#127 : Fist of the North Star (TV Series)

fotnstv_1I often equate Fist of the North Star as a western, or maybe a modern tale of the roaming samurai. In any case, it is the same style of story, just from a different context and disguised as a shonen fighter. This is the lone wolf roaming in a world filled with chaos who makes change and restores balance by being the example to be. Fist of the North Star may be what many of us think it is, but once you watch the original 109 episode run, you may have to second guess what you thought and understand more so the feeling.

fotnstv_2The reputation of Fist of the North Star is often a slaughterfest, manly anime (MANime…face palm) and high intense action. These characteristics may hold true to a certain level, but on another, I see elements of balance, compassion and even… calmness. There is from my eyes a heavy Buddhist or Taoist influence to Fist of the North Star and it is best seen through our main protagonist Kenshiro. He possesses great strength and skill, enough to split an individual in two, or have one’s head explode. Yet he does this with very little effort, often from an acupressure point. And his stance is one of defense, he does not attack with anger or malice. Kenshiro reacts and uses his martial art abilities only when it is needed. Much like Captain Harlock, Kenshiro is an individual who is aware of the dualities of the world, yet they know how to react with composure. A true state of one who is enlightened and is in equilibrium with the masculine and the feminine.

fotnstv_3Being the progenitor, father, or maybe nowadays even the grandfather for the modern Shonen Jump styled fighting series, Fist of the North Star is a pure essence of the non-ending quest of episodes or manga volume about a hero who must fight to live. Fist of the North Star led the way to Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya, then to Yu Yu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin, One Peace, Bleach, Naruto and the list goes on and on. Yet Fist of the North Star did not just come out of nowhere. Yes you can see the elements of Mad Max and Bruce Lee in the designs and environments, but Fist of the North Star also has much to owe to anime titles of the 1970s like Babel IICasshan and Devilman. Then we get to 1984 and Fist of the North Star debuts on television screens across Japan. In an industry that at the time was saturated by mecha and superheroes, the journey of Kenshiro was something fresh and some what new and yet a minor evolution as well.

fotnstv_4As a lengthy show one must be prepared to go in for the so-called long haul. Be patient and persevere through each episode. Fist of the North Star takes time to get warmed up so to speak and even though, as is the case with many of the shonen fighters, you may question is this is going anywhere? And slowly, much like an onion, layer upon layer becomes revealed and all through heavy amounts of drama and seriousness. Each episode reveals new characters, new fights and more drama and like the cycle of a day starts over again and again anew. Enemies becomes allies, fights turn deadly and important lessons to be absorbed by you the viewer are assimilated all at the same time and usually with a tissue box on hand. Fist of the North Star is a show about returning to love and sympathizing those who are flawed, yet still human.

If you want to take the shorter route, you can  immerse yourself into the 1986 motion picture version of Fist of the North Star. It has much bang for the buck, but it also is missing much of the story, characters and added drama that I fell in love with in this TV series. As is much in life as is with Fist of the North Star, the longer harder road is the path that rewards far more than the quicker fix. Just why did it all have to end with a clip episode? The answer is simple… the story has only begun… enter Fist of the North Star II. Yes folks, there is a sequel.

#95 : Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin

SF_1Often times shonen fighters are a time tested formula much like a twelve bar blues. Everyone has their rendition of the young boy setting out into the world and in the process makes friends, fights adversaries, then make friends of former adversaries and get involved in lots of training. Now for this time round let’s drop the whole idea of our hero being a human being. How about a tale from the animal world and in particular the world of our canine friends? A shonen fighter about dogs? This is Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin (Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin).

SF_2Here is a mashup for you… let’s combine some older more serious Shonen Jump properties like say Fist of the North Star and Saint Seiya, add a little bit of the classic adventures of famed writer Jack London (White Fang and The Call of the Wild comes to mind) and for good measure lets also add a little bit of Watership Down. This is how I interpret Silver Fang in a basic tidy package. The presence of dogs are nothing new to anime, examples include: Casshan’s cybernetic Friender, the large mecha-like Yatter-Wan from Yatterman (I need to see more of this show!) and Ein in Cowboy Bebop. All three of these examples show the dog as a sidekick, a minor character, but to have the dogs themselves be the main attraction and more ‘human’ like with a complex structure of language, society and free will is a nice change (hence the Watership Down reference). Living life, having the human experience in the guise of a dog.

