Fist of the North Star (Japanese: 北斗の拳 Hepburn: Hokuto no Ken, lit. "Fist of the Big Dipper") is a Japanese manga series written by Buronson and illustrated by Tetsuo Hara. Serialized in Weekly Shōnen Jump from 1983 to 1988, the 245 chapters were initially collected in 27 tankōbon volumes by Shueisha. Set in a post-apocalyptic world that has been destroyed by a nuclear war, the story centers on a warrior named Kenshiro, the successor of a deadly martial art style known as Hokuto Shinken, which gives him the ability to kill most adversaries from within through the use of the human body's secret vital points, often resulting in an exceptionally violent and gory death. Kenshiro dedicates his life to fighting against the various ravagers who threaten the lives of the weak and innocent, as well as rival martial artists, including his own "brothers" from the same clan.
Fist of the North Star was adapted into two anime television series produced by Toei Animation, which together aired on Fuji TV and its affiliates from 1984 through 1988, comprising a combined total of 152 episodes. Several films, OVAs and video games have been produced as well, including a series of spin-offs centering on other characters from the original story.
The original manga was published in English by Viz Communications as a monthly comic book, and later by Gutsoon! Entertainment as a series of colorized graphic novels, although neither translation was completed. English adaptations of other Fist of the North Star media have been licensed to other companies, including the TV series and the 1986 film.
In the 1990s, civilization was ruined as a result of a worldwide nuclear war and many creatures died out. However, mankind survived and entered an age where the strong ruled over the weak, as the few survivors fought over whatever supply of food and uncontaminated water remained in the wasteland of the world.
Kenshiro, successor to the ancient assassination art of Hokuto Shinken, wanders into a village in search of water when he is caught in a trap and imprisoned by the local defense force. In prison, he befriends a young orphaned girl named Rin who nursed him back to health. When the village is attacked by a biker gang and Rin is taken hostage by their leader, Ken breaks free from his cell and rescues Rin, defeating the gang leader with his deadly martial art technique. Kenshiro leaves the village and continues his journey, now accompanied by a young boy named Bat. He becomes involved against the King organization after witnessing the many atrocities they have committed. As he infiltrates the gang's stronghold in the city of Southern Cross, he finds out that the leader of King is his old nemesis, the Nanto Seiken master Shin, the man who engraved the seven scars on Kenshiro's chest and kidnapped his fiancée Yuria. Kenshiro emerges victorious against Shin, only to find out from Shin that Yuria is no longer with him, having taken her own life in despair by jumping off the roof of Shin's palace.
After Shin's downfall, Kenshiro settles in an oasis where he is reunited with Rin, who wandered off searching for Kenshiro after leaving her village. Having acquired a reputation as a saviour after defeating other organizations such as the Golan army and Jackal's gang, Kenshiro is hired by a certain village to serve as their guardian against the Fang Clan, a group of bandits who are terrorizing the locals. With the help of village leader Mamiya, a female warrior who bears a striking resemblance to his lost love Yuria, as well as fellow guardian Rei, the successor to the Nanto Suichōken style, Kenshiro succeeds in vanquishing the Fangs.
However, Kenshiro learns that his three former brothers-in-training in the ways of Hokuto Shinken are still alive and sets off on a journey to find them. He finds out that Jagi, the second youngest, seeks vengeance against him after being disfigured in a past altercation. Jagi is quickly eliminated and Kenshiro goes on to search for the second eldest, a gentle healer named Toki who surrendered the Hokuto Shinken succession after becoming terminally ill due to exposure to nuclear fallout. Kenshiro finds out that Toki is being kept prisoner in the dungeon city of Cassandra, which is controlled by a ruthless warlord known as the Ken-Oh (King of the Fist), who seeks to conquer the post-apocalyptic world by imprisoning everyone who could oppose him. Ken-Oh is in fact the eldest of the four Hokuto brothers, Raoh, who has broken the law of Hokuto Shinken by killing his master after refusing to surrender the succession. After freeing Toki, Kenshiro returns to Mamiya's village to defend it from Raoh, but the long gruelling battle ends in a stalemate and the two warriors are forced to settle their differences another day. Rei is fatally wounded as a result of a previous battle with Raoh and he spends the last few days of his life tracking down his nemesis Juda, successor of Nanto Kōkakuken, who once tormented Mamiya in the past. After defeating Juda, Rei goes on to die, at peace with himself.
