Showing posts with label Martial Arts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Martial Arts. Show all posts

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fist of the North Star (Anime 1984)

It was the mid-80's when I went to the theater, the Music Box, and first saw the movie, Fist of the North Star.



 It was an intense action movie with ultra levels of violence that brought two of my favorite things, anime and kung fu, together into a glorious feast for the eyes. I would later buy it on VHS and DVD while one of my friends owned it on laserdisk. The laserdisk version was a fantastic transfer while the VHS and DVD copies were terrible in color and quality.

Even back then though, the movie didn't make a lot of sense. It had so much going on that seemed to belong to something else.

So on +Hulu they have both seasons of the original anime from 1984 and it's like over 150 episodes.

And I see that Amazon has a few of them, but I'm not sure if that's the 'revised' one or the original ones.



It's one of the reasons I've been quite over here. I've been trying to plow my way through it. Back in the day, Viz comics was publishing the Fist of the North Star in monthly serials. They folded. Then another company was publishing master editions in full color that were graphic novel sized. They stopped production around seven or eight.

So I was always curious to know, "WTF was all that?"

Having seen it all, m'eh.

Part of this is just the age of it. The subtitles are terrible in some instances. Like flat out wrong. In addition, it was done in a time before widescreen so you've got the black bars common to those older shows. This shows up in the quality of the animation as well as the sound of the animation itself.

And remember how I said it was ultra violent? Like martial arts whose techniques involve cutting through people like katanas or making them blow up by hitting pressure points?

Censorship from Japan must have been weird in those days. If the character has blood on him, it's okay if it's red. If it's an explosion of blood, it's white. Which looks funny and in some instances "wrong" depending on where all the blood is splashing.

I enjoyed some of the characters. The designs on some of them are very 'super heroic' and at the same time, very 'Mad Max.'.  It's certainly inspiring for anyone looking for visuals in a wasted world where strength is the only law. It's great for those who want names for special martial art maneuvers for whatever games their players.

For anyone who wants a coherent story? Ugh. The translations are terrible to start with, and more worrisome is the soap opera nature of things. Hidden brothers, hidden half brothers, hidden blood lines, hidden martial arts and a whole slew of things that just go straight into that soap opera realm.

In terms of themes, well, people are going to die, especially people you love. That seems to be one of the biggest themes. You may be the strongest fighter there, you may be able to come back from beatings that should have killed you, but if you have any loved ones, wish them good bye when you see them, often getting killed just as you arrive.

The other problem, and I'm pretty sure it's not just the anime, was the consistency of the character's in terms of their size. Ken is the main hero of the story. Everyone whose 'good' or 'non-monstrous', is drawn like Ken in terms of body type. In that aspect, it reminds me of how toys used to be designed. Every toy was the same damn toy just with different outfits and accessories.

But the 'monstrous' characters, like Raoh? In some sequences he's a little bigger then Ken, in others he's like three times Ken's size.

There's also the whole internal consistency of things. When Ken is angered and going into an all out attack, he often bursts straight out of his clothes. In the post apocalypse world, who is repairing those clothes?

And after watching the whole thing, I have to wonder, what the hell planet is this supposed to be? There are some bits that are like, "Well, maybe it's Earth in the future (from when it was done), but no one calls any of the places by their old names. The technology is a mix of motocycles, because they look cool, crossbows and arrows, and well, in some sequences, a city whose lights are powered by slave labor. Those things were just a little annoying, but paled in contrast to the whole drama of the series.

For example, we learn that Toki and Raoh are actual blood brothers. Toki takes Ken to graves for his parents and for himself and Raoh. All a big revelation at the time. But later on, when Ken crosses the sea to fight Raoh's older brother, we see in a flashback that Ken and Raoh talk about the later's older brother. And their mother died on that other shore so whose buried in the graves? Messes like that show up all over the place.

For a bigger example, Ken is supposed to be the sole heir to the martial art, Divine Fist of the North Star, because it's such a dangerous martial art. But there is Toki, Raoh, and well, a former teacher who decided not to pursue the art and I'm sure a few others I'm missing. But when Ken finally does decide to do something about Raoh, to "seal his fists", he's already let Roah kill hundreds if not thousands of people and it feels very forced.

These inconsistencies go on and on. The one that annoyed me personally is when we see Souther, a man who has a secret that makes him immune to the deadly martial art that Ken pratices. Because of that, Ken is beaten like a dog and hung out to drain of his blood. While Ken recovers, another martial artist fights Souther and is killed. In the meanwhile, turns out Toki knew the weakness. Good work Toki, you managed to get more people killed by not telling anyone ahead of time.

