Remember the old days? Times were bloodier, women were meeker, and MANLY men strode across the lands, showing off their toned muscles to one and all. Yes, this was the era of Fist of the North Star, a tale of a post-apocalyptic era where ugly villains seized power over innocent villagers, and where one man fights for justice. That man’s name was Kenshiro, lone inheritor of Hokuto Shinken, the Fist of the North Star, a powerful and deadly martial art that lets one paralyse or kill just by touching certain pressure points on the body.
As I have often said, in the olden days when my internet was slower and anime was painfully scarce in DVD form, I would jump at the chance to watch anything that appeared on TV, and despite its 5am airing time, Fist of the North Star was one of those things. A far cry from the elegant artwork and complex storylines that drew me to anime in the first place, FoTNS was gruesome, ugly and rough around the edges- but somehow I watched all 36 licensed episodes without complaint.
What was it that drew me to the series? Even now, it seems to hard to say, but perhaps it was because whilst it was unlike everything that usually takes my fancy, it was also unashamedly slow. This is a show about an invincible hero uttering the immortal words “you are already dead” before taking out yet another ugly and entirely deserving villain; since Kenshiro will inevitably win within minutes, there’s nothing in the way of tension, but it is rather refreshing to see the bad guys so thoroughly defeated because the hero isn’t too pure-hearted to be afraid to get his hands dirty. And dirty they do get, because many of his techniques involve exploding heads, whilst his allies have such charming techniques as attacking the enemy with spiked yoyos or slicing them to pieces with their bare hands. For these reasons, FoTNS is hardly a series I can casually recommend, and yet those who cross its path may well find that they enjoy it, guilty pleasure though it is.
The ‘Shin’ OVA, aka “you can’t go home again”
Love it or hate it, all must surely agree that FoTNS belongs in the past, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than by “New Fist of the North Star”, a three episode OVA covering a standalone story in which Kenshiro must once again fight various villains. Sadly, not only is the story lacklustre and filled with largely pointless characters, but the CG and digital animation techniques of the present day only serve to accentuate the base ugliness of the series. Even the gore seems to be heightened, with rather explicit shots of blood and intestines putting even the old exploding heads to shame. Unless you have an extremely strong stomach or an obsessive love for the series, this OVA is to be avoided, for not only is it underwhelming in every way, but it will even make you question what you saw in the original series in the first place.
A Shounen Jump series from the days before it became the SJ we know now, FoTNS offers brutal and unashamed action and little else, ensuring that viewers will either hate it or secretly quite enjoy it.