Monday, January 7, 2019

2018 Blind Spot Series: Fist of the North Star

Yes, the title of this post does say 2018 and it IS 2019. I have a excuse reason for that. I'll get to that in another post. Just know that the universe conspired against me, causing me to be late getting this particular post published. That said, I'm a trooper. The movie was watched before the end of 2018, and that means, for the first time, I've watched all 12 of the movies on my Blind Spot list for a given year, during that year. Bold prediction: 2019, will be the second time. Speaking of 2019, not only will I be taking part in the Blind Spot Challenge again, but Sofia at Returning Videotapes will be back as our host. Yay!

Now, let's finally finish up 2018...

Why did I pick it? At some point, when I was a teenager, all the geeks I knew started talking about this movie called Fist of the North Star. According to them, it was the most amazing thing ever. Funny I should say them because I was a geek, too. However, I didn’t hang around many geeks. In reality, my only real pal in high school was also a geek, but we both had a cool kid veneer. That meant we could travel comfortably in both worlds, allowing me to be privy to conversations about the latest trends in school and about the hottest anime out. I wanted to see it, but I was pretty much anime-illiterate at the time and had no clue how to get my hands on it. My local video stores didn’t carry it. Or, at least I never found it there. They all seemed to only have three things: what was popular at the box-office, straight-to-video horror, and porn. Since I was too young to go into the room where they kept the porn, I was stuck with the first two. I swear that explains so much.

Sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah – movie.

Anyhoo, I didn’t/couldn’t find it and eventually stopped looking. About ten years later, my brother, who’s much more into anime than me, started taking me a little deeper into the genre. The title Fist of the North Star came up in conversation, but we never got our hands on a copy. It’s not that it was so elusive, just that, again, our local video store didn’t carry it. Many more years went by, and like so many of the film’s that have become part of the Blind Spot series for me, I stumbled upon it in my adventures as a movie collector. I found it on the DVD shelf at a thrift store. I snatched it up as soon as I laid eyes on it and held it close like there were an army of nerds coming around the corner to tear it from my bosom. When I got home I assigned it its spot on the shelf and, since it was very near the end of 2017, I didn’t bother pretending I was going to watch it immediately, like I usually do. I just put it on my Blind Spot list for 2018.

When the movie starts, we’re told that a nuclear holocaust has taken place. With that comes the typical post-apocalyptic setting. Cities are in the final stages of decay, food and water are in short supply, and the remainders of humanity have become scavengers of those scarce resources. We meet Kenshiro (John Vickery in the English dubbed version I watched), the Fist of the North Star, and his fiancĂ©e Yuria (Melodee Spivack) as they are confronted by his rival Shin who challenges him to a fight. It’s not just any fight, though. Shin wants Yuria for himself. After seeing Ken beat to within an inch of his life, she agrees to become Shin’s woman and Ken is left to die. Meanwhile, Ken’s brother Raoh decides to kill their master and claim to be Fist of the North Star, himself. Unfortunately, he’s a much more malevolent guy than his brother. Fast forward a year, Ken is still alive, wandering the countryside as a protector of those who can’t protect themselves. He then begins working towards two things: reclaiming his rightful spot as Fist of the North Star and reclaiming his woman.

I’m sure had I seen this back in the 80s, I would’ve been one hundred percent on board with this movie. As an adult, seeing it for the first time and without the benefit of nostalgia tinted glasses, there is one aspect that’s really troubling: Yuria’s entire existence. Throughout the entire film, she is little more than a trophy to be passed between two men. We’re led to believe there is true love between her and Ken, but the story never raises her above the level of a prized possession. She takes no agency over her own life. In typical testosterone driven fashion, Yuria is only here to be either captured or rescued. Her fate rests in the hands of the men who want her.

With that said, we do get a fun iteration of a phoenix rising from the ashes to reclaim glory. We root for him because, aside from Yuria, he’s the only one with good intentions. He is ultimately trying to do right by the people less powerful than himself. He does this on his own with no directive from some higher power. He’s just a good guy. Therefore, even his use of often lethal force can be excused. The ends he’s attempting to reach justifies his means. Fist of the North Star is also a movie that doesn’t bore. There is always something happening that at least keeps us engaged in Ken’s quest. Even as it gets a bit too convoluted for its own good, it’s still a fairly fun time.

The visuals are one reason we keep paying attention, for both good and bad reasons. When things on the screen are still, the animation is really good. Those decaying cities I mentioned are wonderfully rendered, giving us a sense of the what it might look like after nuclear war has destroyed much of mankind. Likewise, the art is fantastic when characters are merely standing still. And in true anime fashion, there are lots of shots of characters standing still as the camera pans left or right. When these people start moving, particularly in their many fight scenes, issues arise. These are invariably gory scenes. The blood and guts, if you can stand it, is well done. The actual fighting appears choppy and unnatural. Some allowances should be made because it’s most noticeable when one fighter or another is supposed to be punching or kicking at a ridiculously high rate of speed. However, it could’ve been done a lot better. This is crystallized by my still-fresh memory of another anime classic I recently watched for the first time: Akira. It came out in 1988, only two years later than this movie, yet the art is lightyears ahead, and is still sublime over thirty years down the road. Here, the limitations of the artists are evident during the film’s most exciting moments. It’s often laughable where it should be thrilling.

Even with its problems, I can see why the geekdom of John Adams High School was bursting with excitement in the late 1980s over Fist of the North Star. For many of them, it was likely their introduction to animated movies that didn’t bear the Disney logo. It’s aimed at a decidedly older demographic than what the Mouse House puts out, filled with martial arts and gore. It bears repeating that had I seen it back then, I would likely be among those who won’t hear a negative word about it. But I didn’t. I saw it at a time when I could recognize its strengths, acknowledge its faults, and enjoy it without falling in love with it.

Click below for the rest of My 2018 Blind Spot reviews


  1. Anime is still a genre that I haven't explored fully though I want to do more as I'm planning to watch the original version of Ghost in the Shell this year which is available at my local library. Look forward to what you're going to do for the 2019 Blind Spot Series.

  2. I haven't heard of this. I'm always fascinated with how anime was accepted in schools because in the school I went to, you were a major loser if you watched it. Then after graduation a lot of my friends (and myself included) admitted to watching it on the DL and choosing not to tell anyone to avoid social suicide.

    I'm glad you liked it despite the flaws and still found something to enjoy about it!

    1. Anime was definitely not for the "cool kids" back then. I think that's changed over the last 10 years or so because titles like Pokemon and Dragonball Z have become so popular they're more socially acceptable. That said, I still think those who watch the more hardcore stuff like this get the geek treatment.

  3. I had a similar experience with anime as Brittani! Was teased for it at school only to move onto college to find I was suddenly a cool kid.
    I'm super glad to hear you stuck out the Blind Spot Series for 2018! I need to remember this if/when I start to fall behind this year.

    1. The difference between high school and college is amazing.

      Thanks, I hope I inspired you.

  4. One of the greatest things I have ever seen is a supercut of every time Ken punches someone in the head set to Pete Townshend's Give Blood.

  5. I think it's superfluous for me to say I haven't seen this (nor will I ever) since it is animated but congrats on completing the challenge!!! I did pretty well in matching what you saw, this is the only one I haven't.

    So what dozen are you going to be exploring this year? Anxious to see what you choose!

    1. Thanks. My list for 2019 will post on Monday.