Banjou GingaHideyuki HoriMie SuzukiFist of the North Star
Fist of the North Star - part 3: Souther to Ryuga
Medium: TV, series
Year: 1986
Director: Toyoo Ashida
Original creator: Buronson, Tetsuo Hara
Studio: Toei Animation
Actor: Akira Kamiya, Mie Suzuki, Tomiko Suzuki, Banjou Ginga, Hideyuki Hori, Katsuji Mori, Kenji Utsumi, Shigeru Chiba, Takaya Hashi
Keywords: Fist of the North Star, anime, SF, post-apocalypse
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: Episodes 58-82
Website category: Anime old
Review date: 19 March 2014
It's good. It didn't blow me away like the early episodes, but it's good.
Firstly, a recap about Fist of the North Star. This is the insanely violent 1980s TV show set in a post-apocalypse nuclear wasteland with exploding heads, brutal sadism and almost every kind of disgusting death imaginable. It's amazing. It was also huge. It's still fondly remembered today, children loved it and everyone can sing the theme song. Apparently it's even toned down from the manga. (Massive sprays of blood and brain matter from a man's skull swelling up and popping will usually be glowing white rather than red, for instance.)
The hero is Kenshiro, a man whose fighting style was inspired by Chinese medicine and pressure points. It's basically Dim Mak from wuxia. If he touches you and doesn't like you, you'll die in however many seconds he chooses.
This particular chunk of the anime calls itself Part Three, although that's really just episodes 58-77. The five subsequent episodes are flashbacks to some of the show's greatest warriors so far (Shin, Rei, Yuda, Shu and Souther). You can skip this if you like, but personally I enjoyed it. It's a "story so far", reminding us of highlights and refreshing my memory on episodes I hadn't seen in years. Rin's scene with the burning coals in episode 79... bloody hell. She's a little girl! Rin annihilates me.
The important thing, though, is the ongoing story of episodes 58-77 (anime) or chapters 84-109 (manga).
Its first half involves Souther and Shu. Souther is a tyrant who thinks it's fun to build a pyramid in the desert with slave labour. Child slave labour. If you're more than eight years old, he's not interested and he'll probably just kill you horribly, while laughing. He believes that love and compassion are evil. He's such a strong fighter that it's not obvious that even Kenshiro stands a chance against him. Finally, he has a dot in the middle of his forehead as if he's Buddha (or a Hindu), which feels like a thematic extension of Kenshin being metaphorically the Messiah, his brother Toki looking exactly like Jesus and their other brother Raoh being a lord of darkness with horns. I don't remember Buddha being blonde, though.
Shu, on the other hand, is an ally of Kenshiro's with a silly backstory. You'll love this. We see Kenshiro as a small boy, fighting full-size opponents in a training match or something. There are two mighty warriors watching: Souther (I think) and Shu. Kenshiro beats all his partners, whereupon Shu stands up and volunteers himself as Kenshiro's final opponent. The fight takes place. Shu wins, unsurprisingly, whereupon Souther demands Kenshiro's death as is expected. What's more, no one shows any surprise at this. Shu doesn't say "wait a moment" or "I didn't know you were going to say that". This unstoppable super-warrior challenged a small boy to a duel to the death... and we're supposed to think he's a hero when he decides, "No, that's a bad idea, let me gouge out my eyes instead as recompense."
There's room for discussion of the degree of evil here, but I don't think there's any doubt about the level of stupidity.
The Souther-Shu story doesn't pull any punches. Souther and his men are staggering bastards, although one expects that in Fist of the North Star. The food and the hungry children... yeesh. Shu being forced to carry that stone up the pyramid... gyaaah. (You've got to love Souther's conditions, incidentally. He cuts the arteries in Shu's legs, then orders him on the lives of a hundred hostages not to bleed on the steps.) A child blows himself up to save everyone. Kenshiro loses a fight and nearly dies. Finally, Raoh and Toki show up just to stand on the sidelines and watch, but in a good way. It's like having God and the Devil pulling up a couple of chairs at your school sports day to see who wins.
The second half of this run involves Ryuga and the repeated deaths of a major character. (He died once, then showed up again and died, then showed up again and died. Sort of. It'll make more sense if you watch it, but good grief.) Ruyga's a beautiful man of integrity, who wants the best for the world. He's also nearly a Kenshiro-level fighter, with an ice-killing technique. However he also believes that extreme measures are required to save the world. Measures like, for instance, Raoh's.
All this is good. What makes me slightly luke-warm is the fact that it's become mostly a story of unstoppable supermen. That's fair enough. That's what Kenshin is. Any enemy even capable of slowing him down will have to be at a similar level. I can understand that and I can see that the more down-to-earth formula of the early days couldn't continue for ever... but I, personally, preferred it. That was about ordinary people. Rin and Batto felt as if they belonged in those days, instead of seeming bolted on. Kenshiro was a force of nature walking the earth and delivering the ultimate justice to wrongdoers.
That said, the show's still impressive. It's as gloriously overwrought as ever, making compelling character drama out of material that should have been dull and ridiculous. The evil is unspeakable. The courage is breathtaking. The emotions are primal.
We also get scenes where Kenshiro: (a) uses a flamethrower on its own user, (b) competes in a Murder Olympics, (c) walks through a castle wall, the hard way. This show still shares that EC Comics fondness for twisted justice.
Recommended. There's still plenty to amaze and impress in this series, even if you've been watching from the beginning. The village that won't fight. The childhood flashbacks. The emotion that's wrung even from irredemable villains. The combination of ultra-violence and agonised character drama. This show's still amazing.