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  • Thessaloniki, Greece
  • Joined Dec 22, 2011
  • 41 / M

Notice: This review covers the whole franchise and not just the main series.

Fist of the North Star is historically the first fighting shonen. There were shonen before it and there was fighting in a lot of them, but the formula was different as they were focused on mecha or sports. This one here was the first anime that was about fighting between humans without the use of robots or spaceships and without having to follow the rules of a game. This was achieved by having a post apocalyptic setting where technology and laws do not matter and it’s the strong who can do whatever they like. This very simple concept was excusing a lot of things that wouldn’t make much sense in an advanced and civilized society. Unlike most following shonen which are trying to be relatable by taking place in our society, Fist of the North Star keeps things simple and doesn’t constantly break your immersion by making you wonder what the hell is the police doing, or why isn’t the society reacting to these really horrible things that keep happening? The answer is simple. There is no police, there is no society, or high schools, or parents who are mysteriously missing all the time.

And this here is also the major issue most newer fans have when trying to watch it. It’s simple and it’s not relatable. By being a product of its time it doesn’t have a power system that feels like a videogame, it doesn’t have high schools and it doesn’t have retarded teenagers constantly yelling how they want to be the best in the world. Because it was made in the 80s, when all that stuff weren’t trending as much as Mad Max or Bruce Lee movies, or muscular action heroes, or the fear of a nuclear holocaust caused by the Cold War. That’s what was relatable to me when I was a kid, and that’s why I like all that so much. Younger people wouldn’t get it because they didn’t live it.

Anyways, the main appeal of the show is muscular men fighting each other to the death with some really violent martial arts that would make the Mortal Kombat characters to feel right at home. If the series wasn’t so violent, it wouldn’t be the same. Saint Seiya that came out a few years later was very tame in its violence and once you get used to what is going on here, you are not going to be easily impressed thereafter by anime which refuse to show some gore despite having powers that can blow up mountains. Fist of the North Star doesn’t rely on constantly blowing up the backgrounds for making you think the characters are strong. It shows it with gore. Also there are no aliens or monsters or robots. There is more gravity when a character kills a human being than a demon or a cyborg. Death is not an afterthought as it is in most shonen. When you die, you are already dead and there are no magical resurrections or instant healing as is the case in most shonen for making injuries and death to mean absolutely nothing.

By the way, injuries are still healed after a battle and Kenshiro apparently has an infinite amount of identical clothes with him, since he somehow finds a new shirt after shredding the previous one in a battle. But we don’t see all that and the show never addresses how they happen, so it’s easier to ignore them compared to when they openly show you there is this granny that kisses you and everything is back to normal. There is none of that shit here. There are no high schools, there are no first world problems, and there are no beta loser crybaby teenagers. It’s mankind fighting itself for survival and for finding an alpha male leader who can unite it once again. A very noble and manly objective for noble and manly viewers such as myself.

But I will also be critical about it and admit the pacing is not the best and there are a lot of filler episodes. And the artwork, as detailed as it was for a hand drawn long running series, is now dated as shit. Those who got spoiled by Demon Slayer are not going to be motivated to watch a show that is 50% choppy animation and skipable content. But then again I would gladly watch 5 filler episodes that are full of action than 5 canon episodes that are just the characters fooling around in a school festival. Also, there is censorship. They don’t show the blood most of the times and they instead show sparkly water. They are still not hiding the gore, everything is still on screen, they just downplay it. The depiction of human bodies blowing up usually looks more like balloons popping, fireworks firing off or cardboards getting cut to pieces. It might look silly now, but back then we boomers were watching nothing more than mecha that blow up when you defeat them. Seeing the same happening to human bodies was like low tier body horror for its time. But yeah, once you watch enough ultra violent OVAs, the movie version of the series, or any violent live action series of recent times, it’s not shocking anymore. Now it’s more like a silly spectacle where you wait to see what someone does before he cuts people to pieces.

Another plus I like about the show is the plot, which once you get past the filler is actually pretty great. Although a done to death cliché nowadays, the amount of interconnecting plots amongst the various Hokuto and Nanto warriors is amazing. I mean, it’s mostly based on constantly retconing more events into Kenshiro’s past, but up to a point they are not contradicting anything, and they are making the show far more than a linear plot about muscular dudes punching each other.

With that said, the show is simple, which can make a lot of spoiled youngsters to get bored very fast. There aren’t hundreds of secondary characters, each one with his own super complex special ability that needs 10 pages to explain. There are no tensionless tournament arcs for videogame match ups where everyone has to play fair and wait for his turn. Even the setting is very simple. It’s just an endless wasteland with identical looking peasants who wear nothing but rags, and your occasional local warlord who wears a lot of spiky leather and usually looks like a gay clown. In this regard, I can say that the show is not meant to be binged and it doesn’t become bloated with needless characters that do nothing. It is simple, focused, and doesn’t waste its few elements.

With that said, yes the plot is simple and repetitive. It’s always about a cruel local warlord who is tormenting the local population and it’s always Kenshiro appearing to save the day by blowing the bad guys to bits with his hax skills. But, the Hokuto and Nanto warriors break this monotony because they are equally hax as Kenshiro, do things differently, and flesh out the backdrop stories with a lot of interconnected events. It’s where all the fun lies. It might be straightforward, but it works pretty damn well.

By the way, don’t watch anything besides the original series and its movie version. Despite having several sequels and prequels and reimaginings, none of them are as good. The animation and artwork might be better, but they are lifeless in terms of memorable events or worthwhile characters. Just like any other franchise that tries to continue past its perfectly fine ending, all following works feel like slapped on cashgrabs that fail to capture what was making the original that good. The notorious sequel is no exception. You can’t keep retconing shit without eventually making it hard to believe things were always supposed to be like that. The new characters who were introduced and which were always supposed to be there, don’t have the charm of the previous ones, and their storylines lead nowhere thus becoming needless. You also can’t maintain an interesting story when you kill all the cool characters and there is no way to bring them back.

At the end of the day Hokuto no Ken was never good as a perpetually ongoing shonen. It was a rule of cool series that was meant to be watched a couple of episodes at a time. It lacks the bullshit of later fighting shonen that make them addictive junk food. It’s also a show that belongs in an era that kids of today won’t find very appealing. It captured the things that were cool when I was a kid, but that’s as far as it goes. There is not much appreciation for muscular alpha males in today’s soyboy crybaby generation. But at least it is an undeniable classic and not some ephemeral fad that gets hyped while it airs and is then instantly discarded. And for that reason alone retro always wins.

The movies starring Bruce Lee, the character Kenshiro was based upon.
The four Mad Max movies.
The first three arcs of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, which are a tribute to Jojo.

5/10 story
7/10 animation
7/10 sound
7/10 characters
6.5/10 overall

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