Welcome back to our ongoing look at Fist of the North Star. For those of you just joining us, you can read the first part here.
When last we left off, Kenshiro, in his search for Toki, found an imposter named Amiba instead, who let slip the name “Ken-Oh” in his final moments. For those that watched the series in its original western release over a decade ago, this had to be a frustrating point, as Manga Entertainment never released any episodes on western shores beyond the first thirty-six. But now, with the entire series available, we can go further.
You Are All Free Now!
With Amiba done away with, Kenshiro, Rei, and Mamiya track down Toki’s whereabouts to Cassandra, a massive prison where Ken-Oh keeps martial artists from all over captive so that he may steal the prized techniques of the prisoners’ various schools. It’s also heavily fortified, and no one has ever been able to break out. Or break in, for that matter. The prison’s warden, Uighur, a bearded terror of a man, keeps the population cowed in despair by executing prisoners to keep both the inmates and the guards in line.
Among Uighur’s various tricks are the martial artist identical twins Raiga and Fuga, who with their Adonis-like physiques masquerade as statues at the prison’s entrance and tear any who would dare approach the prison apart. But when Kenshiro soundly defeats them, they realize that their savior may have come; the man who could destroy the terrifying legend of Cassandra.
Kenshiro’s appearance forces Uighur to take action himself. His special shoulder-charge technique is even strong enough to knock Kenshiro unconscious and further intimidate the inmates into submission. But when Kenshiro awakens for round two, he turns the tables and beats Uighur to a pulp. But while the inmates have reason to cheer, the victory is short-lived when Ken-Oh’s royal guard makes its appearance and once again scares the inmates. But when Kenshiro refuses to back down, the race is on as the guards intend to prevent Kenshiro and company from reaching Toki’s cell.
Toki is being held at the top of a prison tower, and with Raiga and Fuga’s help, Kenshiro and the others make it just in time to see Toki, silently meditating, kill his own would-be executioners with a technique that makes them feel utter bliss even as their bodies uncontrollably twist to the breaking point. Honestly, Toki could have broken out at any time on his own, but due to the illness he suffers from, he chose to allow himself to be captured in order to save his strength and wait for Kenshiro.
What is this illness? The effects of nuclear ash. In the past, when the nuclear war started, Kenshiro, Toki, and Yuria had fled for the safety of a fallout shelter, but the doors had broken and could only be closed from the outside. Toki, in his selflessness, forced Kenshiro and Yuria into the shelter and closed the door. Forced to remain outside, the ash made his body ill and effectively eliminated his chances of becoming Hokuto Shinken’s successor.
But reunited at last, Kenshiro and Toki manage to escape Cassandra in its final chaotic moments. With their fighting spirit back, the inmates take the fight to the guards and the walls come crumbling down. Ken-Oh’s prison is no more.
The Duel with Ken-Oh
But just who is Ken-Oh? Toki knows, and Kenshiro had suspected the truth all along. Ken-Oh is their eldest Hokuto brother, Raoh. But what Kenshiro didn’t know is that Raoh is also the man to blame for the death of their master, Ryuken. Unwilling to accept having his fists sealed and give up Hokuto Shinken after Kenshiro was chosen as successor, Raoh fought Ryuken and managed to kill him.
Unable to travel quickly with an ill Toki, Rei runs ahead when they learn that Ken-Oh’s army is headed for Mamiya’s village, which is once again under siege. The invading troops round up as many of the residents as they can find and force them to pledge allegiance to Ken-Oh, or die by being roasted to death. And Lin, putting up with absolutely none of that, voluntarily walks to her inevitable death, demonstrating a level of strength that the other villagers lacked. But Rei makes it just in time and saves Lin. He single-handedly decimates the enemy, but when Raoh himself appears, riding atop his enormous steed Kokuoh, things take a turn for the worse.
