ANIME EVOLUSION SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Notice: This review covers the whole franchice and not just the main series.
The early 80’s gave room for a lot of war dramas that were before rather taboo. What were even harder to find are war dramas about humans vs humans and not some generic alien race which is just evil by nature. This anime is another one good example of such a case; a planet devastated by nuclear wars and where the right now belongs to the strong and the ruthless. No aliens or monsters other than the cruel side of mankind itself. Although Barefoot Gen was a far more realistic and pragmatic take on survivors of a holocaust, it was still just a movie about normal people doing normal thing. This anime is a long series which may lack realism to a great extend but at the same time it is far more entertaining for mass viewing.
First of all, two things I despise in anime are filler episodes and shallow heavy-dude characters. I simply see no point in watching brain-dead muscular guys beating the crap out of each other and then not even remember doing it. This series is filled with these two elements. Normally, I would have given up on it from the very first episode… But I didn’t. In fact, I liked it!
This title is basically a shonen adventure. Not only that, it is the very first perpetual on-going fighting shonen ever made! It is not entirely genre revolutionary but definitely is quite unique because it was hardly ever copied fully by any later show. It simply presented the most typical elements of fighting and character building in the best way possible. And if you take into account the time it was made, you can’t feel anything else but admiration for this title. For it feels like it doesn’t follow the norm, despite being one of the first in the genre. Also, it gets so violent and serious from time to time that it deserves the seinen instead of the shonen category.
Let’s start with a simple warning in case you have no idea what you are getting yourselves into. The show has a ridiculous amount of violence and gore. We are talking about people being sred to pieces in the most over the top ways.
The tv series usually filters out the blood to look like glowing water but we are still talking about a HELL of a lot graphic violence going on in here. Ok, if you go anal about it, it is very cartoonish and unrealistic; the depiction of human bodies blowing up usually looks more like balloons popping, fireworks exploding or cardboards cut to pieces. And this is not exactly only because of lack in digital technology. There never was such a violent series before and thus the readers/viewers were still used to the classic mecha shows where the defeated robots blow up. So this was an in-between stage of an explosion and guts splattering, so everybody was happy. Later instaments show all that a lot more realistically if you are so much annoyed by it.
I’m pretty sure that if the series weren’t so violent, the whole deal would be quite boring. For example, I disliked Saint Seiya (an also old and famous shonen) because of its childishly presented violence. The battles simply didn’t interest me and the characters became the norm of all recent series. The backdrop stories of the Hokuto no Ken cast are also quite clichéd, but at that time they were really special and the violence makes them look dramatic enough to make this scenario bearable.
If you happen to have read any volumes of the manga the series was based upon, you will be amazed with its graphic novel detail to body figures and fighting stance realism. The original series fails to present this feeling with the same quality but it is still bloody good for the time it was made. As far as body figure realism goes, I give it thumps up, despite its usual detail butchering in body anatomy. But let’s look on the bright side; the artwork improves along the years.
Later OVA specials:
The animation improves as well but in all it is always crude, choppy and generally fake. Most fast movements are in fact stale images with a speed line visual trick in the background. There are some really nice choreographies in the major battles but they are too few and too far apart. So it is rather disappointing for a show that is otherwise about martial arts that require lots of motion. A major problem is that although the characters have far better artwork and coloring in later adaptations, at the same time the animation feels lifeless. The passion of the original series is present mostly in the movie version, while in the second series and all following specials it looks like the animators are bored out of their minds. That effectively kills half the fun of the show.
The depiction of the world the series takes place in is presented nicely but also repetitive. Everywhere you go, the world is an endless wasteland, with people being frail ones dressed in rags if they are commoners or muscular ones dressed in spikes and leather if they are fighters. It LOOKS realistic but doesn’t have variety nor does it explain much how people survive in such a barren world, filled with radiation and without flora and animals. But that is just an overlooking; it doesn’t damage your enjoyment if you don’t think about it.
The visual effects are to the most part cheesy. This can be excused a bit by the lack in digital technology at the time the series was made but it’s not like later instament improved it much more.
Voice acting may feel silly or dry most of the time but this is quite cool if you dig how emotionless or imposing most try to act before we get buckets of manly tears during tragic moments. And it is almost excused by the fact that the people are a lot more cruel or uncaring because of what has happened to the world. Other than that, get ready for some really heavy-dude crap in it. You know, something along the “I will defeat you”, “You have no chance against me”, “My special technique is unstoppable” lines. Quite ridiculous but it fits the feeling of the show and does a much better job than the average shonen of today.
Intros and endings simply kick ass! They are blood boiling at the beginning and really sad towards the end, where the story gets more dramatic and less action-based. Thumps up with both hands!
Sound effects are equally cheesy and cool for similar reason. The echoing of people screaming while being torn apart is just awesomely eerie.
The general story is quite clichéd. In fact, it is more reminiscent of American action movies, rather than standard anime stories. In the series, our Earth was devastated by nuclear bombing, during a fictional war in the 1990’s. Everything has become an endless wasteland, where the survivors are trying to rebuild a safe place to live in. As it usually happens in a lawless world, the cruel and the strong run the show. So, the people are simply divided into commoners who work their butts off for a plate of food and fighters who either tyrannize them or protect them. Since technology is scarce and knowledge has no means to be fruitful, it is not guns and missiles but martial arts and primitive weapons that decide the life or death of an individual. The protagonist, Kenshiro, is the heir to the most lethal martial art in history. He can literally make a human body explode or be completely manipulated by pressing hidden pressure points on it. He is on quest of vengeance, as his woman is kidnapped, the innocent people are tormented by heartless criminals and several martial artists want him dead for fame and glory. Yes, it is that kind of story, typical, unimaginary and usually predictable from the start.
