Every once in a while a classic anime that we haven't seen for quite some time hits the market place. Sometimes these are nostalgic trips back to a point in anime's past, and other times they're downright painful to watch. The same holds true with American cartoon productions. Fist of the North Star, however, is an anime franchise that has more or less withstood the test of time.
A few months ago we received the first volume of Fist of the North Star for review thanks to Eastern Star. The first 36 episodes were featured on five DVDs. The second volume has been released now as well, with episodes 37 through 72 on another five DVDs.
The series 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.
Wandering the wasteland is Kenshiro (Ken), who just so happens to be a Hokuto Shinken master. What's a Hokuto Shinken? Well, it's basically an ultimate kung fu skill from China that allows its user to strike pressure points and cause bodies to explode from the inside out. Expect to see bloody showers and ripped flesh all over this show. Charming, huh? Thankfully Ken only uses his powers on those who deserve it. He's basically a good guy who is out to help the unfortunate, but he's also on a personal mission of sorts as well. He's looking for a lost love and vengeance, and naturally that's a good motivator.
You see, Ken's past is riddled with enemies and betrayal. There are those who use skills similar to his that are still out there in the wasteland. Some he wants to find and kill, while others were close friends. This volume follows his journey as he tracks down one of the good guys and inevitably the villain makes his appearance. It's bittersweet in that regard and things definitely take a turn for the dramatic at some point.
In between the plot exposition, Fist of the North Star really pours on the action. Ken gets into a shirtless fight in nearly every episode and his foes are literally ripped to shreds by the time the dust settles. That's the funny thing about this show, is that no matter how many times Ken gets into a scrape, there's always someone standing right behind that person who seems to be waiting in line to have their ass handed to them as well. It's violent and campy, but the story is more mature than you might expect. Then again considering the bloody nature of the program, I suppose a higher aged target audience was called for.
If you haven't seen Fist of the North Star yet, then by all means pick this up. These episodes apparently haven't been available in the States before and I guarantee that most anime fan out there is at least familiar with the franchise. That says something and given the age of the material here I'd definitely say it's classic. Sure this show is an acquired taste what with its campiness and blood and guts, but there's solid character development and a decent story nestled in there somewhere.
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.
There are some shows that just maintain a certain level of notoriety within the world of anime. Fist of the North Star is one of them. It's revered as a classic, but like anything, it doesn't entirely withstand the test of time. It's campy fun that also happens to be ultra violent. If you enjoyed the first release, then this second is an easy purchase. It advances the plot well enough and the tone is roughly the same. If you're new to the series, however, be warned that it's pretty graphic at times and the design of the show takes a little getting used to.