Kenshiro arrives just in time to see the conclusion of Rei’s one-sided duel with Raoh; with a single blow, Raoh has doomed Rei, giving him only three days to live. He intends to challenge Raoh himself, but Toki interrupts the fight by using a technique to immobilize him. Toki then confronts Raoh himself, in the hopes that Kenshiro might learn something by watching their fight. The ensuing battle is devastating, and unable to take it any longer, Mamiya draws a crossbow on Raoh; Kenshiro, seeing that Raoh will inevitably kill Mamiya with her own bolt, breaks free of Toki’s immobilization through the sheer force of his own will, as well as the power of Lin’s desperate pleas, and saves her.
And then the real duel is on. Kenshiro and Raoh go at each other with everything they have, exchanging flurries of blows. The battle ultimately ends in a draw, with each suffering injury. But more than that, the injury to Raoh destroys his reputation as an invincible conqueror, and his troops flee in a mass desertion. The fabled Ken-Oh, now just an injured Raoh, is forced to retreat on his horse.
The Death Omen Star and Rei’s Blaze of Glory
In Fist of the North Star, there is a legend among Hokuto Shinken practitioners. Alcor, a star that neighbors Mizar, one of the stars in the Big Dipper, is the Death Omen Star, and appears to those who have less than a year to live. Toki can see it, as can Rei, now that he’s been doomed by Raoh. But to Toki’s horror, Mamiya can also see it.
The reason why becomes clear after Mamiya risks her life to get medicine to ease Rei’s suffering. When Rei sees the brand “UD” on her shoulder, it’s revealed that the source of Mamiya’s own pain, and the reason she discarded her womanhood to become a warrior, was one man. Yuda, a narcissistic practitioner of Nanto Seiken with an obsession for beauty. On Mamiya’s twentieth birthday, he had invaded her village, murdered her parents, and stole her away to make her one of his women; servants that are treated no better than dolls. But somehow, Mamiya had managed to escape and return home, scarred both by Yuda’s brand and the memories of what had been done to her and her family.
Rei, with his final days, chooses to dedicate himself to Mamiya and remove the source of her suffering from the world. But Yuda doesn’t make it easy. Like Rei and Shin, Yuda is in fact one of the six Nanto Generals; the elite of the 108 schools of Nanto Seiken. He spends days misdirecting Rei and Kenshiro, wasting valuable time. With less than a day left, Rei asks Toki to strike a pressure point on his body that, while causing agonizing pain, would give him one last burst of life. After overcoming the pain, Rei feels rejuvenated, and he finally confronts Yuda. And though Yuda again uses trickery in an effort to win their fight, Rei manages to kill Yuda by drawing the narcissist’s attention with his beautiful fighting technique.
With Yuda dead and Mamiya safe, Rei is able to die without any regrets. He spends his final minutes of life alone in a house so that no one would have to witness the bloody mess that his body would inevitably become. When he finally dies, the house is set on fire, and he’s given a hero’s funeral. Mamiya then looks to the stars, and to her amazement, she sees that she’s been freed from the light of the Death Omen Star.
The Nanto Generals
With Shin, Yuda, and Rei all dead, half of the Nanto Generals have been killed. In the past, these generals would have worked with the Hokuto Shinken successor, but after the nuclear war and Yuda’s defection to Raoh’s forces, this allegiance turned on its head as the generals all went their separate ways. Kenshiro’s next task is to track down the remaining generals, and he quickly comes across two of them; Shu and Souther.
Souther is a wicked man; easily one of the most evil people if not the single most evil person Kenshiro has encountered up to this point. Like Raoh, he seeks to conquer the post-nuclear world, but his body hides a secret that makes even Raoh hesitant to engage him. Even worse, Souther is a man who sends his men to kidnap and enslave children to be used as obedient labor. He uses these children to build the Holy Imperial Mausoleum, a grand monument to his empire-to-be, but his army meets resistance from Shu, a benevolent man that desires to defeat Souther and free the people from his tyranny.
Shu first demonstrated the height of his benevolence many years before, when Kenshiro was a child participating in a deadly tournament. As Kenshiro’s final opponent, Shu defeated him easily. But to spare Kenshiro’s life, Shu clawed his own eyes, taking his own sight in exchange. Not that this hinders his martial abilities in the least.
