In a future where the world is essentially dead, it’s up to the living to fight for its future against those who want to live only in cruelty.
What They Say
In the near future, Earth has been devastated by a nuclear hell. In these troubled times, kinetic martial arts have replaced weapons of mass destruction, and the legendary Fist of the North Star style may then be the only hope for humanity's survival.
Ken, the rightful master of Fist of the North Star, is forced to fight old friends gone mad, wicked new enemies, and even comes face to face with his power hungry elder brothers. All this in the hope that he will someday be reunited with his beloved Julia.
Discotek has provided for a very good pair of audio mixes for this bilingual presentation. The original Japanese language track and the old Streamline English language adaptation are both done in stereo and encoded at a high 384kbps. Having heard more than I ever want to of the English version years ago, I watched this in its original Japanese presentation for the first time and it’s a very solid presentation. The falling of footsteps throughout is a key piece of the audio and it really comes across with great clarity and placement in many scenes, more so than many modern day shows. The film has a fairly standard stereo mix to it without a whole lot of depth to it, but the end product overall is very solid with some striking moments and a great presentation of the original score and the vocal pieces.
Originally in theaters in 1986, this film is presented in its original full frame format. Getting ever closer to its twenty fifth anniversary, I was not looking forward to this based on past presentations. But what a revelation this transfer is for the most part. It looks so much richer and vibrant than any previous US release I’ve seen on any format that it was like watching it for the first time. Colors are beautiful throughout, particularly with characters like Bat and Lin, and the amount of visible detail is at a new high probably. Beyond some noise/grain visible in a few areas throughout, this is a very clean and highly appealing transfer. The only problem it has involves the source/intent choices when the animators went to do the big kill scenes and went wonky with the effects to illustrate the point. These look like what the entire feature felt like it looked like in previous releases. It simply makes the rest of the film all the more impressive looking. So much so that I have to say I really want to see a high definition presentation of this just to see how much more they can eke out of these wonderful source materials.
I imagine there’s only so much material left out there to use these days but the cover here is pretty good overall. The central image is that of a darkened Kenshiro set against the crumbling city while a hodgepodge of characters are in the background underneath him. It’s very dark overall which does admittedly work for the film but it’s almost a little too murky for my tastes. The back cover is generally dark throughout while the top has a small collage of character pieces from the film just above a good summary of what to expect. There’s a good set of six shots from the show that highlights the action and violence while the remainder is given over to a breakdown of the discs features and its technical specs. The reverse side of the cover has a beautiful two panel spread of some of the original promotional materials in which he main cast is featured against the destruction of the city with Raoh on the left riding over it all. It’s a great piece of artwork that looks beautiful here. No show related inserts are included in this release.
The menu design uses the right side of the reverse side cover artwork to good effect as it has Kenshiro along with Rei and Yuria next to him set against the crumbling city. It’s a bit brighter and more vibrant here than on the cover but it looks good with lots of detail and a very easy to use if angled navigation strip along the bottom. Submenus load quickly and access times are nice and fast for the minimal but solid menus. As an added plus, the disc properly read our players’ language presets and played accordingly.
There aren’t a lot of extras here but Discotek has cobbled together a few things. The first is a brief section of character profiles with some design artwork with them. There’s a couple of neat nuggets in there about the differences with the TV series but it’s pretty minimal overall. There’s a small section of artwork/stills from the feature as well as promotional materials. The last one that is on here is my favorite as they provide both the theatrical tease and full trailer for when it was making its way into theaters back in 1986.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I hate Fist of the North Star. That was something that I said for years after first seeing this movie on VHS from Streamline nearly twenty years ago. And when I ended up seeing it again years later when Image Entertainment released it, I hated it again then as well. I never got into the TV series, for what little was really released here by Manga Entertainment, as I had someone else review it for the site at the time. But for some reason unknown to me, I ordered the manga when Raijin Comics released it. And I loved it. I seriously got into it and wanted to know more about it. I wanted a big full library of these rich volumes that were released before Raijin folded like a weak opponent against Kenshiro.
Suffice to say, I went into this movie with a new appreciation of it, though I am several years removed from the manga now and didn’t make any proper connections between the two. This feature was done by largely the same people who were working on the TV series at the same time but they condensed and reworked a lot of it which annoyed some fans but didn’t bother others. Without the TV series fresh in my mind, nor the manga, I was able to just drop into this and experience it fresh. And with such a great presentation of the materials by Discotek, it was a great experience, one that kept me far more interested than a lot of other features that have come by in the last few years to my surprise.
