If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Fist of the North Star (which I will henceforth refer to as FOTNS) is an extremely popular and influential shounen manga series that ran from 1983 to 1988 via the Japanese magazine publisher Shueisha and Shounen Jump. Due to the manga’s popularity numerous anime adaptions have been created covering different aspects of the manga. These anime titles vary in terms of episode count, chronological order and physical release date, suffice to say there have been various animated releases that began in the early 80s all the way up until the late 2000’s.
Honestly it would have been easier to just blog about a few of the more crucial titles in this franchise alone but since I have now seen 98% of the animated releases and feel they all complement each other so well I thought to myself, hell why not go all-out and give my thoughts on what I feel is one of the most compelling, enjoyable and somewot misunderstood shounen titles ever made.
Okay so here is how I’m going to dew this
To start I’ll go into the basic plotline of the franchise and after that I’ll give my thoughts on each anime release in chronological order and then I’ll wrap things up with some final thoughts and what I believe to be some helpful advice on how newcomers to the anime releases should approach each title…..well to be more specific, in what order you should watch the releases in to get the best experience as it can be somewhat confusing when you look at them overall.
The Basic Plot (Excluding Fist of the Blue Sky)
In 199X, Due to the result of a worldwide nuclear war, civilization has been ruined, millions have lost their lives and the earth itself has become a dry pitiful wasteland where the strongest men rule and the weakest fall victim to their every whim.
The protagonist Kenshiro is the rightful successor to an ancient martial art assassination style known as Hokuto Shinken. He wanders the wastelands with his fiancée Yuria (Julia in English dub) trying to help the earth recover from its pitiful state by planting seeds and helping growing villages flourish once again.
Things take a turn for the worst one day when Kenshiro and Yuria are confronted by Shin, a former friend of Ken’s and a practitioner of another deadly fighting style known as Nanto Seiken. Shin proceeds to attack Ken, abduct his fiancée and leave him for dead.
Once Ken recovers from the ordeal he begins a journey for vengeance but along the way becomes a hero to the common people by freeing them from their constant oppression of local thugs / gangs and warlords using the deadly Hokuto Shinken fighting style.
Along the way Kenshiro’s path also crosses with his own “brothers” who where also well trained in the same deadly art of Hokuto Shinken and it soon becomes clear not all of his brothers have the best of intentions and tend to use their abilities to further their own personal agenda’s
Keshiro’s destiny may ultimately prove pivotal to the future of mankind as we know it.
Alright that’s the basic premise…so now I am going to give some brief reviews on *all* the FOTNS Anime Releases in Chronolgical Order starting with…….
Fist of the North Star TV Series (1984 - 1987)
This is the original 110 episode TV series which tells the entire core storyline on Kenshiro, his brothers, Yuria and the numerous Nanto Seiken adversaries faced throughout the series run.
In all honesty the first standout thing for this show is sadly the animation…it’s pretty dull and simplistic and to most people it will be extremely unappealing…in fact I’d say the animation is pretty much identical to the Legend of The Galactic Heroes series….This can obviously be put down to the era it was created in, however where the animation falters the story excels. What starts out like a typical revenge and bad-guy-of-the-week story really draws you in over time particularly by drawing you into the emotions of the oppressed people and the sheer disregard the villains hold for the weak and helpless people…children included!
It’s a pretty merciless and unforgiving environment where the physically strongest thrive and the pitifully weak are enslaved and abused……sometimes just for amusement!
This show can really pull out two particular emotions, the first being sympathy for the oppressed / abused mass of people and the second being the rush of anger while anticipating the inevitable battles that will resolve the compelling story arcs.
This franchise has a reputation for its EXTREME VIOLENCE and to this very day this series still holds that reputation but to be honest due to the animation being outdated it now looks more comical than anything else……cough…to me anyway…. but yeah I guess viewer discretion is advised.
Next up, this series has a HUGE number of characters which are fairly well written for the most part and also do a good job of keeping you invested with the storyline…well that is until they eventually die…that’s right most of the characters in this series end up dead…….even a few of the main characters.
Being one of the first long running shounen series ever made this show made some…lets say “unconventional choices” that helped mold certain characteristics in the shounen genre and help turn it into the cash cow it is today….for example, anime executives had a hard time merchandising FOTNS since key characters would die regularly which made it extremely difficult to market..so it is pretty well known that a lot of future shows like DBZ where characters tend to come back from the dead continuously learnt this lesson from FOTNS….and to an extent I can understand why keeping characters alive is important for a franchise’s business model and merchandising…..but in saying that death also brings a sense of realism and can invoke more emotion out of the audience.
Alas, this series / franchise is notorious for killing off characters of all sizes - big and small but I can honestly say it never felt like a plot device or being overly manipulative…in fact in almost every instance it serves a purpose and makes the story that much more compelling
And lastly thoughts on the pacing and delivery of the overall story
Well it starts off pretty lacklustre and slowly builds up and draws you into a more emotional journey…personally I feel the story really gains momentum about halfway when things focus more on Kenshiro and his “brothers” - that’s when the series truly gains a more interesting level of depth and excitement that held up pretty well for me.
