This year, legendary martial arts splatterfest Hokuto no Ken celebrates its 35th anniversary. In the West, we know it by another title: Fist of the North Star.
Like an almighty punch administered by its protagonist Kenshiro, the series had an irreversible impact on anime and manga’s landscape, most notably through its unprecedented, brute-force violence. It is also notable for being a title that featured a trope we see very rarely nowadays in the medium: the indomitable hero.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
The title started out as a manga in 1983 and gained a reputation for eye-popping violence thanks to its central premise: a lone wanderer practices a deadly martial art that targets pressure points on the human body, thereby causing enemies to explode from within in spectacularly visceral fashion. Fist of the North Star‘s 1986 feature-length movie was one of the first high-profile titles to be brought to the West by specialist imprint Manga Video in the early 1990s, and became an instant sensation on release thanks to fight scenes so gore-soaked that they blew the mind. Witness a clip from the movie below, in which Kenshiro saves the day in all his head-bursting power. This definitely wasn’t Battle of the Planets.
The OTT violence in both the manga and anime was unlike almost anything people in the West had seen, setting a bar and going on to become a huge influence on other artists in the field (Berserk creator Kentaro Miura cited it as his biggest inspiration), but the title is also notable in how its hero compares to later figures in popular anime. By contemporary standards, Kenshiro appears to be a laughably simple character; he wanders from one location to the other, fights baddies, kills them and then moves on. He is entirely un-beset by inner conflict or self-doubt. He even uses his powers for something other than murdering people – when a little girl suffering PTSD loses her voice, he gently manipulates her pressure points to enable her to speak again. He treats women with respect and has no endgame, other than eradicating the landscape of super-powered bullies and helping Mother Earth restore herself after a nuclear war. Also, he doesn’t smile or laugh. Ever.
The straight-faced hero as a force-of-nature is a trope that has gradually been phased out in mainstream anime over the years, but how did this come to pass? When Fist of the North Star first surfaced, Japan was a mighty economic power that had taken centre stage in the global economy. All the qualities that had helped it get there – stoicism, discipline, strength and single-mindedness – were singularly embodied by the show’s protagonist. Kenshiro was a hero for the times.
Like every other creative medium, anime has evolved over the years to incorporate more influences and more sophisticated storytelling. That evolution was relatively swift, to the extent that by the late 1990s, the biggest anime in Japan featured male heroes who were the total opposite of Kenshiro, whether it was One Piece‘s grinning Munky D. Luffy or Evangelion‘s Shinji, a hero so tormented by neurosis that he was sometimes paralysed by it. Cowboy Bebop‘s laconic, charming Spike Siegel seemed less like a typical shonen slugger and more like the kind of suave male lead you’d expect to find in hip European cinema.
Japan has undergone massive changes in the last couple of decades – massive recession, emerging dialogues over mental health, political instability and a greater role for women in the workplace, not to mention the growing tensions with the country’s Asian neighbours. Japan’s new heroes have come to reflect this change, with a range of more complicated, layered protagonists representing the national id. Now we have everyone from the likes of Attack on Titan‘s Eren Yaeger, traumatised by the death of his mother and struggling with his responsibilities, Kill la Kill‘s tough-as-nails, cynical schoolgirl Ryuko Matoi. Even One Punch Man‘s Saitama, the most powerful being in the universe, is given to periods of lying around in his tracksuit, scratching himself and picking his nose.
The world in 2018 is a very complicated place, and art should be able to reflect that. Kenshiro now seems like something of a relic, a reminder of an era when Japan didn’t need heroes who were especially conflicted or complicated. Now it seems, more nuanced heroes are all the rage, with a rich tapestry of stories and adventures to reflect that.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.