Sukeban Boy (JJ)

Wasting no opportunities to spread jiggling flesh across the screen, is Sukeban Boy a blazingly funny parody of the schoolgirl fetish film, or simply one of the most memorable fetish films ever made? By the time the nipple clamps and machine gun boobs make an appearance, you simply won't care. Bizarre, hysterical and horribly wrong in absolutely all the right ways, Sukeban Boy is an unmissable guilty pleasure.

What They Say
Sukeban has a problem. This foul-mouthed, hard-fighting son of a biker has been cursed with the looks of a pop princess. The looks lead to teasing, the teasing leads to fighting, and the fighting leads to expulsions - expulsions from every boy's high school in the region. What's a biker who's nurturing conflicted feelings for his gender-confused child to do in such a situation? Simple! Dress the boy up as a girl and enroll him in an all-girls high school.

But girls' schools are strange, disturbing places and, within a day of arriving, Sukeban has been signed up for humiliation classes and forced to do battle with the various school gangs: the Pantyhose Club, the No Bra Club, and of course, the Full Frontal League.

The Review!
Audio:
The film only contains one audio track for the feature and it is Japanese stereo. It is an average track and while distortions and dropouts were not noticed even for stereo it is not at the top of the class. The film often feels like they had the mikes as close as they could to the actors and had little to no post recording of the dialogue. Sounds and dialogue can be soft or background noise noticeable depending on the environment.

Video:
The feature was made in 2006 and filmed in three days on the cheap according to the director's commentary and it looks it. The film used to shoot is clearly not top of the line and different motions or effects can cause the softness of the picture to stand out more. The colors seem a tad muted, but the director says he was going for a 70's action film feel and the video seems to live up to (or down to) that goal. Add in a below average encode with a lot of aliasing and line crawl and the sensitive videophile will be climbing the walls.

Packaging:
The packaging consists of Sukeban and Mochiko Ishii in various poses (and in Mochiko's case states of dress) in comic inspired panels with different colored stripes behind them which is fairly appropriate for a story based off a manga. The right portion is dominated by a picture of Full Frontal in her generous sized thong and covering her breasts and as such not living up to her moniker. The back features a 3/4 of the case picture of Mochiko hiding behind Sukeban who is in a fighting pose and it also has 4 stills from the film on the bottom.

Menus:
The main menu reflects the cover as all the pictures present there are also on the main menu screen though the striped backgrounds move almost kaleidoscope like while Full Frontal has 3 different stills that take her from her covered pose on the front to giving the full frontal treatment...except for a strategically placed film title over the nether regions. The menu is rather basic and quick to respond

Extras:
The extras on this feature consist of a special Sukeban WTF ReMix! video where the edit together different scenes from the film in a repetitive fashion, photos used to create the cover and menu as well as an audio commentary from director Noboru Iguchi and actor Demo Tanaka. The commentary is an interesting piece in which the two talk a bit about about the making of the film, various memories of different cast members and occasionally the film itself.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The film opens with a tight shot of a young man and woman looking they are enjoying a view of the river when he collapses and spits blood while she is cleaning a pair of brass knuckles. The young woman is Sukeban...except she is actually a young man cursed with a woman's face and frame. To make up for this Sukeban has become a brawler and no sooner has she cleaned the knuckles than three stereotypical high school gang members (though clearly well out if high school given their age) attempt to attack "her." Sukeban then corrects them with her rough male speech and by first displaying she is wearing guy's briefs and then with the camera to her back pulling them down so the gang can confirm for the viewers Sukeban is really a he. Sukeban dispatches them and heads home as someone in a school uniform sees it all from a distance. A flashback explains Sukeban was always getting grief for his looks and getting into fights...and agreed with her father's suggestion he wear a school girl uniform to surprise those he fights. His father then barges in when Sukeban is in the bathtub and climbs in fully dressed in biker gear to tell his son that he should go to a girls school, as well as relate in an internal dialogue that he finds his son attractive.

Things then proceed with Sukeban being followed to school and forced to go in by his dad as he tries to ditch out (while being watched again by the same back from before) and discovering that a girl's school can be different. One of the girls throwing knives at him during the introduction and when a girl named Mochiko introduces herself to him and him to the club she belongs to. She has joined the humility club where the members practice being shy in various states of undress or embarrassing clothing. It turns out the club is a front for the Half Naked Women gang who wear primary colored pantyhose over thongs and challenge Sukeban. From this point out the film descends into a mass of shirtless girls, over the top gangs and no small amount of violence and blood as it works through an odd story that shifts gear into full of desire, fighting and Go Nagai bizarre twists and a villain named Full Frontal who oddly isn't as she wear a generous sized thong.

