Fist of the North Star 1

December 7, 2011

Buronson / Tetsuo Hara – Gutsoon – 2005 – 27 volumes

I can’t believe I’ve never talked about this before! Many of you may be shocked to know I am a fan of Fist of the North Star. I’ve got the Gutsoon volumes, the Viz collections, and many of the loose comics. I’ve even seen the terrible American live-action movie. I keep supporting English releases of this series, but they keep failing. I’m not sure what’s wrong with the English-speaking audience, that two different publishers had to give up on this series.

Unfortunately, the English editions of this series are both very incomplete and rather rare. Gutsoon got the farthest, with nine volumes of material published, but almost all the volumes command ridiculous used prices. The last three are especially expensive, and have been for years. After waiting forever for prices to go down online, I finally got lucky when someone sold copies at the used bookstore I work at. The Gutsoon editions are also elaborately colored for some reason, thus the “Master Edition” label on the volumes. They are also oversized, and rather nicely packaged. The Viz versions are black and white, but flipped, and only cover a bit of the beginning (I can’t recall how far they go at the moment).

The story in Fist of the North Star is simple. Actually, it’s simple to explain, too. Imagine the movie The Road Warrior, in manga form, with Mel Gibson blowing people up via pressure points instead of driving around. Fist of the North Star steals quite a bit from The Road Warrior, but that’s just fine. It’s the pressure points that make the manly man in this situation.

The apocalypse has happened, and humanity huddles in settlements in a kind of barren wasteland. The settlements are constantly harassed by gangs of outlaws wearing Lord Humungus outfits, all led by enormous and powerful individuals. Kenshiro, the hero, periodically wanders into these settlements, pushes pressure points, and blows these men up. There is no fight involved. Kenshiro is the undisputed hero in every situation.

After the first story, Kenshiro is accompanied by a young boy named Bat, who provides minimal commentary so that we know what’s going on. He tells us who the gangs are, who the leader is, and about the villages Kenshiro enters. Without Bat, the reader would not be getting these details. Kenshiro does not talk, nor does he engage others in conversation.

The men he fights are what my roommate calls “Fat Knights.” Men who are at least twice as big as the main character, if not bigger, and are meant to be threatening. Fat Knights usually use weapons too, which is the sign of a wuss in this series. The small, slender gang leaders that Kenshiro fights do it barehanded, and usually they are more of a threat. Fat Knights are Fist of the North Star’s gift to the manga world, and they show up in other manly series such as Berserk and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.

Kenshiro’s silent, stoic fights are a thing of beauty. In every case, the Fat Knight spends pages torturing small, innocent townsfolk, who he inevitably towers over and can crush in the palm of his hand. Then Kenshiro strolls up to him, and after some posing and swinging from the Fat Knight, Kenshiro jabs him several times. Usually, the Fat Knight brags about how he didn’t feel anything, to which Kenshiro will respond “You’re already dead.” Then the Fat Knight will explode messily. Kenshiro is a master of Hokuto Shinken, which basically means he pounds pressure points to destroy opponent’s bodies from the inside. For some reason, this manifests as an explosion in almost all cases. Later, he can do even more fun things with it, though.

Kenshiro has a mysterious big dipper scar on his chest, and that along with his mysterious past is revealed by the end of volume one, when he fights what appears to have been the originally intended main bad guy of the series.

It may sound like I’m making fun of this, and I kind of am, but it’s hard to deny that Fist of the North Star packs a lot of pleasure into its very simple ideas. I can’t tell you how much fun this is to read. I love watching Kenshiro blow guys up again and again. Watching Fat Knights fall in every chapter, guys that the story demonizes to a hilarious extent, is pretty fantastic.

And Fist of the North Star is so influential. It’s easy to see the seeds of a lot of series in it. I already mentioned Berserk (Hara is definitely an art influence, but Guts bears a strong resemblance in both appearance and personality to Kenshiro, and Fat Knights appear verbatim) and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (it would appear that Hirohiko Araki thought Fist of the North Star was as funny as I did and loved it anyway, the big dudes and hilariously overblown fights in the early volumes of Jojo are probably at least partially influenced by Fist of the North Star), but I also think that Fist of the North Star reads like a manlier version of Saint Seiya, which was massively influential in its own way. Both feature dudes that simply beat the crap out of each other, and nothing else, for volumes and volumes. At least Saint Seiya has some power escalation, whereas Kenshiro maintains his level of badass from volume one. Both are Shounen Jump series of the 1980s. I think Saint Seiya began just as Fist of the North Star ended, and Saint Seiya ushered in an era of fujoshi bait-style characters, but through the 80s, I’m pretty sure most Shounen Jump series had muscles and Fat Knights bulging off the page in a hat tip to the popularity of Fist of the North Star.

I can see why this isn’t popular (it is rather boring), but on the other hand, it’s so hard for me to believe that anyone could pick up this series and not like it. It’s pleasures are so pure. It delivers exactly what everybody really wants when the sit down and read a shounen manga. I love it so much.

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