The History of Fist of the North Star in the US.

A look back at one of the many anime sagas that was famous in Japan yet not quite so in the US.
March 07, 2006

Fist of the North Star A.K.A Hokuto No Ken, no where near as known as Dragon Ball but a staple in Shounen Anime nevertheless.

Fist of the North Star, an ultra-violent homage to the kung-fu films of yesteryear in apocalyptic sci-fi world. One man by the name of Kenshiro is a exceedingly strong man or martial arts as he is the "Fist of the North Star" as his mastered his school's art of the deadly kung-fu that is "Hokuto Shinken". He is easily capable of striking a few bodily organs and make them quite literally burst into a bloody pulp. Nasty huh? Shounen means "Young boy" which means that the anime for it was marketed towards young boys however as violent as the other shows of it type can be this went a lot more gruesome. So violent it got Japanese parents demanding censorship towards how the show's violent content went. But enough about that this is about how its history was in the US.

First of all the very first FOTNS movie in which was released in the US not too long after its original release in Japan.

Released by Streamline Pictures in the latter 1980's, this mainly uncut feature was the first cinematic venture for Kenshiro and his little friends the smart aleck teenaged boy Bat and cute sweet-natured little girl Lynn. This feature was never famous but it did attract a small cult following. It was panned by critics for being absurdly violent but the art design for the film's cityscapes were oft. admired. The English dub was not considered to be popular but it did have a pretty good amount of known talent. While it had plenty of obscure VA's it had some more known ones. Namely Micheal "G1 Transformers Tracks" McConnohie as Shin, Tony "Lupin the III" Oliver as Bat. It also had some secondary voice work by folks known in Anime dubs such as Wendee "Faye Valentine" Lee, Kirk "Don Patch" Thornton and Barbara "Rita Repulsa" Goodson. The english dub for this film was done at Wally Burr recording studios in which you might recall as the VA studio for known 80's shows such as Transformers, G.I Joe and Jem!. (Heck even Wally Burr himself was in the VA cast as well.) This also features James Avery whom you might know as either Shredder from TMNT to Uncle Phil from Fresh Prince is a VA in this movie as well. The dub for this movie was directed and produced by the infamous man behind Robotech that is Carl Macek. (But for those whom bash Robotech don't worry the FOTNS film here didn't end up like that.)

Fist of the North Star was also one of the first anime to have Manga released for it in the US. These Manga are just examples of how the storyline truly went.

Back in the early days of Viz one of their first Manga publications was Fist of the North Star as it was serialized in their Japanese counterpart that is Shounen Jump. It was one of the first releases for then new Manga publishing company Viz. Naturally alike the movie it was never famous but it was one of the starts for Manga in the US. (Though don't bother trying to find it on their website, apparently Viz lost the license to it a while back. Gutsoon Entertainment now has the license for it.) However it can still be seen in manga such as the Master Edition as well. (The 1st volume of that is seen at the right.)

The movie may not've been a big smash enough, but apparently it got TOEI still intrested enough to release a game for it on the NES.

The later 80's was a surprising time for anime-based video games. And out of all the releases at the time this one was the most accurate to its source material. Unfortunately that didn't matter much as this game made by TOEI animation (Published by TAXXAN and Electro Brain back then) was often panned by several gamers alike. (In which I admit to be of an exception to be honest.) This platformer stars Kenshiro as he does his trademark Hokuto Shinken and destroys anyone in his way. (It was not censored but due to how the NES can be it really wasn't much.) However for those whom thought it was bad I can name worse...

If there was ever a game that actually deserved the term "Bad Street Fighter II rip-off" this is probably it.

This is one of the earlier attempts to make a fighting game for the Original Game Boy and unfortunately it shows. One might want to give it credit since its concept was new for the time. Unfortunately its kinda hard to due to the overly clunky controls and a bit too simplistic fighting gameplay. (And without the signature moves such as the infamous Hokuto Shinken.) Brought to you by the same folks behind the NES release this too got thrashed by gamers. Granted alike its NES counterpart the names and title and the like are faithful but thats pretty much only one of its saving graces.

Don't be fooled by the name, Sega surprisingly went a rather different route here.
TOEI animation did not make the game-making license to Fist of the North Star exclusive to themselves. Sega actually got a chance to make Fist of the North Star games however this one was the only one to be released for the Sega Genesis. Sega made several text alterations such as calling this game "Last Battle" and plentiful amounts of name changes and the like. They also censored the violence for the most part as well. (Except for Eagles, apparently its bad to punch/kick humans into a bloody pulp yet its alright to completely destroy eagles like that. Heh maybe someone at Sega of America let that slip by as revenge for those infamous birds of prey on that level in Ninja Gaiden. ;) Anyways all really cheap joking aside this game was considerably censored.) However despite its shortcomings on that aspect it was considered to be a rather fun little platformer. And if you play it on a MegaDrive (Euro/Japanese version of Sega Genesis) you can access the Japanese version of this game intact.