The film scores points for actually having a story and starting off almost on a believable front and not throwing the viewer off the ledge of credibility all at one. It also scores some points for inventiveness with a few scenes. It however losses point with the wooden acting, cheesy effect and poor fight scenes. It is clearly was aiming to be a film showing lots of breasts and blood and the hows of getting to that point (and credibility of the blood) took a back seat to the end result.

In Summary:
Sukeban Boy is a live action film based of a Go Nagai work and those don't always translate from manga to anime well. Manga to live action is even harder to pull off and the film doesn't accomplish it very well at all. While some of the scenes may work well illustrated when acted out in a hurried manner with a number of cheap effects the end result is for the people who love looking at breasts, like very over the top cheesy films or are the obsessive type of fan who needs all of Go Nagai's work. Anyone else venturing in should have some form of alcoholic beverage on hand to get maximum enjoyment out of the film.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Reciever with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, JVC DVD player XV-FA95GD

Grade: D+
Audio Rating: C+
Video Rating: D+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A
________
Bohachi Bushido (JJ)

When a films subtitle translates into Porno Period Drama, one pretty much loses the idea that the film will be about a deep exploration of mankind and its motivations in dealing with the complexities of the world.

What They Say
Japanese cult movie guru Teruo Ishii (Horror Of Malformed Men, Blind Woman's Curse) directs this stylishly deranged adaptation of the original manga by Kazuo Koike (Lone Wolf And Cub, Lady Snowblood, and Razor Hanzo). Tetsuro Tanba (You Only Live Twice, Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs) plays Shiro, a mercenary ronin swordsman. Believing life and death to be the same hell, he attempts suicide, but is revived by two lovely prostitutes who are members of a local gang, the Bohachi. This is an organization of men and women who have discarded god, servitude, loyality, trust, propriety, justice, conscience, and shame. The Bonachi oversee the selection and conditioning of beautiful young women for forced prostitution in old Edo's pleasure quarter, and recruit Shiro to rid them of their competition. He springs into action, sending limbs, heads, and kimonos flying, and blood flowing in rivers!

The Review!
Audio:
A fine job in the presentation given the age of the title. It is a mostly center speaker driven track for the dialogue with no dropouts or distortions being noticed.

Video:
The film was originally released in 1973 and looks fairly clean by those standards though there is a noticeable level of grain and the kind of print damage that works of that age often have that have not gone through remastering. At no point does the damage become overwhelmingly distracting however. There are a few minor moments where aliasing is present as well. There is also a sequence that jumps out as it appears that the camera crew used two different types of film for one scene where the grain is much higher than normal on the distance shot but completely different in look on the closeup. That they then switch a couple of times between these two different types is a bit distracting.

Packaging:
The cover is from the theatrical poster and is a montage that includes a naked woman riding on the shoulders of a ninja while trying to kill him, a scene from the film with a naked prostitute and two clients being marched through the street, pictures of the main character and two secondary characters from the film as well as a panel from the original manga where the main character is slicing through a naked woman. Oddly it also has a reverse cover with the more censored version on the inside where the main actress has a torn shirt and panties painted on. A toga like cloth was added to the prostitute being marched down the street and finally the manga scene has the woman being slashed now wearing a bra and panties (which were hugely popular in fuedal Japan).The back cover has three scenes from the movie. The first comes from a scene where the main prostitute is "breaking in" a new arrival and is lavishing her neck. The second has a close up of the main woman with 3 naked (and slightly blurred out) fellow prostitutes in the back. The final image is a rather tame head shot of the main male character. Discotek also provides an image from the manga on the back but it is hard to make out with the copy and stills laid over it.

Extras:
There is a very decent selection to be found here with interviews from lead actress Yuriko Hishimi, one with J-Taro Sugisaku writer of the Teruo Ishii section of the Toei Pinky Violence book, a commentary track with J-Taro and cult director Takao Hakano and finally liner notes and film history by Chris D. of the American Cinematheque.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The film opens with Shiro, a famous assassin, facing off against four swordsman who have him trapped in the middle of a bridge-or they would have if he weren't such a skilled swordsman who dispatchs them with the opening credits. Just after defeating the four he is surrounded on both sides by police officers intent on capturing him. After cutting down few of them and engaging in a type of standoff Shiro declares he has had enough and jumps into the river asking the question "If dying is Hell... then how is that any different from the Hell that is life?" just before he slips beneath the surface.

