Fist of the Northstar Vol. #3 (of 5) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Sunday, July 04, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, July 29, 2003
What They Say
Fists fly, heads explode. It's fast and furious deadly martial arts action pushed to the limits ? and beyond. Never before have so many been killed so quickly by just one man. Ken's quest to save the post-nuclear world from his arch-rival Shin will have you glued to your screen begging for mercy. Five deadly DVD volumes each featuring seven bone crunching and manic episodes exploding into combat! An epic assault on the senses played out in this ultimate animation series from Manga Entertainment.
With all the suspense, character development and deep storytelling of cheap porno, Fist of the North Star is hours and hours of ugly beefcakes dying for no reason.
Unable to sit through the whole thing twice, I listed to it primarily in the English track, as it was a bit clearer and I was hoping for some unintentional comedy. The audio is largely unremarkable, though the background music has been changed from the original Japanese - and for the better, actually. The change from cheesy 80s music to pseudo-action techno is actually the only thing that gives the show any sense of excitement. The original Japanese audio also suffers from sounding a bit rough and tinny. Both tracks cast exaggerated, cartoonish voices for most of the cast but the acting in the English audio was better than I had expected, though that still isn't saying much.
Not unlike the Japanese audio, the video is rather dirty and soft as well. It's probably due to the age of the show, but it certainly isn't very clear or crisp. Not that it really needs to be, though, since the animation is minimal and rather cheap.
A bare-chested and thick-browed Kenshiro pointing his finger like Uncle Sam is the front cover for this volume. The back cover has a random group collection of screenshots and the ridiculously clichéd summary talking about how this "an epic assault on the senses" and all that. The standard Manga insert catalog is included, along with an insert that has more screenshots and episode titles on one side and a big picture that proves the artists for the show have no sense of scale or any idea how to draw people fighting.
The menus are all pretty simple and straightforward: art with appropriate options listed. Nothing special.
There are a few extras on the disc, including character biographies, an art gallery and the original Japanese credits. There's also a prologue that attempts to explain the back story for the show but only manages to make it undeniably clear how absurd and ridiculous the storyline is. It also showed the previous important fights, so I at least I know I didn't miss any good part of Fist of the North Star ? it never had a high point.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
There are 7 excruciating episodes on this disc. For the most part they follow the same formula of Kenshiro and pals wandering into an area, running into some oppressive thugs and then killing a whole lotta people. There's usually some named villain behind it all who has been sent by Kenshiro's arch-nemesis to assassinate him. Of course, they fail each and every time, but as I mentioned, suspense is not a part of the show.
The first episode brings Kenshiro and the children he's traveling with to a city ruled over by Zaria, a guy wearing a weird purple tuxedo and sporting big glasses and a bigger red afro. As seems to be common to disco bad guys in Japan, he has hypnotic powers that he uses to turn the townsfolk into zombies that attack Kenshiro. One of the kids is taken hostage in a fool-proof plan to kill our man with the seven scars, but he manages to foil the plan by just being too damn bad-ass to be vulnerable to hypnotic suggestion. We know that Zaria's truly defeated because not only does he explode, but his headquarters collapse.
The next episode is a cheap rip-off of Akira Kurosawa's classic Yojimbo. Arriving in yet another a town ruled by evil bikers, Ken joins one of the gangs ruling half the city and waits for the two to destroy each other. His mere presence disrupts the fragile balance of power and he sits back to enjoy the bloodshed. Of course, an evil mastermind is behind it all. This episode does have my favorite scene ever, though. When threatened by one of the boss-men, Kenshiro does this flying-spinning ballet dismount while screaming like Curly from the Three Stooges. That was ridiculous good, if only the entire show was like that?
Finally the bad guys get a bit more serious in the next episode as the show's recap episode is framed with the evil general of Kenshiro's arch-nemesis briefing his troops on the failures of previous assassins. We also get to see a flashback showing Shin (the evil mastermind) sticking his fingers into Kenshiro's chest to give him his seven scars, then leaving him for dead and taking his woman, Julia ? thus making Kenshiro all the stronger with "mad revenge power", as we like to call it.
Continuing his quest to find Shin and get said revenge, Kenshiro takes on evil construction equipment in the next episode. He holds bulldozers still and karate-chops a wrecking ball. Later he makes a tank explode by punching it a whole lot. Meanwhile, Julia tries to escape but gets caught before she makes it out the gate. Note the lack of any sense of tension or suspense in my description.
Then we take a trip into Mad Max for the next episode, visiting the only town that seems to be actively resisting Shin. Borrowing the set almost whole-sale from the far better movie, Kenshiro manages to take out the helicopters attacking the encampment without breaking a sweat. The town still falls, however, until Kenshiro manages to defeat a villain whose ultimate technique is to stuff himself in a canon and get launched at his opponent. Needless to say, there's an "ironic" scene where Ken uses him as ammunition against other bad-guys. Finally, a dying man shows up, having escaped from Shin's secret fortress. With his dying words, he gives Kenshiro the key to finding Shin.
Knowing he is coming, Shin sends out a black man dressed up like a witch doctor and a guy in a top-hat with an artillery piece on train tracks (though it seems to be able to go anywhere it needs) to stop Kenshiro. When the obvious happens and that fails miserable, the top-hat man brings out a renovated battleship to take our hero down. It ends up getting destroyed and melted down with Kenshiro inside and everyone, except the audience and one of Shin's evil advisors, is convinced that he died in the explosion.
Of course, he isn't, but that takes him off screen for long enough for a rebellion to stir among Shin's men. This finally stirs Shin into showing off his bad-ass kung-fu powers and he wipes the floor the general who stirred up the revolt. Kenshiro returns to life, not only unscathed after being trapped in a burning battleship, but he apparently found some pretty sweet clothes laying around, as he emerges dressed to kill. In the closing scenes of the episode however, it seems that the rebellion had spread farther than we though as Shin's army crumbles and his city burns. Apparently those who were "unhappy" with his rule are out to destroy his empire.
For a long time I'd been lucky enough to miss out on the Fist of the North Star franchise, but no longer am I pure. Now almost four hours of horrifying ugly men kill each other in poorly animated and mind-numbingly boring fight scenes. This could easily be one of the worst shows I've seen in a very, very long time. The art and animation are horrendous. Characters are unable to stay on-model let alone remain at the proper scale ? opponents regularly swell to several times their normal size and become veritable giants for no reason. Comparing this to something like Armored Trooper VOTOMS, which came out a year before, there's no contest. Neither is all that pretty by today's standards, but at least VOTOMS maintained a bare minimum level of quality and consistency. And don't even get me started on the ridiculous idiocy that masquerades as a plot in this show. Guns that fire knives? A canon that launches people in some unstoppable fighting technique? Cybernetic dogs that shot bees out of their mouths would have made more sense.
It's rare that a show is so blatantly insulting of the intelligence of its audience. There is literally nothing here aside from lots of people dying in unimaginative ways while a stoic-to-the-point-of-being-dead hero easily breezes through one unexciting encounter after another.
In a word, Fist of the North Star is abysmal.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles
Panasonic CT27SX12AF 27" flat-screen TV; Koss KD365 DVD player; Onkyo TX-SR501 receiver; RCA 6-piece home theater speaker package; Component video and optical audio connections
Mania Grade: F-
Audio Rating: C
Video Rating: D
Packaging Rating: C
Menus Rating: C
Extras Rating: C
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Manga Entertainment
Running time: 120
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fist of the North Star