SF_3Gin’s origins trace him to a family of hunting dogs. His father, Riki, accompanies his master in the hunting of the great super villian, Akakabuto (an insane giant bear). Dogs versus bears… interesting. During this hunt Riki goes missing and is presumed to be dead. In the meantime Gin’s birth occured and would be soon he would be reared under a little boy named Daisuke. A boy and his dog, so cute! This sort of childhood for Gin would end once Daisuke’s grandfather, the hunter mentioned earlier, begins to train and toughen up little Gin to become a bear hunter. Again dogs versus bears, amazing. Gin’s time in the wilderness would get him acquainted with another hunting dog who eventually tells Gin about a colony of dogs who have gone wild to fight Akakabuto. Gin tastes the ‘call of the wild’ and sets off onto the hero’s journey. And on this journey he will meet many a sempai who helps him grow up, but one question remains. Who is the leader of this group of dogs and what actually did happen to Gin’s father, Riki?

SF_4For a Shonen Jump manga that ran for 28 volumes can you imagine how many episodes made it into final production? Perhaps 100 or so… no. OK, maybe 52… ah nope. 26!? The correct answer is 19. Wow, thats not many for back in the day, but let’s look a little deeper. Silver Fang debuted in 1986 under the shadow of two other higher profile Shonen Jump brothers and all three of these were animated at Toei. The siblings Silver Fang had competition with was none other than Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya; David vs. two Goliaths in a nut shell. And yet in the shorter span of story telling you get what you need, so not much filler. Kind of a relief in a way, yet with the longer run of the manga I wonder how much was cut to make this production?

Shonen Jump celebrates 50 years this year (2018). The big names will get another day in the sun; Dragon Ball, One Piece and Naruto will most likely have lots of exposure. But, I say why remember and stay with the nostalgia of familiar properties when you can try another show you may not have seen before. Being that 2018 is the year of the dog in the Chinese Zodiac, I nominate Gin as the mascot for this year. All the more reason to give Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin a chance in your playlist.

… lions and tigers and DOGS versus BEARS, oh my!

#91 : Cat’s Eye

There should be honor among thieves. After all, and I am quoting from another anime, “It isn’t stolen, merely borrowed without the benefit of paperwork” (GoShogun: The Time Étranger). Some thieves acquire for greed, others for survival and others for getting back what is rightfully their own property. As this particular story goes, we have three sisters in Japan with a mission to collect artwork that was created by their estranged father. Always one step ahead of the cops and another step ahead of our hearts, lets meet the Kisugi sisters, better known as Cat’s Eye.

CE_1Mix three parts Lupin III, one part Dirty Pair, one part Charlie’s Angels and a dash of Shonen JumpShonen Jump? For real? Indeed, one of the few examples of SJ anime with female lead characters I can think of. Cat’s Eye was created by the same dude, Tsukasa Hojo, that did City Hunter (also SJ); both shows look similar in approach. Earlier it sounded like I was making some fancy schmancy coffee a lot of you folks drink from Starbucks. Funny to throw in that reference because the Cat’s Eye girls own a coffee shop… named Cat’s Eye. Way to state the obvious ladies without getting caught; you three get bonus points from me. What a combination, these girls are skilled with stealth, athletic ability and can make a mean cup of joe (helps out if you have to pull an all nighter?).

CE_2Enough of these intros, we need to meet the Kisugi sisters. Let’s start with kid sister Ai, she is the tech geek and yet still in high school. Then there is older sister Rui with long curly hair, beauty mark and red lipstick (she may be my favorite). Finally, we have middle sister and our main protagonist, Hitomi who does a majority of the  thievery. Often times she herself is considered Cat’s Eye, kind of like Ken the Eagle in Gatchaman. Now for a great twist in regards to who Hitomi’s boyfriend is. He is Toshio ‘Toshi’ Utsumi and he works across the street from the Cat’s Eye coffee shop and he is a cop and his main assignment is the capture of Cat’s Eye. The poor guy must not be very bright knowing his beloved is also his biggest nemesis.

CE_3As stated before, our girls only steal artwork that belongs in the collection of their artist father, Michael Heinz. Wait I thought Cat’s Eye were the Kisugi sisters and this guy’s last name is Heinz? Perhaps its a nickname or the girls took their mother’s maiden name? At any rate, these girls are honest and always leave a calling card stating when and where they will strike next. These are usually business card sized and they are delivered ninja style like shurikens, very bold. Speaking of ninja skills I often thought these girls honored that tradition with their abilities of stealth and agility. Except this was all set in the 1980s, so they have to wear tight leotards. The era of aerobics left influence in both the girl’s costumes and both ending credit sequences. Flashdance anyone?

