Fist of the North Star on home video
Original TV Series
First broadcast: October 1984 – March 1987 • Find more data at Anime News Network here
Fist of the North Star 2: March 1987 – February 1988 • Find more data at Anime News Network here
With just over 150 episodes, the series took a while to reach home video. It wasn’t practical to release that much on VHS, so three hour-long “best of” tapes were all anyone could get (if they hadn’t recorded the series on their own). but when DVD came along, the floodgates finally opened.
Volume 1: Yuria Forever…and Farewell Shin!!
Toei VHS, February 1986. Covers the first 22 episodes in 60 minutes.
Volume 2: Six Sacred Fists of Nanto! Rei, the Star of Justice
Toei VHS, January 1988. Covers the second arc in 60 minutes.
Volume 3: Legend of the Supreme Ruler, Conqueror of Century’s End – Raoh Must Die!
Toei VHS, February 1988. Covers the fourth (final) arc in 60 minutes.
26 volume DVD set, 2003-04
Most of these DVDs would have contained 6 episodes apiece, which was generous at the time.
TV Series Best Selection, 2005
Since the 26-volume collection was still beyond reach for most fans, the three hour-long compilations were released on DVD as a separate option. But just one year later, collecting the series would get a little easier.
Super Premium Box, 2006
For the next edition, Universal Music put all 26 discs into a deluxe box set with new artwork and bonus materials.
DeAgostini edition, 2014-2016
For the most dedicated fans, THIS was the one to get. DeAgostini is a “file magazine” publisher, a unique format that bundles a DVD (or some other product) with a magazine and sells them both as a periodical. Their Fist of the North Star DVD Collection did exactly that, pairing a disc with a 16-page magazine that examined the episodes on that disc, the corresponding manga chapters, and other aspects of the FotNS world, both in the story and IRL.
DeAgostini stretched the series out over 58 bi-weekly magazines from June 2014 to August 2016. Each disc contained 3 TV episodes, making it through the entire series and appending it with special interviews and the first DD Fist of the North Star parody series. The magazines added up to over 900 pages of encyclopedic content, which makes it the largest published work in FotNS history.
See some sample pages here.
Only five issues are shown above because one way DeAgostini keeps their cost down is to recycle cover images. These five repeated over and over until the series ended.
Here’s the entire set as it would look on your shelf after you bought all of it. The objects at upper right are custom binders to contain all the magazine pages. It goes without saying that if you commit to this edition, you’ll be giving up substantial shelf space.
4-part Blu-ray set, 2019
The most recent Japanese edition is this batch of four (so far) Blu-ray sets From Toei. Like the US Blu-rays, they are in standard definition. This is probably due to the technical limits of the original masters.
These sets only go up to the end of the first series, which means FotNS 2 has yet to make its debut on this format.
1986 feature film
The movie premiered in Japanese theaters March 1986 • Find more data at Anime News Network here.
All the known Japanese editions are shown above in a photo posted on Twitter by Italian superfan Pietro Spedale. From left to right, we see the laserdisc, two VHS tapes, and the Toei DVD. (Also pictured are the theatrical program book and 2-volume anime comics.)
The Toei DVD was released in 2008 to mark the 25th anniversary of the manga debut. Its extras included trailers and an alternate ending. The same material can be found in the US version.
Manga Entertainment was the first to make an attempt at hauling this behemoth across the ocean to American fans. They started small with 36 episodes, managing to get the first 24 out on eight VHS volumes in 1999. They later released all 36 on five DVDs in 2003. This was a dubbed version with a completely different soundtrack, which wasn’t going to satisfy anyone who’d been watching the show since the 80s.
Discotek came to the rescue in 2014, splitting up the entire series across four box sets.
They later compiled all four into a single Complete Series Collection box set in 2017 (below left).
Live-action DVD, 2004
This film premiered April 1995 • Find more data at Anime News Network here
In an interesting reversal, Toei released a Japanese edition of the live-action movie. The packaging made it look far better than it actually is.
Find the US DVD on Amazon here, along with a trailer farther down the page. I take no responsibility for your decision to buy the thing.
New Fist of the North Star, 2003-2004
This 20th anniversary OAV series was based on a 1996 post-manga novel titled The Cursed City by Buronson and Hara. Each runs close to an hour in length. Kenshiro is the only character from the original, voiced by a new actor. Rock star Gackt voiced his main opponent in addition to creating the AMAZING opening and end songs.
The animation is a big step up from the TV series, but doesn’t attempt to capture the style of the manga. It was an early example of “hybrid” animation with vehicles and background characters rendered in CG. The plot is not unlike Mad Max Fury Road; a man named Sanga has built the fortified haven of the “Last Land”, where he rules as its dictator by monopolizing the city’s uncontaminated water supply.
When he learns that the neighboring residents of Freedom Village are trying to dig their own well, he sends his underlings to sabotage their effort. Kenshiro gets involved in the conflict between the two regions and the blood starts squirting.
Volume 1: The Cursed City
Happinet Pictures, July 2003
Two editions shown
Volume 2: The Forbidden Fist
Happinet Pictures, October 2003
Volume 3: When a Man Carries Sorrow
Happinet Pictures, May 2004
All three chapters were released on DVD in the US by ADV Films in 2004, followed by the Complete Collection in 2005. Find them on Amazon here.
Pachislot Fist of the North Star Perfect Premium
This is as close as I ever got to investigating the long and elusive history of FotNS pachinko/pachislot games, which have been around since 2002. I’ve been traveling to Japan regularly since 2007 and there’s always a new one being promoted in the casinos.
