Another new series of posts to keep the blog running. Binge-watch rants are basically me ranting on any television show that I’ve binge-watched or video games that I’ve sunk a ton of time into (in which case, I’ll just call it a binge-play rant) recently, and for the first subject of this category, we’re going to be talking about a legendary anime that I finally got the motivation to watch because of a certain upcoming video game.
This video game to be precise. And just for the record, I’m going to be using some images from the upcoming game to get my point across because I’m having a hard time finding images from the anime online, I can’t download the anime easily, and taking pics from the legal streaming sites is difficult.
Some of you may remember my “Memories of Shonen Jump” post from about a year ago and how I stated that I was interested in watching Fist of the North Star due to people recommending it to me along with how it was the anime that created all of the Shonen Jump tropes that Jojo would eventually take credit for and Dragonball Z would popularize. While its legacy was something I knew I was going to have actually watch if I was going to properly recommend it as one of those anime that newcomers should see, that wasn’t the main reason I chose to finally dive into this franchise. No, the main reason was that upcoming video game, which was being developed by the guys who make the Yakuza series. And in addition to Yakuza being one of my favorite video game franchises, I was shocked at how similar Yakuza was to Fist of the North Star when the promos started getting released. They’re basically the same except the main character in FoTNS kills people in a Mad Max-style world rather than “not killing” people in modern Tokyo.
While I didn’t know when the game was going to get released in the States at the time, seeing the prototype for a truly awesome series of video games really motivated me to push it up the priority list. However, I had switched from Crunchyroll to VRV at the time, and VRV didn’t upload the Fist of the North Star series onto its site until a lot later. Thankfully, there was an upcoming blu-ray release that I could watch instead, and around October, I had gotten to acquiring all 152 episodes of the legendary series that started it all. Now that may seem like a lot, especially considering even if you discounted the recap episodes, the original Legend of the Galactic Heroes isn’t that long and we all know what people say about that show right? Well…yes it was. I did take breaks, but overall it took me ten months to finish Fist of the North Star.
Being a very old-school Shonen Jump anime along with being a product of the 80s in general, Fist of the North Star is definitely very unrecognizable by modern shonen action standards. Aside from Jojo, you don’t see these kinds of big burly men as protagonists. There aren’t any training arcs in Kenshiro’s journey. No canned humor. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. The animation is horrendous, even for a long-running anime. There are scenes where the only animation is that the drawings are “shook”. I definitely saw its age, but at the same time I also found the series kinda addicting from the very beginning.
It might have to do with me picturing the Yakuza characters in my head whilst watching, but I found the first episode to be a solid hook for this sort of series. Fist of the North Star starts off by explaining the world went to shit, a small village is ravaged by bandits, a wanderer named Kenshiro saves said village, and then he continues on his journey accompanied by a kid named Bat, who is the troublemaking inventor of the series. There’s also a girl named Lin who develops a crush on Kenshiro after he saves her, but she doesn’t join the two’s journey until much later and she basically functions as the “heart” of the story so to speak. Of course, by 80s standards, that meant she was really useless and constantly having to be saved. Really makes me appreciate Haruka from the Yakuza series even more – and yes, Rie Kugimiya will be voicing Lin in the upcoming video game from what I’ve heard.
From that point on, the show mostly follows a “bad guy of the week” formula whilst establishing who Kenshiro is and what he strives for. We learn he was an accomplished martial artist back when civilization existed, but one day his best friend named Shin betrayed him, stole his fiancee named Yuria, and gave him a “seven-starred scar” on his chest. As such, Kenshiro wanders the desert wasteland looking for Yuria whilst Shin has formed his own kingdom of bandits in order to try and open her heart to him. This conflict with Shin makes up the entirety of the show’s first arc and let me tell you right now, it was pretty goddamn weak.
