New Fist of the North Star Vol. #1 (also w/box) - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 17 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.98/34.98
  • Running time: 60
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Letterbox Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: New Fist of the North Star

New Fist of the North Star Vol. #1 (also w/box)

By Chris Beveridge     September 17, 2004
Release Date: September 21, 2004


New Fist of the North Star Vol. #1 (also w/box)
© ADV Films


What They Say
A twist to the classic favorite that begins in the aftermath of the great apocalypse, across a barren Earth, where chaos is the rule, and order the exception with bandits and enterprising overlords terrorizing the survivors of the holocaust. Will a hero rise from the ashes and cut a swath of justice across the Earths ruined landscape?

The Review!
The Fist of the North Star franchise returns with a reboot to the storyline, new actors and new adventures.

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 the summer of 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, 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. A few areas that I wondered about from the Raijin edition look just as slick here, such as the dirt and dust flying from travel across the desert; it all looks just right and avoids looking pixilated or problematic.

Packaging:
Providing a shot of both the protagonist and antagonist on the cover, Kenshiro looks good here in full color and the dark blues while set against the lighter blues of the background and the whitish blue used for his enemy within this episode next to him. There's a few full color shots from the show lined over and under the bilingual title but overall the cover doesn't look too busy and gives the right amount of focus where it counts, on Kenshiro. 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 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.

For the first volume of the release, a disc + box version was also released. Since it's only three volumes, ADV opted for the flimsy thin kind of box that you can disassemble yourself. One of the main panels has a nice shot of Kenshiro opening his vest to reveal the various finger wounds while the other panel has a shot of him and various other characters, some of which have yet to appear, that will make a splash in the show. The spine does a nice mix of the Kenshiro and Sara characters together and the logos used throughout the box use both language versions for it.

Menu:
The menu layout is a bit awkward in navigating, though the artwork design is decent if uninspiring. Using the same piece of Kenshiro artwork from the cover, the selections are listed next to him at an angle that makes obvious logical movement a bit weird since it hops around a bit. 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:
Both sets of language fans, there are some good extras here. For the Japanese language fans, there's a good length press conference that was done to show off the first episode after its completion that's headed by Buronson, Hara and even Gackt. It's interesting to hear the two creators talk about their creation after so long but nothing tops Gackt talking about how he views Kenshiro as a role model for men to learn how to act and be like men and what to stand for. Since he was a fan in his youth he's excited to be participating not only via two songs but also as a voice actor. But there's just something so humorous as the very light speaking effeminate man talks about how Kenshiro is great for teaching men the way real men act.

For the English language fans, there's a roundtable discussion done up in Austin for the main characters of this episode and they talk about the show, how they feel about it and what they're trying to bring to it. The actors here aren't among the usual stable we get for commentaries or interview sessions like this so it's great to see some fresh blood getting some screen time and expanding their presence to the public. Another inclusion, one that looks like it may have been done with a camcorder, is a visit to the Gracie studio where two of the instructors there talk about the various martial arts used in the show, the pressure point techniques as well as doing some actual displays. Gracie is one of the better known US places for the mixed fighting UFC tournament participants and it's interesting to see them get a chance to talk about some of the similarities between what they do and the anime itself. Its appeal is definitely going to be limited though.

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. After some wrangling, the rebooted version of the Fist of the North Star anime franchise was used as the bonus, giving subscribers the first episode before the show just as the licensing announcement was being made that ADV Films had picked it up. The disc was saw back then was produced by ADV from what we can tell but it was just one of a number of DVD-R's that were sent off to qualifying subscribers. So back in January of 2004, I was able to see what you could basically call a rough draft of this release, almost a check-disc version in some ways. While a full on comparison isn't really required since the two are really different beasts, what is exactly the same is the content itself.

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 is 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 Macros 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 are 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 are 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.

In Summary:
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 led 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. With the final full release of this first episode, I'm very pleased with it and can't wait to see the brand new material in the next two episodes.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles, Interviews with voice actors and ADR,Interview with Relson Gracis Jiu Jitsu Sensei Phil Cardella, Japanese press conference, 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.

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