He awakes to find himself in a bed with two naked women who are trying to warm his body. He is made an offer by Kesazo Shirakubi, who is in charge of the men of the Bohachi, to join the Bohachi, a group of ill repute. All he has to do is abandon the eight human virtues of godliness, obedience and fidelity toward elders, loyalty toward friends, trust of allies, modesty, justice, conscience, and shame. This is explained to him as he is watching women being tortured and raped in order to turn them into the kinds of prostitutes the Bohachi use and he is also the cage where those with catch syphilis are left to starve to death giving him an idea what kind of people he is dealing with. Shiro says he sees them as beasts who have forgotten the human way of life and in that they are like him and he joins on a provisional basis.

Shiro is assigned the task of going with one of the members as he goes to collect a woman who has fallen into debt to be sold into the brothel. When the woman threatens to kill herself he offers a better weapon than she is threatening to use. Shiro displays no emotion as he first traps her arm then disrobes her allowing his accomplice tie her up. Even when neighbors arrive to throw items at them Shiro stays emotionless. Shiro is then forced to take part in the auction for the women in which he has no interest and pays the sizable amount he got for capturing her to win her though he doesn't touch her. It turns out everything he did in capturing her was just a test which he has now failed do to not taking advantage of the woman who belongs to the clan. He is thrown out of their Bohachi's district to discover that the Bohachi have lived up to their code and informed the police who are waiting for Shiro at the gates.

As Shiro is fighting off the officers the boss of the Bohachi arrives and gets the police to leave due to the Shogun's crest his clan posses. In the past the Bohachi provided women to the men who were building the city of Edo (modern day Tokyo) thus cutting down on the problems the officials had with the workers and speed up construction. This service earned the Bohachi a special exemption from Shogun Tokugwa Ieyasu to operate brothels-a portion of the funds the Bohachi then donate to the government. The current problem the Bohachi are having is that numerous places have now started to engage in prostitution but the officials won't shut them down due to the fact that most of the customers are samurai even though they are illegal. The boss wants Shiro to kill the women and customers of such places so they are forced out of business to which Shiro agrees as he feels the world would be better without such people and proceeds to skillfully carry out his mission. What follows is a trail of violence and humiliation of some of the patrons which forces the other heads of the brothels to come to arms against the Bohachi as well as to launch an assassination attempt against Shiro. Finally the government is forced to step in and take a role but then the question is raised- what use will the Bohachi have for Shiro once his mission is accomplished?

The film's subtitle translates to Porno Period Drama according to the extras and it earns it. The film spends a fair amount of time with the women of the film running around either with their chests exposed or completely naked. This leads to some odd moments as due to Japan's censorship laws the women had to cover their crotches when in front of the camera which makes them seem almost modest until their back is to the camera and they don't have to cover themselves anymore. The film uses sets that most fans of samurai films will find conventional for the period being filmed along with some screen backdrops that occasionally try to convey a surreal feeling for the film and convey that perhaps Shiro is right and this really is Hell. The acting is fairly top notch and the period costumes are also well done. The interview with Yuriko Hishimi is an interesting one that gives some insight into the different approaches the big studios Toei and Toho took in the day as well as how titles such as this one were made and maybe my favorite part of the disc.

The biggest problem with the film is that the writers never went out of the way to give a reason to really connect with any of the characters and assault the senses with so many scenes of brutality, torture and nudity that a feeling of numbness can set in fairly quickly that can leave one dead to what they are seeing. The fact that certain scenes seem to exist just for that reason is kind of confirmed in the interview with the lead actress when she admits that the scene where she is pleasuring a tied up foreign woman makes no sense to her to this day as to why it is there.

In Summary:
Bohachi lives up to its subtitle of Porno Period Drama with a good deal of the violence samurai film fans recognize as well as a very generous helping of female nudity. If that is what a person is looking for in a title this maybe one they want to see but for someone who has reservations to scenes of brutality toward women they may espouse the main character's belief that the world he inhabits is Hell. The film may not even register as shocking to many given where cinema goes today and without that key component the film brings too little in the way of character story to make it a high recommendation.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Interview with Yuriko Hishimi, Interview with J-Taro Sugisaku, Commentary with J-Taro and Takao Nakano, Liner Notes, Film History

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Reciever with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, JVC DVD player XV-FA95GD

Grade: C
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: C+
Menus Rating: NA
Extras Rating: B+
________________

Shaolin Rescuers

The plot may be secondary and lacking in taste but the fight candy is more than worth it and delicious.

