Fist of the North Star, Volume 1 by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara
Here’s a flashback for you and a demonstration of my advanced age, Fist of the North Star as it was produced back in 1989 as a flipped monthly comic and the new hardcover edition. I was curious what it would be like to read a whole volume of Fist of the North Star, after all the idea of a delayed attack (“You’re already dead!”) that results in blood explosions is pretty much a shonen cliche at this point, but what’s the source material like? While I did read the first chapter way back in the day I’d never read more of the story although I’ve read plenty of references and jokes about Fist of the North Star since then.
Fist of the North Star takes place in the future after a cataclysmic event in the late 1990s has produced a world where water is scarce and people attempt to survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape of city-states. The enigmatic Ken travels from town to town, demonstrating is extreme stoicism and manliness as a practitioner of the martial art Hokuto Shinken. I was immediately struck by how much Fist of the North Star reminded me of the Mad Max series due to the roaming bands of motorcycle gangs. As the story opens a motorcycle gang called the Zeed discovers that their scouts have been killed with some sort of localized explosions coming from inside their bodies, and a parched Ken gets caught in a trap as he approaches a town. A young girl approaches his cage to give him water, and when another prisoner grabs her Ken fends him off easily in his weakened condition. Ken soon finds himself battling the Zeed for the town that captured him. The action scenes are dynamic and gory, with the lack of expression on Ken’s face contrasting with the horror and surprise of his enemies as they find vital parts of their bodies exploding. I enjoy all of Ken’s calm proclamations as he informs his enemies of his impending demise by naming martial arts techniques and flatly declaring “Scum like you cannot possibly kill me.” The art often plays with perspective, with Ken fighting enemies that appear to be two or three times his size, which creates a little bit of dramatic tension in the battles even though Ken’s victory is always assured.
Ken sets out on further adventures, accompanied by the young former prisoner named Bat, who provides ongoing amazement and commentary on Ken’s martial arts feats. As he approaches the city of the Southern Cross, he has to deal with confronting his past and the reader learns more about the pain and trauma that lead Ken to be the master of martial arts who still stops to protect the weak throughout the dystopic remains of human civilization. This volume packs in so much origin story I’m curious to see if the rest of the series is more episodic, or if even more of Ken’s past is revealed in future volumes. This is a great hardcover edition that historic shonen collectors should appreciate that will look nice on a bookshelf with the other recent deluxe volumes Viz has been producing.