I am shock(!) that it’s the 40th anniversary of Tetsuo Hara and Buronson‘s legendary series Fist of the North Star. As part of the celebration, the Mori Arts Center Gallery is holding an exhibition featuring over 400 pieces of the original manuscript.
The Mori Arts Center Gallery is no stranger to exhibiting materials from anime and manga. Recently there was the Sailor Moon exhibition held in 2016 and a Yoshihiro Togashi (author of Yū Yū Hakusho and Hunter X Hunter) exhibition in 2022. The materials in the exhibitions are always interesting to see and, for some, bring back a flood of memories of when they first encountered the stories. The Fist of the North Star Exhibit was no different. With a mix of manuscripts, short videos, figures, and some surprises, this exhibition is a sight to see. Here are some highlights from the Fist of the North Star 40th Anniversary Exhibition. And make sure you guard your acupressure points, or you may not be safe from the flurry of fists.
Warning: some manuscripts contain nudity. For the sake of preservation and the intentions of the exhibition, all manuscripts are presented as they are displayed at the exhibition.
Before entering the exhibition, fans are greeted with a new piece drawn by Tetsuo Hara. Taking up an entire wall, it features a reinterpretation of the iconic fight between protagonist Kenshiro and his rival and senior pupil (although he’s more of an older brother) Raoh, with the series heroine Yuria in the background. Entering the exhibition proper, a life-size statue greets fans along with a quick introduction to the world for the uninitiated. But you’ll have to move fast as Toki, Kenshiro’s second senior pupil (although he, too, is more of an older brother), is closing the doors of a nuclear bunker.
What awaits fans beyond the bunker doors is the desolate world of 199X. A world where might makes right and gangs of musclebound men roam the wastelands. Here, we enter the first section of the Fist of the North Star 40th Anniversary Exhibition: Muai (無愛) or No Love. Featuring manuscript pages from the opening chapters of the series, we experience the “raw” ultra-violence of Fist of the North Star. And to hammer the point home, some of the displays use the punks from the series to emphasize the point. But, in that brutal world lies the kindness of Kenshiro as he fights for those who can’t protect themselves and for his love, Yuria.
Even in a world purportedly without love, there is quite a bit of Shinai (親愛) or Deep Affection. This part of the exhibition features the slow introduction of the five characters of the Nanto Seiken (literally South Dipper Holy Fist) martial arts school starting in the fourth chapter of the series. These five characters are Shin, Rei, Yuda, Shu, and Souther. Each represents a different form of love, and the select pages of the manuscript highlight this exceptionally well. From the martyrdom of Shin, the justice of Rei, the enchantment and betrayal of Yuda, the benevolence of Shu, and the leadership and redemption of Souther, the best and worst aspects of each character are on full display.
A short interlude comes between the fall of the Southern stars and the rise of the three Northern stars in a section aptly called Aizo (愛蔵) or Treasures. Fans are treated to the forty-year history of Fist of the North Star-related projects. It features the first opening and ending theme songs of the 1984 anime of the same name, all twenty-seven volumes of the Shonen Jump imprints, numerous Weekly Shonen Jump issues featuring the series on the cover, multiple cover pages of the series, and a short video of the pachinko machines cinematics, this is a section rich with Fist of the North Star history. However, the crowning display is the several signboards from legendary manga authors. These include Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball, Tsukasa Hojo of City Hunter (also a board member with Tetsuo Hara at Coamix Inc.), and Eiichiro Oda, among others.
As if the Fist of the North Star 40th Anniversary Exhibition is playing a trick on fans, we re-enter Aizo. But this isn’t the treasures of Fist of the North Star. This Aizo (愛憎) is of Love and Hate. This is no ordinary love and hate, though, as it’s between two of the most important characters of the series, Toki and Raoh. Cataloging the rivalry between the two characters, the select manuscripts show us the tale of Toki and Raoh from their childhood to their final heartbreaking confrontation.
However, the heartbreak continued in the Aizo with the five guardians of Fist of the North Star‘s heroine, Yuria. These are Huey, Shuren, Juza, Fudoh, and Rihaku. Looking over the manuscripts, there is a stark reminder these five characters don’t battle Raoh out of some duty to Yuria. Rather, it’s their commitment to others that move them. It’s expressed the best with Juza and his relationship with Yuria and Fudoh and the love he has for the orphans he’s raised. While not singled out for this article, the two-page spread showcasing the climax of Fudoh and Raoh’s battle from the 129th chapter of the series hammers the theme of this section in.