What They Say
The legendary Five Venoms come together once more under celebrated director Chang Cheh (The Five Venoms) in Shaolin Rescuers. This spirited 1979 tale of heroism and friendship unites two blue-collar workers against a corrupt priest and his temple-terrorizing minions. Lo Meng (Hard Boiled) stars as a tofu maker, and Kuo Chue (the Brave Archer series) plays his sparring partner, a waiter with a talent for turning anything he touches into a weapon. When they meet a put-upon mill worker and a wounded Shaolin disciple, the action builds to one of the most thrilling final battles in the Shaw Brothers' canon: a masterfully executed five-on-five brawl that puts an over-the-top arsenal of weaponry in the lethal hands of the Venoms.

The Review!
Audio:
There are two tracks available on this release. One is an English track and the other is a Mandarin track and both are mono though encoded in 2.0. For the purpose of the review the Mandarin track was used and no dropouts or distortions were noticed. The English track was also sampled and no problems were noticed during those parts. It is a mono track so it isn’t all that great and the English track has a bit of the old kung fu dubbed ring to it but they are fair tracks and get the job done of communicating dialogue and sound without covering each other up.

Video:
Created in 1979 the film is presented in 16:9 non anamorphic ratio. The encode presents some good visuals and presents the colors as bright and strong. There is a touch of ghosting against bright background, slight noise, dot crawl, and some strong red color bleed at times but none are present to a great extent.

Packaging:
The cover of the release features the three main characters in their own unique color-blue, red and yellow in martial arts poses against a green background. There is also a white banner with the title in it about halfway down the cover which gives the appearance of rolling over onto the back. The back has the three main characters engaging in combat with three of the members of White Brows gang that they combat in the film. This is over a green background that has a scene from the film done in shades of green on it. The back also contains an image of the original theatrical poster and the date, director and five stars named. Along with that it also has five stills from the feature but this release did not have the slip cover previous Shaw releases have had. It does retain the Shaw Brothers print on the back of the DVD cover like other Shaw releases. The DVD label uses the image from the front cover of the release.

Menus:
The main menu uses the cover image and it is used throughout the different menu screens with just the red character used for scene selection, the blue and yellow ones on the trailers screen and the Shaw Brothers wallpaper print on the audio selection screen. The menus are quick to respond to changes in selections and in acknowledging choices.
Extras:
This feature contains no extras.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The film introduces us to all the key players in the film with a (mostly) one on one face off against a primarily red background with a little architectural backdrop. The film itself opens showing the character Jin doing a combination of training and making tofu. He receives a customer in the form of Yang Dabao who has come to buy tofu for the restaurant in which he works and the two trade martial arts moves while carrying the tofu. Jin’s boss arrives just as they have finished up and accuses Jin (justifiably) of slacking though with Yang’s help the boss is taken off Jin’s back. Though Yang has his own problems as he gets back to the restaurant as his boss yells at him for taking too long which Yang manages to offset despite not having someone to help him.

Jin later visits Yang at the restaurant and the two engage in a spectacular display of martial arts as they try to one up each other. Yang shows off his skills he learned fighting for food with his father as he is adept at using anything handy as a weapon. Jin then reveals he learned his martial arts when he was saved from a beating by a martial arts master whose named he never learned in the two years he studied for him before the master just vanished. Both men share a hope that their skills will give them a chance to do something great in the future rather than just proceeding with their day to day drudgery.

The plot is introduced when a character named Xiguan comes injured to one of the local temples to relate that the master known as White Brows has attacked another temple and they surmise he will appear at the temple Xiguan has made it to. Xiguan is sent off to cope with his injuries while the temple prepares for the coming fight and Xiguan is sent to see Zhou Cheng as he can make a medicine to heal Xiguan. Zhou runs a martial arts temple where he has a spectacular pupil named Zu Chai who he looks down on as the rest of his pupils are rich while Zu is not. Zu is a master at fighting on poles and incurred the jealousy of some fellow students who attempt to ambush him. While he is being besieged he is rescued by Jin and Jang which leads to him showing off his martial arts to them as well when they take him back to the restaurant.

At the same time as the three are at the restaurant the temple Xiguan attempted to warn is ambushed and obliterated. White Brows gang then goes looking for Xiguan to keep him from warning any others. Xiguan attempts to find help but discovers that White Brows reach is great as he is hunted by his gang and will get no help from Zhou acquiring his medicine. He collapses outside the tofu shop and is found by Jin. The three friends decide to help Xiguan get the medicine he needs and attempt to raise the cash to get the expensive medicine. They also meet up with a fourth member Han Qi who helps them out when the restaurant is threatened-and they will need it going forward. White Brow’s gang figures out that the men have been buying medicine for Xiguan and track down and assault the five men. What follows will be a long night spent holed up as Xiguan teaches them some new skills while the dread of the attack that the morning will bring with White Brows gang and the military men they have gathered builds. Can even five supremely skilled men stand up to such odds? And will Jin and Yang get to become the heroes they have dreamed of being?