With Raoh still recovering from his wounds, another warlord, the Nanto Hōōken successor Thouzer, proclaims himself as the Holy Emperor, having enslaved children in order to construct a mausoleum for himself and his deceased master. Kenshiro joins a resistance movement led by the Nanto Hakuroken successor Shew, who sacrified his eyesight in the past to rescue a young Kenshiro. When Shew is captured and executed by Thouzer, Kenshiro confronts Thouzer and foils his ambitions. With Thouzer now gone, Raoh recovers from his wounds and goes on to resume his reign of conquest. Toki, who is on the verge of dying, uses his remaining strength to challenge Raoh as part of a childhood promise they made to each other, but is ultimately no match for him. Raoh can't bring himself to land a killing blow on his own brother, and spare Toki's life. With Toki no longer in condition to fight, Kenshiro is left as the only one who can defeat Raoh.
The Last General of Nanto appears and decides to side with Kenshiro in order to defeat Raoh, sending out her five guardians, the Goshasei, after Raoh. Kenshiro and Raoh both learn that the General's true identity is Yuria, who was rescued by the Goshasei after her attempted suicide in Southern Cross and was hidden away. After a series of numerous events and battles, Kenshiro emerges victorious over Raoh and he is finally reunited with Yuria. However, the victory is bittersweet, as Yuria, having affected by radiation sickness, has only a few years left to live. Kenshiro leaves his friends and spends the final few years of Yuria's life with her.
The peace that follows Raoh's downfall does not last long and the world returns to turmoil several years later. Kenshiro rejoins his former travelling companions, Bat and Rin, in their battle against an oppressive Empire, fighting under the banner of the Hokuto Army. The Hokuto Army learns that the Empire has been taken over by an usurper named Jakoh, who has imprisoned the Celestial Empress and has been blackmailing her bodyguard, the Gento Kōken successor Falco, to do his evil bidding. The Hokuto Army fight their way into the central capital and free the Empress, who is in fact Rin's long-lost twin sister Rui. With Rui now freed, Falco turns on Jakoh and kills him, foiling his ambitions.
However, Rin is taken captive by the remnant of Jakoh's forces and is sent off to the mysterious Kingdom of Shura, a brutal land of warriors ruled by three overlords who have all mastered the ways of Hokuto Ryūken, a martial art which branched off from the same clan alongside Hokuto Shinken into the ways of darkness. Kenshiro defeats Han, the third-ranking overlord, who reveals that the Kingdom of Shura was Kenshiro's birthplace. Moreover, Kenshiro also learns that Hyou, the second overlord, is his biological older brother, who lost his memories of Kenshiro after being separated as children and was corrupted into the ways of evil. Following a long gruelling battle, Hyou recovers his memories and reconciles with his long-lost brother. Kenshiro seeks out the highest-ranking and most powerful of the three overlords, Kaioh, who is in fact Raoh's biological older brother. Kaioh plans a conquest to rule the post-apocalyptic world in the name of evil by wiping out the followers of Hokuto Shinken. With Hyou's help, Kenshiro uncovers the sealed testament of the Hokuto Shinken founder, Shuken, which holds the secret to overcoming Kaioh's ultimate technique.
Kenshiro emerges victorious over Kaioh and rescues Rin, leaving her under Bat's care as he goes on an adventure with Raoh's orphaned son Ryu. Meanwhile, a villain named Bolge appears, seeking revenge against Kenshiro for blinding him in a fight a long time ago. Bat brands himself with Kenshiro's seven scars and fights in his place, only to be crucified by Bolge and tortured to near-death. Kenshiro rescues Bat, then fights and kills Bolge, while Rin regains her memories and professes her love to a recovering Bat. Afterwards, Kenshiro leaves and continues his role as the Post-Apocalyptic Savior, defending the weak and fighting off the greedy and violent, as the world finally begins to recover from the nuclear war.