The general pace of the story is quite slow and is brimming with filler episodes. The series is over 100 episodes and yet it could easily be summed up in 1/3rd of those. The general plot is also quite predictable and repetitive. A cruel martial artist has the ambition to rule the world, raises an army of heartless criminals, torments the population, our hero appears and blows the bad guys to bits. Repeat the process a hundred times and the series is almost over. Still, what makes the series not-so-predictable is that you never know when the next phase will begin. I mean, it appeared at first that the posing blond hunk Shin would be the only main villain in a series of 100 stand-alone episodes. Turns out he was just the tip of the iceberg.
The interest in the plot is a weird phenomenon. You know from the start that the protagonist is the strongest and the certain victor in all the battles. He never steps back and always pulls some weird trick in the last minute to save the day. And yet, you hardly get tired of watching it over and over. The events are presented in such a way that you always doubt Kenshiro’s certain victory. And watching bad guys tormenting and killing innocent people before blowing up or being manipulated in so many different ways, never gets old. So, we can say the ruthless villains and the gruesome martial art of the protagonist keeps you indefinitely interested despite knowing the outcome beforehand. But beyond that, all story arks have “a good ending to a sad story”.
The messages the series promotes are quite cheesy. Kenshiro always mentions to the bad guys that they deserve to be punished if they are not good-willing and compassionate. He even makes fun of them by body manipulation instead of just killing them. It felt too much like a silly educational fairy tale, where the immoral always get punished for their evil ways. Well, I too would beat the crap out of anyone I saw fit if I was THAT strong. But it is wrong to believe that violence and raw force are proper ways to punish the crooked and achieve justice; as the prevailing theme in the story implies. Ok, it is a world in chaos and fists speak louder than words. So what, just because someone is the strongest, that makes his morally right? I think not.
The first series is already bad half of the time in terms of storytelling but all following related works did a far worse job, believe it or not. The second season retconed a hundred events that seem to be unimportant and even those were handed very poorly, jumping from one thing to another with no regard to if it makes sense or not. The movie version is a summary of the first series and takes out a lot of events while boosting the action. Almost every secondary character is absent or appears for less than 15 seconds, so again it is less interesting as a story. All later OVAs are just side stories and remakes of certain scenes which again feel unimportant in the longrun.
All major characters interact with one another and affect the general story; there are no cardboards amongst the leading cast. In fact, there is so much character interaction that is simply unparallel for its time. You just won’t find any other retro series with such a vivid plethora of interactive and constantly changing main cast.
All the characters can easily be divided into three categories.
-The stunts. Powerless villagers who get killed and tormented by the bad guys and typical bad guy underlings. They have no backdrop stories, nor much of personality. They are, let’s say, cannon fodder. The villagers are killed so that the bad guys can show off their powers and the underlings are killed so that the good guys can show theirs. The villagers beg for help, so that the good fighters have an excuse to start killing underlings. The underlings are killed so that the story can drag on forever. You are going to hate these guys. They just stand in the way, without actually doing anything to affect the story. A big boo to the stunts.
-The fighters. Powerful martial artists who either torment the villagers if they are bad guys or help them if they are good guys. All of them have very imposing looks, huge muscles and lethal techniques. They are the backbone of the series and the meat in the story. They all have a backdrop story but it is pretty simple most of the time and gets easily forgotten if they are killed. The major characters, the North Star and Southern Cross martial artists, all belong to this kind of fighters. I must say that although I despise heavy-dudes, these guys were presented in a fine way and are quite likable. They even burst into manly tears, proving they are not heartless killing machines. They interact and affect the story of one another while several flashbacks flesh them out in a decent degree. And as I said, you just won’t find any other retro title with so much interaction as these fellows. A big hooray for the fighters.
- The support cast. Kids and women that interact with the fighters. Passive and powerless, they exist to give the series a more humane nature and give excuses for some dialogue to come along. They don’t really affect the story by themselves but really help to flesh out the fighters. So, an applause to them.
In general, the characters are acting too over the top most of the times, which translates to either fake or awesome, depending on how you see it. There are way too many stunts and unimportant characters that make the story unnecessary long and slow but the major ones are cool enough to save some face in this section.
The things I said about the story count about the cast as well. The later characters are far less interesting, while the previous ones are just caricatures of their former selves.
VALUE & ENJOYMENT
Historically speaking, it is one of the most distinctive and memorable anime titles, adored by thousands even today. The story is not that great, the characters are pretty much stereotypes, and most battles are predictable and simple. So if you ever rewatch it you will just end up skipping all the way to the major showdowns. It’s true that from a point on you will really start to get annoyed with how repetitive or predictable it can become. And those recent remakes and tributes are surely lacking a lot in atmosphere and are half the fun of what the original show was.
But you know what; forget the story, it gets nowhere anyway. The characters and the fighting are all the enjoyment you get. If you aren’t annoyed by the limitless filler episodes and stunts, this can be quite the enjoyable show.
Another thing you will adore is the huge death count. Almost all of the characters in this series get killed and don’t magically come back to life, just so we can have a good ending. Most series are too afraid to kill their characters, so after a while you stop being worried of them being killed or losing. Not here. The dead stay dead. This of course can work in reverse as a set back since it is killing all its best characters early on and never resurrects them so the coolest characters are taken out and leaving behind unimportant ones who didn’t develop in any significant way. So ironically it is a mistake not to have undying characters.
The movies starring Bruce Lee , the character Kenshiro was based upon.
Mad Max. A Hollywood movie trilogy with a similar premise.
Saint Seiya. Another famous old Shonen. Less serious and violent but with slightly better developed characters.
Splatter galore series to watch are Gantz and Berserk.