Fist of the North Star Volume 10 is the grandest entry in the series yet, a flawless entry in the canon of shonen fighting manga. But like with any great warrior, there lies a tragic weakness in its invincibility.
It’s hard to talk about volume 10 as if it were “just” another collection of chapters. On so many levels, this is the mountain’s peak, the genre’s apex. Contained within these pages is a rogue gallery of iconic manga imagery, bone-crushing fights, and emotional payoffs. Everything that makes Fist of the North Star a fantastic and iconic manga is contained within these pages. All the plot threads that have been slowly building up across the past 130-odd chapters come to a head here. The world has long since ended, but this truly feels like The End.
What has always impressed me about this grand finale is that every setup pays off brilliantly. The series had a much simpler start and had much more humble aims; as Tetsuo Hara and Buronson have both attested to, manga publishing was a high-pressure environment where they never knew exactly how much time they would have to tell their stories before they would get canceled. This meant that the series could never look too far ahead or rest on its laurels for long; there always had to be something exciting or dramatic happening to keep the series chugging along. This pulpy, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style makes for great page-turning action but also means the series starts in a much more limited fashion.
What’s so shocking is that many of these plot threads were made up on the fly but feel entirely natural. They had to know what had happened before Chapter 1 to get the ball rolling, but it’s clear many elements were developed in the heat of the moment, expanded greatly on a whim, or shifted when new ideas arrived. It’s hard even to remember when Shin was the villain creating the inciting incident of kidnapping Yuria and giving Ken his scars, as Raoh now looms so large over Kenshiro’s expanded past drama that Shin seems like a blip in comparison. The greatly expanded cast of Hokuto brothers and Nanto allies all have such rich thematic resonance with Kenshiro’s ultimate victory that it’s easy to polish off some of the rougher edges that brought us here.
Because, folks, this is the zenith. Enormous warriors with even larger personalities battering each other bloody beneath the uncaring heavens. Absurdly detailed gore and infinitely creative violence alongside poignant reflections and heart-wrenching backstories. Raoh, lifting his fist to the heavens. Kenshiro wielding the Musou Tensei. These are, to me, monumental events in a foundational text. The seismic impact of these pages still reverberates in the hearts and minds of creators and fans to this day, and we can hold these pages in our hands in an official, hardback release in English – what a time to be alive.
Tetsuo Hara and Buronson are both in top form at this stage. The narrative threads are all interwoven so perfectly that you can’t help but celebrate, whether it’s the first time you’ve read it or the fifth time. Yuria’s constant wavering between life and death, Raoh’s fruitless attempts to overcome his pride, Fudo’s tragic battle to save his children, Kenshiro’s solemn countenance in the face of all – God, what a manga. The art retains all those intrinsic qualities that made it so electrifying when it first hit the scene, yet the execution has been honed to an absurdity. Raoh looks every bit the mad tyrant, his facial expressions and terrifying aura leaping off the page. Even the paneling takes on new and creative directions, such as the spear-like layout when Raoh is ambushed by weapon traps or interesting cutaways to allow Kenshiro’s hand to fit in a frame between two other panels.
So… what’s the catch? Is there one? Eh… sort of? You see, the problem with volume 10 isn’t really within the pages of volume 10 – it’s that this is not all there is.
Now, many will say that this is where Fist of the North Star “stops being good” or, at the very least, “should have ended.” If this feels like the end of the manga and you find yourself asking, “Where can they go from here?” then know you’re not alone in this thought. For you see, there is more story to be told, but the quality of what comes after is much more contentious than everything that has happened up until now.
In some ways, Fist of the North Star must continue. In my mind, Fist of the North Star (along with Dragon Ball) forms one of the foundational texts for shonen fighting manga. And all the great shonen fighting series go on for just a bit too long. That’s not to say that what’s coming in Volume 11 and beyond is bad – I like quite a bit of it, despite the flaws – but it’s hard not to think of this as the “true” ending to the series because of its incredible execution on the ideas and themes that brought us here.
Once you’ve been to the top of the mountain, the only place to go is down…