First of the North Star takes place after the world has fallen to ruin in a nuclear war that has left the planet devastated. Humanity has reached the brink and is tottering over the edge of it and it’s certainly not helping itself stabilize either. While the majority of people remaining are trying to eke out something of an existence with a small amount of hope, others have fallen to the rule of strength wins over everything else and have formed either roaming gangs that take and conquer what they want or there are small city states that are springing up where it’s taken on an almost dictator like feeling based on the strength. Nothing is growing anymore and the world is a barren place that feels like it’s dead and just waiting for the last convulsions to end.
In the midst of all of this there is a very personal fight going on amongst a group of brothers and friends that dates back to before the war. The film opens with the introduction of Kenshiro, the savior of the Hokuto Shinken, who is walking with his woman Yuria who is lamenting the state of the world and her dream to bring it back to life. Before you know it, they’re accosted by Ken’s longtime friend Shin who has come to take Yuria away from him. His belief is that Kenshiro is weak and that someone else will do it, so since he loves Yuria, he’ll be the one to do the deed and make sure that she lives a good life. Shin takes Kenshiro to the brink of death in order to get Yuria to agree to it and then leaves him for dead, taking his prize with him. Watching all of this from a distance are Jagi and Raoh, who are Kenshiro’s brothers and part of the long family line of martial artists. Jagi has hated being passed over as the Savior so he’s delighted that Raoh has agreed to let him cast Kenshiro off the cliff to his doom.
Of course, Kenshiro doesn’t die but eventually comes back to the surface some time later with a greater sense of purpose and skill than every before. His journey begins here to find Yuria and take her back while dealing with those who threaten the weak along the way. Unlike his brothers, Kenshiro is burdened by his abilities and his role as the savior while they all savor it and want to be in that position of power. While Kenshiro makes his journey, his brothers and his friend Shin all work to cement their bases of power in order to build the future they want. Each is different in its own way, but they all revolve around power over others and controlling the situation with varying levels of violence and brutality. Shin is the most similar to Kenshiro, but he’s also the most manipulated of the group as well which in turn makes him somewhat sympathetic.
Admittedly, Fist of the North Star is predictable in that sort of Incredible Hulk kind of way where he travels about and helps out others. He ends up being called upon by a young girl with psychic powers of some sort to help out her village and her brother. He also ends up making friends with a man named Rei who is searching for the people who have abducted his sister after ravaging his village. The little side stories and the sizable cast with its intertwined relationships gives it a slightly convoluted feeling at times, but it also makes it feel more layered than it is and without a singular straightforward plotline to follow. It is just a big series of slugfests in a way, but it’s also more than that because of how it all ties together and the power of the movie itself, particularly with the ending and the song that accompanies it.
When it comes to the look of the show, it’s definitely dated in respect to the outfits and colors, with lots of pinks to be found which is rather amusing at times. The series came at a time when features like Mad Max and the Road Warrior were getting their due so there are obvious parallels to draw there, especially since the manga started after the first two films of that franchise came out. At the same time, there were a slew of shows using these kinds of post-apocalyptic ideas so I don’t really hold it against the franchise overall. The characters in this series are manly men to be sure, big and stocky in a way with a sense of power behind them that highlights their training and evolution as martial artists. It’s not like a lot of other features that were coming out around the same period when it comes to the designs, and it’s still fairly unique compared to most shows that have come out since. That kind of look helps to separate it, but also makes it easier to target for amusement. After delving into the manga and the original character designs, I certainly have a greater appreciation for it and really enjoyed the look of it here, especially with the wonderful transfer of the films source materials.
After having a severe disliking for this franchise for years, it’s interesting to go back to my first exposure to it with a new view on it and see it this way. As much as I enjoyed the manga, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get into the movie. While it’s not a masterpiece, I found myself very engaged with it and enjoying just about every minute of it as it played out. With this great looking presentation and a fun layered storyline with lots of characters running about brutally killing each other, it appeals to very base instincts but does it with a certain kind of style. I honestly wish that they’d try to do something serious again when it comes to a live action adaptation where it has a budget and honors the source material itself by playing it largely straight. It’d be something with potential, but I doubt it’ll ever happen since it’d be another Drgaonball: Evolution experience. That said, I cannot recommend this movie enough as a piece of classic anime history done right and for a story that’s fun, violent and well structured as it explores a post-apocalyptic world.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Character Bios, Image Gallery, Original Trailers
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.