This particular item is a gift set sold for fans of the game that was around in 2005. It includes a cell phone charm, tote bag, mini poster, and three DVDs. The first is over an hour of in-game animation footage that rolls through the first TV Series. The second and third offer about an hour each of interviews and player’s guides. It’s the sort of thing you watch once for kicks and then it turns invisible on your bookshelf. At least, that’s what happened to me.
Legend of the True Savior series, 2006-2008
This revival project brought FotNS back to anime with all guns blazing. It was a series of three feature films bracketing two direct-to-video OAVs that both revisited the original story and added new characters and dimensions. None of the original voice actors returned, but the new cast was consistently strong and made the roles their own. The animation was outstanding from start to finish, capturing the look of the original manga as we all wanted to see it in the TV series, even in the comparatively lower-budget OAVs.
The other component of this revival was a complementary series of manga spinoffs that expanded the world even farther in print form (see them all here). The entire enterprise was overseen by Nobuhiko Horie, the Shonen Jump editor who was instrumental in creating the story. He established his own company Coamix to manage the growing FotNS franchise from top to bottom.
Part 1: Raoh Legend, Martyrdom Chapter
Theatrical premiere March 2006, DVD released by Amuse Entertainment
To my immense relief, the first film did not tread the same ground as the 1986 feature, instead picking up later in the TV series continuity. Raoh is the point-of-view character for much of the story, recovering from his first battle with Kenshiro as his generals (the newly introduced brother/sister team Souga and Reina) work to keep him informed. This was the first time we ever saw these two, but they were simultaneously getting a lot of play in the contemporary Conqueror of Heaven spinoff manga.
Kenshiro’s side of the story is a big-screen version of his dramatic battle with Sauzer with all the major supporting characters observing – including Yuria in her guise as the Last Nanto General.
The collector’s edition “director’s cut” DVD came with a set of five postcards (photographed from original manga art) and a bonus disc containing a 27-minute interview with Horie, Buronson, and Hara, a 27-minute digest of 2006 promotional events, and a music video with Crystal King’s movie version of the theme song.
Part 2: Yuria Legend
OAV, February 2007, DVD released by Amuse Entertainment
This story opens with Yuria and her brother Ryuuga as children, getting their first taste of what it means to have important destinies. After the apocalypse, she awakens to her destiny as the Last Nanto General, a symbol of hope in chaotic times who possesses the power to influence the fates of many great men.
The DVD came with stickers, a trading card, and a film clipping.
Part 3: Raoh Legend, Fierce Fighting Chapter
Theatrical premiere April 2007, DVD released by Amuse Entertainment
The second feature film goes right to the climax, the buildup to Ken and Raoh’s final confrontation and the legendary battle itself. It’s a lot of material to squeeze into 90 minutes, so we unfortunately don’t get to see all of our favorite characters. Juuza the Cloud is particularly missed.
The collector’s edition DVD came with trailers for all the DVDs in the series and a 14-minute digest of cast and crew comments.
Part 4: Toki Legend
OAV, March 2008, DVD released by Amuse Entertainment
This one picks up somewhere in the middle of the overall story with Toki in diminished circumstances. Deciding to spend his last days as a healer, he travels with his companion Sara from town to town. But inevitably, he has to face Raoh one last time and do what no one else can. We get to see that epic fight play out in fine form.
Part 5: Kenshiro Legend
Theatrical premiere October 2008, DVD released by Amuse Entertainment
In the end, we go back to the beginning. In the wake of his last battle with Raoh, Kenshiro tells Yuria the story of his “lost year,” the time between being brutally scarred by Shin and where we find him at the beginning of the main story. He is captured and sold into slavery as a gladiator, during which he awakens to his true power. The epilogue gives us a beautiful recreation of TV Episode 1 that ends this film series on a high note.
Fist of the North Star Legend of Heroes Special Edition
Polydor, March 2007
This interesting project was one element of the revival campaign, which also involved a new pachinko game (of course) and a museum exhibition with original manga art, statuary, and more. Tetsuo Hara directed a 6.5-minute CG recreation of Ken and Raoh’s final battle, which was released on this DVD in both 2D and 3D (with 3D glasses included). The animation was top-notch for its time, but has aged about as well as you’d expect. Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth a viewing.
The disc also includes a half-hour documentary on the making of the short and interviews with the princicpals involved. It ends with a short montage of highly alluring museum footage.
Legends of the Dark King
13-episode TV series • First broadcast: October 2008 – December 2008
The last of the revival projects was the only one directly based on a manga, in this case a story called Conqueror of Heaven, which was initially serialized in Comic Bunch magazine. It fills most of the missing backstory for Raoh, following his rise to power in a time frame leading up to his on-screen debut in the original TV series.
In that time, he is reunited with childhood friends Souga and Reina, finds his trusty steed Koku-oh (Black King), takes over one city after another, and works his way up the ladder. He imprisons Toki in Cassandra, takes on Ryuuga as his right hand, and confronts his likely future rival Sauzer. When it is learned that Kenshiro single-handedly liberated Cassandra (and Toki), the game is on.
It is a close retelling of the manga with an additional anchor character and a re-ordering of events to create a more solid story structure. It takes all its artistic cues from the manga as well, which looks very different from the original. What it lacks in visual fidelity it more than makes up for with adherence to continuity, which is pretty much flawless. Since it is reliant on off-camera events that are heavily referenced but never seen, it only works as a FotNS companion, but it’s raw and rowdy in all the right places.
It was released on DVD in the US by Sentai Filmworks in 2009 and Bluray in 2010; all 13 episodes subtitled and a half-hour Japanese TV special. It’s out of print, but the series is streaming on Hidive here.
Japanese editions shown below, released by Ken Media (2009). The first two featured reversible sleeves with two images.