The year is 199X. The Earth has been devastated by nuclear war. The seas have dried up and the land is cracked and desolate. Most living things on the planet have become extinct apart from the human race. In this new age violence rules as civilization is lost and the strong rule the weak in a world where food and water are the only thing with value. At this time a mysterious man named Kenshirou appears with his deadly martial art, the 2000 years old Hokuto Shinken. With his deadly style eliminating the evil is he the savior of the new era?
Hokuto no Ken was published in English as Fist of the North Star by VIZ Media for 44 chapters from 1989 to 1997 in monthly comic book format, later collected into 4 graphic novels. After gaining rights to the series, Gutsoon! Entertainment later republished the series under the Raijin Comics imprint in full-color, original right-to-left format as Fist of the North Star: Master Edition from January 28, 2003 to May 19, 2004; only covering the first 9 volumes due to Gutsoon! becoming defunct in North America.
To witness such influential work after so much time is a truly wondrous experience. Hokuto no Ken has set many standards -- as formulaic as they may be -- that are still used today. One would believe that it will be a vichyssoise of platitudes, but instead it presents itself in a more qualitative fashion than works of today which are based on same formula.
Hokuto no Ken tells story about ambitious and brave men in a world where compassion and love would seem pointless. It subtly indicates on necessary human values, which are easily missed underneath its excessive violence. There isn't one main plot which
extends throughout the entire manga, but more like series of episodes which are all loosely tied together. Often will you feel that content was abruptly thrown in, rather than initially planned. This was due to obvious money milking reasons, which prevented possibility for fluid progression.
Artistic impression will remain memorable, especially in the later chapters when Tetsuo improves his meticulousness and utilizes wide panels as best as possible. From the very start and onward there's a steady improvement in his art, be it the post-apocalyptic scenery, facial expressions or motion from panel to panel. However, his sense for proportions is a bit distorted, maybe those grandiose anatomical features were done with goal of portraying magnificence or rather sheer force of certain characters, but even as such they remain off-putting at first and require getting used to them.
Side characters received excellent characterization and are easily relatable to. Even villains have more profound reasons behind their atrocious actions and leave you with bitter taste in your mouth after they are killed. However, some of revelations (motives) felt quite asinine, far fetched, and should have been avoided completely.
Kenshiro serves his purpose as allegory for God. Be it certain situations in which he's depicted, how other characters perceive him, or his very personality. You could say that he merely serves to keep things in motion, for it is very difficult to feel attached to his character. He is how he is throughout the entire manga, there are no surprises regarding him, and emotional response is mostly drawn from the way he affects other characters, never from him directly. This weird approach makes him devoid of usual -- intelligence insulting -- typicalities that main characters have, but in no way does it make him an ideal one.
Hokuto no Ken could easily be classed as masterpiece, but, I personally like to consider it as a far from perfect -- enveloped in a peculiar charm -- timeless classic.
Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star) is a series primarily known in the west nowadays for over the top manliness, a few memes such as "Omae wa mou shindeiru" and it's anime movie being glorious, gory 80s action. Compared to it's peer in 80s Shonen Dragon Ball or the series it inspired, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Hokuto no Ken has become vastly underrated today, despite it easily being one of the best series to come out of the Shonen demograph.
Note: I will only be reviewing the first 136 chapters of the manga. This is because whilst the 2nd part introduces quite a few new
details, the numerous retcons, plot holes and overused tropes within Part 2 make it's entirety a disservice to the series when chapter 136 already gave the manga a solid, complete ending.
The plot of the manga is somewhat simplistic, yet well executed. Whilst there is some escalation in scale of keeping the stakes high with each major enemy, it never reaches the point where past foes such as Shin ever lose their relevance due to the combat relying more on skillful techniques than raw power, making it a stark contrast to the typical Shonen. There is very little plot holes within the series as well, with the only ones standing out being the plot point of Raoh being shocked if he were to see how similar Mamiya looked to Yuria never happening and the Tenryu Kokyu Ho's effects seeming to have been retconned by the time of the Souther Arc.
Leaving aside these smaller aspects, the story with it's grim post-apocalyptic setting, fusion of 80s and medieval aspects and a well executed hero's journey lead to quite an enjoyable story.
