The Spring 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Fist of the Blue Sky: Regenesis
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Fist of the Blue Sky Regenesis ?
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How was the first episode?
Just about the only experience I have with Fist of the North Star is the time I played maybe a half hour of Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage on the Xbox 360 a few years back. I thought this would make for a confusing time going into Fist of the Blue Sky: Regenesis, but ironically, I was surprised at just how much Fist of the Blue Sky reminded me of low-budget video game cutscenes from the mid-2000s.
The show's horrendous CG character animations are doubtless going to be the main talking point for this premiere for good reason. This show is ugly with a capital U-G-L and Y. I don't know if I'd say that it is the worst example of CG animation I've seen in an anime, technically speaking; that dubious honor would probably go to Kingdom, as FotBS at least makes some attempts to provide some cel-shaded texture and diverse facial expressions for its burly band of bros. Still, the hideous bodies just look so darned creepy in CG, undulating about the screen with all the grace of juiced-up crash test dummies. It's hard to appreciate the toned physiques of Kenshiro Kasumi and company when they look so off-putting, especially when you factor in the universally crummy framerate of movement. The episode's few brief action beats completely fail to resonate for this reason, and its attempts at humor and pathos are even worse; I doubt I'll ever un-see the image of Liú Fēi-Yàn and Erika smushing their mouths into those horrid, uncanny grins.
Even ignoring the show's tragic animation flaws, the story and characters did little to make themselves compelling or entertaining. I have virtually no experience with the Fist of the North Star Universe, so perhaps this premiere would made more sense to franchise initiates, but I spent most of the episode alternating between confusion and boredom at the show's mix of fictionalized war drama and hyper-masculine martial arts spectacle. Scenes constantly bounced over to characters I didn't recognize, who were engaging in espionage and combat I had little reason to care about. The Erika escort subplot came the closest to piquing my interest, but even that was marred by the episode's consistently lame animation and directing.
To be fair, the only “Super Buff Man Friends” series I've ever gotten into outside of Dragon Ball has been JoJo's Bizarre Adventure; Fist of the Blue Sky is just so dour and stone-faced in how it goes about telling its story, and I need something a bit wackier to keep me invested. As it stands, Fist of the Blue Sky: Regenesis has offered absolutely nothing that I could find appealing, and I doubt I'll be revisiting it again any time soon.
I may not be an aficionado of the genre myself, but I'm saddened for fans of "manime" these days, as CG golems have continued to haunt their entertainment of choice. After the vast visual disappointment that was the 2016 Berserk series, it seemed like things were turning around—JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and Masaaki Yuasa's DEVILMAN crybaby offered hope for a new dawn. But here in Fist of the Blue Sky, we see the specter of that awful CG once more, drowning the hopes of yet another barrel-chested contender.
There's no getting around it: Fist of the Blue Sky looks terrible. Its character designs would be a hard sell under the best of circumstances, what with their absurd tree trunk necks and tiny heads, but those designs are actually faithful to the source material. More damning is the stiffness and general low quality of the CG, with animation falling somewhere just short of early PS3-era cutscenes. There are some nice painted backgrounds present, and the characters' faces do manage to draw some warmth out of this franchise's chiseled designs, but at the end of the day, any non-CG show this season will have to work pretty hard to look worse than this.
That said, if you can get past the terrible art, this is a reasonably enjoyable first episode. Blue Sky shifts the original Fist of the North Star's setting from “blasted generic wasteland” to 1930s Shanghai, opening the door to many compelling threads of political intrigue. In addition to its evocative setting, Blue Sky's first episode also pulls off some charming character moments, like the stoic Fei-Yan's rescue of his young charge Erika. Fist of the Blue Sky also leans often into that classic Thunderbolt Fantasy “so over the top it's endearing” territory, demonstrated through wonderful lines like “Since they call him the Death Bird Demon, he must be good.” There are certainly things to enjoy here.
Still, my ultimate takeaway from Fist of the Blue Sky is “roughly average action drama dragged down by abysmal CG art.” The best thing I can say for this show is that I found its story charming enough that I regretted how it looked. Unfortunately, that doesn't make it look less terrible.
Fist of the North Star is one of the defining action franchises in anime, with a long-lasting, deep influence on so many series that followed it. So it's quite a disappointment to see the newest installment in the venerable franchise reduced to something like this.
To be clear, my problem with this production isn't that it's done all in CG, as I don't automatically reject pure CG animation. However, the CG is definitely part of the problem. Its attempt to mimic realistic body language fails miserably, resulting in some characters flailing around even in the most mundane circumstances; if you thought the new Berserk series was bad, this is worse. The character design style also leaves a lot to be desired, with little variation between small or hulking men and tall square-shouldered brutes. Granted, Fist of the North Star helped establish that aesthetic, but this one takes things to extremes. Having a neck that's almost twice as wide as your head isn't a good look, and the “smoking is cool” cliche doesn't really work for a guy like Kenshiro.
