Weekly Jump Anime - Their First Episodes is my attempt to look at various Weekly Shonen Jump manga and the first episode of their animated adaptations.

This time I'm looking at one of the most influential (not to mention one of the most popular) Jump titles to come out of the 80s: Fist of the North Star (Hokuto no Ken)!

You wa shock!!

A lot of anime/manga fans have unintentionally encountered Fist of the North Star... usually from parodies seen in other media (Lucky Star, Excel Saga and Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo) or through homages. Plenty of people know about the series' hyper-violence and its main protagonist's infamous catchphrase, "You're already dead."

Beyond the more well-known elements is a series that definitely feels like something out of Greek mythology: Characters talk about seeing their fates through the stars, men who are basically gods trying to kill each other (yet have a code of honor when push comes to shove), intertwining backstories and heaping amounts of tragedy.

...But yeah, the action in this series is so utterly ridiculous and over-the-top that it creates a sort of weird mixture that makes the series a complete joy to go through... that is, if you're okay with melodrama and little to no comedy. Fist of the North Star takes itself completely and utterly seriously and that might turn off those who are used to more light-hearted Jump series like One Piece or Dragon Ball.

Me? I find this stuff to be awesome.

It's not perfect, mind you. The series only truly becomes great when Kenshiro starts to encounter those from his past and more formidable enemies rear their heads-- but I'll get to that after the episode summary!

I can't tell if Kenshiro is fantasizing about a giant Yuria or if Yuria is fantasizing about Kenshiro striking a sexy pose in the desert...

Fist of the North Star - Episode One: God or Devil? The Mightiest Man Appears in Hell!

199X. (this takes place the same time as Earthbound and Mega Man?!) After a nuclear war has turned the planet into a wasteland, water and food is scarce and money is of no value. Death can come at any time... and it has come for those who prey on the weak. We meet the stoic Kenshiro, a man of gentle nature and giant caterpillar eyebrows that has the fashion sense of a certain Mel Gibson character. He stumbles across the desert, has a vision of a beautiful woman named Yuria and comes under attack by members of the vicious Zeed gang...

Later, the rest of Zeed's gang are enjoying themselves when one of their members alerts them to one of the scouting parties having been wiped out. Angry, Zeed rushes to the scene and finds one of his men still alive, who proclaims, "H-Hokuto...!!" and his head promptly balloons and explodes into a gorey geyser from within.

Meanwhile we meet a little girl named Rin at a peaceful village... she cannot speak. It is here we also meet the young thief Bat, who is captured by the villages when he tries to steal their food. They also capture Kenshiro, who tries to get a drink from their well to cure his dehydration. Rin brings them food and Bat tries to steal the keys to the cell they're in from her and Kenshiro promptly stops him by simply touching him. Kenshiro thanks Rin for her kindness but finds out from Bat that Rin cannot speak because she had been traumatized by the death of her family at the hands of savages. Kenshiro then uses his bizarre power and performs a technique on Rin that will supposedly cure her inability to speak.

Y'know, with it being a post-apocalyptic world and all... where does Kenshiro find all those exact same shirts to replace the ones he rips apart in anger...?

The village elder then comes in and questions Kenshiro and finds a series of scars on the muscular man's chest: They are in the shape of the Big Dipper, the stars that foretell death! The old man proclaims that this is the mark of those who are followed by chaos... and right on cue the village comes under attack by Zeed and his gang!

Rin leaves the keys to the cell so the boy can escape with Kenshiro. Bat tells him they must run away as Zeed destroys any village he invades... Kenshiro does NOT like that and breaks out of the cell by bending the bars bare-handed. Zeed then captures Rin and Kenshiro arrives on the scene with Bat. Rin, concerned for Kenshiro's safety, is able to speak again and tells him to run away. Zeed's men threaten Kenshiro with their muscles, size and weaponry... all Kenshiro does in return is crack his knuckles (which is perhaps one of the greatest sound effects ever) and tells them to move.

They don't listen and the mighty fighter promptly kills the men with his martial arts and they all explode.