CE_4How odd that both Cat’s Eye and Lupin III were made at TMS (awesome studio). Talk about a great crossover possibility… that never happened. Also odd is how this show leads you on with the plot. Do we ever find the whereabouts of Michael Heinz? Spoiler, but no. At the end of the first season it seemed that the next half of the show would focus on this plot point and it did… vaguely. Almost as if it was just filler material. Hmm… Shonen Jump adaptations and filler episodes, yea like that never happens? Needless to say I was disappointed once I got to the end, but I had a good time getting there anyway. Plus, Toshi never catches Hitomi in the act. And while it is true that a few episodes flirted with the possibility of discovering the truth, Cat’s Eye ends it all in a stalemate. Maybe I am being too hard on this show?

A final word of warning if you have any of Michael Heinz’s artwork! Be prepared if one of Cat’s Eye’s calling cards appears because these girls always get the goods. Cat’s Eye the group may steal art, but Cat’s Eye the show stole my heart. An ode to my favorite holiday gift from 2017, good times! Why didn’t I see this show sooner?

#86 : Baoh

baoh_1A question to all you loyal fans of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure… who’s your daddy? Or perhaps, who is your older brother may be more precise? 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell (who here remembers East Germany?), Dragon Ball decided to add the Z and Saint Seiya would call it a day on the small screen, a lone wolf, short, direct to video release of a Hirohiko Araki manga would hit the shelves of video stores. Behold all that is Baoh.

baoh_2Now here is how to tell a story… A teenage boy caught up in an accident is taken in by a secret group and has a worm implanted into him to make him into the ultimate fighting, or perhaps, killing machine. Wait a minute a worm? Eww… that is gross man, but hey I didn’t create this story. And while he is being transported in statis he becomes awakened with the help of a psychic girl (Thanks for waking me up kid, that was one hell of a dream). Both escape for the hills so to speak and this so-called group does everything and anything in their power to get their prized experiment back. And hopefully before our hero, Ikuro Hashizawa, evolves towards his full potential. Hmm, kind of cliche…I smell elements of Black Magic M-66, or even maybe M.D. Geist (maybe?), but who said those are original ideas either. And if Baoh is cliche, then it does cliche oh so much better.

baoh_3Now this may be the shortest anime based off a Shonen Jump manga? Don’t quote me on this, but in a sea of triple digit episode TV adaptations a single release OVA, that does not even span an hour, is quite the welcome rarity. There is no room for filler here kids, in fact there is hardly any room to give any back story or character development. And yet we do get some… amazing. We start this story in media res and don’t stop till you cry out… NO, I want more. And then you play it again and perhaps again after that as well. Just don’t forget to put the TV on mute and crank up your old Van Halen albums (David Lee Roth era) just in case you run out of ideas of how to make Baoh even more fun! I personally recommend Atomic Punk from the first VH album. “I am a victim of the science age, a child of the storm, whoa yes!”

baoh_4I recently commented on how Blue Sonnet was a fun ride from start to finish and that was accomplished in a very short period of time, just five episodes… count ’em. Baoh is the equivalent of two of those… yeah… TWO! And for that short space, it does one thing so well… and that is… be awesome. I usually write more for these entries, but I don’t want to spoil Baoh in case you have not seen it yet. Seriously, describing the whole plot is pointless as you must see it to believe it. Baoh, you were and are a fine definition of action entertainment from the closing of that fine decade of the past; 1980s forever. Cigarette lighters take to the air and salute.

afterthought … maybe now is the time to finally give JoJo’s a try.

#76 : Fist of the North Star (movie)

Do you think you know Fist of the North Star? I thought I did from all the reputation of the so called ‘manliness’. Manliness… HAHAHA!… this is a Shonen Jump adaptation, COME ON! Nothing wrong with SJ titles though. I was thinking this was another slaughterfest and testosterone showoff for masculinity. And yet, the movie adaptation could be viewed that way, but look a little closer… and what can be seen… I found an honorable hero, a struggle between pairs of opposites and a story of redemption. Fist of the North Star turned out for me to be the ultimate journey of the hero, the spiritual quest fulfilled and a pretty good film.

