Anime of the Past: Fist of the North Star 2

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

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Fist of the North Star 2

Fist of the North Star 2, Toei Animation’s continuation of the original Fist of the North Star TV series, is as direct a follow-up as they come.  It began airing just as the original series came to an end, and ran for a total of forty-three episodes.  In the previous write-ups of the first series, the three parts of which can be read here (1, 2, 3), I went into a fair amount of detail regarding the storylines and the numerous characters encountered at the cost of lesser analysis.  With this, my final write-up on Toei Animation’s work, I hope to bring more balance into the discussion.

A Reintroduction

This sequel series features the same production crew as the original, as well as central cast member Akira Kamiya in the role of Kenshiro, but this isn’t quite the same old Fist of the North Star as before.  The primary reason for these changes is the time-skip.  A narrative technique not unusual in anime and manga, it has been employed here to push the story forward by roughly a decade.  When we’re reintroduced to Kenshiro’s loyal traveling companions, Bat and Lin, they’re no longer children, but grown, capable adults.  With the peaceful land Kenshiro left in his wake falling once again into despotism and violence, they’ve mounted a resistance against the Celestial Imperial Army bent on conquering the land under a banner of their own; the North Star Army.

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Bat and Lin are all grown up and fighting battles of their own.

Try as they might, Bat and Lin’s efforts aren’t enough to bring peace.  The Celestial Imperial Army is simply too powerful.  But as if heeding their silent pleas for his aid, Kenshiro returns from his years of seclusion.  Yuria has passed away, leaving him with Koku-Oh, Raoh’s former steed, as his only traveling companion.  And as he wanders his way from base to base, smashing the Celestial Imperial Army wherever he goes, he finally reunites with Bat and Lin to their great joy, ready to take on a whole new set of challengers.

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Bat and Lin’s tearful reunion with Kenshiro.

Fist of the North Star 2 is divided into two parts.  The first, which has already been partially introduced, features Kenshiro and his friends fighting against a burgeoning empire led by a mysterious figure known as the Celestial Emperor.  Along the way, they encounter another series of strong marital artists; practitioners of Gento Kouken, a sect that sees both Hokuto Shinken and Nanto Seiken as a danger and work to remove both from the world.  The second part sees Kenshiro travel across the sea to the land of Asura, a nation where the class structure is dominated by violent martial artists of unparalleled skill and cruelty.

Gento Kouken and the Celestial Emperor

The Gento arc partially serves as a means to reintroduce old friends.  Along the way, Mamiya, Airi, and Mamiya’s village are revisited briefly when it becomes terrorized by Solia, one of the Gento practitioners out for Kenshiro’s head.  It is also revealed that Rihaku, the last of Yuria’s Chariot Stars, is now serving Bat and Lin as the North Star Army’s tactician.

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Mamiya, years after giving up being a warrior, makes a brief return to the stage when her village is attacked.

As for Kenshiro himself, his character design has been refreshed, with a new wardrobe and a somewhat older appearance.  He had managed to live a quiet life with Yuria, who was allowed to die a peaceful death. And though he spent some time wandering the land in a malaise of grief, he regains direction upon learning of Bat and Lin’s fight against the Celestial Emperor.

Along the way, Kenshiro also meets several new friends.  Among them are Ein, a bounty hunter who works so that he can buy things for his “woman” (or rather, his young adopted daughter, Asuka) and Falco, the most powerful of the Gento warriors.  Though he and his forces are engaged in conquest, Falco is a benevolent man forced to do unspeakable things by Jakoh, the slippery imperial viceroy keeping the emperor hostage in the palace.

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Jakoh, the primary villain of the Gento arc.

As the arc nears its conclusion, a large bombshell is dropped in the revelation of the Celestial Emperor’s identity.   Or rather, the Celestial Empress’s identity. She is a young woman named Lui, who is in fact Lin’s long-lost twin sister.  At the time of their birth, Jakoh had taken Lui in order to make her empress, as well as his pawn, and had ordered Falco to kill Lin.  But unwilling and unable to carry out the horrific order, Falco instead takes Lin to allies to be raised in secret as an ordinary girl.

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Lin meets her long-lost twin, the Celestial Empress Lui.

When the empress is rescued, Jakoh’s plans fall apart.  He had lived as long as he had through silver-tongued manipulation and the security of Lui’s imprisonment.  But with Lui free, he falls prey to Falco, who is all too eager to make up for his past mistakes.

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By burning Jakoh’s face with his bare hand.

Unfortunately, what should have culminated in Lin and Lui’s happy reunion is interrupted by Lin’s capture.  Taiga, the last of the Gento warriors to oppose Kenshiro, kidnaps her and heads across the sea to the land of Asura, hoping to draw both Kenshiro and Falco to their deaths.

The Land of Asura and Kenshiro’s Final Battle

This event leads directly into the second arc, where Kenshiro crosses the sea to a hellhole of a nation.  The Asura believe only in concepts like strength and ambition; to teach the very idea of love, as a young woman named Leia does, is an offense punishable by death.  Though, this tends to be the punishment for just about any crime committed in Asura.

