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Friday, September 04, 2009

FIST OF THE NORTH STAR: MASTER EDITION VOL. 4 (2004)

YOU WA SHOCK!!! It's another FIST OF THE NORTH STAR Friday, so break out yer leather biker vest and shoulder-guards and let's rock!

Kenshiro's literally bone-shattering and explosive adventures get a much needed shot in the arm starting here, thanks to the introduction or wandering wildman Rei, and Mamiya, the series' token and rather ineffectual tough-girl/potential love interest who's a dead ringer for hero Kenshiro's deceased fiancee.
Rei, master of the Nanto Suichoken ("Southern Cross Water Bird") style: the most badassed metrosexual in comics history.

Rei is one of the foremost fighters of the Nanto Seiken style and while many of the Nanto men base their moves on birds, Rei is the master of Nanto Suichoken, which gives him the graceful and beautiful aspect of a swan. But Rei's status as one of manga and anime's many "bishonen" ("beautiful youth") characters turns that trope into something rather subversive by making Rei pretty much the post-nuke world's most badassed metrosexual, handing out gracefully-administered and gory ass-kickings that literally slice his foes like so much deli meat. He's the perfect compliment to Kenshiro's stoic, butch and biker gear-clad hyper-masculine hero, and in many ways makes a better girlfriend than Yuria or Mamiya ever could.
Say hello to warrior woman/potential love interest Mamiya. In the world of FIST OF THE NORTH STAR, a razor-edged yo-yo to the head constitutes a "meet cute."

As the story progresses, Rei acts as Ken's snarky/kinda queer, pretty-boy buddy who shares a common understanding of the superheroic martial way, and the understanding between him and Ken becomes something deep and heartfelt, kind of post-nuke Gilgamesh and Enkidu thing.

Rei and Kenshiro: back-to-back badasses.

Rei enters the story while on a quest to find his sister, Airi, who was abducted on her wedding day and sold into slavery by a helmeted man whose chest bears seven scars in the shape of Hokuto, the Japanese name for the Big Dipper constellation which translates as "the North Star." Ken famously has such a scar configuration (gained when Shin handed him a severely motivational beatdown back in book one) but keeps them hidden while waiting to see what Rei's deal is. Meanwhile, Ken and his sidekicks have come to the village where Mamiya is the de facto leader and discover the place faces the threat of the bizarre and murderous Fang clan, a small army of diminutive feral types led by their massive father.

The patriarch of the Fang clan.

NOTE: I have no idea how much time has passed between WWIII and the start of this whole story, but it's must have been at least a few years in which humanity reverts to barbarism. Nonetheless, unless the Fang clan's dad had been breeding his sons for a minimum of about two decades with about a score of different women, he could never have sired as many adult offspring as he is depicted commanding. And while I know superhero comics in general take a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief, FIST OF THE NORTH STAR requires a greater amount of this than usual for obvious reasons, but when you get down to trying to work out such logistical details as how the Fang clan's considerable numbers could have just come from nowhere, the house of cards simply crumbles. And yet I can buy a guy whose merest touch causes people's heads to explode. Go figure...

Anyway, the Fangs will stop at nothing to conquer the village and don't give a fuck about wanton slaughter, so Kenshiro steps in to assist Mamiya and her people. Rei also gets involved and at first comes off as an angry, embittered asshole who has given up his humanity until he finds his sister (whose status as a commodity who is frequently traded for owner to owner alludes to her having been raped innumerable times, one of the more adult elements of what is intended as a kids' adventure comic), but the influence of the good guy Kenshiro soon rubs off on him and he begins to care about Mamiya and the villagers.

The tormented and self-blinded Airi.

Realizing that they have no chance against two masters of the deadliest martial arts on the planet (or what remains of it, anyway), the Fangs escalate matters by finding Airi and holding her hostage (compounding her sorry state, poor Airi has poured poison into her eyes and blinded herself since she can no longer bear to witness a world that can allow her and others to suffer so). From there on it's a question of how our heroes can eliminate the Fangs while also saving Airi and an equally captive Mamiya...
Ken meets the Fang clan and the trash-talking commences.

This arc is memorable for it being a virtually non-stop orgy of carnage, what with Ken's skills causing people to explode all over the place in spewing chunks and Rei carving up bad guys like so many Thanksgiving turkeys, and it's fun to see the two badasses impressing each other with and bonding over one another's lethal talents. My only complaints here are that it goes on a little long and features a wholly unnecessary bit of censoring of the original art; there's a bit where Rei, in full-on asshole mode, chastises Mamiya regarding how a woman's place is outside of combat, illustrating his point by using his lightning-fast and razor-sharp hand skills to reduce her warrior's garb to ribbons, leaving her surprised and exposed, wearing nothing but an incongrously demure pair of panties.

The titties deemed to dangerous for you to see. Don't look! Oops, too late...

In the original Japanese version (seen above) readers were treated to a full-page drawing of a beautifully rendered Mamiya standing there topless as her clothing delicately flutters around her, and it is without question the best illustration that Tetsuo Hara had done of a woman up to that point in his career, and over twenty years later I still say it's his best. Not meaning to sound like a perv, but the way he depicted Mamiya's breasts was quite innocent while still providing a much-needed reminder of femininity amidst all the series' deluge of unbridled manliness, but in this American printing bits of tattered cloth are tastefully added to obscure the mammalian delights, something that confuses the hell out of me since every possible bit of carnage and sadism imaginable is portrayed in nearly pornographic detail. So beautiful breasts are a bad thing that I need to be protected from? Good to know.

Oh, and how's this for a demonstration of Ken's acute senses and hyper-human speed? (Remember to read it right-to-left.)

Now that's badassed!

In two weeks: Volume 5, in which Ken re-discovers the joys of family dysfunction and sibling jealousy.

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