FotNS_1It all started with a single second hand VHS tape. I had bought a load of anime on tape during a low time in my life, I was between jobs. The universe gifted me all these $1 deals. Fist of the North Star, the old Streamline dub release, was among this grouping. So now I had a copy of this famed movie and upon getting home it would find it’s way into my VCR. As I said earlier, I was expecting an all out unemotional gore fest similar to M.D. Geist or Violence Jack. And yet the film begins talking about the balance of the universe and that there are two schools of self defense that symbolize this balance. These schools can never fight each other because if they do, the world will be at a mess. I shook my head… this is all Eastern spiritual practice. This is deep and up my alley… well then I am interested in continuing this story.

FotNS_2Let’s now talk about our main protagonist, Kenshiro. Muscle clad and buff beyond belief… and yet, quiet and gentile. A man who holds the power to make a head explode via knowledge of pressure points in the body with any other personality would be insanity. Much like Captain Harlock, he is the stoic figure and an island of calm in a world that is out of control. Maybe Kenshiro is karma in human form? And as much as he can inflict damage, his hands can also heal. Creation and destruction often go hand in hand and in the hands of Kenshiro, they meet perfectly. The first time I had acupuncture I mentioned this anime to my Chinese Medicine practitioner and he found the concept fascinating. Both FotNS and acupuncture are about opening up energy sections on particular points of the body… so they go hand in hand (that saying again?). I still get acupuncture to this day with the same practitioner because it’s so awesome.

FotNS_3Now I know I said that FotNS is more than just a fighting anime, but… yeah, it is maybe the complete definition of a fighting anime. While Dragon Ball and DBZ may hold the crown, it cannot neglect it’s older brother. FotNS follows more hand in hand with say Saint Seiya (loves this one) with being more serious and intense. And I love a heavy melodrama, but where FotNS beats out both DB or SS it there is no safety net in regards if you are mortally wounded, you are done… no second chances. But, FotNS and Kenshiro may get a lot of credit being the first shonen fighter, but I shake my head at this. Shows from the 70s like Casshan or Babel II would lay the real ground work in my opinion.

FotNS_4Two big thumbs up for this is film adaptation. First the artwork is beautiful, almost like that movie that Toei also worked on for the west, the original Transformers: The Movie. Strong color and fluid motion that is an improvement over the TV series. Also, its a one shot run. Compared to the long TV series… which is good, but for me really, really dragged on and on. That being said the quicker pace of the movie might make you go, whoa we are at this part already? You have to cut some of the fat out and certain areas like smaller main antagonists and Kenshiro’s brother Toki I miss the most.

I often put this movie in the same pedigree as the Jean Claude Van Damme movie Bloodsport. They kind of go hand in hand (had to say it once more for good measure), being fighting movies that take’s themselves so seriously with a certain bit of 1980s style that they become very entertaining. Plus, you have to love that theme song Heart of Madness ‘for a long, long time’ to sing along with. Fist of the North Star is a unique animal and is one of the go to anime from the 1980s that needs to be experienced at least once. After all, how do you end a film between two brawny guys fighting each other to the death? Have a little girl come between them to say that all the fighting in humanity is pointless. Priceless!

#63 : Kimagure Orange Road

I have seen what could have been my ideal youth… should have been my ideal youth… could never be my ideal youth. And that is OK as this was never to be my own story, but a story about a young man of fifteen years of age having the best time of his life (wait till you get to 30 kid!). This is a TV series I could have seen earlier… should have seen earlier… could only appreciate to it’s fullest extent seeing it recently. The 48 episodes of joy known only as Kimagure Orange Road.

KOR_1Along with Touch (1985) and Maison Ikkoku (1986), 1987’s Kimagure Orange Road solidifies a trifecta of ‘shonen’ romantic comedies. And I am quoting ‘shonen‘ since Maison Ikkoku is considered ‘seinen’, but all three tell the story from a young man’s point of view regardless of the age demographic. KOR, for the record, has two distinct differences. First, there are fantasy elements, since Kyōsuke and his family are espers and can levitate objects, teleport, or create illusions. Thankfully this is used sparingly and in good measure so it does not become too much of a cliche. The second, KOR’s original manga was shown in Weekly Shonen Jump. And for a publication known primarily for fighters, it shows the diversity that the publication can offer when it allows.