Shin, to put it lightly, is a very weak villain. He’s strong, but compared to Kenshiro in his current state and many later characters, he’s pretty underwhelming. And as a character, we don’t get much time to know him beyond being told he was Kenshiro’s former friend. His arc also goes on for two cours (aka the entire first season), which is way too long for a pretty basic bad guy with pretty underwhelming servants to act as the monster-of-the-week. From what I was told, the manga version of his arc was a lot shorter, but TV standards at the time required anime to go on for ages. I generally can’t watch Shonen Jump anime weekly due to how protracted they can be. Even now, I wait for Food Wars and My Hero Academia – both of which are fun shows, don’t get me wrong – to finish at least a cour before I marathon them. But I don’t see how anyone can watch Shin’s part of the series weekly if they had the option to. It’s like how people watched Breaking Bad’s final season when it was airing, which I should point out was split over the course of two years. How did you guys do that?
And despite all of its issues, I had little problem finishing that first arc, mostly because the story was simple enough to the point that I could do other things whilst watching, but engaging enough to the point that I was never truly bored with the formula like I got with, say, the “Red Jacket” season of Lupin the Third. Most of this has to do with Kenshiro as a character. He’s never relatable due to practically being a stoic monster in human forms, but he’s emotional and righteous at just the right amount to give him enough charisma so that I wanted to follow him. Now I understand what fans meant when they said he was basically Kazuma Kiryu in the 80s.
After Shin’s arc concluded (and spoilers: he dies and Yuria is said to have committed suicide), I was intrigued to see where the show was going to go from there. What would Kenshiro do now that his goal in life has been lost? A few episodes into the second season and wow, what a jump in quality. The story of the second season is basically Kenshiro becoming a protector of a small village from bandits, only for things to become personal when it’s revealed that said bandits have ties to his brothers. So in other words, we go from Kenshiro going on a journey to Kenshiro staying still and fighting off threats that journey to him. And sometimes, scaling things back a bit can make for massive improvements.
Out of all of the Fist of the North Star arcs, the next set of over-twenty episodes was easily the most engaged I’ve been with the series. It still had its repetitive formula and janky animation, but it also had much better pacing with much more engaging characters. This is the arc that introduced most of the iconic cast that people remember from Kenshiro’s brothers to his friendly rival Rei to the only female fighter in the series Mamika. Personally, I found most of this cast to live up to the hype, and got kind of sad when a bunch of them ended up dying, because this is Fist of the North Star after all. Come to think of it, you don’t see a lot of protagonist death in modern Shonen Jump, do you? Again, I think only Jojo has really done that as of late.
I wouldn’t say I loved the second season or anything, but it was pretty addicting for what it was. There were still some slow moments, but for the most part, this arc had the momentum and character development down pat, plus Kenshiro continuing to defend the weak was still as fun as ever. After I finished it, I knew that nothing was ever going to top it and took a break from the series. I mean by that point, I had watched more than fifty episodes, so I felt like that was deserved. You could watch an entire Gundam series in fifty episodes after all.
A few months passed and I finally decided to give Fist of the North Star a chance to prove me wrong, even though I knew it wouldn’t. But while I didn’t like the third season as much as the second one, it really did start strong in its own right. The plot of this one is basically Kenshiro trying to find his brother Raoh in lieu of the latter being the final boss that’s in every Shonen Jump action series, and dealing with all of the troubles that he comes across in the process. I don’t remember the characters in this one quite as well as the second season’s cast and it didn’t help that they got killed off a lot faster, but I definitely enjoyed Souther.
He was one of the stronger villains in the show for me in that he was an asshole, but he was also calculating and could back up his mouth. More importantly, he really gave Kenshiro a challenge due to his pressure points being reversed, which is an issue that Fist of the North Star has in general. The thing with Kenshiro’s fighting style – and most of the bad guys’ for that matter – is that you would be dead after getting hit once, so it’s kind of hard to have a proper shonen-esque fight in this universe. And while Kenshiro owning mooks with his moves that I swear he makes up on the spot is reasonable, when it comes to actual named antagonists, I’d like some more back and forth.
