How I Discovered Hokuto No Ken or Thanks Buncheman!
It has been my experience that sometimes the best things in life are discovered completely by accident. This especially holds true for me and a handful of anime shows that I’ve latched on to over the years.While I’ve previously discussed how my love of both Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and Space Battleship Yamato were very concentrated efforts to find their original source material, at least one of my favorite shows was discovered completely at random and I owe it to one man… Steve Bunche!
First allow me to regale you with the story of how young James, at the age of 19 became familiar with Hokuto No Ken, or as it is more commonly known as here in the United States, Fist Of The Northstar. I had been working at Marvel for awhile and had made a friend in one Steve Bunche. Now if there is one person I can point to and say “That guy there! He is the one that expanded my horizons!” it would be Steve Bunche. My friendship with Bunche initially got off to a rocky start due ot the fact I was the geeky kid from the mail room that wouldn’t leave the guys in the Marvel Bullpen alone. I think we broke the ice though because of a common interest. That interest was Gatchaman. I had just gotten my Holy Grail, the last 5 episodes of the original Science Ninja Team Gatchaman from my my then anime pimp Tom. I couldn’t have been more geeked about it. I had spent the day with the tape in my mail cart because I didn’t want the tape to be far away from me…. what? At that moment it was my most prized possession!
I had been doing my rounds and had arrived at the Bullpen to drop off the mail. When not delivering comics to them, the Bullpen usually got the least amount of mail, on top of that the Bullpen was usually one my last stops on my rounds. Bunche had noticed the VHS tape in my mail cart and asked me what exactly was on it. I sheepishly told him it was episodes of Gatchaman and suddenly we had ourselves a conversation. He asked me if I had ever heard of Fist Of The Northstar and I shook my head and said “no”. He then tried explaining it ot me as best he could. His manner of explanation was giddy mixed with the liberal use of the word fuck or derivatives there of. “James, this guy fuckin’ punches this guy and there is fuckin blood everywhere! He fuckin’ explodes! You need to see this fuckin’ show’!”. Provided this isn’t exactly how it was explained to me, in fact my penchant for hyperbole might be clouding my recollection but once he described Fist Of The Northstar to me I knew that I had to see it.
So it went that I asked my anime pimp Tom if he had Fist Of The Northstar. Tom did indeed and the next time we traded comics for tapes I got the first 15 episodes of Hokuto No Ken… SUBTITLED NO LESS!
I went home and watched in awe. I was sucked in immediately. The earth was nuclear wasteland in 199X. Society has collapsed and the only things that matter are fresh food water and gasoline. Sweet fuck it was the plot to Mad Max! I loved Mad Max! Then there was this guy with these incredibly thick eyebrows doing some type of karate and making people explode by punching them… HOLY SHIT! How could I not love this show?
I went to workthe following Monday and told Bunche I had spent the weekend pretty much watching Hokuto no ken. Bunche was surprised but even more surprised when he heard that I had the show subbed in English. Needless to say he borrowed my tapes. He also began filling me in on some the major storylines. How this show was actually more than just about a guy who could make people explode by punching them. I began to delve int othe mythos and began catching on to some of th major themes of it, such as how it dealt with its cast of supporting characters as tragic figure and how the main villains were even pitiable and tragic in their own way. I began to see Hokuto No Ken’s main protagonist Kenshiro as sort of a Japanese version of Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melbinone just minus the albinism. Kenshiro’s discipline of Hokuto Shinken (The Holy Fist Of The Great Bear or Divine Fist Of The Northstar) was a burden he had to bear just like Elric’s cursed sword Stormbringer was his. Both characters were cursed that any who crossedtheri paths, be they friend or foe either died or wanted nothing to do with them afterwards. Hell they even both have extremely depressing endings!
I spent the next 6 months getting tapes from Tom, pretty much getting all of Hokuto No Ken but never getting to Hokuto No Ken 2. By the time I was ready for Hokuto No Ken 2, I had lost my job at Matrvel and actually gotten back into College again. During breaks from school I’d return to NYC and would see Bunche now and again. I haven’t seen the him since… geez 1999? Has it been that long? I mean this is a guy that expanded my tastes not only as far anime goes but cinematically as well.
Who lent me his copies of Shaft and both Dolemite movies?
Who turned me on to the films of John Waters (with Pink Flamingos no less!)?
Sandman and the work of Neil Gaiman in general?
This article was originally going to be about me filling in you, the reader, about other anime I enjoy and instead it has morphed into me telling you about what an impact Steve Bunche has had on me. It isn’t like he taught me how to appreciate classical literature or how to cook. He just basically showed me there was more out there than what I actually realized. This wasn’t in just terms of anime or comics. This was in terms of everything. He made me realize that I had been living a rather sheltered life. The thing is, I don’t think that was his intention, he just wanted show me cool stuff. He did that in spades and in turn opened up my narrow little perception on a whole slew of subjects and interests.
So thank you Bunche! You are one of those unforgettable people that means a lot to me on more levels than you can ever realize. You befriending this nerd/geek meant and still means a lot to me even today. One of these days I’ll return to the City and I’ll consider myself blessed to hang out with you again. In simpler terms, we’ll get drunk. Yeah, he was the first one to take me out and get me drunk. Still… You are and will always be one of the best!