Fist of the North Star, Vol. 1
by Buronson, Art by Tetsuo Hara
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 15 Jun 2021 | Archive Date 02 Aug 2021
VIZ Media, VIZ Media LLC
In a postapocalyptic world, humanity has risen from the ashes of nuclear war to a nightmare of endless suffering. It is a time of chaos. Warlords and gangs of savage marauders and warlords rule the broken ruins of civilization, terrorizing and enslaving the survivors. Life has become a brutal struggle for existence and death the only release.
One day, a wanderer appears out of the wasteland to bring justice to the guilty and hope to the people—a warrior named Ken, a man who bears seven scars upon his chest and holds the secret of a mysterious martial art known as Hokuto Shinken, the Divine Fist of the North Star!
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Fist of the North Star is a classic manga that Viz will be publishing starting in June. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where there’s not enough food or water, but for some reason motorcycles (but not cars) still exist, and the men who ride them are able to outfit themselves in elaborate metal-studded leather gear. Priorities! There are basically two groups in this world, motorcycle gangs and everyone else, and the gangs prey on the innocent townspeople with greed that is exceeded only by their cruelty. Into this desolate landscape strides Kenshiro, the chief practitioner of the martial art of Hokuto Shinken, to hand out some rough justice. A towering fellow with 80s hair and seven scars on his chest in the shape of the Big Dipper, Ken sympathizes with the most downtrodden and brings evildoers to violent (but satisfying) ends. This manga reads like it was meant to be an anime – there’s a lot of action, and the pacing is good. It’s also ultra-violent, the sort of manga where someone realizes in mid-sentence that his head has just been sliced in half as neatly as a melon. It’s like when Wile E. Coyote runs off the cliff, then looks down and falls, only with real death. Anyway, the fights are pretty epic, with antagonists who are ridiculously large compared to everyone else and equipped with an array of imaginatively nasty weapons. Hokuto Shinken is basically weaponized acupressure: Ken knows the exact locations of all the 708 vital points of the body, so he can kill in a variety of creative ways with just his thumbs, or even without touching his victim. He often builds in a time delay, too, telling the bad guy “You will die in exactly one minute” or “You’re already dead,” then having a brief conversation with him before his head explodes. Nonetheless, as Jason Thompson explains in an excellent 2013 column at ANN, Fist of the North Star is really about friendship, and as the creator Buronsen (whose nom de plume honors legendary tough guy Charles Bronson) put it, “Love and compassion are more powerful than violence!” The violence does tend to dominate in this first volume, but the series evolves, and I’m here for it.
Honestly, 'judging' Fist of the North Star is practically a moot point. The series was and still remains highly influential to creatives inside and outside of the comic world. It's a high-testosterone bloodsport of Mad Max-style proportions following a quintessential warrior as he pummels his way through his enemies' fleshy bit. It's iconic, campy, and something anime fans should at the very least have some familiarity with if only to know the story that blazed the trail for action comics to come. Yet, despite the 1980s series influence, notoriety for over-the-top violence, and immense financial success in Japan, it has never been fully translated and released stateside. There were attempts, initially by Viz, and later as “Master Editions” by Gutsoon!, for a total of nine volumes released out of the series' 27 total books. This latest attempt by Viz includes color illustrations and originally oriented artwork. The first volume already looks stunning. Re-releases of manga from the 80s or even earlier sometimes requires buyers to adjust their expectations. Clean-up can be hit or miss depending on how the original artwork was saved and pages can look, for lack of a better word, smudgy. I wouldn't use that word to describe this release. Hara's line work is crisp from the detailed facial expressions and motorbikes to all the gory bits. I feel lucky that this is the way I was able to be introduced to the series, honestly. Now, given what Fist of the North Star is, a no-holds-barred bloodfest starring a stoic martial arts hero, its worth noting in big capital letters that it is a product of its time. Kenishiro is prone to cheesy bravado including but not limited to slow-motion flips, shirt-bursting fits of rage, ax-throwing decapitations, and armored bikini babes. However, for anyone worried that this is cut from the same cloth as the ultra-violent OAVs of the same time period, I can assure you that the violence here stops at the physical. One of the biggest highlights of Fist of the North Star is Ken himself. They don't quite make Shonen Jump heroes like him anymore. He's a man of few words, forthright in his intentions, and always battling on the side of justice. Ken is here to save little girls, old men, and families fraught by apocalypse punks and nothing will stand in his way. Even as someone with little interest in pure action spectacle, Fist of the North Star is a fun ride and I found myself getting caught up in the “NO WAY” moments like a new fan. A series that truly transcends its time period to continue delivering a good time.
For some reason I always thought the original Fist of the North Star manga was released here in the west, seeing as how it influenced such juggernauts like Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. However, we haven’t gotten a complete manga release of the series since its debut in the 80s, but that’s bound to change thanks to VIZ Media’s new releases of the series. This brutal and nostalgic action series might not be for everyone, but after reading this, you can definitely see how it earns its place in the hall of manga legends. Kenshiro is a practitioner of the Hokuto Shinken, a fictional Chinese martial arts technique that aims to literally kill its opponents from the inside. This huge dude is a serious yet kindhearted man living in a strange post-apocalyptic world ala Mad Max, with dang near everyone killing each other for power. This first volume introduces readers to just how powerful Kenshiro is, with this hardcover edition covering the first couple manga arcs. It’s a great introduction as it leads to recurring characters Bat and Lin, as well as giving Kenshiro a long-lost love interest and rival in the form of Yuria and Shin respectively. I’m going to preface this with the fact that I’m confused at its Teen Plus rating; it’s one of the most influential shonen manga out there, but I didn’t realize how gory and visceral the action is. Chapter upon chapter comes with multiple character deaths (mostly throwaway characters used to show a villain’s power), and there’s no shying away from dismembered and vivisected bodies. That said, the gore included here is relevant to the cynical setting Fist of the North Star is set in, and only highlights how unique Kenshiro and his friends’ pureness contrasts with the rest of the world. The action is still some of the best I’ve seen in a shonen manga, or any manga for that matter. As someone who’s still catching up on the Jojo manga and wanting something similar, I can’t wait to read more of this one in the future!