Tetsuo Hara has stated that he came up with the idea of Hokuto no Ken from his editor Nobuhiko Horie. According to Hara, Horie suggested to him that he should draw a manga about "a martial artist who destroys his opponents by striking their acupressure points" based on Hara's aspiration to draw a manga about martial arts and his knowledge of pressure points. At the time, Hara was having trouble breaking into the market, as his first series, the Iron Don Quixote, was cancelled ten weeks after its debut. A prototype version of Hokuto no Ken was published as a one shot story in the April 1983 issue of Fresh Jump, which was followed by Hokuto no Ken II, a second one-shot published in the June 1983 issue. Both stories are collected in the second tankōbon volume of Tetsu no Don Quixote.
The two one-shots were well received in the reader's surveys of Fresh Jump and Tetsuo Hara was commissioned to turn Hokuto no Ken into a weekly series. Buronson was assigned to work with him as writer for the serialized version. The storyline was revamped, with the 1980s present-day setting in the original version replaced by post apocalyptic future world, and the protagonist Kenshiro, originally a teenager framed for a crime he did not commit in Hara's prototype story, became an older and more stoic hero with a tragic past. Originally, Hara and Buronson were contracted to do Hokuto no Ken for a three-year run, but due to its popularity and the publisher's demand, it was extended to a five-year run.
Hokuto no Ken premiered in Japan in Weekly Shōnen Jump in Issue 41 on September 13, 1983 and was serialized weekly until Issue 35 of 1988, lasting 245 chapters. The original collected volumes or tankōbon of Hokuto no Ken were published under Shueisha's Jump Comics imprint and spans 27 volumes. During the 1990s, Shueisha reprinted Hokuto no Ken in 15 hardcover aizōban editions, as well as 15 corresponding economy-sized bunko editions. A 14-volume Kanzenban edition was published by Shogakukan in 2006 under the Big Comics Selection imprint, featuring the original water-colored artwork from the Weekly Shōnen Jump serialization. It has also been released in 27 digital e-book editions.
To celebrate the series' 30th anniversary, Tokuma Shoten re-published Hokuto no Ken in an Extreme Edition comprising 18 volumes that were published two books per month from September 20, 2013 through July 20, 2014 (with a three-month gap between January and April 2014). These Extreme Editions feature new cover illustrations by Tetsuo Hara and reprints all the colorized artwork from the original Weekly Jump serials. Vol. 11 features an additional chapter by Buronson and Hara, originally published in two parts in the May and June 2014 issues of Monthly Comic Zenon, titled Hokuto no Ken: Last Piece. The storyline covers the gap between the defeat of Raoh and Kenshiro's later reunion with the grown Bat and Rin, centering around Raoh's former steed Kokuoh and how he lost his left eye during the time span. It also introduces a new character named Shōza, the son of Jūza of the Clouds.
Viz Communications published the first sixteen chapters of Fist of the North Star in English as an eight-issue monthly comic in 1989, which were later reprinted in a single graphic novel collection in 1995. During the same year, Viz resumed publication of the series as a monthly comic until 1997, lasting eighteen issues (adapting chapters 17-44), which were subsequently republished in three additional graphic novel volumes. A second English adaptation was published by Gutsoon! Entertainment under the title of Fist of the North Star: Master Edition,which featured newly colorized artwork, but retained the original right-to-left orientation. Each volume from the fourth one and onward featured new cover illustrations by Tetsuo Hara that were made specifically for the Master Edition. The Master Edition was published from 2002 to 2003, lasting only nine volumes, due to Gutsoon!'s withdrawal from the North American market.
In 2001, Tetsuo Hara began working on a Fist of the North Star prequel titled Fist of the Blue Sky, which was serialized in Weekly Comic Bunch until 2010. Set during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1935, the story stars Hokuto Shinken predecessor and Kenshiro's namesake, Kenshiro Kasumi. An English adaptation of Fist of the Blue Sky was published in North America by Gutsoon! Entertainment in the now-defunct manga anthology Raijin Comics. Four collected volumes were published before the company went out of business.
A series of Fist of the North Star spinoffs began to be published in Weekly Comic Bunch and Big Comics Superior later. This lineup of titles has been dubbed the Hokuto Gaiden series, as each title focuses on a particular supporting character from the original manga. The following titles had been published so far:
- Ten no Haō by Youkow Osada. A series that was serialized in Weekly Comics Bunch featuring Reina and Souga from The Legends of the True Savior movie series. All 42 chapters (as well as a two-part epilogue published sometime after the series' conclusion) were collected in five tankōbon volumes. It was adapted into a 13-episode anime series which aired on Tokyo MX in 2008. The anime adaptation was licensed to Sentai Filmworks under the title of Legends of the Dark King.