Overall, this original FOTNS series is a great rollercoaster ride of violence, revenge, lost love and oppression…..and even though it had its slow moments I was constantly entertained throughout the series run and can easily see why many others also hail this as an anime CLASSIC.
If you can get past the poor animation I’m sure alot people will be entertained by this series…oh and the English dub versions are solid as well even though only about 30 episodes where completed in egliash
Rating: Hall of Fame
This is the movie that the MAJOURITY of people have already seen when they say they have seen FOTNS and in all honesty it was my first introduction to the franchise as well.
This movie is honestly just a chopped up version of the TV series with MASSIVE PLOT ELEMENTS CUT OUT similar to AKIRA and it's manga counterpart…I mean even one of Kenshiro’s actual brothers (Toki) is not mentioned in this movie at all……but in the movies defence after watching the TV series I can understand why….all that content just cannot fit inside a feature length film
Anyhow…the movie itself is still pretty awesome all things considered and it gives you a basic idea of the setting and covers just shy of 25% of the TV series storyline.
The animation is decent looking and is much improved over the original TV series quality but overall it still comes off feeling dated by today’s standards.
This movie ultimately turns out to be a good introduction to the franchise and as it is so short it cannot resolve anything it sets up which always left me wanting more….in fact to this day I know a lot of people don’t even realise this was based off the original animated TV series / manga.
Rating: Solid B
Uh-oh…someone’s trying to milk that cash cow again
Firstly let it be known that in the western releases and to many people this is actually seen as episodes 110 – 152 of the original TV series but it was originally called FOTNS 2 and to be honest in terms of storyline I think the distinction and separation between the two series is very appropriate.
This 43 episode series deals with Kenshiro going to another island/continent to delve more into his own / his former brothers past and to be honest it’s a pretty uninteresting and lacklustre story.
After the events of the first 110 episode series everything feels finished and resolved so you actually have to ask yourself what more can they do with this series?
Well….lets see….I’d say some improved animation…some cool kills and that’s pretty much it.
All the emotional attachment and interesting characters you had in the first series has melted away and I didn’t really feel a connection to anything here…..i mean it wasn’t god awful…it was just boring and unnecessary.
The very last episode had a somewhat touching memorial for the franchise that is kinda cool but sadly, that’s probably the only memorable thing for me with this series…honestly…..unless you’re a die hard fan of the franchise I’d say there’s not much here for you to latch onto…its just a meh kinda show with nothing to add to the franchise imo
Rating: Acquired Taste
New Fist of the North Star (2003)
This 3 episode short OVA is set sometime after the completion of the original manga story.
I have to admit this release (to me) is the worst of the FOTNS releases…it has really nothing to do with Kenshiro, he just wonders into a confrontation…a boring one at that and everything that happens in these 3 episodes is not only lame but one thing in particular is actually ridiculous (Ken being held captive in a crappy prison).
It adds absolutely nothing to the universe of FOTNS and just feels like complete and utter filler.
After buying this I soon sold this on eBay without a second thought and most reviews I’ve read agree its just irrelevant fluff…..so I’d say again unless you’re a die hard fan of the franchise don’t waste your time.
Sorry to put a knife in this one but apart from having Kenshiro in the story killing opponents in shiny new animation it’s really quite lame and unimaginative…oh but the shiny new animation was very nice……yeah I did mention that right….yeah..so there’s that
Rating: Not Feeling This
Fist of the Blue Sky (2006 – 2007)
Hmm this show is just…kinda weird
Okay so in a nutshell we all know our beloved 80’s series followed the protagonist Kenshiro who is the 64th successor of Hokuto Shinken and that the original story was set in 199x after a nuclear disaster. Well this story here follows the 62nd successor of Hokuto Shinken of which the classic Ken character was named after, Kenshiro Kasumi (no relation), or as they refer to him in this show “Yan Wang”….this story is set in the 1930’s.
So right off the bat I was a bit disappointed with the fact that although this is a prequel to FOTNS the story here isn’t focused on master Ryuken but a generation before his time - so then I thought to myself hey this Kenshiro Kasumi guy must be even more interesting than Ryuken right…....right?
Strangely enough this story actually deals with some weird gangster rivalry and lost love themes…not really what I was expecting at all…..on-top of that the villains in this show are just darn right goofy…I mean so goofy it actually started to annoy me…for example…a character that wears a solid gold wig that is actually heavier than his entire body…leading him to fall down repeadidly….and believe me that's just ONE of the many zany villians in this show
The animation although decent is extremely stiff and gives you the feeling of one of those older PC / visual novel games
However to the shows credit Kenshiro Kasumi is quite an entertaining character that seems to have the most likeable traits of the classic Kenshiro we all know and love with some extra added personality to make him more interesting
Ultimatelt the whole premise and story of this series feels very left field and apart from the actual fighting I can't say this show adds much to the FOTNS universe and therefore should only be watched by diehards….again
An English dub could have made this more enjoyable to me as a sort of comedic satire to the franchise but as it is now it just feels more like an out of place addition to the franchise
Rating: Acquired Taste
Now this is where things get REALLY interesting…
In 2006 the original manga creator Buronson and illustrator Tetsuo Hara decided they would produce a new FOTNS project based directly on the original manga to commemorate it’s 25th year anniversary with the help of TMS Entertainment and North Stars Pictures.