Again, ugh!

The thing I'll give Fist of the North Star over say, Dragonball Z, is that the battles are relatively quick. In some episodes of Dragonball Z you could leave and come back four episodes later and the same fight is still going on. Here that may happen once or twice with the biggest villains of the series but for the most part, the fights against one specific individual are done in one while the battles against that person's minions may take a while, which in and of itself is actually more boring. "Oh, fifteen people that are all freakishly large with giant mohawks. I wonder how long it'll take to kill them."

And then that gets me thinking about how stupid everyone is in the series. Raoh takes over territories and gives them to people who aren't 'super villain' evil, but 'stupid villain evil'. "Ah, in this desolate time of no food and water, I villain A will waste all of the food, while villain B wastes all the water!"

I can see the whole series being a touch different if written today.

"Roah, come out and face me!"

"What, what is it Kenshiro!"

"I've come to seal your fists!"

"Didn't we already do this whole fight thing?"

"Yes, but now I'm possessed by justice!"

"Ken, you're like the most honest guy I know. Turns out these warlords I've been using are stupid as hell, How about being an agent of good and going around killing the corrupt and incompetent idots out there so that we can get some work done eh?"

"Raoh, you want to conqueror the heavens!

"Turns out they don't care. I took my big ass horse to the biggest mountain and hey, it was cold up there and the air was thin. Seems that I should actually you know, prepare for the invasion of the other land. Maybe give Falco and a few other people a call and see if they're looking for jobs. Some good people that aren't getting properly used."

"I hate you Roah."

"I love you Ken."

No, seriously, like 90% or more of the villains of the series would've been normal people if they just had some normal conversations with people before they were on the verge of death.

Anyway, I'll probably have more to say about the anime in terms of inspiration. When I was a young man, that experience at the Music Box opened my eyes to how powerful and ridiculous you can make martial arts and that served me well in many games ranging from Champions to Rifts. As an older man, know that I already know that, the storylines here make me cringe, but some of the names and visual executions of the moves are still popcorn worthy.

Long live the Fist of the North Star!




Monday, July 11, 2011

Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster

Perhaps it's cheating having Netflix and some time to myself because I was able to watch the second movie, Ip Man 2. If you enjoy boxing movies, this one is right up your alley. See, while the first one cast those vile Japanese as the ultimate villains, when they are overcome and Ip Man has moved to Hong Kong, who's the foreign devil now? Why, the British of course!

In terms of casting a nemesis, there are a few ways to do it. Some of the most common involve creating someone who is equal to the character, built along similar lines as the character. For Ip Man, this often means fighting martial artist who are masters of their trade and craft. They may dress similar, may have similar builds and may have their own outlooks and attitudes that aren't that different from the main character.

In others, they go the exact opposite. For example, Superman, the alien, the man from tomorrow, the individual with incredible innate powers, has a normal human as his main enemy; Lex Luthor. While its obviously more complicated then that, as Lex uses high tech equipment and henchmen and other bits to make himself Superman's physical equal, the idea, that the native born, Earth first, Lex Luthor, could ever stand up to someone like Superman, is where the contrast comes in.

In a similar manner, when Twister, the world champion British Boxer is introduced here, he is an excellent study in contrast. The actor sports a massive build, impressive height, and a wild mane of hair. His outfit, that of the traditional boxer, showcases this musculature, while Ip Man and other martial artist, often wear lose fitting garb. There might also be an age difference going on here, but it's difficult for me to say. I mention this because Ip Man mentions his age as a factor in the decline of martial abilities.

In making foes for the characters, try to keep the differences, as well as the potential similarities in mind. The drow against the elves, the derro against the dwarves, the tielflings and the devas. The lists go on and on.

Another thing that struck me, was the quick use of rivals turned allies here. The first master to perhaps be able to challenge Ip Man, Hung Chun-nam, uses a different style but the two come together when they realize that their own differences are petty when compared to the threat against all Chinese Martial Arts from the British.

Does that sound familiar? How about Rocky IV? How about most of the heroes of Dragonball Z, who originally started off as enemies of Goku ranging from Vegeta to Piccolo to Yamcha to Tien Shinhan.

In role playing games though, this can be a difficult feat not because its not something to look into, but rather, because unless you're playing something like a martial arts tournament, or something like a Super Hero setting, most fantasy combats don't stop until the death of one character or the other. This is another problem when trying to have recurring characters that are meant to challenge the players outside of the realm of politics and the social arena.

Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster is well worth a viewing for those who enjoy the fight scenes.