Comic Book Curious

The Anime that Made Us: Fist of The North Star

March 18, 2022

A fast-hitting series, with a massive legacy!

"Omae Wa Mou Shindeiru"
- Kenshiro (Berserk’s main protagonist)

As we roll with the punches during the action-packed 80's action era, I would like to introduce another famous series, one that probably many have heard of, either through the show itself or through memes, and that is: Fist of the North Star. Originally running from 1983 to 1988, and spanning 245 chapters (or 27 volumes), Fist of the North Star is, without a doubt, one of the most successful anime fighting franchises to date: garnering over USD $50 billion since its debut. It has also inspired many other series, some of whom you may recognize: Berserk (Kentaro Miura), JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (Hirohiko Araki), and the video game: Double Dragon (Specifically the game's art style and overall setting). In addition, the series has sold a total of over a 100 million copies, making it one of the best-selling manga series in history! Now, being as successful as it is, where did it get its start? Would you believe it started out as a love of both martial arts movies (specifically those with Bruce Lee) and Mad Max? It’s true! Let’s explore how an entire film genre plus a dystopian film franchise birthed one of anime’s most influential fighting series.

An image showing two of Fist of the North Stars influences, Bruce Lee (left) and Mad Max (right)

Credit: Warner Bros. (left), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (right)

Series creators Tetsuo Hara (artist) and Buronson (writer) were heavily influenced by the Mad Max (of 1979 and 1981 fame) movies and the martial arts genre. In fact, when Fist of the North Star (FOTNS) was released, it was quickly noted as a "Mad-Max-meets-Bruce-Lee style manga" (Kotaku). Even the main protagonist takes heavy inspiration from Bruce Lee! Initially starting out as a one-shot, they realized that they needed to make the series more distinct. The last fundamental ingredient that helped with the series is creating a martial arts style that was specific to that universe. That style is Hokuto Shinken, which focuses on striking vital pressure points and critical organs on the human body. This martial art style would be also known to only a few main families within the series (Kenshiro’s family being one of them).

Another image of Bruce Lee (left) and Fist of the North Star protagonist, Kenshiro (right)

Credit: Richmond_lee

Once the creators had agreed on the fundamental aspects of how they wanted to world to be, a post-apocalyptic Mad Max world, a Bruce Lee type main character, and a new martial art technique, the next logical step would be to bring everything together into an action party story!

You might ask, what is the plot of Fist of the North Star exactly?? Well, to begin: the style it's written is similar to Dragon Ball, which was split into two halves (child Goku and adult Goku). However, the main difference is that Dragon Ball wanted to set up two distinct points in Goku's life. In contrast, the second half is just a general time-skip in Fist of the North Star. The story is set during the 1990s (both pre and post time-skip), when a worldwide nuclear war had wiped out most of civilization, turning the world into a Mad Max-esque wasteland. This, in turn, made resources scarce, and many people had to fight for supplies. Introduce our main protagonist: Kenshiro, the successor to the ancient martial art of assassination called Hokuto Shinken.

After losing his fiancée, he begins his journey to defend the weak and the innocent (for his fiancée) within this literal dog-eat-dog world. Ultimately, he does learn that his brother Raoh is trying to take over this apocalyptic world, and Kenshiro has to defeat his brother to bring an era of peace. The second half takes place years in the future, where Kenshiro has to help train Raoh's orphaned son. Finally, they are destined to save the world (which is still in the post-apocalyptic state) from an entire empire run by a celestial princess.

While the series did well in Japan, it didn't become a full breakout in the states until 1989, when the first 16 chapters were translated. Those 16 chapters were later put into a graphic novel collection. Viz Media picked up the series again in 1997. However, they only adapted chapters 17-44. Fast forward to roughly 2003, when Gutsoon! began to adapt the work. However only nine volumes were published under Gutsoon! and had withdrawn from the North American Market. However, in 2020, Viz Media picked up the series again (almost 40 years later) and have officially announced they will be publishing the series, with the first being released back in June of 2021.

The anime adaptation has fared much better: receiving 36 official dubbed episodes: 12 dubbed by Animaze. The final 12 would receive a combination of airtime (via Showtime Beyond) and be released on DVD. Even better: in 2008, Toei Animation released all 152 episodes, albeit subtitles only. While the adaptation for the English audience received positive feedback, the series seemed to have gotten a resurgence in popular culture once the meme era arrived.

Kenshiro's line of: "Omae Wa Mou Shindeiru" (translation: you're already dead) right after striking an enemy's vital pressure points turned into an almost overnight success within the realm of meme culture. The way Kenshiro presents the phrase within the anime is calm, relaxed, and collected (very much your 'typical' action hero). At the same time, the enemy just exploded behind him, had gotten the internet by storm. Originally posted on Deviantart back in 2010, it soon became a mainstay within meme culture. The scene itself is rather dramatic and using it out of context (via memes) makes any online interaction that much more intense while still being funny. Nowadays, you can't go online without seeing remixes of the scene (yes, there are remixes of that scene, and people making music to it) or memes using the image of Kenshiro pointing (plus caption).

FOTNS has impacted more than just the internet. It has inspired many other manga series; from earlier in the article, we have JoJo's Bizarre Adventure to Berserk. Kentaro Miura, the creator of Berserk even stated that Fist of the North Star inspired much of his work. To further iterate, in chapter 107 of JoJo part 8 ("Stone Ocean"), Kenshiro and Rao are summoned, making an official appearance within the series. We see nods in video games as well:

  • Zangief from the Street Fighter series is loosely based on Goda, a minor character from the North Star series
An image split between the character in Street Fighter and FOTNS

Credit: Capcom (left), Discotek Media (right)

  • The Witcher has an achievement titled: Fist of the North Star
  • Persona 5 has a nod to Raoh- Makoto (one of the main protagonists) is often called Seikimatsu Hasha, Roah's moniker.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has a weapon called: Fist of the North Star
A weapon from Fallout named Fist of the North Star

Credit: Bethesda Softworks

As we can see, even games with no real relevance to anime have nods to the franchise. Overall, the series has quite a reach and impact.

From its origins as a one-shot back in 1983 to becoming one of anime's most significant selling franchises (being up there with Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, and even Pokémon), Fist of the North Star is a series that has no doubt stood the test of time.

Now, moving to the final pillar of the 80's generation, we'll close out the era on a rather romantic note: check out the following article! There might be some love in the air.


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