Fist of the North Star Volume 4 – Review

Folks, we are, unequivocally, In It ™ now.

I often use the introduction of Rei in the last volume as the first demarcation line for when things are heating up in Fist of the North Star, and now we’ve crossed into the real build-up of the series. In volume 4, Fist of the North Star enters what is undoubtedly one of the most iconic runs of any battle manga. Kenshiro’s exploits through this post-apocalyptic hell have been full of exciting martial arts and over-the-top gore, but now the pathos at the center of the work is starting to take shape.

For one thing, the world begins to have more established landmarks. Up until now, the setting has largely been an open canvas in service of whatever the narrative demands to happen at any time, and this is still mostly the case for volume 4. Even revisited locations like Southern Cross largely remain as single establishing shots with no real sense of place beyond their inhabitants. But at the same time, the world is starting to have a bit more of a skeleton to hang on to. Some locations have distinct looks and purposes, such as the tower prison Cassandra which (quite literally) looms large as one of the setting’s more memorable setpieces. The nameless towns have slightly more heft to them too, such as the village Toki and Amiba were equal parts saving and experimenting in. We’re moving further away from the “random town of the week #247” and towards more consistent locations.

Kenshiro’s characterization also becomes further defined. He remains a brooding warrior of vengeance—there is even a moment in this volume where Rei is standing on the sidelines doing all the speaking for him as Kenshiro has become a titan of wordless rage—but the underlying sense of sadness that permeates Kenshiro’s character comes that much further into the limelight. Whereas the early volumes made it seem like said sadness stemmed from his loss of Yuria, here Bronson begins to establish the deep sense of personal responsibility Kenshiro feels for the lives of others. He takes the slings and arrows of frightened children, cradles the defenseless in his arms, and weeps for the evil his inaction has allowed into the world. There’s a far greater sense that Kenshiro has had to become an invincible warrior of destruction to make up for his past weakness, which puts his brooding nature in a different light.

Even Hokuto Shin Ken takes on a more meaningful sense of weight. Up until now, Hokuto Shin Ken has mostly been defined by the fact that it is… well… a super cool martial art, and definitely very special the copy+paste of Nanto Sei Ken with its swiping kill fingers. But in this volume, we begin to learn more of its lore and history—the infamous 1800 years lines, the struggles of the training, its inherent violence as an assassination art, etc. Most importantly, we learn that there can only be one true successor of the art, and that all other aspirants who do not achieve the title will have their fists sealed and memories wiped. Not only is the idea of ​​a fighting style so powerful that only one person can wield it at a time incredibly evocative, it also adds a whole other layer of drama and mystery surrounding Kenshiro’s development as a warrior.

Yet the true high watermark of the volume is undoubtedly the introduction of other Hokuto Shin Ken brothers Jagi and Toki. Without spoiling too much, the friction between Kenshiro and his brothers, and the drama that arises from the tangled web that is this brotherhood of martial artists, make up the bloody, beating heart of Fist of the North Star as a series.

Jagi is an odd case study since he gets so little screen time across all Fist of the North Star media—a few chapters in the manga, a few episodes in the anime, and maybe 15 total minutes in the 1986 film. For being one of *the* brothers, he is basically a one-hit wonder, and is mostly remembered as a gag character now, parodied extensively in the fandom and even in DD Fist of the North Star. That said, his design is outrageously good—a punk rock Zoidbergian leather daddy biker who will use every dirty trick and weapon he can get his hands on. I admire his tenacity if nothing else, exemplified in him shutting down his own arm after Kenshiro nearly gets him to shoot himself with his shotgun.

Toki is another favorite, and the mystery surrounding his introduction in these chapters is great. The sequence of him closing the vault door is iconic and one of the great tragic moments in the series. His unexplained heel turn puts Kenshiro through a real sense of confused anguish, communicating to the reader just how good a soul Toki must have really been.

Of course, volume 4 is also full of all the stuff you’ve come to love in prior volumes. There’s ridiculous leather fashion. There’s exploding meaty chunks. There’s incredible one-liners like “This pain, I’ll deliver it to him I promise” and “You! Choose Your Ground! That’s where you’ll die!” It’s the height of Manime ™ people, and it’s only going up from here.

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