ADVANCED REVIEW: ‘Fist of the North Star,’ Volume 1

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Fist of the North Star Volume 1

Fist of the North Star Volume 1 is published through Viz Media, written by Buronson, illustrated by Tetsuo Hara, and translated to English by Joe Yamazaki. Originally published in 1983, Viz’s Signature Edition is finally making it possible for fans old and new to be able to read this highly influential shonen manga. I personally have been very eager to read Fist of the North Star as my favorite mangaka Hirohiko Araki has stated multiple times that JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure was birthed from his love of Buronson’s story of good versus evil.

Right from the start, Fist of the North Star Volume 1 gives us a glorious, full-colored depiction of the year 199X, when the world has been left in apocalyptic ruin from nuclear fire. The colorwork features the most intriguing blends of blood-red, orange, amethyst, and sea blue. The next page is a full spread of our main protagonist Ken with lightning all around him.  We are introduced to this desolate wasteland where groups with burly men have multicolored mohawks and weapons that range from axes to butcher knives.  Being that this manga came out over 35 years ago, the character designs still feel wholly unique to this read. The main antagonists are these biker gangs that donned football gear, spiked gauntlets, and leather crop tops. Hara’s settings and backgrounds aren’t incredibly well-detailed, but instead, his focus is on character design and action, and it brings a lot of fun to the bloody action.

When we are introduced to Ken, he is just about one of the coolest shonen protagonists I’ve ever read. Without us really knowing anything about him, Buronson introduces us to him as a man on the verge of dehydration. He needs water and gets captured by bandits that abuse and mistreat children. As he is nurtured back to health, readers discover that Ken has supernatural powers and is found out to be marked with seven stars on his body in the shape of the big dipper. There is such a mysterious air around Ken. Buronson’s pacing is immaculate and doesn’t linger on any moments of intrigue for too long as he just throws readers into a bloody, intense fight between Ken and The Zeed bandits.  What ensues proves why Fist of the North Star Volume 1 has stolen so many hearts throughout the years. With a possible beheading on the line, Ken fully attacks these bandits to deliver justice without regard to how humane or ethical he is being. The bloody battle features heads being kicked on in, brains being splattered on the floor, and bodies being punched in half. It’s fully detailed violence and gore. While it may seem gratuitous to some, it feels perfect for this dangerous and cold world that Ken lives in.

The artwork done by Hara is some of the cleanest action scenes I’ve read. Each and every single punch is accounted for and the depth and reaction of motion from kicks to hits is felt. There are pages I read twice over simply to enjoy the art. Ken’s powers are seen as an extension of his person, and that was easy to follow. Reading it made me squeal with joy because it’s so obvious how Araki took inspiration from this style of art drawn by Hara in Fist of the North Star Volume 1 and tweaked it to create his own signature action fighting sequences.

Storywise, Buronson gives us a detailed backstory on how Ken came to become a power user of a fighting style called Hokuto Shinken which allows him to tap into the extra 70% of his human abilities to give him super strength, speed, and the ability to transfer energy to and from people’s bodies. The dialogue throughout Fist of the North Star can feel a little bit like an info dump. Whether it is explaining how Ken’s powers work or describing his past life, it can feel very disconnected and cumbersome to get through. The integration of key information isn’t blended organically into the story and bogs the quality of the story down. However, the themes of good versus evil with Ken and his slew of antagonists are never lost.  While the dialogue can feel like a slog, the letter down is exceptional and has lots of fun placements for onomatopoeia and action. I had no trouble keeping up with reading as smooth and concise.

I loved the romance aspect of Ken’s backstory that humanizes and makes readers understand where Ken’s heart is as a protagonist. His one and only goal is to win the woman of his dreams back from a man who stole her from him. He is motivated by trying to find a place of their own in this postapocalyptic hellscape they live in. These goals are clear and relatable and fuel the second half of Fist of the North Star Volume 1. The main antagonist is a very clear-cut depiction of evil incarnate. His name is King, and he just wants to rule over the bandits and have Ken’s girlfriend all to himself. He does not care about how he achieves his goal or whether or not Ken’s girlfriend truly loves him or not. He is vile, abusive, and misogynistic. Unfortunately, his intentions and motives as a villain aren’t more complicated than that. With a little more characterization, King would not be so one-dimensional.

With all of that being said, the interesting character designs. wonderful world setting, and bloodbath of action scenes make Fist of the North Star Volume 1 an instant classic then and now. The 35+ year gap does almost nothing to age this manga. With its zany character designs and loveable protagonist, I beg every fan of shonen to give this book a shot, because I promise that you will not be disappointed.

Fist of the North Star Volume 1 is available Tuesday, June 15th any place books and manga are sold or you can pre-order it through our bookshop affiliate link here.

Fist of the North Star Volume One
4.5

TL;DR

The interesting character designs. wonderful world setting, and bloodbath of action scenes make Fist of the North Star Volume One an instant classic then and now. The 35+ year gap does almost nothing to age this manga. With its zany character designs and loveable protagonist, I beg every fan of shonen to give this book a shot, because I promise that you will not be disappointed.