The actual story is a precursor to the main Fist of the North Star timeline, so the theoretical attraction is to see how some of the characters and fighting schools from that series got established. Besides some suspiciously similar names though, none of those connections are readily apparent. It's just Al Capone-era mafia stooges battling each other with the occasional help of hulking martial artists, including one who seems intent on killing the others under the excuse that the North Star style is considered blasphemy. There's also a young girl who needs to be protected for no apparent reason at this point. In other words, this series could do a much better job of explaining itself.
With a messy and ill-defined plot, lackluster use of CG, and hardly any characters interesting enough to care about, this is one of the weakest debut episodes of the past few seasons. In a franchise defined by cool finishing moves, Regenesis can't even pull that off well, and that's a sure sign of trouble.
Titles like Land of the Lustrous and Infini-T Force seriously made me reconsider my stance on CG anime series, but Fist of the Blue Sky Regenesis is here like a bad penny to remind me why I needed two titles to overcome my knee-jerk dislike of the style in the first place. This is one ugly-looking episode. Granted, Tetsuo Hara's art isn't the prettiest to begin with, but it still has appeal with its hyper-masculine men and gritty fight scenes. This just looks awkward and plasticky, with maybe two models for background characters (one male and one female), unnatural-looking skin textures, and the jerky movements of a marionette handled by an amateur puppeteer.
If the story in the episode made more sense, it would have gone a long way to making this a more palatable debut, but alas, such is not the case. There are roughly three storylines unfolding against a backdrop of the early days of World War II. Kasumi Kenshiro is cleaning up the streets of Shanghai by taking down warring street gangs, Pan Yu-Ling is taking over her family's group (gang?) from her paralyzed brother, and Fei-Yan is escorting a little blonde girl named Erika to Shanghai where she's supposed to meet a military officer named Charles de Guise. By the end of the episode, the Fei-Yan and Kenshiro storylines have converged, but the Yu-Ling and street thug plots remain floating on their own. Given that this is only the first episode, that shouldn't be an issue, but because they make the narrative flow more confusing than necessary, they feel extraneous and poorly handled.
Right now the Erika/Fei-Yan storyline is the most interesting, because it seems to have the most potential. Why Fei-Yan is accompanying this girl, who he appears to have rescued from certain death, and the true nature of this “catalog” that he's bringing seem like they could be tied closely to the time period, either on the eve of World War II or in its early days. Is Erika Jewish, or is she just from an Allied nation? What's in this catalog that the Germans want so badly? Once Fei-Yan and Kenshiro work out their gross misunderstanding and stop trying to prove who's the most badass martial artist with the bulgiest muscles, there could be a good story here.
Right now, however, this episode feels like a mess. With an uncertain timeline (I honestly thought the Erika plot might be a flashback at first), too many plot threads for an introductory episode, and just plain old ugly animation, this isn't doing much to entice me to watch further.
My familiarity with Fist of the North Star is pretty limited. I know the characters more for their catchphrases, beefcake anatomy, and over-the-top violence. Sure, the franchise has extended beyond that with comedy iterations and spin-offs that play up these key aspects, but didn't think that going the CG animated route would be the worst decision this franchise could make.
If you've seen Fist of the Blue Sky Regenesis's promotional video, the series looks worse than that in context. I'd call it a perfect example of all the criticisms that get thrown at CG anime. Down to walk sequences, motion is stilted and unnatural-looking. Characters move about like their joints are made of Jell-O. Clothing and hair drifts in the air in a strange sort of suspension instead of flowing. Even though the characters have signature body types associated with Hokuto no Ken, their movements have a weightlessness to them, like the Shanghai was transported underwater.
These problems become even more glaringly obvious when any kind of extras are used to fill in the background. There's maybe two models copy-pasted to walk around behind the scenes with even more labored animation and even less detail. They can't help but stick out like a sore thumb, and I found myself fixating on them because of how glaringly unattractive they were.
The story itself seems to take place after the 2006 anime Souten no Ken, since Kenshiro already has a posse hanging out with him in his Shanghai mansion. This creates a barrier of entry to newer viewers who aren't already familiar with these characters. For instance, Charles de Guise plays a minor role in this first episode but gets killed before we ever learn why Liu Fei-Yan plans to bring him Erika or how they know each other. Additionally, the anime seems to be taking some liberties with the original manga's plot and obscures enough details to be harder to follow. For instance, Erika is a Jewish girl who knows the whereabouts of certain books that the Nazis want to obtain, so that's why they're pursuing her. At least, that's what the old guy hanging around Kenshiro's place says, but the Nazis are pretty inconspicuous. They look a lot like the random gangsters from earlier except their suits are black, not the uniforms usually associated with Nazis.
I had to make more inferences about what was going on than I generally like for an anime's premiere There's a lot of scene hopping, characters show up conveniently for no particular reason, and the show is just ugly beyond salvation.
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