The 1986 OVA ‘Fist of the North Star’ is based on a manga series that ran from 83 to 88, this anime is another one of those that got me hooked on the artform. Images of nuclear holocaust from the opening sequence have stuck with me from the first time I watched this, which was around 1995 or 96. Around that same time, I was watching Mad Max and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Terminator, Nemesis 2 and other post-apocalypse sci-fi and action. So this fit, for sure. I was also very well acquainted with gory horror by that time, so the blood made for a nice blend of some of my favourite things.
After planning on covering a different show entirely, I had not intended to be stuck in the 80s like, oh, I dunno, some kind of 80s kid. I’ve been slack in my anime watching and thought I’d dip into the honey pot that is ‘Fist of the North Star’.
So, before I get into that, I have been watching ‘Ushio to Tora’, which will be on an upcoming Dead Cells, though not necessarily horror, it is a demonic martial arts drama, so it certainly works. Besides, it has been a pretty fun watch so far. At that rate, I may dip into the series ‘Durarara’ just to cover the popular supernatural dramas in simulcast this summer. ‘Kuriyama Santa’ is a new motion comic of some sort that is a demonic horror story. Thirteen little five-minute episodes are available which I will be checking out on my cell, as I’ve become a fan of short anime like this on mobile. There is a Devilman crossover that I won’t be watching, ‘Cyborg 009 vs Devilman’ which sounds entirely uninteresting to me at the moment, especially when there is a ‘Devilman’ remake coming just as soon. Heading into October, ‘Shieisha no Teikoku’ will begin, which is a Frankenstein’s monster influenced sci-fi mystery that looks particularly goth. Still waiting for more titles to be added to the Sentai Selects list, or more accurately, waiting for Ninja Scroll to be added since I don’t have that in my tiny collection anymore. Both live-action adaptations of Attack on Titan and Corpse Party premiered in Japanese Theatres this weekend – but Corpse Party will re-premiere in September in an ‘Unlimited Edition’ uncut version. Not entirely sure why they are actually returning to the cutting room floor to add more gore. This news hit several anime news sites the day after the release, so perhaps it is a crowd-sourced opinion that influenced the decision. There is a new trailer to accompany the announcement, so take a look on YouTube. In Hollywood anime news, the producer of Shutter Island and Black Swan, Mike Medavoy, has teamed up with Japanese studios to adapt the psychological horror manga ‘6000’. As I’ve never heard of the source material, I can only hope for something like The Abyss or an underwater version of Dead Space. Another development is the television network Chiller is set to begin a horror anime block featuring ‘Is This A Zombie?’, ‘Tokyo Majin’, “Devil May Cry’, and ‘Black Blood Brothers’. Now that’s a start, and a really cool idea, but if they want some suggestions for really horrific horror anime, maybe they should catch an episode of Dead Cells? While I enjoy those titles, and Black Blood Brothers will make it on an episode of Dead Cells eventually, the others are kind of on the fringe of the genre. Why not something creepier. Something scary.
Now, for something gory. ‘Fist of the North Star’. This is a Toei Animation studios work and production. likely the most prolific anime company of Japan, they have brought us many action and post apocalypse titles, and I’d say this is the closest to horror they have ever wandered. from ‘Cutie Honey’ and ‘Sailor Moon’ to ‘Transformers’ and ‘Digimon’, if you’ve seen anything on television aired in syndication you’ve likely seen a Toei Animation. The latest and greatest from them would be ‘World Trigger’, so if you’re up on your new shows, you’re still watching Toei.
A summary from NihonReview.com reads “Earth is a wasteland. Shattered by a nuclear holocaust, only the strongest have survived and anarchy rules. When his girlfriend Yulia is kidnapped and he is left for dead, martial artist Kenshiro embarks on a bloody journey of retribution, meeting a formidable crowd of friends and foes along the way.”
Or, in my own words. Sibling rivalry at it’s finest. We meet our hero Ken, the Fist of the North Star as he battles his once closest friend, Shin who is the reigning Fist of the South. Soon we see how complex the battle is between these two when Ken’s jealous brothers Raoh and Jagi stand by to witness Ken’s defeat and leave him for dead in the desert. A year later, Ken returns, not only to reclaim his lover Yulia, but his rightful place as the true Fist of the North Star.
The first moments, as I said, cover the state of the planet. Nuclear holocaust has left us with roving bands of scoundrels, wandering nomadic survivors, and massive armies hellbent on controlling resources and slaughtering anyone in their way. We are plunged right into this world with the fight between Shin and Ken over domestic jealousy that pits the Fist of the North and South against one another, though they are never supposed to fight. We don’t get a lot of backstory here. It is very compressed, and I’m okay with that, lest it be a three or four hour hero’s journey, which I get pretty bored by. There are seven wounds Shin inflicts on Ken, then the imprint of his fingers as he plunges his hand into his chest – supposedly killing him. It was the exact five finger death punch I wanted from Kill Bill, except here it exists, and almost actually works.
Raoh is the most epically Danzig looking bastard I ever did see. He stands by watching his brother get slaughtered from the top of a cliff with their other brother Jagi. Jagi is almost an Ygor looking character with a stooped posture, bandged head and a bulging eye. They witness their brother left for dead, clutching seeds given to him by his now usurped lover Yulia sprawled across the desert wasteland. Raoh walks away, and Jagi tosses Ken’s lifeless body from a cliff. To add to his seven wounds and five finger death punch injury, it’s quite a drop, then just to seal the deal, Jagi punches the overhanging rock face off, sending an avalanche along with him. I can see why they thought he’d not make it out alive.