Before the climax of the Fist of the North Star 40th Anniversary Exhibition, we’re treated to a small section dedicated to the birth of the series. Aptly called Saiai (彩愛), not to be confused with the term saiai (最愛) as in beloved, we enter the vivacious, colorful love of the series creators. Opening with some items for Tetsuo Hara‘s workspace, we’re greeted with the cover art for the one-shot Fist of the North Star and Fist of the North Star II and images from these chapters. To be clear, these are not the first chapters of the series as we know, but more of a pre-production story to gauge readership. Thank goodness Weekly Shonen Jump fans in the 1980s found both stories engaging to be reworked into the series we know and love. While these early stories of Fist of the North Star are one highlight of this section, there are a few oil paintings along with the original manuscripts of volume covers from the Jump imprints, Weekly Jump covers, and posters on full display.
However, for me, the video interview of Tetsuo Hara, Buronson, and Nobuhiko Horie (the original editor of the series and now CEO of Coamix Inc.) was exhilarating. Unfortunately, no photos or videos are allowed of the interview. Suffice it to say, hearing the three men talk about the origins of Fist of the North Star is enthralling.
The interviews with the creators of Fist of the North Star are quite possibly the best lead into the final section of the exhibition: Keiai (敬愛) or Respect and Love. Where the relationship between Toki and Raoh is one of love and hate, Kenshiro and Raoh’s is of respect and love. And it’s shown throughout this section. The jealousy Raoh harbors towards Kenshiro slowly turns towards respect, and the hate Kenshiro feels toward Raoh turns to love. While the exhibition doesn’t end with the infamous one-and-a-half-page spread of Raoh holding up his fist in triumphant defeat, we are treated to a beautiful life-size recreation. And as each star fell, so too did the exhibition with large busts of Yuria, Kenshiro, Toki, and Raoh.
But wait, there’s more. The Fist of the North Star 40th Anniversary Exhibition has a wonderful gift shop full of incredible merchandise. You’ll find the standard shirts, hats, figures, and reproductions of the manuscripts, along with a handful of standout items. The first is the exhibition book. A whopping 222 pages, the book features all the manuscript pages on display at the exhibition, along with interviews and a digest of the story in each section of the exhibition. One item in particular that caught my eye is the figure of series artist Tetsuo Hara. It captures his likes exquisitely and is something fans will certainly love. However, the pieces de resistance are the number of oil paintings. Each commands a hefty price, an average of about 1,000,000 JPY (roughly 6725 USD as of the writing of this article); they are all beautiful—especially the piece of Raoh holding up his fist.
Just outside the exit to the exhibition is one last literal treat for fans of the series. The Sun and Moon Cafe is hosting a collaboration with the exhibition. With a small menu based on Fist of the North Star, fans will enjoy eating dishes based on their favorite scenes or concepts from the series, such as a sandwich with Kenshiro’s Big Dipper scar. There is also a small selection of drinks based on scenes and characters as well. Each drink is fun in its own way and certainly worth trying. On top of this, each order comes with a novelty coaster featuring iconic scenes from the series and one featuring the promotional poster. And with the food comes the beautiful view of the Tokyo Tower. So, it’s definitely a taste you’ll remember.
If you have the chance, the Fist of the North Star 40th Anniversary Exhibition is worth visiting. The manuscripts are beautiful, and the whiteout and notes from then-editor Nobuhiko Horie show how much work was put into each page. The color pages, or what can be called color pages, are also fantastic, with numerous hues of red and orange. The exhibition also has an audio guide narrated by the legendary voice actor Shigeru Chiba in his over-exaggerated style. What’s nice about the guide is it’s replete with commentary from Tetsuo Hara, Buronson, and Nobuhiko Horie. However, I will say it’s sad no manuscripts after the climatic fight between Kenshiro and Raoh are on display. But, for many, including myself, the story is of the three brothers of the Hokuto Shinken (literally Big Dipper Divine Fist) martial arts style.
The Tokyo exhibition will run from October 7 to November 19 before heading to Nagoya in March of 2024, Kobe in the summer of 2024, and ending in Fukuoka in the spring of 2025. So, there will be plenty of chances for Fist of the North Star fans to see the manuscripts. And if you can’t attend any of the exhibitions, you may already be…HIDEBU (sound of this writer exploding)!!