Fist of the North Star, New - Raijin Comics Edition (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Sunday, January 18, 2004
Release Date: Friday, January 16, 2004
What They Say
Unlike the original anime series based on the manga serial, the new show is based on the novel originally published in 1996. While the basic premise is the same as the original manga, it introduces numerous new characters, with brand new plot developments. The exciting and speedy battle scenes with gripping camera angles couldn't have been produced without today's 3-D CGI technology. The show combines 2-D and 3-D animations. The vocal cast includes Takehiro Koyasu (as the voice of Kenshiro) and rock star Gackt who also performs the show's main theme.
The Fist of the North Star franchise returns with a reboot to the storyline, new actors and new adventures.
With only a stereo Japanese mix included, there wasn’t exactly much choice here but this wasn’t surprising at all. The track is rather good with plenty of forward soundstage directionality that handles all the blood spraying everywhere. Dialogue was nice and clear throughout and there were no issues with distortions or dropouts.
Originally released in the summer of 2003, this hour long OVA is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 but is not anamorphic. Going by what little information is out there, namely Japanese retailer listings, it’s difficult to tell if this was released as anamorphic in Japan. As this is a bonus disc and not a real final product, the Raijin Comics logo is displayed in the upper right corner throughout the program. The white subtitles are also burned onto the print and unfortunately not placed either strictly within or outside of the letterbox framing, so no zooming is really possible either. The actual print itself looks quite good with a great variety of colors and a real richness to the head explosion sequences. If there’s an anamorphic print of it, I’m very curious to see how much more can be eked out of it.
Using a sideways image, the keepcase cover has a half-body shot of Kenshiro in his standard outfit and grim looking expressing against a black cover while set next to the Japanese logo with the English subtitle underneath it. The back cover provides an amusing blood splattered piece with the very basic information of running time and region encoding and the fact that it’s not for sale or rental. Naturally, there’s no inserts or anything else with it.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Back when Raijin Comics was getting their presence known in the U.S., they set up their subscriptions so that if you bought a full year subscription, you’d get some neat bonus items. One of them was an unspecified DVD of some sort. Of course, this just grabbed me so I went in on it. Over time, it seemed like the disc would originally be something for Grappler Baki (a demo disc was eventually released, a compilation of 30 minutes worth of fight sequences) and then the first episode of Fist of the Blue Sky. That series seems to have been tabled at some point and the creators opted to reboot their Fist of the North Star anime franchise and kick it off by doing a trilogy of hour long episodes to bring Kenshiro into the new century.
And amusingly, within days of the show being announced as licensed in the U.S. by ADV Films, the Raijin demo disc arrives. Even more amusingly, at least to me, the opening FBI warning is the exact same as ADV’s, though that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. The disc itself isn’t a finish replicated product but rather a DVD-R, but that doesn’t affect the quality of the show itself. Overall, the disc is nicely done though there are of course minor quibbles, but considering it’s a free preview you learn to let a few things go.
The premise isn’t really anything new. It’s been a few years since flames have engulfed the world and a seeming nuclear winter and summer have ravaged the lands. The world is in ruins, humanity has been pushed to the brink but still survives. The landscape is desolate; massive stretches of desert in every direction. Where cities once were only partial remains of buildings are there. Water in those locations are deadly, though people in dire need still try to drink it, even with other bodies littered around it. But still humanity pushes on, and we see a small expedition group from the Village of Freedom trying to find a new source of water in a well that an information man has sold to them.
Though they do strike water, their prize is quickly snatched from them by the arrival of motorcycle riding warriors from the Last Lands, the “ruling kingdom” of the region that controls everything through fear and intimidation via their god, Dhola and his guardian warrior Sanga. Nearly everyone at the expedition site is killed when the information man, Tobi, tries to take off. He’s nearly killed by a barrage of arrows, but the last headshot is stopped by the tall and muscular warrior known as Kenshiro who comes out of nowhere. Kenshiro, whose story is told over the three episodes in this series, is the classic quiet fighter. Through some flashbacks we see some of his philosophy and how he fights for what’s right by using the special martial arts skills that have been passed down to him, skills that are given to only one person in each generation to ensure their purity.
Kenshiro makes quick work of the scum that attacked the expedition and returns to the Village of Freedom to get Tobi fixed up. What surprises him here is that he meets a very attractive blonde woman named Sara who has also seemingly learned the same skills but has applied them to the art of medicine, using pressure points to heal wounds instead of creating them. Her talents have become quite known and she has a long line of people in need of aid that she doesn’t turn away. But her notoriety has also caused Sanga to desire her for the Last Lands kingdom as he can use her miracle ability to compliment those of Dhola to try and keep the populace under sway as he’s the real power behind the kingdom.
So when she’s kidnapped and much of the Village of Freedom is burned to the ground, Kenshiro and Tobi head off to the Last Lands to bring a little ass kicking justice where needed.
With this release in Japan being part of a number of high profile OVA releases, this has been one of the more mixed bags when it comes to the animation. The big use of CG and digital camera panning has been going on for awhile but it’s become even more used in 2003 with series such as Macross Zero and a few others that we’ve seen some truly high end uses of it. With this series, there are some great looking moments, but there’s also a lot of really weak moments. There are a number of shots in the beginning with the motorcycles and the pickup that Kenshiro and Tobi use. Both of these sequences don’t blend well with the backgrounds and look more like cel shaded animation than anything else; it’s simply too clean looking for this kind of series. When watching the pickup truck race along the desert, even though it does the little bumping up and down along the way, it doesn’t really look like it’s on that desert floor but riding just above it. There’s also a number of areas where secondary characters and one-off’s really don’t look like they’re “in” the show, but on top of it.
These moments are equally balanced by some great looking sequences of course. Kenshiro’s battle with Sanga is great, Sara simply looks hot in every scene that she’s in, and the fight sequences when Kenshiro breaks loose are just vividly done. Much of what made the original series and manga fun are still alive here, though the plot is different than the manga at least (having not seen the TV series from the 80’s). Kenshiro uses his ‘You’re already dead” line, the high pitched fast moving fist attacks are there and opponents heads bubble up or melt like never before. The bits that made the original famous or infamous depending on how you look at it are here.
Over the years, I’ve ended up seeing the original movie from Streamline a couple of times and have always hated it. I passed on the TV series because of it, letting another reviewer handle it. But during my exploration of the world of manga, I became fascinated by the prequel series Fist of the Blue Sky. This lead me to trying the colorized Master Edition of the Fist of the North Star series as well, which I’ve surprisingly fallen in love with. While I doubt I’ll revisit the original movie, my opinions of the franchise have changed since those reviews and I’ve come to appreciate the thing on a different level since then. Though there are flaws in this episode, mostly in the animation quality, I’m excited to see what the final full release will be like, hopefully anamorphic and hopefully with the Japanese 5.1 track that exists.
Japanese 2.0 Language
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: NA
Audio Rating: N/A
Video Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: N/A
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: All
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Gutsoon!
Running time: 60
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: New Fist of the North Star