With Shu and his resistance as allies, Kenshiro engages in a duel with Souther. And had Souther been a normal man, Kenshiro would have won the duel easily. But Hokuto Shinken has no effect on Souther’s body, and a confused Kenshiro is badly wounded and captured. Souther intends to use him as a blood sacrifice for the mausoleum, but Shu’s only son, the young Shiba, manages to free Kenshiro, sacrificing himself in the process.
While Kenshiro, who was bandaged and delivered back to the resistance headquarters in secret by Raoh’s men, recuperates, the base comes under attack, and Shu sends Lin and Bat on a boat to take Kenshiro, drugged with a sleeping pill, to safety. Shu then confronts Souther himself, but is unable to kill him when told that if Shu strikes him down, his men will kill a hundred hostages. Too benevolent to allow for such a sacrifice, even if it meant the death of his mortal enemy, Shu is defenseless when Souther slashes the muscles in his legs, destroying his martial arts ability.
With Shu in the hands of the enemy and forced to carry the capstone of the mausoleum to its peak, Kenshiro makes his way back for a second showdown with Souther. But Toki, who knows Souther’s secret, and Raoh, who wishes to see Kenshiro’s possible final battle, both arrive on the scene as well. But though he arrives before Shu can reach the top of the mausoleum, Kenshiro can do nothing as the man is chained to the top. For the sake of all of the children and the hostages, he’s forced to sacrifice himself, crushed under the weight of the capstone.
Enraged, Kenshiro charges into battle against Souther again, but this time, he manages to turn the tables by learning the conqueror’s secret. Souther’s heart is on the right side of his body, meaning that the positions of all of his pressure points are reversed. Without need of Toki’s help, Kenshiro is able to beat down Souther.
Toki vs. Raoh
In watching Kenshiro fight, Toki feels the urge once more to fight, as well. Despite his illness, he chooses to battle Raoh, and in the process reveals that while he, Kenshiro, Raoh, and Jagi were all adopted by Ryuken, he and Raoh are also brothers by blood. When they were children, Raoh had Toki promise that if he ever lost his way, that Toki would be the one to seal his fists, preventing him from using Hokuto Shinken ever again. With that time finally at hand, Toki and Raoh meet at the site where their parents were buried, and Toki pulls out all of the stops by throwing aside his normal soft-fist style of Hokuto Shinken in order to match Raoh’s hard-fist style.
But as the duel rages on, Raoh, the hardened warrior who had vowed as a child that he would never cry again, bursts into tears as he effortlessly stops each of Toki’s strikes. He realizes that Toki’s illness has robbed him of too much strength; Raoh is crying because there’s no way that Toki can defeat him. He urges Toki to stop fighting, fending off all of his brother’s blows until Toki has no strength left. Taking pity on him, Raoh allows Toki to live as a man with an illness, knowing that Toki the martial artist can never match his power. But before he leaves, he lets Kenshiro know that Ken-Oh will rise again.
As the series has progressed, Fist of the North Star has grown considerably more complex. What originally began as a single-minded pursuit of the villain that kidnapped Kenshiro’s fiancée has evolved into a hyper-violent martial arts soap opera of sorts. Kenshiro and his brothers resurrecting old rivalries, settling scores, and, at least in the case of Souther, having a common enemy that they all agree needs a thrashing.
The struggle against Souther in particular exemplifies the nature of the series. Where Souther has chosen to discard love, Kenshiro fights for it. The characters are all very raw, wearing their emotions on their sleeves (and their oversized shoulder guards) as the battles become spiritual as much as they are physical. It’s unapologetic in its brutal simplicity, making it easy to root for Kenshiro no matter the context. But with one last Nanto General to find and Raoh’s continued threats of conquest, our head-exploding protagonist still has a long way to go. Our look at Fist of the North Star will continue in two weeks, when we pick up with Kenshiro’s encounter with the mysterious Ryuga.
Fist of the North Star was released on DVD in North America by Eastern Star, a Discotek Media label. Episodes 37-72 were released with Japanese audio and optional subtitles. The series is not rated, but contains graphic violence and brief nudity.