The feature is a showcase of several of the stars in the picture and it shows. More time is spent showing of the main three characters and their skills than is given to the plot, which isn’t a bad thing as it is very basic but could use a few points of exposition-such as why White Brows’ gang is trying to wipe out other martial artists and why the government would supply troops. These questions are raised as the film tries to go with a bit more than the cliché “Hey you, why you look at me, OK we fight” reasoning that can infest some martial arts films but doesn’t quite pull it off. In a different picture it would be a bigger problem but this is a fight fans candy picture and sure delivers on that.

In Summary:
While Shaolin Rescuers is light on plot it more than makes up for it in action. The series has some of the best choreographed action I have seen in some time and it also takes time to blend in comedy as well. Martial Art film fans are in for a treat with the action on this feature.

Features
Mandarin 1.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

Grade: B
Audio Rating: C+
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
________
FotNS 2

A star whose presence foreshadows death shines over Kenshiro’s allies-can even the power of Hokuto Shinken fight fate?

What They Say
It's fast and furious deadly martial arts action pushed to the limits, and beyond. Never before have so many been killed by just one man. Ken continues his quest to save the post-apocalyptic world using his incredible martial arts skills. Enter the deadly world of Hokuto no Ken and witness a place where violence isn't the problem, it's the solution! The carnage gets serious with this second box set containing episodes 37-72. These episodes were never released in North America. they are available for the first time completely uncut and completely insane.

The Review!
Audio:
The second set contains only a Japanese 2.0 track as the dub on the first set had been created by Manga Entertainment years ago and they never went past the first 36 episodes. The track is clear with no dropouts or distortions and while the dialogue is primarily center speaker driven special care seems to have been taken to make sure the voices are very clear and resonant. It is a fabulous 2.0 track.

Video:
The series originally started airing in 1984 and is presented in 4:3. The set uses the remastered Japanese footage and is unique in R1 to this presentation. The worst part of the video is actually Toei’s logo as that made me fear what the series would look like-thankfully it is not representative. The colors are also much better on the disc than the stream, but the majority of colors used are more of the washed out look to reflect the wasteland that exists in the piece. The only two noticed problems with the disc are some color blurring with the red effects and some noise that isn’t quite covered up by the video grain.

Packaging:
The packaging is a mustard yellow background with Kenshiro and Rei standing next to each other in front of two fallen foes with the series title right above them and shadows falling on their faces. A blurb at the top states the number of episodes as does a banner at the bottom. The back is the same color carried over with five shots from the series. The side has the same shot of Kenshiro and Rei resized as well as the series title and info on the episodes contained. The discs come in an M lock case with two “flippers” in the middle so no disc overlaps any other. The first disc has a close up shot of Kenshiro with arm extended. The second has Kenshiro throwing a collection of cannon fodder that had surrounded him. The third disc has a close up head shot of Kenshiro. The fourth has a scene of Kenshiro with some large beasts behind him taken from an image at the start of the third arc. The final disc features a close up shot of Raoh looking menacing.

Menus:
The menus are static affairs that have the language selection right on the front page and whose screens have the full images that the disc labels images were taken from. The menu is quick to respond to selections and remote prompts.

Extras:
This release contains no extras

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
With the second set Kenshiro begins his search for his older adopted brother Toki. The tragedy of the day that the nuclear war begins is shown in Toki’s sacrificing himself for Kenshiro and Yuria despite him having been the superior candidate to the successor of Hokuto Shinken. Toki’s sacrifice cursed him with an illness and shorter life span with which he chose to use his skills to heal others. Hearing this story motivates Kenshiro’s allies to try to find Toki and Mamiya sets out on a journey alone to try to find some news. Kenshiro and Rei catch up with her and discover where Toki is and the three set out to find him.

The journey will not be easy as Toki is imprisoned in a city/prison called Cassandra which has been built by a man known as Ken-Oh who seeks to become the ruler of the age. To that end he has taken to capturing martial artists and stealing their techniques in order to bolster his abilities. Kenshiro and company’s arrival is met by those who guard the prison and enforce Ken-Oh’s will with the various methods they will attempt to employ as Ken-Oh has declared that Kenshiro and Toki must never meet. Kenshiro will discover that hope can be a powerful force as can despair in the living hell on Earth.