The characters within the world are hard to judge as a whole. Though most are likeable for the sheer manliness aspect of the series, only Rei, Mamiya and maybe Raoh gained much development. However, all the main cast are fleshed out well enough and each one has a web of connections to other characters in the series to help make their interactions and goals quite interesting. For example, how Jagi links to Shin and Kenshiro as a manipulator of the plot's events, the differing goals of the Nanto Rokusei members or the conflict of the Hokuto brothers help make most of the cast engaging. The only character I found actively dislikeable was Lin having no use beyond being a plot device and damsel in distress, yet even she had her moments.
Some of the elements of it's cast seem to be particularly outstanding in their class. For example, Kenshiro's somewhat anti-hero role of being clear he doesn't consider himself a saviour/hero or Raoh having quite a few layers to his character beyond being a mere bad guy help display it as a great influence for the story telling of Shonen manga in general. The rivalry between these two characters is second only to Rikishi and Joe's within Ashita no Joe in terms of Shonen rivalries, with a clear balance between hatred and respect for each other and both growing in various ways throughout the series.
Furthermore, Mamiya is one of the most well realised female characters within the medium. Whilst never given enough prominence to seem to relevant, her past, determination and weakness helps her present the idea of a female doing what she can in a world in which her disadvantage is obvious, much akin to someone such as a less plot relevant Oscar from Rose of Versailles or Casca from Berserk.
The art is easily the series' strongest point and helps make it such an entertaining work. The very realistic, well shaded and detailed artwork that just gets constantly better throughout the series is a feast for the eyes only surpassed by a handful of manga series that help make the series so well known. With it's distinct style of characters' eyes and faces to the general testosterone fuelling muscle mass, great gore and manly tears, there's nothing not to love about the art that helps keep any lover of 80s pop culture engaged.
Overall, Hokuto no Ken is a series that whilst not the top tier in any of it's fields, performs good enough in all categories to be considered one of the best Shonen series out there, or manga series in general. Just stay away from the Part 2 material.
Do you like manly men ?
Do you like manly quotes ?
Do you like manly tears ?
Do you like manly deaths ?
Well you're in luck because this manga is the manliest one around (yes I've read Berserk) .It's the epitome of manliness .The 'man' in 'manga' has never been so fitting .
Plot - 8
Well I obviously wasn't reading this for fan service so I can say that the story was pretty good .There's a difference between this and Berserk though .This story as a whole isn't as good because the story telling isn't as smooth .There are some cases of the notorious Deus Ex Machina
moments which come up in this manga .Obviously the MCs abilities can cover many areas in an understandable fashion but when you somehow have the ability to make someone tell the truth in one chapter but for the rest of the manga that power isn't called upon again the reader might feel slightly put-off .The last parts of it also felt a bit dragged out and unnecessary .The first part of it however was extremely...........manly .
Art - 8
This art is sort of weird for me to judge .Sometimes its downright awesome but some other times (especially in the some fight scenes) it felt sort of lacking .The characters' martial arts also felt a bit bland to watch (head splitting aside) .I liked the art a lot but I'll cut down a mark since it's a bit inconsistent .The drawings of horses and machines are especially glorious if you ask me .The characters' design are also very...err........manly .
Characters - 6
Ah yes ,this is the weakest point .No I didn't dislike them at all .It's just that some of them were so (and I hate to use the term) one-dimensional .Some villains were practically just badly written .Backstories for some of them also pop up out of nowhere sometimes as though it's just a convenient plot device .I feel like they could have been handled better to be honest .I also didn't really feel anything when some of them died apart from a loss of some.........manliness
Enjoyment - 8.6
Not quite at Berserk's level if you ask me but great nonetheless .I can't give it a 9 on my list but I can say that it's a pretty strong 8 .More people should read this because it's pretty damn good .Manly deaths ,lines and characters were a great plus if you ask me and I could mostly ignore the things I didn't like because each time I was about to feel like it was dropping in quality Kenshiro just had to say "Omae wa mou shindeiru" .
Was one of the defining battle manga along with Dragon Ball and I sometimes wish this one had turned out to be the most popular because it has a lot going for it. Great apocalyptic setting with the gore and violence, characters actually die and don't have that Dragon Ball problem of coming back to life and had amazing art for a weekly series.
Takes a few chapters to find itself, Ken is overpowered and obliterates everything until he encounters his first major antagonist which takes 30+ chapters. The second half of the manga was weaker and only existed because of pressure on the mangaka
to make more money.
Overall though a very competent shounen that does most things right.
Martial arts are an expression of power, showcasing the potential of the human body when pushed to its physical limit. It also makes for exciting anime, and allows animators and directors to showcase their prowess as things get heated.