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Falco learns of Asura’s brutality the hard way and succumbs shortly after his arrival on its shores.

It is in Asura that Kenshiro learns the truth of his origin.  The violent nation is also his birthplace, and that he is a member of the sacred North Star clan.  As a baby, with war ravaging the nation, he was taken across the sea to safety by a young Raoh and Toki, who also hailed from the same country.  It was expected by many to the point of prophecy that Raoh would master Hokuto Shinken and one day return to Asura to free its people.

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And the moment Kenshiro is confused for Raoh, the alarm is sounded by dying a river red. (Raoh’s coming was expected by a lot of people.)

But wait.  Hadn’t Ryuken met Raoh and Toki at the graves of their parents near their hometown?  Hadn’t Toki and Raoh fought on that very same ground as adults, without a single mention of Asura?  Well, yes.  Fist of the North Star 2 plays with the continuity of the series quite a bit in that respect and retcons established events in order to explain Kenshiro’s own history.  In the process, other minor, but still noticeable errors are introduced, the most visibly prominent being Toki’s hair color during flashbacks.  Previously established as a brunette before becoming infected with radiation poisoning, in Fist of the North Star 2, his hair is depicted as white, even in childhood.

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Ignoring previously established origins, Raoh and a white-haired Toki escape from Asura with a baby Kenshiro.

But this disruption of continuity is a vital part of what makes the plot tick.  In previous columns, I noted how important the concept of brothers is to the narrative, and it’s more important than ever here, as Kenshiro is introduced to the art of Hokuto Ryuuken; the deadly, evil sister art of Hokuto Shinken.  Asura is ruled by three Hokuto Ryuuken masters; Han, Hyoh, and Kaioh.  Of those three, Hyoh is Kenshiro’s brother by blood, while Kaioh is the older brother of Raoh and Toki.

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Kenshiro’s brother Hyoh, a master of Hokuto Ryuuken, had his memories sealed to protect Hokuto Shinken’s ultimate art.

Just as Kenshiro is a kind soul, so is Hyoh, despite his mastery of Hokuto Ryuuken; a martial art that threatens to taint the soul of any who practice it with evil.  Kaioh, on the other hand, is who Raoh would be if Raoh lacked the ability to feel even the most basic empathy.  He is a man so obsessed with power and with ridding the world of love that his soul has crossed over into a dark realm.  He wears a suit of armor not to protect himself, but to keep his demonic aura contained so that it doesn’t destroy indiscriminately.  His evil is such that he kills his own sister and Hyoh’s fiancée, Sayaka, for no other reason than to drive Hyoh into a rage that pushes him into the dark realm, as well.

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Kaioh literally exudes evil.

Kaioh is also one of the few over the course of the series that manages to defeat Kenshiro.  In their first encounter, Kaioh’s power is such that Kenshiro, even with the power of unconscious transmigration, is completely unprepared and laid to waste before being crucified on a steel effigy of the Big Dipper.  And Kaioh’s master plan, once he has eliminated the threat of Hokuto Shinken, is to father a child with the blood of the Celestial Emperor by impregnating the captive Lin.

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Kenshiro’s lowest point.

But Kenshiro manages to escape, thanks to his allies; Akashachi, a pirate that helped Kenshiro cross the sea, and Shachi, Akashachi’s long-lost son and another student of Hokuto Ryuuken.  And once he’s recovered, he sets out to fight Kaioh a second time.  Having survived Hokuto Ryuuken’s most deadly techniques once, he has seen through the art, and is now an even match for both Hyoh and Kaioh.

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Hyoh’s memory of his childhood returns as he battles Kenshiro.

After bringing Hyoh back to his senses, awakening long-sealed memories in his older brother, Kenshiro learns that the secret to defeating Kaioh is in the holy temple where Hokuto Shinken was born.  Shachi and Leia arrive there first, but are attacked by Kaioh.  Though Kaioh manages to kill Shachi, he falls prey to the power of an ancient statue of a woman that reacts to Shachi and Leia’s love.  The statue grants Shachi just enough power to fight back and force Kaioh’s retreat.

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Reacting to Shachi’s love, this statue grants him the power to continue fighting beyond the point of death.

When Kenshiro arrives, the statue crumbles to reveal an obelisk that contains the secret he needs.  The full history of Hokuto Shinken’s founder, and the tragedy that gave birth to the deadly art, give Kenshiro the edge he needs.  And after paying his respects to the fallen Shachi, he heads for the final showdown.

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In a matter of moments, Kenshiro experiences the tragic lifetime of Hokuto Shinken’s founder.