KOR_2Our story begins simply… climbing a large staircase up a parkside hill, our protagonist Kyōsuke Kasuga catches a large red hat floating in his general direction. When he reaches the top he sees a girl, with long flowing black hair and they both discuss whether the staircase has 99 or 100 steps. That girl, Madoka Ayukawa, becomes the apple to Kyōsuke’s eye almost immediately. I mean why not, she is self confident, tough, a bit aloof and yet downright feminine and gorgeous. And thats all and good, except Kyōsuke has an admirer of his own after an amazing trick shot with a basketball (using those powers again!). Cute and peppy Hikaru Hiyama is obsessed with her ‘Darling’ Kyōsuke and with conflicting feelings Kyōsuke likes Hikaru, yet deep down he knows he truly loves Madoka.

KOR_3Mix this main trio with Kyōsuke’s younger twin sisters, his father, his two friends, a jealous admirer of Hikaru (poor Yūsaku) and cool headed Master, the head of ABCB (the main hangout of the cast) and we have enough ‘Kimagure’ happening on the ‘Orange Road’. Oh yeah, don’t forget Kyōsuke’s cousin Kazuya who shows up later in the show! Now even though this show is known for comedy and the unexpected, I often felt a very cool, relaxed and laid back feel to the show. I can only take so much slapstick (maybe because I am not that fun, NOT TRUE) and much like music, it’s the silences, the rests, where the true humor. Almost as if everything builds to the punchline and when it hits you are ready, but also surprised. Sophisticated in a way and well written. Plus the romance between the main trio is almost platonic and casual since Kyōsuke, Madoka and Hikaru are all friends, classmates and a bit nervous to admit their true feelings (like many of us).

KOR_4One final thing I have to thank this show for is a great and solid ending. It takes two episodes and kind of puts everything back into full circle. For a show that is not very linear, this finale is like whipped cream with a cherry on top of an ice cream sundae. I ate it all up. And for something completely different (I mean why not?)… I usually love opening sequences and themes from the 80s. The second opening for KOR, which features the song Orange Mystery, is set in a artsy MTV video setting. It’s totally rad! and it may be my favorite opening of all time as I find it satisfying beyond words. In fact I want to watch it again… hang on a second…

What started years ago as an experiment involving a couple of episodes has finally become a finished goal. Kimagure Orange Road may be a well known cult classic, but it was one of those old titles that was on my back for a long, long time. I always viewed it as one of those key shows that was important to get under my belt, at least from my eyes since it had a fairly positive reputation. So now that weight is off my back and the feelings I gained from it are now deep in my heart. Kimagure Orange Road is magic, in more ways than one.

#49 : Kimagure Orange Road: Shonen Jump Special

KORSJ_1Kimagure Orange Road has been a back burner title for me for about the past decade and a half. As I am currently making my way through the TV series I came to a thought about a little piece of KOR that I watched a couple years ago for one of my panels. The pilot episode/film from 1985. While it had been two years I played the 25 minute piece again recently and before I can speak about the 1987 TV series as a whole, I can at least give a little of a thought on this short piece. My only question is why did I wait so long to get around to Kimagure Orange Road? Who knows?

KORSJ_2Upon going back to this little rarity I am happy to have the familiarity of the basic premise and character names as when I first watched this two years ago I went in completely blind of everything that is KOR. The basic premise is our cast enjoying some sort of getaway to Okinawa and in typical Kimagure fashion there are follies and comediac fun mixed in with the sun and surf atmosphere. Kyosuke really likes Madoka, a whole lot, and they are both friends with Hikaru and she has an open crush on Kyosuke. Add in Yuusaku, who is really likes Hikaru and has serious jealously towards Kyosuke, and Kyosuke’s cousin Kazuya, who is a little bit of a stinker. If you are familiar with the manga or the main anime this is old hat information, but this love polygon is the main plot element. Plus, Kyosuke and his family have esper abilities… say what? And the nice thing is that those supernatural parts only compliment the story as the more subtle comedy is the real thing to behold.

KORSJ_3Was this a promo piece for the manga that ran in Shonen Jump or… wait… Shonen Jump like the magazine that ran fighting series such as Fist of the North Star, Dragon Ball, or Saint Seiya? Yeah, seems there was more variety back in the yonder days of the 1980s. Anyway promo or movie is a bit of information that I don’t know for sure. Perhaps die hard fans know more and in time I am sure the information will fall in my lap like a ton of bricks. It looks similar to the anime though they look a couple years younger from the designs (my opinion) and the usual voice cast of the TV series is also absent. Which is no biggie, but I do miss hearing Tōru Furuya as Kyosuke.

As I work my way to the finish of the TV series I will make a comment on it because I really am liking the show. But until then, check out this short title. I mean seriously it is only a half hour. It’s an easy investment 🙂