of the two, but the English selection had its charms.
Character bios, an image gallery, and some trailers are what you're going to find here for bonus features.
Fist of the North Star is one of those classic anime shows that never really seems to go out of style. Sure it's cheesy, and yes it's old, but there's plenty to love about it. Interesting characters, a fascinating setting, and a meaty plot are what make this series special. Oh, and the hero pokes people and makes their heads explode. If you were ever a fan of the series you'll want to grab the first volume of this collection, but if you're new you'll want to be sure you have an appreciation for the classics before taking the plunge.