He confronts Kaioh in a swamp that serves as the burial ground of Kaioh, Raoh, and Toki’s mother, a servant of the North Star clan who had died rescuing Hyoh and Kenshiro from a fire.  Kaioh had buried her there himself, away from the eyes of the North Star clan, out of a spiteful rage against the clan that would last a lifetime.  And as the fight ensues, Kaioh gets one more spiteful shot in; not at Kenshiro, but Lin.

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Kaioh uses Hokuto Ryuuken to erase the love in Lin’s heart.

By striking a destructive point on Lin’s back, Kaioh erases all love from her heart and puts her in a deep sleep before sending her off on his horse.  When she awakens, she will fall in love with the first person she sees, no matter how evil or disgusting that person may be.  And though Kenshiro tries to stop the horse from fleeing, Kaioh intercepts, and Lin is delivered into the countryside.

As their fight escalates, the Kenshiro and Kaioh’s second battle isn’t nearly as one-sided as it was in their first encounter.  Having become a full master of Hokuto Shinken’s secrets, Kenshiro manages to counter everything that Kaioh throws at him and survives his deadly traps.  Meanwhile, Hyoh rescues Lin, using everything he has to defend her from Kaioh’s infantry before he’s joined by the timely appearance of Bat, riding atop Koku-Oh and joined by the North Star Army.

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Bat arrives in the nick of time to rescue Lin and  and a severely injured Hyoh.

Kaioh, unable to best Kenshiro and on the ropes, crawls to his mother’s grave and begs for one last chance at victory.  His wish is granted when a geyser blasts him into the air and he launches at Kenshiro for a final strike, but his attack is easily countered and he falls in defeat.  Like other villains before him, most notably Souther, he learns the importance of love in his final moments.  Without long to live, he cries as Hyoh, severely wounded from his battle to protect Lin, dies in his arms, and then he himself chooses to die standing on the ridge of a volcanic crater, where both are buried in hardened magma.

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Kaioh’s defeat is sealed.

With Kenshiro’s most powerful adversary now only a memory, there’s only one thing left to do.  Bat holds Lin in his arms as Kenshiro removes the blindfold placed to protect her.  Lin had always loved Kenshiro; ever since their first encounter in her childhood, she adored him more than anyone else in the world.  It’s only fitting that Bat would want to set things right.

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As Fist of the North Star approaches its end, it takes a moment to return to the very beginning.

But Kenshiro doesn’t wish for Lin to fall in love with him again.  She had experienced pain throughout her life, and as a man destined to fight, and fight, and fight until his final days, he would only drag her through more heartache.  Wishing that Bat live a happy life with Lin in his stead, he climbs on Koku-Oh, leaving them behind.  The series concludes as he rides off on a new journey with his friends, and his love Yuria, in his heart.

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Kenshiro rides off, accompanied by the memories of his friends.

Conclusion

Thus ends Toei Animation’s Fist of the North Star.  The manga actually continued on for a while longer, with the final arc receiving an adaptation of its own in the recent video game Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2.  But the ending of the television series is a strong one, even if Fist of the North Star 2 is arguably weaker than its prequel.  With a total of less than half as many episodes as the original series, it tells a tighter story and is less dependent on clip shows and filler.  Many of its characters, including Falco, Ein, Shachi and Leia, all prove to be compelling in their own ways.  But Kaioh, who is essentially a demonically evil Raoh, is among the weakest members of the primary cast.  His evil-for-the-sake-of-evil mantra is one-dimensional, and while it’s very obvious that he’s intended to take the place of Raoh as the primary antagonist, he’s not as strong or compelling of a character, and his personality is eclipsed by both Hyoh and Han, the other Hokuto Ryuuken master that falls fairly early on in the Asura arc.  Kaioh’s evil is such that it at a point, it ceases to feel threatening because it’s so over the top.  Souther, who built a pyramid through the exploitation of child slavery and who is every bit as despicable as Kaioh, comes across as a greater menace.  Like Kaioh, he too managed to defeat Kenshiro in their first encounter, as well as rediscover the true power of love in his final moments.  But unlike Kaioh, Souther’s evil is channeled through something more tangible; something that makes him easier to hate as an actual villain, rather than as a cartoonish representation of one.

Despite the pitfalls encountered in its narrative and characters, Fist of the North Star 2 at least manages to end the series as a whole with a fitting send-off that grants its protagonist Kenshiro respect and dignity.  As in the conclusion of the first series, he rides off into parts unknown.  Wherever he goes from there, he’s sure to do as he had always done; bringing justice to the world by ensuring that those that commit evil acts are already dead.

Fist of the North Star 2 was released on DVD in North America by Eastern Star, a Discotek Media label, as the fourth volume of their Fist of the North Star release.  It features the original Japanese audio with optional English subtitles.  The series is not rated, but contains graphic violence.

About Justin Graham

Justin joined Oprainfall through…belligerence. (Note to others: This is not a good way to get noticed. This sort of thing only works once.) When he’s not writing about games or waxing nostalgic about anime older than a large portion of the site’s audience, he can be found playing JRPGs or beating up lots of dudes in Dynasty Warriors.