It's the fourth chunk of Fist of the North Star and ostensibly the end of the original series, although I don't know why the production team bothered to start a new show since Fist of the North Star 2 just continued the following week from where its predecessor had left off. I quite enjoyed it, but I think the show's starting to suffer from the law of diminishing returns. There are only so many times you can return to the well of Kenshiro killing bad guys by making their skulls explode.
It's still good. However it's not astonishing and it's not as good as the earlier runs, although I've heard that it's better than Fist of the North Star 2.
Its arc is basically Kenshiro vs. Raoh. They've been building up Raoh as Kenshin's ultimate enemy for ages, including that confrontation in Chunk 2 when Kenshiro learned that he wasn't even in Raoh's league, as Toki paralysed Kenshiro and fought in his place. What's more, Raoh's setting out to be something unique in this post-apocalypse chaos. He's establishing a government. It's a dictatorship, obviously, in which those in authority can rob, torture and kill at will, but there's method in his madness. In this world, you need a strong man. It's not obvious that Kenshiro's path of freedom will make things better in the long run than you might get from Raoh's reign of terror.
In practice, his brutality makes him hateful. Villages in Raoh's empire are living a nightmare. Regardless of Raoh's philosophy, he's clearly screwed up by entrusting local administration to the greediest, most violent and most mentally unstable monsters imaginable. (Then again, maybe that was deliberate? Raoh wants everyone terrified, after all.)
In principle, though, it's not so simple. You could imagine someone supporting Raoh because they believed he was the man to bring back civilisation. We've even met such a person. He was principled. (He's also now dead.)
In the context of this show, Raoh feels like the ultimate Big Bad. Opposing him doesn't just mean taking on one man, but instead an empire, an army and a government. However that on its own isn't enough to sustain 27 episodes, so the show also introduces a clan called the Five Chariots who also oppose Raoh's imperial ambitions. We thus have some new supporting characters, who are organised on something like the principle of the four classical elements (earth, air, fire and water). However there are five of them, not four, because Japanese Buddhism had its own list of five classical elements (earth, water, fire, wind and sky). The Five Chariots are thus:
1. Huey (Wind).
2. Shuren (Fire).
3. Juuza (Cloud), who's the first interesting one. The first two were traditionally noble, dedicated warriors who don't mind giving their lives to protect their clan. It's bushido. Juuza, on the other hand, is a layabout with a harem of topless women (in episode 90) and at first no intention of putting himself to any trouble for anyone. He's a cloud, you see, and clouds answer to no-one. To him, they represent freedom.
4. Fudo (Mountain), who's a gentle giant. He's perhaps the size of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The artists aren't consistent, but he's certainly two or three storeys tall and he can crush buildings by sitting on them. We've seen others like that, though. What's special about Fudo is that he's also a big softy who's adopted lots of abandoned children. There's been no one else like him in the series. A few other characters have had his purity of heart and dislike of violence (Rin, Yuria), but they've all been helpless females who can't fight, whereas Fudo's a man-mountain who's more than capable of it but doesn't want to. He's also a goofball.
5. Rihaku (Sea), who's their elderly (but still muscular) leader.
6. The mysterious number six.
That lot aren't bad, especially Juuza and Fudo, but our main man's still Raoh. That's truer than you'd expect, incidentally, since he becomes effectively the protagonist of the story arc. At first, he needs building up. He'd spent all of Chunk 3 biding his time. We knew he was unstoppable, but this needed demonstrating anew and so the Five Chariots have been put in the show to oppose him, not Kenshiro.
I'm serious. The show's become the story of the tyrant, not of the hero. This is fascinating, actually. It's not what I'd expected at all and it certainly allows more character growth than you'd get in the completely static Kenshiro. Raoh's not stupid. He's just a monster. Raoh's the one who gets all the epic fights, although admittedly it takes a while for him to meet an opponent powerful enough to last more than a couple of minutes against him. Raoh's the one who gets the character development. Raoh's the one who'll have to re-examine his principles on being taught that kindness and compassion aren't the weaknesses he'd always thought, although you'll be startled by the conclusion he reaches.
Kenshiro, in contrast, just wanders around having random encounters until it's time to face his big brother. It thus makes sense that when they finally meet, the tables have been turned and there's nothing Raoh can do except flee and make plans for what to do next. Your hero must always be the one who struggles and Raoh becomes, effectively, the evil hero.
I like what this fourth chunk is doing. The way it twists itself around to become the story of Raoh isn't what I'd expected. I just wish it could have gone a bit faster, that's all. They've hit the hundred episode mark and that's an awful lot of, basically, the same thing over and over again. It's repetitive. They've done fantastically at keeping it alive and fresh, but it's still repetitive. Kenshiro kills unimaginable post-holocaust bastards who were oppressing people. That's the formula. There's some interesting character work, but it's at its best when furthest from the default setting of stoic mega-muscled death machines. (They're human, but they're death machines.)
It's also slow. You could turn this chunk into a movie. You'd have to be a bit clever in how you adapted it and you'd probably have to tuck and tweak, but it certainly didn't need 27 episodes. Admittedly I admire the way the show knows its pace and is willing to let something build and build, but that doesn't explain the recaps and flashback episodes. I'm also not wild about their use of a certain female character, who's an idealised plot trophy rather than a person, but it's not as if the show hasn't had more dynamic female characters in the past.
I also haven't mentioned the new opening and closing themes, which aren't fit to shine the shoes of the Crystal King songs in episodes 1-82 ("Ai wo Torimodose" and "Yuria...Forever"). They're okay, but they're skippable. The theme for Fist of the North Star 2 made me laugh, though.
In summary, the show's still good. It's slow-moving and you can see they can't keep this up forever, but even a hundred episodes in, they're still finding new angles on the formula. For example, I like their twisting of democracy (episode 91) and the bath-crazed tyrant in the town where everyone's dying of thirst (episode 83). Children defending Fudo from Raoh is also one of the show's more striking images. Kenshiro still has his occasional taste for poetic justice, which is amusing, and he even gets blinded for a few episodes. Occasionally I'd wish that the show would hurry up, but I still admire it.