I am, as one might say, a newcomer to this wild world of anime. A novice. A dumbass, if you will. However, I am more and more dipping my toes into the tumultuous waters and liking what I've found. By far, my most favorite series thus far is the 1980s classic Hokuto No Ken, or Fist of the North Star as its known here in Amurricuh (but of course you knew that). I've resolved to finish the entire series, which is sure to be a hefty challenge as not only are the main series and its follow-up incredibly long, but there are a number of movies and spin-offs out there as well.
So I've decided, as something of a marker of progress, to review the individual "sagas" or segments of this thing as I go along. It has been quite a while since I actually finished Part I, or what I'll refer to as the "Shin saga", but now I feel genuinely ready to comment on it. So, without further ado, here are my personal (and relatively uninformed) thoughts on Fist of the North Star episodes 1-22.
I'll Take Back My Love For those unfamiliar (which I'm doubting you personally aren't), Fist of the North Star is the story of a post-apocalyptic present where, you guessed it, the Cold War actually did erupt into nuclear warfare which engulfed the world and left mankind on the brink of destruction. Resilient beings we are, however, mankind survives and attempts to retain some form of order in this chaotic and deserted landscape. Unfortunately, the strong, ruthless, and manipulative reign supreme while the just and gentle left to be ground underneath their studded boot-heels. It's a grim future, to be sure, but there is hope. A man named Kenshiro appears in the wastelands on a quest for revenge armed with the deadly assassination techniques of "hokuto shinken"
And Ken doesn't take too kindly to injustice. It also doesn't hurt that Ken's nemesis is the current big cheese of this hellish landscape, Shin, who was a fellow student and close friend of Kenshiro's until his obsession with Kenshiro's girlfriend, Yuria, drove him insane. Now, with the aid of two small children, Bat and Lin, Kenshiro takes off towards Shin's palace in the oasis of Southern Cross, righting wrongs on his way to reclaim his lost love and punish the man who took her.
From the instant this series starts, with its awesome theme song by Crystal King, the thing I can never shake is the presence this show puts forward. It's both flashy and macho during its fight scenes, but also starkly dark, depressing, and brutal elsewhere. Ok, fine, this show is brutal almost all the time, but when Kenshiro isn't punching people and making them explode, it's actually pretty gritty and realistic stuff. The gangs and savages that populate this sad world in these episodes seem to comment just as much on the nature of human cruelty as they do about the dangers of organized religious sects or the evils of a selfish monarchy. I might be reading too much into it, but I can't help but feel like Fist of the North Star is trying to make some sort of comment on the state of society as a whole. That's something I certainly didn't expect, but it really helps flesh out a series that is relatively simple at its core.
Character at Century's End And at its core are the characters. Throughout these first 22 episodes, there's only about 5 major characters to follow. There are certain henchmen with personalities as well as a few auxiliary characters, but overall these represent archetypes or adversaries to flesh out the world. The story instead focuses mainly on Kenshiro and his kid side-kicks. Kenshiro himself is the strong silent type, but he is genuinely kind and always does the right thing. Hell, if he wasn't constantly exploding people, he'd be almost boring, but it's that juxtaposition that makes him such an interesting character. His voice actor rarely raises his voice above a light murmur until he starts screeching and letting fly with his deadly hokuto shinken. By his side are his constant kid companions, Bat and Lin. Lin is the typical innocent young girl and Bat is the typical comic relief, but both are charming enough characters in their own right. I hesitate to name Kenshiro's girlfriend Yuria as a main character, but she is seen in these episodes quite a lot. She's kind-hearted and rarely happy, but she also does have some pretty touching interaction with a young girl during the back half of the Shin saga.
Lastly, the character I actually find to be the most interesting is actually the villain, Shin. It's made known early that Shin is a bad dude, able to best Kenshiro in combat with his own assassination style, nanto seiken, and ruthless enough to use it for his own means. There certainly is a level of the foppish, cackling baddie in Shin, especially during the first half of the "Shin Saga", but as the audience sees more of him, you start to feel like there's a lot more to him. He's actually rather sympathetic; a man whose ambitious desire to win the heart of a woman who doesn't love him has lead him to do terrible things. He's taken lives, he's betrayed his best friend, and all for the heart of a woman. By the end of the "Shin Saga", I had actually felt genuinely connected to the bad guy, something I rarely find in any medium.
Ugly Future Is there anything negative about Fist of the North Star? Of course! This is a review, right? The animation in the opening, much like many animated series, is far better than that actually found in the episodes. Don't get me wrong, the action sequences look great, characters are well-detailed and varied, and the gruesome displays are very brutal, but there are also a lot of flaws. The amount of re-used "stock" animations is a tad ridiculous. It makes it easier to forgive when the aftermath is often so varied, exploded heads, fingers, and torsos flying everywhere, but I couldn't help but feel after seeing Ken's shirt rip off for the 22nd time that they could've maybe... animated another sequence for that. Also, despite the under-lying depth of the story itself, the dialog ain't great. Lines like "You don't even know. You are already dead." are great, but often times the plot points and actions are outwardly stated. "Subtle" is not a word to describe the script in Fist of the North Star, but perhaps that's the point.
You are Already Reviewed Whatever the point of the series, MY point is that Fist of the North Star is great. More-over, it's great for those unfamiliar with the trappings of traditional anime. The gritty and dark story-line is both deep and grounded, and it seems more rooted in Western sensibilities. Is that a good thing? That's arguable, but Fist of the North Star is frankly just a really brutally fun show with some really iconic imagery that goes along with it. Whatever you get out of the series, you should at the very least be able to get into the torso-exploding action within.
I'd give the first 22 episodes of Fist of the North Star 4.5 stars out of 5.