Review Index



One of the first-ever anime features, a middling post apocalyptic gore fest that reminds me of why I’ve never been much of an anime fan.

The Package
     Problem number one with this movie is the misleading packaging by Steamline Pictures, which promises “an array of violence and brutality yet to be equaled in an animated film.” While there is plenty of bloodletting, that quote is far from accurate, even by early 1990s standards (check out the notorious UROTSUKIDOHI anime series if you don’t believe me). Steamline also likened it to the far more accomplished AKIRA, which is wrong, wrong, wrong!
     FIST OF THE NORTH STAR (HOKUTO NO KEN), adapted from a popular print manga, appeared in 1986 (and was released in the U.S. in 1991), following a popular 1984 Japanese TV series. In the west the film was further corrupted by an English language version, prepared by anime dubbing specialist Carl Macek.

The Story
     The world has been reduced to rubble by nuclear bombs, and in this wasteland warring factions roam. The evil Raoh seeks to become the all-powerful “Fist of the North Star,” a supernaturally-endowed savior who will lead the people of Earth toward a new, more placid existence. Raoh does indeed set himself up as the FotNS, although his rule is none too placid--among other things, he corrals a vast army and lords over a corrupt kingdom.
     But there’s another guy, the muscular Ken, who possesses powers that rival Raoh’s, namely the ability to make bad guys’ heads explode--and no wonder: he’s Raoh’s little bother. Ken gives Lynn, a needy young girl, a bag containing “seeds of a new life,” as she’s apparently the only one worthy of growing them. Can Ken be the true Fist of the North Star?
     Ken takes on Raoh in a final blood and explosion-packed showdown, and it all ends, nauseatingly enough, with Lynn seeing her seeds of life growing in the ground. As for the Fist of the North Star, I’m still not entirely sure who that might actually be…

The Direction
     This is old school anime, far removed from the artfulness of AKIRA and many of its successors. Corners are cut at every turn, with an array of still pictures used in place of the expected motion shots (oftentimes the lazy animators will only animate a single element in an otherwise completely static landscape). The near-constant eviscerations and dismemberments are attention grabbing, certainly, but lack detail, and grow repetitive before long (in true anime fashion, seemingly every time someone gets killed we see them in silhouetted freeze frame against swirling psychedelic backgrounds). As for the multi-pronged narrative, it’s largely incoherent, with too many characters.
     In the English language version the wise-assed dubbing makes the protagonists sound like the stars of a 1980s-era Hollywood action movie (which I’m sure was the intent), complete with wise-assed asides and a lot of noisy “Aaaahs” and “Aaarghs”. There’s even a quintessentially 1980s music video interlude.
     There are potentially interesting developments, including an appealingly matter-of-fact acceptance of supernatural phenomena and a number of intriguing plot strands that never lead anywhere. Whether these things are enhanced and/or improved in the TV series interpretation of FIST OF THE NORTH STAR I don’t know. I’m certain the televised version would at least add clarity to the narrative, which is sorely lacking here.

Vital Statistics

Steamline Pictures

Director: Toyoo Shida/Tom Wyner
Producer: Shoji Kishimoto/Carl Macek
Screenplay: Susumu Takaku
(Based on an anime by Buronson & Tetsuo Hara)
Cinematography: Tamio Hosoda
Editing: Masaaki Hanai
Cast: John Vickery, Melodee Spevack, Michael McConnohie, Tony Oliver, Holly Sidell, Dan Woren, Wally Burr, Jeff Corey