There is some when Kenshiro fights Shin and his demented brother Jagi, but Souther was the first time where I really felt like Kenshiro was in danger without being the “invincible” that the “final boss of the series” Raoh was. And when he eventually loses to Kenshiro, the absence was really felt because he gets killed off around 2/3 of the way through the third season and they try to fill the remaining time by having Kenshiro square off against someone who admires him, which wasn’t nearly as satisfying. Didn’t help that there was a pretty cool father/son duo with Shu and Shiba that got axed even before Souther did. Classic example of a season peaking too early, thy name is Fist of the North Star Season 3.
Fourth season is basically a continuation of the third season except with more focus on Raoh as well as this group called the Five Chariot Stars, half of who get killed off way too quickly for me to really care about them. It’s serviceable, but I ended up having to take another break a few episodes into it due to fatigue. I did like Yuria’s brother Juza and the gentle giant Fudo, but the rest of the season just felt more like Fist of the North Star and after more than a hundred episodes, that gets really tiring. I should point out that it’s incredibly obvious that the entirety of the story was made up as the writers went because there’s a lot of details thrown at you that aren’t foreshadowed in the least, but I still welcomed Yuria revealing that she survived the first season in a semi-believable way. However, at this point I just really wanted the show to end. It was still easy to get through, but I also felt like Raoh’s character arc had run its course. At least the final fight scene was fun.
And that pretty much sums up my entire experience with Fist of the North Star. However, it wasn’t actually over because a sequel series called Fist of the North Star 2 aired on Japanese television about a week later, and it’s basically a post-timeskip series in the same vein as Naruto Shippuden and such. Out of curiosity for how things would be different now that all of the major antagonists were gone and the Kenshiro’s kid acquaintances would be like now that they’re adults, I jumped into it shortly after finishing the fourth season and actually got hooked again.
The fifth season of the show was only thirteen episodes long, and that meant a tighter narrative with less repetitive fights and faster characterization. I wasn’t too big on Bat as a grown-up because he lost all of his personality in the process and turned into a generic muscle-bound leader not too dissimilar from Ike in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. Lin was mostly the same as a grown-up, but more confident. However, Kenshiro was still the lovable stoic he always was, and that was good enough for me as long as the story was up to snuff. And it sort of was. Bat’s army is fighting off a dangerous bandit army, and Kenshiro lends his aid. Honestly, I don’t remember the antagonists too well aside from the one who eventually sides with Kenshiro, but I did enjoy this guy named Ein. Too bad he had to die, like every likable supporting character in this franchise.
Still, even though I didn’t feel like this season needed to exist and their are more unforeshadowed plot twists than the show knows what to do with like Lin having a twin sister, I was on board with Fist of the North Star 2 for a time. And then Lin gets kidnapped in a cliffhanger ending, setting things up for the sixth and final season of the entire 80s iteration. After another small break of about a week or two, I jumped into this final arc, determined not to stop until I finally finished all of my blu-rays.
I’m just going to be honest here, the last season of Fist of the North Star sucked. It had its good points like the pirate father and Kenshiro actually having to struggle again, but otherwise it was an incredibly repetitive and overly long installment of a series that should have ended two seasons ago (the sixth season is 30 episodes long, making it the longest season of Fist of the North Star) with its repetitive villain-of-the-week formula and just coming off like a lesser version of the fourth season. This season involves Kenshiro travelling to a dangerous island to rescue Lin and fighting the many dangerous criminals lurking in the area. I’ve heard that the villain Kaioh was a decent villain from the fanbase, but I found him to be very annoying and very dated in terms of motivation and how OP he is. Basically, he’s Raoh’s brother and hates the idea of love because his mother died trying to save Kenshiro from a fire, which is such a hard and hypocritical swing from the point of said sacrifice that he probably traded in brain cells for all that muscle mass. If this guy had made it into the new FoTNS game, he’d be voiced by the main antagonist from Yakuza 1 that everyone hates so much.
There was some promise in the idea that Raoh was supposed to be the one to save the island inhabitants, but since Kenshiro killed him, the islanders lost all hope. However, Fist of the North Star doesn’t really follow through on that idea beyond “you can’t be our savior” to which Kenshiro responds by killing people like Raoh would. On top of that, Bat and his crew don’t show up until the very end of the arc, wasting his new character. And Lin is just useless the entire way through, which is a lot more annoying now that she’s an adult due to all of the focus that’s put on her. The series basically ends with Kenshiro riding off in the sunset to continue his battles, and from what I heard, the manga goes on for one more arc after that anime series finale. However, because it involves Kenshiro acting as a messiah with hardly any fight scenes, Toei decided not to adapt it, and thank Christ for that. Because I was really done with the series after that, and now my blu-rays are back on my shelf to collect dust.