This project would be a retelling and reimaging on some of the key story elements of the manga, which will include expansion of the story, modernized artwork, new characters and some minor alterations to events. This series would be a collection of new feature films and OVA’s now known as Fist of the North Star: The Legends of the True Savoir Series.
The first of these releases was
This movie was the first release and is my personal favourite of the following re-imaginings. It focuses on probably what I feel is the most exciting and gut wrenching saga in the original TV series and with the new animation and soundtrack it just explodes with awesomeness and I fucking loved every minute of it. Sadly I can’t go into too much detail due to spoilers but this is basically a true FOTNS fanboys dream come to life.
Rating: First Class
Legend of Yuria (2007)
This movie takes a closer look into Yuria’s past and her journey throughout the FOTNS series. It is somewhat interesting and fills in some plot holes from the original series but overall it’s just some light hearted and welcome exposition for Yuria’s character…it’s a solid watch but nothing that special
Again, like the first Raoh movie this is an excellent excerpt and re-imagining which focuses on the end of the original TV series.
Everything is on point here and again the animation looks incredible. Fans are gonna LOVE the hell out of this and I sure bloody did too
Another very impressive and welcomed movie!
Rating: First Class
Legend of Toki (2008)
Ahh Toki, what a loveable and sad character….and this was a sad yet enjoyable OVA.
I have to say Toki's character was covered pretty well in the original TV series but in this OVA it’s nice to again relive this great mans journey. There is also a really cool battle between Toki and Raoh here that was animated fantastically as well.
As for the new character that is introduced here, well……all i can say is good for you Toki lol. It’s another solid watch so it gets
Rating: Solid B
Legend of Kenshiro (2008)
This movie for me is the perfect full circle movie and answers a certain plothole that bugs many fans who have watched the 1986 movie and original TV series….
what happened to Kenshiro after he was thrown off the cliff when Shin and Jagi left him for dead…how come he changed so much when he eventually re-emerges from the depths of hell?…he felt like a different man for some reason!?!
Well I’m sure like most of us you probably just brushed it off as Kenshiro just “waking up” or that he finally just “got serious” well, this movie brings a new element in the story that nicely puts some extra character development in place for our beloved protagonist which ultimately just makes the story that much more stable and believable
it’s a welcomed surprise and yes once again it has great visuals.
Oh and let me not forget to mention at the end credits there is an awesome montage that brings the story back to the beginning of Ken’s journey which is FUCKING AWESOME!
Rating: First Class
So that’s it for The Legends of the True Savoir Series….There is however one last series that was made to commemorate another great character in FOTNS
Legends of the Dark King (2008)
This 13 episode series takes place at the same time the original TV series starts, however instead of following Kenshiro we follow his oldest brother Raoh as we get to see how he acquired his army and became the power mad tyrant we all love and hate.
The animation for this show is done by studio Satelight and looks completely different than any other FOTNS show and has more of an American comic type feel to it. It’s a pretty decent show overall that even includes some of the new characters that debuted in the Legends of the True Savoir releases.
This great thing about this show is it gradually builds up a lot of tension and excitement leading you to want to watch the original series….it stays true almost completely to the original work and just makes the franchise that much more stable by filling in more plot holes and answering more questions.
Rating: Solid B
Alright so that’s about all the anime releases I have seen, now I know I left out 3 or 4 titles like FOTNS Design Deformation & Legend of Heroes but those shows are more or less spin offs that don’t really add anything more to the franchises storyline.
Recommended Viewing Order for Newcomers
So now that I have seen all the releases I can now draw a timeline…..and while creating this timeline I just thought I could give people a heads up on how they should watch the releases…I’m not going to go into exact detail why I have placed these titles in this order here but I will say overall the story will play out in a more natural and continuous way.
In particular it’s only the Legends of the True Savoir and Legends of the dark king releases that need the most re-arrangement.
I'll explain my reason's for all this in more detail on the FOTNS DREAMcast SPECIAL
ADVISED VIEWING ORDER
3. FOTNS 2 TV Series (1987 – 1988) *OPTIONAL
4. Fist of the Blue Sky (2006 – 2007) *OPTIONAL
Its been my experience that a lot of people think this franchise is just about extreme violence and giant muscle bound men giving each other death strikes…and yes I admit that is a big part of the story…However I think if given a serious chance (particularly in regards to the poor animation in the original TV series) you should find an exceptionally enjoyable anime about camaraderie, friendship, despair and most of all an unexpected respect for humanitarianism and the welfare of others.
Yeah, that all sounds about as cheesy as a pair of smelly toes but that’s something most of us that have completed and enjoyed this franchise for decades can agree upon….ladies included!
Anyhow, I think that about does it for me on this long-ass blog…go forth and spread the word….but before you go…guess what….i just touched your vital point on your neck…so remember........
Goddamn... These are a lot of FOTNS adaptations. I wanna see them but problem is that it's rare to find the DVD's, including that FOTNS movie. Hell, even the live action ones are rare to find in my country..