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by Grant Jones,

Fist of the North Star

Volume 5

Fist of the North Star Volume 5

The battle at Cassandra kicks off as Kenshiro and Rei face Warden Uyghur. As the fighting and stakes intensify, the ultimate goal is to get inside and free Kenshiro's brother Toki which they eventually do after an arduous battle. But not long after this happy reunion the true threat emerges: Raoh and his Kenoh Assault Force. With Airi in danger, Rei rushes headlong into battle to face the most terrifying warrior in the world - alone.

Fist of the North Star is written by Buronson, with art by Tetsuo Hara. Fist of the North Star Volume 5 is translated by Joe Yamazaki, with lettering by John Hunt, and editing by Mike Montesa. Fist of the North Star is published by Viz Media.


I mentioned during the review for Volume 4 that we were watching a legendary manga enter one of its most iconic phases. Here in Volume 5 we see Fist of the North Star finally stepping into greatness. While I wouldn't necessarily say this is Fist of the North Star at its peak, this is certainly the manga delivering on the promise of its premise. The seed that Tetsuo Hara and Buronson planted and nurtured has finally begun to bloom.

Perhaps most critically, the core brothers are all in play. We already had Kenshiro and Jagi, with a slight hint of Toki before, but now we have Toki and Raoh actually in the story proper. While Fist of the North Star is known for many things - exploding heads and 80s pop culture and memey death cries - I think it is the drama amongst the four brothers which has really given the series its staying power. The physical and emotional back and forth between the four would-be successors to Hokuto Shinkenforms the beating heart of the series and elevates it to something special.

This volume helps underscore the key dynamic which defines the brothers in their constant struggle. Kenshiro is the true heir, both to the ultimate assassination art and also the recipient of Yuria's love and affection. Both of these factors set him apart from his brothers, because they covet both but cannot achieve them. Their reactions to this help define their place in the tale.

Jagi despises that Kenshiro has surpassed him and wants to usurp Kenshiro but lacks the ability to do so.

Toki does not begrudge Kenshiro for surpassing him and wants to help him on his journey.

Raoh despises that Kenshiro has surpassed him and wants to usurp Kenshiro but actually has the power to do so.

It is the texture of their interactions that helps Fist of the North Star become a truly excellent work. While obviously the amazing premise, gorgeous art, and over the top martial arts displayed thus far would have made this a memorable work for spectacle alone, this is where we see true greatness. The strength of the drama helps further our investment in the hyper-violent combat and adds a human dimension to the inhuman displays of prowess.

It also presents two really good hooks as far as martial arts storytelling goes. Firstly, if there can only be one successor to an art at a time, what happens when there are multiple viable successors? Kenshiro is clearly the greatest of the four brothers, but Toki or Raoh could easily have been the successors in another era. Even Jagi… okay maybe we won't go that far. But the great irony is that three legendary warriors were all cursed by fate to be vying for the same title, and any of them could have been legendary bearers of the ancient heritage of Hokuto Shinken. This is grand, melodramatic tragedy at its finest. The sorrow of this situation further ennobles Toki to us because he decides not to give up on his humanity, instead dedicating his life to helping others (including Kenshiro). But it also makes Raoh relatable to us, as his pain because that much more understandable. Was he so undeserving? Why did the heavens curse so great a warrior to have his fists sealed purely based on the arbitrary limit of one successor at a time?

Of course Raoh wants to defy the gods. Of course Raoh wants to destroy the world. They sought to do the same to him, and so he would remake the world in his image by showing them the strength they sought to silence.

The second is by turning the inter-school conflict trope into one of intra-school conflict. While we often see stories of rival schools of combat facing one another (such as the long-standing wuxia trope of northern and southern styles being in opposition, which is obviously an inspiration at work here). And we do see a lot of stories where there is intra-school conflict, usually a student who uses forbidden techniques and possibly slays the master in an act of ultimate betrayal (again, clearly an inspiration here with Raoh). But I like the added texture of the central conflict being one of all the students against one another. And it's not over a sort of blasphemous use of a forbidden technique or use of the style against its core principles - they are all strong users of Hokuto Shinken as it is intended to be wielded, to varying degrees. There is simply conflict over succession, which adds a new dimension to the conflict.

But don't let all the thematic brilliance fool you, there is plenty of spectacle to be had.This volume continues to deliver on Buronson and Tetsuo Hara's penchant for amazing setpieces. Raoh fighting purely from horseback. The training sequence with the tiger. Uyghur falling into the open grave. Rei seeing the death omen star. Raiga and fuga holding open the gates even in death. Plus quotable line after quotable line, such as “Scum like you doesn't deserve a headstone.” and “What color is your blood?!”

This volume is as unrelenting as its namesake martial art.

And there is the ludicrous absurdity that the series is known for. You might ask yourself, “In a world of incredibly limited water and food supplies, just how viable would it be to maintain a prison? Wouldn't it be easier to just kill all these guys to save on resources?” But you wouldn't even finish that dorky question you big nerd because you'd get shoved in a locker - Cassandra prison exists because it is Sick and Awesome to have a prison full of violent muscle-bound martial artists guarded by even more violent and muscle-bound martial artists. “Why bother digging graves and carving headstones for them? Why would they go to the effort of-” quiet you, it's sick when Kenshiro breaks a headstone with his bare hands. This is what peak art looks like.

And what's amazing about all of this is we're just getting started.

Overall : A+
Story : A+
Art : A+

+ Everything good about the prior volumes but even better

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Production Info:
Story: Buronson
Art: Tetsuo Hara
Licensed by: Viz Media

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