New Fist of the North Star Vol. #2 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, October 22, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, November 02, 2004



What They Say
In the aftermath of Kenshiro's attack on the citadel of Last Land, the boy known as Lord Doha falls deathly ill. Sara's prognosis is dire. The serum to save his life is a two day drive each way. There is a shorter path…but it runs through Cliffland, a land haunted by demons that practice a mysterious killing technique. Meanwhile, a new mysterious warrior arrives in Last Land, vowing to take all that Sanga has claimed. The balance of power is once again thrown into chaos as fist is pitted against fist in a struggle to see whose justice will prevail.

The Review!
There's always someone bigger and badder out there once you kill what you think is the main bad guy.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. This series is one of a few recent OVA series in Japan that actually did a 5.1 mix for the native language and it plays out well here in a lot of scenes. From the explosive sequences in the prologue and including the vocals for Gackt's songs, there's some solid usage of the 5.1 mix here in both terms of directionality and usage of the rear channels. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback. We had heard this show previously in a PCM 2.0 mix and while that mix definitely had a good solid feel to it, I really like how the directionality in this one turned out.

Video:
Originally released in 2003, this hour long OVA is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 but like its Japanese counterpart, it is not enhanced for anamorphic playback. The transfer for this show really shines by showing off much of what the current batch of OVAs are doing in terms of mixing CG, cel shaded and standard animation together. Particularly with the cel shaded areas, such as the bikers we see at the beginning again in a repeat clip, there are large areas of solid colors that look really great and avoid any really noticeable blocking going on. Cross coloration throughout it essentially non-existent other than once or twice noticeable when the show was paused. Even aliasing is very minimal, giving the series a very nice smooth look to it

Packaging:
Providing a shot of Kenshiro in full color but smaller than the first volume, he's shadowed by a red filtered image of Seiji behind him. The look of the two is decent but the cover feels a bit weak, like it's missing something that I can't put my finger on. The back cover has a good old big shot of Kenshiro against some flames and a series of small shots along the side from the show. The series premise and the various information sections for the production, features and extras are all done along the center in very small type. Everything is quick and easy to find in the technical box which is a real plus. The insert is a logo-less version of the front cover while the reverse side just has some softened eyes mixed into the blue background and lists the extras on the disc.

Menu:
The menu layout is better than the first volume in navigating and the artwork design is decent if uninspiring. Using the same piece of Kenshiro artwork from the cover, the selections are listed next to him in the standard straight down list. Access times are nice and fast and the submenus load quickly with no transitional animations. The disc also properly read our players language presets and ran it accordingly

Extras:
Much like the first volume, there's some good content to be found in the extras section. The big one for me is the Gackt piece where we get to see him coming in for his first voice over session and what he learns and goes through. It's amusing on a few levels since at times it's easy to forget his superstar status and then be surprised by the entourage that follows him. On the English side, there's another session of the behind the scenes footage with the actors in the booth and going through their lines. Also similar to the first volume, a piece that I don't know who it will really appeal to in the end, is another video session this time with Michael Zang who talks about his particular field of martial arts interest, the Jai Yen Yen Street Combat & Self Defense System. I lost interest fairly quickly this time and didn't finish it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first volume of this series was admittedly something of a surprise (way back when we first saw it in January of this year) so we were looking forward to seeing more to see if it was a fluke or not. While the second volume didn't quite get me in the same way as the first, mostly because it's serving as a bridge storyline to the third volume, we did enjoy it and found it a good bit of fun to watch.

In a way, the show disappointed me from the start. Dealing with the fallout from the first episode, we find that Bista is actually still alive but he's only got a few days left before Sara is unable to do anything else for him. There's medicines that can cure him but that's in Freedom Village which is four days away by jeep, so it wouldn't be there in time. The only slim chance is to go through the mountains, to try and get past a group called the Clifflanders, to get the medicine there which would have it back barely in time for it to work. Kenshiro has no hesitation in doing this and immediately heads out along the path that leads through the mountains.

While they don't exactly pass each other, when Kenshiro heads towards the mountains a man named Seiji is heading towards Lost Land. Seiji, as we learn, has spent quite some years learning the martial arts in a way that's near obsession and focused solely on revenge for what his father has put him through. Seiji's arrival in the Lost Land kingdom is fairly uneventful since Kenshiro has already eliminated Sanga, taking out some of the steam in his sails, but Seiji's content enough to take control of the city and to plan his next maneuver. His time spent there is done mostly through verbal sparring of his ways with Sara while consolidating his control over the lower sheep that quickly learn to obey him due to his strength.

Kenshiro's time in traveling through the mountains brings him into contact with the Clifflanders and through them we start to learn a lot more about the North Star arts and the various sub arts associated with it, such as the Hokumen arts that they practice. Kenshiro's natural abilities end up becoming key to his getting through to them that he's more than they've faced before and through them we start to learn about Seiji, which they fear will become an unstoppable power in the world. Much of the time spent between these two is given over to revelations of the way of the world now and how their arts have guided them since the fall.

With this episode really doing a lot of setup for the final volume's confrontation, there is a good amount of flashback for characters like Seiji and Sara as we see their pasts and the events that molded them into who they are. There's even some amusing clichéd coincidental moments between some of them that come back to haunt in the present day. Seiji takes up a good amount of the time in this episode as we get to learn why he's as angry as he is and why he wants to destroy the Lost Land but it's not anything major not something that isn't all that well hidden as it's telegraphed pretty early on. But the surrounding events to what he does is fun to watch since he controls the city quickly but there's an actual revolt about to be launched over it from those who don't want to live under him.

There are some good revelations made here that showcase more of the world of this day, particularly through the Clifflanders, but a lot of the volume felt like it wasn't really trying in a way. Since it was so focused on getting everyone into place for the confrontations of the third volume the plot of getting Kenshiro out of town felt weak and the ease of which Seiji acquired the Lost Land felt equally as weak. The way everything is done, while fun in its own right at times since there are some good moments, you almost feel like you could get away with skipping the volume and just watching the minute or two recap at the beginning of the third volume to be all caught up. But that would only give you a few minutes of the violence that's contained here and sort of defeats the point, but that's just how minimal the plot really is this time around.

In Summary:
In what could be a much better written episode that would not have felt like things were spaced out so widely, the second installment of the series serves as a bridge episode between the first and last in order to set up the characters where they need to be for the next big fight sequences and to provide some scary bits of knowledge about just how bad things can still be in a world as broken down as this one is. The shows animation carries on much the same as the first and there's a good amount of violence and action to be found here but it loses some of what made the first one so much fun as it opts to not really engage you here but rather to just move the pieces around. It's still enjoyable for the violence and exploding bodies but don't look for much of a story this time around.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Interview with Gackt: The Challenge of the First Time Voice Actor, Interview with Michael Zang of the Jai Yen Yen Street Combat & Self Defense System, Behind the Scenes: ADR, Character Bios

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: C+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 55
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen Letterbox
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: New Fist of the North Star