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New Fist of the North Star Vol. 3: When a Man Carries Sorrow
When anime fans look back on the New Fist of the North Star trilogy, they'll remember a sharp-looking series, with cool music and cooler exploding heads.
But they may wonder why this short series ended with such a whimper.
In this third volume, When a Man Carries Sorrow, the story of the unbeatable warrior Kenshiro falls apart quicker than the heads of his victims, as the expected battle between two armies never really materializes, and our badass villain is overruled by one of our former heroes.
Somewhere between episodes two and three, while Kenshiro was recovering a serum to heal the boy-believed-to-be-God Doha, the boy's brother Tobi has lost his mind. Assuming the mantle of God, Tobi traps Kenshiro, turns his back on his sister Sara, and rallies the people to reclaim Last Land from the evil Seiji.
But other than a brutal and graphic desert battle with Seiji and some of Tobi's warriors, the battle for Last Land fizzles out into backdrop. Tobi becomes a less sympathetic villain than Seiji. And Kenshiro is practically nowhere to be found during a majority of this last volume.
What was so much fun about the first two volumes of New Fist of the North Star was the sheer audacity of the violence. The body count was huge to start things off, and the manner in which people were killed – Kenshiro and Seiji touching the right pressure points to cause exploding heads and chests, in wonderful detail – made this a loveable edition in the action anime department.
The creators lost a bit of the blood lust that made New Fist of the North Star so much fun, and the third volume turns into an uninteresting character study of Tobi. I mean, why am I all of the sudden rooting for Tobi to die, when he was a sympathetic big brother in the first two parts of the story?
More of Seiji's background, and that of his father Sanga, is brought to light, but it isn't that interesting, and slows things down too much. They could have fit, what, another five or six exploding heads during the time it takes Seiji's long-lost relative to hold a family history lesson.
Of course Kenshiro reenters the picture and heads toward our expected showdown with Seiji. But so much time up to that point was spent on Tobi's whacked story, it loses a lot of the punch it could have had if these guys had been our focus for the entire 55 minutes.
By the time New Fist of the North Star ends, there's a bitter taste of resentment, because Kenshiro leaves our lives too soon, with too many expectations dashed. And Seiji becomes one of the least enjoyable villains in recent years.
On the whole, New Fist of the North Star was a fun time, a halfway decent orgy of blood and violence. If the other half had been as brutal, the tale of the Hokuto Shinken would have been so much better.
The quality of this anime is awesome, and the DVD looks excellent. All three of these DVDs were nearly flawless, with wonderful detail, solid blacks, and excellent digital animation coming through on the home video system. This third volume uses less CG than the first two volumes, but it doesn't make the overall animation any less excellent. The letterbox picture is very sharp, though some desert scenes are very murky. During the final showdown between Seiji and Kenshiro, the pair become less defined during the hot and heavy action sequences. It wasn't distracting, but previous hand-to-hand battles earlier in the series looked sharper.
Both the English and Japanese 5.1 are very good, though with less action in this third volume, there's a tad less use of the soundstage, though that could just be perception. Both voice tracks are full and vibrant. The voice acting in this entire series was of high quality. The sword sounds are used to good effect, though the sounds of heads exploding are even better.
The behind-the-scenes recording studio footage is OK, with several of the English voice actors shown at work, but it's short and not insightful. The commentary with the English voice actors, however, is very enjoyable to sit through. The voice actors delve deep into the story and characters, and have a fun time doing it. Some anime commentaries are just so damn slow and purposeful. Here, the actors wing it, and do an easy blow-by-blow of the third volume. Some moments are laugh-out-loud funny, as the actors wonder if Seiji was drawn with John Kerry and Bill Clinton in mind.
The best special features on these DVDs remain the martial artist interviews. On the third volume, experts from the American Ving Tsun Kung Fu Academy share how their martial arts is the preferred training for military and police forces. The only problem with all these martial arts interviews was that there was little in the way of compare and contrast between the movie and the moves showcased. Other interviews include Magnum Tokyo, a Japanese pro wrestler who got his first voice acting gig as one of the soldiers in New Fist of the North Star; and Yasuharu Takanashi, the composer. Takanashi's interview is very unpretentious and fun, as he talks about his memories of the original Fist of the North Star. The character bios are voiced by the English actors, which I always thought was a nice, if small, show of care for the special features on these discs. There are also Italian trailers for the series, six ADV previews, and DVD credits.
If you bought volumes one and two, then you'll just have to buy the third volume, watch it once, and then replay the first one over and over, fondly thinking of what could have been. For the casual anime fan, When A Man Carries Sorrow is worth a rental. Two exploding heads out of five.