Friday, May 29, 2009

Otaku's Interests: Fist of the North Star

"You don't even know you're already dead."

That line is iconic. I didn't know myself until I heard it, and I am better for it.

Hokuto no Ken, Fist of the North Star to us Americans, is an 80s action anime that took place on a nuked-out future Earth. Barren wastelands and destroyed everything, with humanity struggling to survive, and humans killing and stealing from each other in the process. If you've ever seen Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, you'd know exactly the kinda world FNS is...except there are apparently dozens of martial artists everywhere. The main character, Kenshiro, is apparently the best there is, living and fighting as the sole successor to the unbeaten Fist of the North Star assassination art. Also known by me as Internal Combustion Hands-On. Against anyone not important or without martial arts capabilities, this is typically what goes down.

...I know, right? This to me is the early equivalent to Dragon Ball. The early, M-Rated equivalent. HE BLOWS PEOPLE UP BY STABBING THEM WITH HIS FINGERS. How badass is that!?

Of course, there's plot too. The story starts out with Ken walking through the desert, starved and dehydrated after being left for dead by Shin, a fellow martial artist of the opposing South Star art and a friend turned evil who kidnaps his girlfriend. He gets to a town where he is then locked up right about the time when some evil yups, who just happen to work for the cock-block (excuse that, there's just no other way to describe him...I hated that bastard), roll into town and ransack the place. A little girl, Lin, helps Ken by finally giving him water, and wouldn't ya know it, she then gets caught by the bad guys. 3 minutes later, Ken is out of the prison, and the ass-kickings are handed out. Ken continues his journey as Lin and the comedic relief, an older child named Bat (really?), follow him.

It looks a lot better than it sounds. We knew he was a bad-ass from the start...he's the main character after all, and he looks intimidating as hell even without the strength to actually fight yet. The way the story sets the setting for the entire world the anime is based in at the first episode is brilliant; it puts everything in perspective in that the world is FUCKED UP and there is so very little to look forward to but living long enough to serve those in power, whether you want to or not. Then Ken shows up out of nowhere, and of course he becomes the hope for a good future. That's how you establish your anime. Blowing up people helps too, though.

Of course, it doesn't remain this easy...but it does last for a while. I truely never thought Kenshiro had a true challenge until past the first fourth of the series, beyond Shin. I won't go into any more detail than that, but know that every time Ken starts to fight, unless someone actually says his name more than 2 times, he's most likely dead within 2 minutes of charging towards Ken...kinda makes stuff predictable, don't it? Seeing them all blow up in different ways never really got boring to me, though.

The art is what you'd expect of an 80s show, with several of the death and attacking enemy animations rehashed over the episodes, and I don't blame them. I wouldn't wanna waste money or time on doing every single death animation for the hundreds of people Ken kills. Later in the series, however, there are numerous times where the entire art style changes for a specific episode, and it's blatantly obvious when they do so.

I've never read the manga, so I have nothing to comment on that beyond what I've heard from other viewers; apparently, the animation really does justice to the manga, to the point where I've heard characters looked better in the anime than in the manga. Now that's great praise, especially when you look at anime based on manga and other media nowadays, and how some of it just looks generic in the animation when the original source material looks brilliant (I'm looking at you, Valkyrie Chronicles). Of course, since this was made for TV, the gore is...reasonably toned down...pretty much, when blood spurts, it's not red.

I just recently got through the first saga (there's a time jump into Fist of the North Star 2), and let me just say you will enjoy almost every minute of it. They do like to show flashback episodes after major people die, though, so beware of that. Otherwise, this is one of those shows people need to have in their mind when they think classic anime. Do yourself a favor and watch Now, dammit!

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