- Jibo no Hoshi by Ayumi Kasai. Serialized in Big Comics Superior in three parts that ran from March 10 to April 14, 2006 and six subsequent chapters from March 9 to June 8, 2007. A single tankōbon volume was released.
- Sōkoku no Garō by Yasuyuki Nekoi. Originally began as two separate one-shot stories that were published in the March 22 and December 8, 2006 issues of Weekly Comic Bunch. The one-shot version of the manga is subtitled The Magnificent Avenger. Rei Gaiden was picked up as an ongoing series, which began in the April 27, 2007 issue of Weekly Comic Bunch. The serial was originally subtitled The Hungry Wolf Saga, before receiving its finalized title.
- Shirogane no Seija, a series by Yuka Nagate that began serialization in the August 24, 2007 issue of Weekly Comic Bunch.
- Gokuaku no Hana by Shin-ichi Hiromoto, which began serialization in the December 26, 2008 issue of Weekly Comic Bunch.
- Hōkō no Kumo by Kakurai Missile, which began serialization in the February 12, 2010 issue of Weekly Comic Bunch.
- DD Hokuto no Ken by Kajio, which began serialization in the December 2010 issue of Monthly Comic Zenon.
- Kin'yoku no Garuda by Yoshiji Yamaguchi, serialized in Monthly Comic Zenon from April 2013 to August 2013.
- Hokuto no Ken: Ichigo Aji written by Yūshi Kawata and illustrated by Imōto Yukito, began serialization in 2013 on the Web Comic Zenyon website.
Hokuto no Ken was first adaptated into a weekly anime series by Toei Animation. The series aired on Fuji Television from October 11, 1984 to March 5, 1987, lasting 109 episodes. It was immediately followed by a sequel series, titled Hokuto no Ken 2, which aired from March 13, 1987 to February 18, 1988, lasting for 43 additional episodes (a combined total of 152 episodes between both series).
The full series was never released on VHS in Japan, although three hour-long compilation movies were produced by Toei Video covering the first, second and fourth story arcs in that order. On July 24, 2002, Universal Music released a Region 2 DVD box set containing all 152 episodes spread across 26 discs. These discs were later released as individual volumes from May 21, 2003 through January 21, 2004. Three "best of" DVD compilations were also released in 2005, each featuring seven key episodes from the series. On March 28, 2008, Avex released a 25th anniversary edition box set featuring new video transfers of all 152 episodes remastered in high definition, once again spread across 26 discs. This set also features two additional discs of bonus content (including the aforementioned compilation movies).
The first 36 episodes of the first series were translated and dubbed by Manga Entertainment in 1999, although only 24 episodes were released on VHS (spread across eight tapes). All 36 episodes of the dub version were aired on Showtime Beyond in the United States and on Sci-Fi Channel in the United Kingdom, and were later released on DVD in 2003 (spread across six individual volumes). In 2008, the US subsidiary of Toei Animation produced an official subtitle-only translation of all 152 episodes, which were released on various paid download and streaming websites available only for North American customers. Discotek Media announced on October 2, 2009 that they have licensed the entire Fist of the North Star TV series. The first two boxsets were released in that year, and the latter two in 2011. The episodes used the sames transfers from the 2008 DVD box set in Japan, although it did not contain any of the special features. The first set featured the first 36 episodes along with Manga Entertainment's English dub, and a Japanese audio option with English subtitles; these subtitles were adjusted from the translation of Toei's streaming episodes. Discotek later released all discs from all four boxsets (a total of 21 discs) together in one set, Fist of the North Star: The Series - The Complete Series Collection, on March 25, 2014. They will release a SD on BD set (with a total of 3 discs) with the same name on October 31, 2017.
In 2009, William Winckler Productions produced six compilation movies voiced in English. The movies cover major story arcs from the TV series, each one centering on a specific character (Shin, Rei, Toki, Thouzer, Raoh, and Kaioh). These compilation movies had not been officially released in North America and Europe yet, but were distributed to video streaming websites in Japan in 2012.
