Story by Buronson
Art by Tetsuo Hara
Translated by Joe Yamazaki
Touch-Up Art & Lettering by John Hunt
Design by Adam Grano
Edited by Mike Montesa
For the longest time, Fist of the North Star was in a peculiar position. Despite being one of the best-selling manga of all time and having a dedicated fanbase, the series hadn’t been licensed in the US since the early 2000s. To make matters worse, previous attempts to release the manga had all been short-lived, preventing English readers from easily finishing the series. Luckily, Fist of the North Star fans can finally rejoice, as the manga has returned to print and now digital, thanks to a new release from Viz Media. At long last, this legendary manga can be experienced once again.
Fist of the North Star takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where limited resources have led to turmoil among the remaining human populace. In the midst of this chaos is Ken, a warrior who specializes in the powerful martial art known as Hokuto Shinken. As he wanders the wastelands of Earth, Ken uses his techniques to defend the weak and pursue his captive love Yuria.
What’s initially striking about Fist of the North Star is the aesthetic of its world. Buronson has previously cited the film Mad Max as a major influence on the series, and this is evident from the opening pages alone. Fist of the North Star’s world looks barren, often feeling like an endless body of dirt and sand, but you occasionally can see the remnants of traditional society. Bandits are often shown traveling on old motor vehicles, and many civilizations appear to be in the ruins of once larger cities. While this world has regressed to an archaic state, the hints of the once blissful past still remain, creating a conflicting yet fascinating setting for the manga.
One of the most memorable parts of this manga is the main character Ken. From his first battle, Ken is shown to be an unstoppable fighter with a strong sense of justice. Ken’s dialogue during his fights is also incredibly entertaining, saying memorable lines like “You are already dead” before killing his foes. It would be easy to view Ken as a stoic protagonist, but as the story develops, we see that he is heavily driven by his emotions. Ken’s strength, as well as his faith in the bonds between people, is fueled by his attachment to his lover Yuria. Ken will go out of his way to save strangers from peril, and will mourn those who are lost in violent acts. Ken uses his strength to protect what others wish to erase, making him a compelling lead for the series.
Ken’s enemies are often shown to be cruel and ruthless, blindly killing any innocents in their path. What keeps Ken’s battles with these foes interesting is that they’ll use a variety of different weapons and techniques to counter Ken’s Hokuto Shinken. That said, the most memorable among them is the volume’s main antagonist Shin, the leader of a vicious gang in the Kanto region and an old acquaintance of Ken. Shin uses his Nanto Seiken martial art for his own self-gain, forcing innocent people to become his slaves and pillaging resources from nearby civilizations. While Shin works as a great foil for Ken, I was surprised that the two’s conflict was concluded by the end of this volume. This doesn’t take away from the overall quality of Shin’s character, but it makes me curious about the longevity of future antagonists as well.
So far, the series’s supporting cast is very small, with the most notable members being Bat and Rin. Bat is a young thief who accompanies Ken on his journey. While his cunning personality is entertaining, he’s primarily relegated to being an audience surrogate during the manga’s action scenes. That said, Bat’s interactions with Ken are nice to see, and they showcase more of Ken’s casual demeanor. Meanwhile, Rin is a young girl that Ken saves at the beginning of the manga. Rin is a stark contrast to Bat, being far more timid and innocent. It’s hard to say what Rin’s larger role in the story will be, as she ends up being absent from a large chunk of this volume. Like Bat though, Rin’s character serves to show Ken’s personal values and emotional drive. Bat and Rin don’t contribute significantly to this volume, but they are pleasant additions nonetheless.
If Fist of the North Star’s characters and story don’t sell you on the series, Tetsuo Hara’s artwork surely will. Hara’s attention to detail is impeccable, from his intricate architecture and mechanical designs to the distinct appearances of Ken’s enemies. This care is also shown in the manga’s action scenes, where Hara’s panels emphasize the motion and impact of each attack. Individual fights in Fist of the North Star aren’t particularly long, but the pronounced movements of the characters makes them an immersive experience. It’s crazy to think that Fist of the North Star was Hara’s first long-running manga, as his incredible talent is already on display in these early chapters.
Unfortunately, Hara’s artwork is hindered by a problematic decision in this release: the sound effects. As with most Viz Media releases, Fist of the North Star’s original Japanese sound effects have been re-lettered into English. That said, the English sound effects have been lettered in a manner that prioritizes covering up the original Japanese, while reducing the amount of required art redraws. This leads to individual letters in sound effects often looking warped or arranged in a manner that feels unnatural. While this isn’t the only English manga release to have this issue, it’s especially apparent here because the manga’s original sound effects were heavily integrated into the artwork. The result is that the English sound effects are almost unreadable at times, and they actively distract you from the actual artwork. There’s no way of knowing why this decision was made, but If redrawing Hara’s artwork was a concern, I would have much rather had this release retain the Japanese sound effects, instead of them being re-lettered in such a haphazard manner.
It’s worth noting that this release of Fist of the North Star is based on the 18-volume “Ultimate Edition” of the series. This means that the manga has some extra additions that weren’t present in older releases, including the original color pages and an afterword from former Weekly Shonen Jump editor Nobuhiko Horie. The physical release is also a hardcover, with the opening pages having a beautiful glossy finish. This is easily the best English release of Fist of the North Star, making it a worthy purchase for even the most veteran fans of the series.
Fist of the North Star is a true classic and a must-read for lovers of action manga. Viz Media’s new release of the series is very impressive and will please both new and old fans alike. There’s no better time to check out this iconic title. Thank you Viz, for bringing back the love. You’re a shock!!