New Fist of the North Star

Hokuto no Ken has been around least as long as I've been an anime fan, which is saying something. With adventures spanning multiple manga series, countless episodes of a long-running TV series, and a feature film, I thought that the story was over. Didn't everybody? I mean, how long can a wanderer in a post-apocalyptic desert keep trekking? Apparently, forever. The New Fist of the North Star series, comprised of three hour-long OVAs, resurrects this property for a new generation who perhaps have been reading some modern incarnations of the tale. Sad to say, there's almost less to recommend about this show than its previous versions, though not for lack of trying.

As this story starts, we see the nuclear holocaust that ravaged the earth and made all of us into savages. (The intro mixes animation, CGI, and live-action really well; it's unfortunate that the quality didn't continue.) We then venture to the Village of Freedom, where the inhabitants are trying to start a new well to get drinking water that isn't toxic. Just as they succeed, motorcycle-riding goons from Last Land come and kill almost all of the diggers...that is, until Kenshiro intervenes. Kenshiro knows the arts of Hokuto Shinken, which use pressure points to make people's heads explode. Kenshiro does his business, leaving brain matter splattered on the sands, and rescues the lone survivor as the remaining goons flee with their noggins intact.

Of course, the leader of Last Land isn't happy that Kenshiro has arrived, and he's not a firm believer in Ken's powers. Thus, he orders the annihilation of the entire village and the capture of their healer, a young woman who uses arts very similar to Hokuto Shinken to heal rather than kill. Kenshiro and his newfound buddy can't help the slaughter, arriving too late on the scene. But there's a damsel in distress, a long-lost brother to discover, and more skulls to burst before the hour is up.

New Fist of the North Star is a show of schizophrenic visual styles. Sometimes, it uses live-action backgrounds. Some parts are done with CGI, and others aren't. What it winds up as is a hodge-podge that distracts from the show's total effect. The music, which is loud driving rock, is actually pretty good, and it does fit the concepts on screen, but it's really the only solid part of the entire presentation.

Because of the character interactions, I can't say that this is a terrible show. We really have no motivations for Ken's actions; the original story's obsession with Ken's lost love Yuria is missing. Although I can't say I miss that unending plot thread, it means that Ken really has no purpose for being here. The villagers have more of a storyline, and it's there that the show gains what depth it has. It's not much--you've seen the clichéd concepts before--but at least it goes a little beyond mindless slaughter. However, I would have really enjoyed a reimagining of the series, rather than a retread.

However, for those not accustomed to Fist, be aware that this is one of the gorier shows in anime history. Although the first OVA does not feature quite the neverending geysers of blood from the film version, we do get some most disgustingly rendered cranial explosions. They almost seem to be rendered in even more loving detail than in the past, too, so if you don't like your fighting shows with a side of the grotesque, skip this one.

All things considered, this is probably the most enjoyable Hokuto no Ken program I've seen, though that's not saying a lot. I will probably get around to at least watching the second volume in the series, since I have it lying around, but no guarantees beyond that. If you ever watched and enjoyed Fist of the North Star in the past, this version is leagues ahead of the old one, even if it often does look crappy by regular standards. But I can't get excited about a very old show that wasn't very good getting a new face but retaining the same old soul.

New Fist of the North Star: Vol. 1 -- extremely graphic violence, brief profanity, brief fan service -- C+