As the group travels back to Mamiya’s village a glimpse into the past is shown regarding Kenshiro and his oldest brother Raoh. The two fought for succession of Hokuto Shinken and the love of Yuria with Raoh coming out the loser on both fronts. While the past is being reveled foreshadows of events are also taking place as some of Kenshiro’s closest allies notice a small star next to the North Star-a star which is said to only appear to those who will die within a year.

The immediate present is no less fraught with danger as Mamiya’s village is attacked while the group is away putting Kenshiro’s friends and Rei’s sister in jeopardy. As Kenshiro attempts to rush back to the village he finds giant hoof track-a mark of the appearance of the fearsome Ken-Oh as only he can ride such a stead. Rei has rushed back ahead of Kenshiro and faces the would be world ruler head on but will this encounter end as the stars have predicted in death? And what will Kenshiro do when the identity of Ken-Oh is revealed and the connection to Kenshiro stands in full view. Will Kenshiro finally fall or will he find the strength to stand toe to toe with the man who would rule the age?

While the battle with Ken-Oh may not be settled there are other encounters that are fated to be met by the successor to Hokuto Shinken. Rei is but one of the Six masters of the Southern Star fist-some of whom Kenshiro will cross as friends and some as opponents but all are destined to be tragic. Kenshiro may finally meet his end when he encounters a master of the Southern fist that looks to be immune to the effects of Hokuto Shinken and who even Ken-Oh had given wide birth to. Will the master of the Hokuto Shinken be able to figure out the secret? And is there a limit to how far even Kenshiro’s skills and determination can carry him?

The second set of Fist of the North Star takes the first set and ramps the action and drama up a further notch. Kenshiro will encounter more trials as he finds both skilled martial artists and further tragedies to weigh on his soul. The characters set up in the first set will mostly have some more space to breathe in though given the action heavy nature of the stories some of the non combatants will play a lesser-though still important-role in this set. Of course too much drama can push a series into a cheesy melodramatic area and the series tries to walk a fine line though at times it is in danger of crossing over that line.

In Summary:
Collection 2 of Fist of the North Star continues on in the tracks ofthe first set by building upon the characters and situations of that set and taking the drama and action further. More connections to Kenshiro’s past will be shown in between the tragedies that follow him but also the uplifting effect a man who will not compromise his beliefs can have on those around him. Recommended.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

Grade: A
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: N/A
______
FotNS TV 1

A man who has been through hell and seeks revenge and the love taken from him may turn out to be the only protector of the weak in a brutal age of predators.

What They Say
It's fast and furious deadly martial arts action pushed to the limits and beyond. Never before have so many been killed by just one man. Ken's quest to save the post-nuclear world from his arch-rival Shin will have you on the edge of your seat. Enter the deadly world of Hokuto No Ken and witness a place where violence isn't the problem, it's the solution!

The Review!

Audio:
For the viewing of the feature the Japanese 2.0 track was selected. The track is clear with no dropouts or distortions and while the dialogue is primarily center speaker driven special care seems to have been taken to make sure the voices are very clear and resonant. It is a fabulous 2.0 track. While writing the review the English track was sampled and not as much care was used there. The sound quality is noticeably lower and lacking in the same clarity as the Japanese track. Also of note for English fans Manga produced the dub originally and they didn’t dub either the prologue that starts each episode explaining the set up or the next episode trailers. One further note is that it is typical of older Manga dubs in that the dialogue is often “spiced up” with vulgarity.

Video:
The series originally started airing in 1984 and is presented in 4:3. Having caught a few episodes streaming on Crunchyroll I feared this release would mirror the stream video but few of the video problems there are present here. The disc contains only one of the video tape tracking distortions and almost none of the blocking issues of the streams. The worst part of the video is actually Toei’s logo as that made me fear what the series would look like-thankfully it is not representative. The colors are also much better on the disc than the stream, but the majority of colors used are more of the washed out look to reflect the wasteland that exists in the piece. The only two noticed problems with the disc are some color blurring with the red effects and a lot of noise. It is a distracting amount actually as it manages to overpower the grain that the series was made with. Using the PS3’s noise reduction reduced the noise quite a bit but it could still be seen if one looked closely for it. (Editors note: This set uses the remastered footage from the Japanese release and not any materials used in a previous US/UK release).

Packaging:
The packaging is a mustard yellow background with Kenshiro standing prominently in the center and the series title right above him. A blurb at the top states the number of episodes as does a banner at the bottom. The back is the same color carried over with five shots from the series. The side has the same shot of Kenshiro resized as well as the series title and info on the episodes contained. The discs come in an M lock case with two “flippers” in the middle so no disc overlaps any other.

Menus:
The menus are fairly basic set ups with a picture of Kenshiro (though they do change the picture for each disc) and the selections that are available. The menu is quick in its response.