Films and OVAs
The first animated feature film based on the series, simply titled Fist of the North Star, was produced by Toei Animation, which premiered in Japan on March 8, 1986. Produced by the same staff and cast who worked on the TV series, the movie adapts the storyline of the manga from the beginning and up to Kenshiro's first fight with Raoh, taking several liberties with the order of events and how the story unfolds. An English-dubbed version produced by Streamline Pictures was first released in 1991 in North America and in 1994 in Europe and Australia by Manga Entertainment.
In 2003, a three-episode original video animation (OVA) mini-series titled New Fist of the North Star was produced by OB Planning, based on a 1996 Hokuto no Ken novel, Jubaku no Machi. An English dub version was produced by ADV Films in 2004.
In 2005, North Stars Pictures and TMS Entertainment announced the development of a five-part film series titled Fist of the North Star: The Legends of the True Savior. The series is composed of three theatrical films and two OVAs, which were released during a three-year period between 2006 throughout 2008, culminating with the 25th anniversary of the franchise.
An original novel was written by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara titled Shōsetsu Hokuto no Ken: Jubaku no Machi which was published by Jump Novel in Japan on December 13, 1996. The novel was the basis of the later three-episode OVA series New Fist of the North Star. A novelization of the movie Legend of Raoh: Chapter of Love in Death written by Eiichi Sakaki was published by Tokuma Novels on March 10, 2006.
There has also been two cell phone novels released via the mobile site Hokuto no Ken DX. Raoh Gaiden, a novelization of the manga of the same name, and Kenshiro Gaiden, an original novel by Jotaro Higashi.
An American-produced live-action movie version of Fist of the North Star was released in 1995, directed by Tony Randel based on a script by Peter Atkins and Wynne McLaughlin. The movie, loosely based on the Shin storyline of the manga, stars Gary Daniels as Kenshiro, Costas Mandylor as Shin and Japanese actress Isako Washio as Yuria, with Malcolm McDowell as Ryuken and Chris Penn as "Jackal" (actually a renamed Jagi). It also featured a cameo by professional wrestler Big Van Vader as Goliath, and Kevin Arbouet as "Rao" (unrelated to the actual Raoh from the manga). The movie was released straight-to-video in the US and Japan (though it did receive a premiere on HBO). The Japanese dubbed version used the original voice actors from the 1980s anime series.
Numerous video game titles based on the Fist of the North Star have been produced since the 1986 release of Enix adventure game, simply titled Hokuto no Ken for the PC-88. The earlier games in the franchise were released by Sega for the Mark III and Mega Drive and by Toei Animation for the Nintendo's Famicom, Game Boy and Super Famicom. These titles included side-scrolling action games, role-playing video games and competitive-style fighting games. The two Sega titles were released overseas without the Hokuto no Ken license under the titles of Black Belt and Last Battle, while a couple of the Toei titles, namely Fist of the North Star for the NES and Fist of the North Star: 10 Big Brawls for the King of Universe for the Game Boy, had American releases with the license intact. Further games were released for the Sega Saturn, PlayStation, Arcade, PlayStation 2 and Nintendo DS among other platforms. In 2000, Konami released an arcade game based on the franchise titled Fighting Mania. Another arcade game, a 2D fighting game simply titled Fist of the North Star, was produced by Sega and Arc System Works in 2005. Both games saw international distributions, although the PS2 version of the fighting game was released exclusively in Japan. Tecmo Koei produced a Dynasty Warriors spinoff focusing on the events from the first half of the manga, titled Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage. It which was released in Japan on March 25, 2010, and later in North America on November 2, 2010, and Europe on November 5, 2010. A sequel, Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2, expanded on the first game and incorporated the events from the second half of the manga. It was released in Japan on December 20, 2012, and in North America on February 5, 2013. On August 25, 2017, Sega announced a new game, Hokuto ga Gotoku, for release in 2018 on PlayStation 4. The game is being developed by the team behind the Yakuza series and features similar gameplay and elements.
Fist of the North Star was one of Weekly Shōnen Jump's most popular titles during the 1980s. It is one of the best-selling manga series in history, having sold approximately 100 million copies. In a poll conducted by TV Asahi in 2005, the Fist of the North Star anime series ranked 26 in a list of Top 100 Anime series. In a second poll in 2006, it ranked 89. In a celebrity version of the poll, it ranked 15.