As a whole, Fist of the North Star was just as good an entry point for shonen action/Shonen Jump newbies as I thought it would be, and I found it incredibly easy to binge-watch. Even the sixth season only took me a few days, provided I was playing video games whilst leaving it on in the background. It was definitely worth it just to become familiar with all of the lore when I eventually play the new video game in a few months – which I should point out you only need to finish up to Season 3 to know who all of the characters are in that thing – and I’m glad I saw it.
Definitely not my favorite Shonen Jump series, although I don’t love any of them anyways, so take that for what it’s worth. My favorite right now is probably My Hero Academia, but we all know by now I have my issues with it. Do I recommend watching it if you’re already familiar with Shonen Jump series like Jojo or Hunter x Hunter? Sure if you want to, but you don’t need to watch it if you’re deep into those anime because as I said before, Fist of the North Star is a very archaic show by today’s standards. Kenshiro rarely has anyone who can actually challenge him since getting hit by even one of his attacks is an instant death. 99% of the male cast look like they eat twelve protein shakes a day, which shouldn’t be possible given the world is destroyed. I probably would have found this series more tedious if it wasn’t for the Yakuza connections I saw within the series.
But at its age, it can still hold a candle to most of the best Shonen Jump action series out there like Rurouni Kenshin, Yu Yu Hakusho, and so on and so forth on its own terms. From what I heard, this series was the main reason why men crying is a sign of masculinity in Japanese fiction, and it really shows. Every time Kenshiro shed a tear for his dead friends (and he’s got a lot of them by the time the series is over), I really felt like I got to know the man behind the memes. A lot of the characters fight knowing they could die and leave their children behind, but they do it anyways because they need to feel alive to the bitter end. It’s kind of funny that one of the few things to survive after nuclear war ravaged the planet is being the greatest Mortal Kombat character to ever live, but when has anime ever been 100% serious with us?
While the stories were mostly simple tales of survival and rivalry, they were very engaging when they were firing on all cylinders thanks to the shocking variety of personal philosophies all of these characters had. There are definitely a lot of retcons and other signs that the story was made up as it went, but there are worse ways a show that was made up on the fly can go. The action isn’t all that animated most of the time, but for the most part, seeing Kenshiro do one of his famous memetic actions is fun. And things get really cool when he has an opponent who can match his skill. Setting-wise, the show is alright. Lots of sandy villages for the most part, but there’s the occasional kingdom or temple to make things look varied.
I could have also used some better female characters. Mamika is cool with her bladed yo-yos and loving personality, but she is so hopelessly outmatched by the big boys in combat. And the other females don’t even get that. Mostly just damsels in distresses or figureheads. You can’t even say this is due to Fist of the North Star being a product of the times, because there were plenty of strong female characters in anime during that period. Madoka from Kimagure Orange Road and alot of Ranma characters come to mind.
Is there anything else to say about Fist of the North Star? Well I could describe each individual character in more detail, but I’m just going to spare you guys from that since it’s honestly not worth devoting paragraphs to how menacing Raoh can be or how much of a beloved brother that Toki is. They’re more fun to watch in action than actually describe when you get down to it, plus I think this post is long enough as is. So I’ll just end this rant by saying that now I am in the know, I’m looking forward to Lost Paradise more than ever. If that game proves substantial enough, I’ll devote a binge-play post to it and maybe I’ll get into the characters more there.
But until then, I hope you enjoyed reading about my experiences with the original Fist of the North Star series, and hopefully I can do more binge-watch rants in the near future. What would be a good series to do next? Better Call Saul? Atelier? The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is really hot right now, so maybe I should jump in on that discussion provided my Amazon Player doesn’t crash on me for the twentieth time.