Extras:
The extras are eight character bios and a number of still from the feature.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The prologue to every episode introduces us into the bleak “future” of 199X (the show was made in 1984) where nuclear war has ravaged the land. Mankind has managed to cling to existence but is largely living an existence where water and food are hard to come by and every day is a struggle to survive. As many of the average people cling to the decaying corpses of the previous civilization’s former structures many others have allied themselves with some of the strongest men of the age to form gangs and terrorize the average population. In this hell where the strong prey on the weak the almost vanquished emotion of hope rises as a lone man claws his way out of his own personal hell and stands with the oppressed as he continues down his path bent on revenge against the man who took the most important person in his life.

The first arc of the set introduces the audience to the bleak times that the story takes place in. The opening scene is of a gang slaughtering and taking the possessions of a group trying to traverse the wasteland. The gang all have the letter “Z” tattooed on them. The scene shifts to a shot of a lone man walking in the barren expanse. He drops to his knees and starts digging in the sand apparently searching for water before collapsing. In his fatigue the image of a blonde man rising from the sand appears to him and mocks him, causing him to get to his feet. He then sees a vision on the horizon of a woman he calls Yuria as he finds the strength to continue his endeavor. He walks into town only to be accosted by members of the gang with the letter “Z” on them.

A shift has a gang member running to report to their leader Zeed that their scouts have been wiped out. As Zeed and his followers arrive they find a ghastly sight of exploded bodies and that only one man is still alive and he survives just long enough to cryptically say “Hokuto” (The Japanese name for the Big Dipper constellation) before his skull distends and explodes. As Zeed is left to ponder what that means the audience is taken to a different part of the town. As a young girl (Lin) manages to get some water for her puppy and crops despite its scarcity she hears a commotion a little way away. A young boy (Bat) was caught stealing food from the a field and just as he seems to be about to talk his way out of it the mystery man gets caught trying to get water from the town well and both are thrown in jail. While in jail Bat attempts to talk the man first into joining him as a team and then he attempts to break out by grabbing Lin but the man stops him. He introduces himself as Kenshiro but finds out from Bat that Lin can’t talk since she saw her family killed in front of her. The sight of the tears rolling down her cheeks at the memory moves Kenshiro to reach out to her and as he is holding her head some energy passes between them and he says she will be able to talk again if her heart moves her. Kenshiro is then brought before the village chief and as his shirt is torn while they look for a sign he is part of Zeed’s gang but discover that he has a series of scars on his chest that resemble the Big Dipper constellation (Hokuto). The chief recognizes it as a symbol that portends death and chaos. They are interrupted as Zeed’s gang attacks the small community and Kenshiro is escorted back to his cell. There the men who brought Kenshiro in tell Lin she has to join them in fighting the gang. Lin leaves the keys in front of the jail which Bat says is a sign she knows she is going to die. At this statement Kenshiro rises, grasps the bars and bends them out of his way showing he was being held because he allowed it. As
Kenshiro leaves the jail he sees that Lin has been taken hostage by Zeed who is threatening to kill her if the citizens don’t acquiesce to his demands. Zeed refuses and Kenshiro displays on both some of Zeed’s men and Zeed himself his ability to easily dispatch his opponents in with extreme easy in a horrific manner that the martial art he practices- Hokuto Shinken enables. With the village saved Kenshiro makes to leave despite Lin’s pleas and Bat decides that he will follow Kenshiro since it is his best chance to never have to worry about food again.

With the cast now established the arc proceeds to first get Lin returned as a traveling member with Kenshiro and Bat and then peeling back the layers on Kenshiro’s reasons for revenge. It turns out that Kenshiro once trained with Shin, a practitioner of Nanto Koshuken (South Star Lone Eagle Fist). After the death of their master Shin attacked Kenshiro resulting in the scars on Kenshiro’s chest and Shin taking Yuria for himself. As Kenshiro travels the barren wasteland looking for clues to the whereabouts of Shin he encounters a number of gangs who all work for someone they call “King” and Kenshiro begins to suspect this may be the man he is looking for. As Kenshiro is searching the audience also gets to see Shin and his attempts to win Yuria’s heart but his complete inability to figure out his methods drive her further away. The pressure starts to mount on him as Kenshiro cuts a swath through his armies proving himself to be more than what he was when Shin beat him. With the seemingly unstoppable path Kenshiro is on it starts to look inevitable that the two will have to settle their issues against each other-but what will be the toll on each of their lives and those around them in the process.