Yes surprisingly enough there was an actual live action B-Movie based on Fist of the North Star. Granted very loosely based on Fist of the North Star but still.

In 1995 there was an actual live action US film based on the ever-so aforementioned anime of the same name. It starred semi-known martial artist Gary Daniels as Kenshiro and has several obscurities in the cast. (Aside from Malcolm McDowell as Kenshiro's teacher, yeah that casting kinda struck me as a bit odd as well.) Its consensus was very luke-warm amongst moviegoers as it was considered to be more of a Mad Max knock-off. (Granted so was its source material but it became even more apparent here.) Tony Randel of "Hellraiser 2" fame was the director and one of the writers of this movie. The movie was often deemed to be not all that good but to be fair some found it to be a good idea for Tony Randel to handle the film in a gory violence angle. (You know a action show is overly ultraviolent when a slasher film maker is directing a movie adaptation for it.) Nothing new ever really happened for FOTNS in the US until a few years later...

At long last the 1st FOTNS series was actually availible in English.

In 1999 Manga Entertainment made an English dub of the first Fist of the North Star TV series. In here you can see on how this whole storyline all began. The dub also stars some known Anime Dub VA talent such as Lex "Goemon Iskikawa" Lang as Kenshiro, Steven Jay "Spike Spiegel" Blum as Shin and M.E "Motoko Kusanagi" McGlynn as Yulia. The only strong alteration that ever really occured was Manga doing their own opening intro theme for the show. (This alongside Street Fighter II V have often been known as rare examples of great dub-made themes.) However it was never really known that much until it was starting to be a regular on the Encore Action channel's "Ani-midnight". Some also note on how its one of the few "Shounen" series' that avoid the "plenty of strong able-bodied good guys yet only one of them does much of anything" cliche known in Shounen anime. (And yes I know that not all Shounen anime does that cliche but still.)

Why is a seemingly Japan-only Arcade game like this doing here? You can be surprised on how it was actually existant in the US.

Even back in the older days American Arcades generally use Arcade Game Machines made for the US. However it is not always so in the US of A, some places actually have Japanese Arcade Machines availible despite all the untranslated kanji and the like. (It has happened in places like California and Florida, I can definitely confirm the latter on actually playing a few games like that but thats a different story.) Anyways this supposedly Japan-only Konami title was an Arcade game that gained attention from gamers whenever it was actually in the arcade they are at. This was by no means a DDR killer when it comes to Arcade Konami games of course. But it was one of the more known cases of Japanese Arcade games getting a unofficial US release despite never being translated. Thats gotta count for something right?

Yes believe it or not TOEI made a new FOTNS series as well.

In recent years TOEI animation has made a new Fist of the North Star series however ADV got the license to dub this series in english. Unfortunately they used the now-defunct VA studio "Monster Island" which is one of the most "black sheep" dub VA studios around. For those not "Anime English Dub"-savvy it was not popular but to be fair at least it was uncut. However its availible on the Anime Network and it along with the first series thats on Encore Action are currently the only signs of FOTNS on US television. (And quite frankly their the only FOTNS series' to get english dubbed for the US at all.)

And finally at long last the latest FOTNS game, well the latest thats not a Pachinko game that is.

From the folks that brought you the Guilty Gear series comes this current Arcade title. A more US-based release is uncertain for now. (But its already getting a bit of a "Punch-Mania Hokuto No Ken" kind of attention on how this game has already appeared in New York's Arcade scene.) Could this stylish new wonder attract more viewers to the FOTNS saga? Whom knows but when it comes to more current material this is the best bet overall. (The only potential choice game-wise would be if the FOTNS games be availible for download on the Nintendo Revolution but thats a different story altogether).

Overall this is the US history of FOTNS, Fist of the North Star is a prime example of being in the middle ground when it comes to fame in the USA. Its no Dragon Ball Z or Pokemon but there are plenty more anime that are far more obscure. Its not for everyone as its grim ultraviolent martial arts are a bit of an acquired taste. (However its not the only thing that could be remotely considered appealing I can assure you that much.) Will FOTNS get to be more known in the states? Who knows...
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