He then confronts the giant Zeed, who threatens to kill Rin.

Kenshiro bursts out of his shirt by tensing his muscles like some sort of inflating meat pack... and lets loose a flurry of punches on Zeed while letting out his famous, Bruce Lee-esque battle cry, "AH-TA-TA-TA-TA!" Zeed, stunned from the attack, drops Rin and Kenshiro catches her. The giant savage then gets up and tries to attack but Kenshiro tells him, "You're already dead." Zeed then explodes into a bloody mess. The village elder, watching the events, proclaims that the fighting style Kenshiro is using is Hokuto Shinken, a powerful and deadly martial art from China that targets the power points on the human body!

After having saved the village, Kenshiro and Bat leave the village and a tearful Rin behind. Rin asks why he must leave and the elder tells her that those with the mark of the Big Dipper are always followed by chaos and that Kenshiro was saving the village by not staying in it... and the first episode ends.

Huh.... not used to seeing a dog in an anime that doesn't have a butthole drawn on it.

This is a great first episode-- its quick, simple and establishes Kenshiro's character and the world he lives in while hinting at things to come. The voice acting from Akira Kamiya is the stuff of legends, right up there with Masako Nozawa's Son Goku and Mayumi Tanaka's Monkey D. Luffy... and his replacements haven't been able to match his performance as Kenshiro... saying that, it is a bit apparent that Kamiya is finding his footing here and he doesn't quite capture Kenshiro's battle cry yet... but that is rectified shortly enough!

Then there's the musical score by Nozomi Aoki: I love it. While most of its orchestral, there is a bit of a disco-esque undertone to it that lends a unique atmosphere to the show. Then there's the immortal opening song, "Ai Wo Torimodose", a hot-blooded song that I never skip over if I'm doing a marathon of the series. Definitely one of the all-time anime greats when it comes to openings. The ending song, "Yuria Eien Ni", however, isn't as good but still serves as a sort of nice cooling period after having such MANLY proceedings happen.

As for Toei's animation... its not much to write home about as its a long-running weekly show from the early eighties with very detailed characters which is usually not a good formula for success back then. The animation/designs from Toyoo Ashida and company doesn't quite capture Tetsuo Hara and Buroson's awesome artwork from the manga but as the series goes on the animation improves and comes a bit closer to the original. The picture quality on Discotek's release of the TV series is quite nice and has been cleaned up a bit... the audio on the other hand sounds pretty iffy but that's the fault of Toei for throwing out the original audio masters for many of their anime back then.

The series does have an English dub for the first chunk of it as provided from Manga's original unfinished release... I personally don't care for it as the music has been replaced by generic techno music and the voice acting isn't exactly all that great. If you can, stick with the original Japanese.

While I do love the anime... Fist of the North Star is a bit of a slog to get through the first twenty-something episodes after the first. Toei decided to drag out the first story arc from the manga and it can be felt as a good chunk of the episodes within the first story arc feel needlessly drawn out and padded. (Something Toei is notorious for when it comes to their Jump adaptations...!) After the first arc ends the series improves substantially and its pretty much smooth sailing from there.

Fist of the North Star is available on DVD from Discotek in either four DVD sets or one mega set. (do keep in mind that only the first 30-something episodes are dubbed and the rest are subbed!) It also available on various streaming sites. Discotek also offers the FotNS movie on DVD and Sentai Filmworks offers a spinoff series on DVD/Blu-ray as well entitled Legends of the Dark King. And if you're interested, there are some pretty sweet Dynasty Warriors-spin off video games based on the series available on PS3/360 called "Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage" and "Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2."

As for the original manga, there have been two attempts to bring it over to the US (Viz and the now-defunct Gutsoon Ent.) and both didn't get very far... sadly it doesn't look like anyone else will be taking another shot at it any time soon.

Next time I'm going to look at something a wee bit more current and not-so-manly: the romantic-comedy Nisekoi! This will a bit different for me since I'll be reviewing the first episode without having seen the rest of the series beforehand! (or read the original manga!)

See ya then!