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Apocalyptic summer wear from Uniqlo…?

Of Uniqlo’s anime T-shirt lines, the Fist of the North Star line has one of the longest histories behind it, and one of the oddest too. In Blighty, we know the anime as X-rated violence. In Japan, it was a kids’ cartoon. Hidenori Oyama of Toei Animation, which made it, claims that the show’s domestic audience went all the way from primary schoolers to working adults. Measured against today’s anime, North Star is a manly, muscly show, a Neanderthal predecessor to Ninja Scroll. The original Weekly Shonen Jump strip was written by a chap (Sho Fumimura) who went under the pen name of Buronson. Old-school action film fans should guess why. [*]

If you want a flavour of Fist of the North Star, here’s a choice bit from the original series:

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Family viewing? Well, it aired in Japan at 7p.m. prime time, and had a long life – the original show ran 109 episodes from 1984-7, with a 43-part sequel from 1987-8. It had rather more trouble in France, where it was screened as Ken le survivant on Club Dorothée, a children’s magazine programme broadcast on TF1. Reportedly, the French channel’s buyers weren’t very meticulous about vetting the content of their purchases.

From a British viewpoint, it’s quite a surreal notion – imagine Philip Schofield and Gordon the Gopher on Children’s BBC, announcing, “And after Scooby-Doo, Fist of the North Star!” Sadly the plucky French didn’t get away with it. There was a French media backlash, led by an anime-phobic French politician called Ségolène Royal, against Ken le survivant and anime action generally, including Dragon Ball. It was a challenge that Ken couldn’t just blow up in a shower of body parts, and the poor brute was censored to an inch of his life.

The British experience was rather different. We were introduced to Ken, not through the TV show, but rather the 1986 cinema anime remake, in which exploding heads and bodies were a great deal bloodier. In Britain, the film scored two firsts. Released in the wake of Akira, it was the first 18-rated Japanese animation, and the first to be sold by a new video label called Manga Entertainment [Never heard of it – Ed]. A point of trivia is that the film’s final battle was reportedly re-shot for home release to make Ken look more heroic – a common enough practice in live-action, but quite an undertaking in animation.

Ken also introduced us, inadvertently, to Japan’s taste for demented meta-humour. In the film Project A-Ko, released by Manga only months after North Star, Ken turns up in drag in the supporting role of Mari, the ugliest schoolgirl in the universe. Out of skirts, Ken’s anime career still carries on, with a video series in 2003 and a movie/OVA remake series in 2006-8. But let’s play out with the 1995 Amerian live-action version, featuring the British (!) Guy Daniels as Ken, and a cast including Malcolm McDowell, no less! (If you want to know more about it, see here.

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[*] Yes, in tribute to Death Wish thespian Charles Bronson.

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