Yulia and Ken had been hoarding these flower seeds with hopes they could make the earth green once again. She doesn’t really have much to say or do in the story except be bossed around by Shin, and wish she were being bossed around by Ken instead. It shows that paradigm shift from women reverting to property or chattel as they’d been in feudal times in our dystopian post-apocalypse world as imagined in the 80s. Now, we envision chicks being kick ass, equals and oft-times superior to men, especially when it comes down to survival in a horrific aftermath of global destruction. Perhaps this is an act of apology by way of overcompensation, and pretty soon this will all level out but for now, this would come across as a terribly misogynistic story. But hey, at least no one kills a dog. That I remember.
Now, is it just me or did those berserker type bandits eat the flesh of the first group they kill and pillage? They were rummaging dead people, then eating raw meat… or is it just me? Is that cannibalism, or am I just making an already deplorable situation worse? There are roving bandits much like there would be in Waterworld or Mad Max, though most seem to have allegiance to either Raoh or Shin. Now, as much as I love Raoh as a character, he’s got a real fake it till you make it rock star mentality. I mean, could he not feel his brother was still alive, it seems his sensai could. His other brother is also passing as a false Fist of the North Star, so I’m not sure why they are all trying to take his place when they just don’t have what it takes, and with all their supposed power, could they not detect that he was still alive?
Ken’s eventual reemergence from the desert, a year later comes with as much blood as he went out in. He is attacked by the cannibalistic bandits and we are treated to some of the most interesting head exploding goodness. If you ever feel like, gee, I could really go for some exploding heads right now, ‘Fist of the North Star’ has you covered. The small details count here. CSI style deep zoom into the brain that’s about to blow, the guy who tries to catch his own arms with the stumps he has left, the vivisectionist precision that would make the plasticizing Body Worlds artist proud, arterial sprays and veritable geysers of blood erupting from every wound. It *is* very gory, but more on that later.
Now, it is bad enough there is no honour between the two brothers, Raoh and Ken, but then, Jagi is the worst of the lot. You could almost do without Shin since watching the the brotherhood here is entertaining enough, though I suppose Shin being the Fist of the South Star does give them someone to fight other than each other. Jagi, though a secondary character really, is about my favourite for his look alone. He’s a conniving snake, and no doubt the middle child. His little man syndrome persists until the end, and what an end it is. His bandaged look was great, and only set me up to appreciate what was under those bandages. Of all the head exploding scenes, his is my favourite, and really the most climactic scene.
This is heralded as one of the most gory anime of all time. Well, yes and no. Spending what time I have with the dead cells of horror and gore from overseas, there are definitely more visceral and bloody scenes to be had in other series. However, as far as a prolonged assault of violent images, ‘Fist of the North Star’ does win. Not five minutes pass without some sort of extremely graphic death. If ‘Fist of the North Star’ were to dwell longer, as opposed to quick action sequences, I could see it winning the title, but I’m personally more taken with the more cinematic approach to gore. Linger. Let it seep in. Play with it. But then, this isn’t a horror story, is it? It’s action so this is what we get. Horrific gore. So, close if we are taking quantity, but no if we want quality. I can see why this was remade time and time again and expanded upon but toned down. what I’d like to see is a complete redo with today’s cg anime with, dare I say, even more gore.
Fans of the huge hit ‘Attack on Titan’ may enjoy the similarities here. Humanity under seige, a world changed, and some of the villains reach giant like proportions and behave for moments at least, not unlike the Titans. While the colour palette and style of anime is similar, I find ‘Fist of the North Star’ more detailed, although admittedly dated. I had watched the live action film when it came out and it just left me wanting to watch this. Some of the ‘ New Fist of the North Star’ made it across my screen, but I was never moved to watch them all, and again, they left me wanting this particular OVA.
Unfortunately the English dub reduces a lot of scenes to comedy. Typical, so I do as always recommend the original subtitled version. Over the years, I’ve watched both, and most recently the dub, but if you are going in wet behind the ears, I vote for the subtitled original.
The music is a cross between the worst funk rock and the soundtrack to 20-minute workout. There is some soft porn groove accompanying Ray, a guy that teams up with Ken as they are both searching for their girlfriends, and I’m not sure why. There is no sex to be had, and only one moment of nudity, so the porn groove doesn’t quite fit. The best song is the closing title sequence, where the story continues after the final fights.
If you have a hard time watching anime or even films from the 80s, you may have the same experience with ‘Fist of the North Star’. I highly recommend it for fans of gore, martial arts films, and of course dystopian post-apocalypse stories as like i said, it is gory as fuck. Not a super developed plot, but the cast is not so sprawling that it is easy to keep everything straight, and at 110 minutes, a nice feature-length entry into the classics of good old-fashioned blood spattered anime. While you can find this virtually anywhere on DVD, and even some streaming services, I do think it is best viewed in its natural habitat – a crummy third-gen VHS in someone’s poorly lit basement. Or youtube. Ladies choice.
This is Dead Cells, the weird velcro kid that hangs around the cool one, Dead Air podcast from splatterpictures.net. For more horror, go there. Wes and I cover horror films that get us talking. Huge thank you’s and hello to Bind Torture Kast. The best podcast in this greasy gory realm of horror which is my not so guilty pleasure, I can’t recommend them enough. sometimes I even get a mention which always means a lot since I’m a huge fan and they really are very cool guys, so huge a thank you to Chris, and Luke, and Steve. Tomb Dragomir of TombTV has been curating Tomb’s Jukebox on RueMorgue.com and I’ve been enjoying that like mad. If terror tunes are truly your style, creep my pals Patron Saint of Plagues who do the intro music for Dead Air, or check out the new release from Black Claw, and their super dark dirges from the west coast.
Coming up, I will be talking about Ushio to Tora, Petshop of Horrors, and Ghost Hunt as promised. Should you know a scary anime you think I should watch, let me know at typicallydia on twitter, instragram, tumblr ~ wherever you hang out online.