The second arc begins with a dispirited Kenshiro who has just won a Pyrrhic victory reflecting on all he has lost. With his goals taken from him he is now losing himself in his thoughts and regrets. The world he lives in won’t let him rest as a vehicle is attacked near where he is lost in his grief. A group calling themselves the Fang Clan is responsible and to their short lived regret encounter a Kenshiro who is even less forgiving than usual. Kenshiro and company return the two men from the vehicle to the walled city that they come from to find an encampment that has turned the corner and is close to self sufficient except they have been under assault by the Fang clan of late. Lin meets the leader of the group whose name is Mamiya and who also bears a striking resemblance to Yuria much to Kenshiro’s surprise. The Fang Clan decides to launch an attack just before the city completes its wall to discover that Kenshiro is not in the mood to tolerate those who just prey on others. After seeing Kenshiro in action he is hired as the protector of the village as the Fang Clan is certain to try to avenge their lose. Elsewhere a man who was disguised as a woman is attacked by some would be villains as he turns out to be a practitioner of the Nanto Suichoken School by the name of Rei. He revels that he harbors a deep antipathy toward a man with seven scars on his chest. As Rei approaches the city he is first beset by members of the Fang Clan who decide to try to hire him to face Kenshiro instead. Rei enters the city as a wolf in sheep’s clothing bringing the body of a Fang Clan and pretending he will work with the residents. Rei meets and is taken with Mamiya and it is revealed that Mamiya reminds him of his sister Airi but he is called to battle as the Fang Clan launches their attack. With his meeting of Mamiya and seeing Kenshiro fight Rei decides to switch sides as he needs to survive and find the man with seven scars. As tragedy befalls Mamiya Kenshiro and Rei set out to dispatch the nearby Fang Clan. After finishing off the members Rei reveals to Kenshiro when he asks that his parents were killed and his sister abducted by a man with seven scars according to his father’s dying words. Rei decided he would seek out and avenge his family on the man with seven scars who is shown as having the same scars as Kenshiro but wearing a mask in a flashback.

The Fang Clan decides to make Kenshiro and Rei share their pain at losing family members and set out to discover their family members and share the pain. While they are unable to find any relative of Kenshiro the trio of Kenshiro, Rei and Mamiya are stunned when they try to launch an offensive to find that the Fang Clan now has a trump card to try to use to control Rei. Kenshiro and Rei then have to overcome the odds stacked against them as well as mitigate the power the Fang Clan now holds over them. And if they manage to do that what awaits them is the leader of Fang Clan who can make his skin as hard as steel-how will Kenshiro overcome this obstacle? And if he does what will happen if Rei discovers Kenshiro possesses the seven scar mark Rei has been searching for? The part with the Fang turns out to be a warm up as Kenshiro learns that Rei isn’t the only person who found himself at the mercy of a Kenshiro imposter. It is revealed that there is a man who bears the same seven scar mark and is hell bent on tarnishing Kenshiro’s name-and it turns out he also can use Hokuto Shinken. As Kenshiro sets out to stop the imposter he may discover that this enemy is someone far closer to him then he has ever faced before and that the source of all his woes may stem from his former soft and forgiving nature. What effect will the revelation of his opponent and their scheming have on a man who has returned from hell? And what will be the result of discovering some other practitioners of Hokuto Shinken still exist?

Fist of the North Star is a great example how storytelling and characters can carry a show. While many of the visuals are no longer impressive by today’s standards and even odd do to the amount of blood they had to get around by using either black or white sprays it still can be an enthralling watch. The main character is set up in such a way that his pain is actually palpable in his movements and care is taken with many of the supporting characters to develop them as more than just stereotypical throwaways. Some of the dialogue is cheesy in nature but it can be delivered in such a way and at the right time that it doesn’t feel as bad. The incredible depictions of the wasteland that the world has become are particularly powerful in setting the hopeless feel that exists for many of its inhabitants. The series also manages to time things almost perfectly as few scenes for too long and the pace keeps the story flowing. The downside is that a number of the stories are a tad melodramatic with events that might have been prevented but seem to happen to enrage the main character. There is also the problem that when a character is set up as super human it is really difficult to put them in any real danger and so supporting characters often get over used in this role and the number of new moves just created in any given situation can seem to be a cop out.

In Summary
Fist of the North Star is a blast of an action title that mixes action with some great storytelling. Its mix of characters and the world they inhabit is great for setting up the protagonist in the role of savior for a population that is at its limit confronting the world around them without the additional baggage of the predators that thrive in a survival of the fittest holocaust. The series manages to take the impossible and even cliché and make it into a fast paced and emotion laden journey. Recommended.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Character Bios, Still Gallery

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: C+
____