You’re already dead: On-site at the Fist of the North Star National Championships

By on May 9, 2017 at 1:00 pm
you are already dead hokuto no ken 750x400

「てめえらの血は何色だー!?」

[What kind of blood runs through your veins!?] – Rei

I spent the summer of 1998 at my grandmother’s house with my older cousin. Since he was older, and had a rough upbringing, he had a different perspective on things than I had. We did things most kids do during the summer, like playing ball in the street and riding bikes around town. Every night was a showdown in Street Fighter Alpha 2, Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr., or NBA Jam–except for Mondays and Thursdays. Those nights were three-hour channel-changing sessions, going back and forth between WWF Raw and WCW Nitro. Though the NWO was running rampant and Stone Cold held the WWF Championship, the storyline that hit me hardest was “The Streak.” I’m still not sure why I was so enamored with it, but there was something about Goldberg’s streak that kept my cousin and I glued to the television every Monday and Thursday night.

Released in 2005, Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star in English, often abbreviated as HnK) is an Arc System Works-developed fighter based on the iconic anime of the same name, famous for its speed, insane combos, instant kills, and loyalty to its source material. HnK is often categorized as “kusoge,” which literally means “shit game.” In regards to fighting games, this means the title is really broken, or of questionable quality. Though this game was never released outside of Japan in an official capacity, it was a popular import-only title overseas among kusoge fans, and 2D fighting game/anime enthusiasts in the mid to late 2000s. Despite its zany nature and reputation, this game was very popular in Japanese arcades, and enjoyed a period of competitive spotlight during the middle of the SBO Tougeki era. Since then, the Seikimatsubutoukai tournament series emerged as the HnK national tournament to succeed the late SBO Tougeki series. Thanks to Mr. Matsuda (Former SBO tournament director, and JP FGC Event Coordinator), K.I (Seikimatsubutoukai Tournament Organizer), and Twitch Japan’s influence, the foreign audience has also been able to enjoy the past several iterations of this awesome tournament. Given the reputation for being a fun spectator event, on March 19, 2017, I decided to check out the 6th annual Seikimatsubutoukai.

-The 6th Annual Seikimatsubutoukai-

The 6th annual Seikimatsubutoukai took place in what has come to be a highly important venue for the East Japan FGC: e-sports Square Akiba.

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Tucked away in the corner of Akihabara, this venue has emerged as one of the marquee event centers for fighting game-related events in Tokyo.

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With a large stage space in the front, and food and drinks available in the back, this venue is often used for console and arcade events alike.

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e-sports Square is also the home of the weekly Wednesday night Street Fighter V casual session for Tokyo players, “Fighters Crossover Akiba.”

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Like many Japanese fighting game community tournaments, events like this are specifically curated for the community and serve as a celebration for that scene.

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-Welcome to this Crazy Time-

The 6th annual Seikimatsubutoukai hosted 129 players from regions all over Japan, split into 43 3-player teams. There were several meaningful exchanges for competitive HnK players that occurred throughout this event to complement the typical zaniness that dribble combos, instant kills, and shenanigans HnK brings to this kind of stage. For reference, the instant kill system (a central element of HnK play) revolves around the star gauge underneath each player’s life bar. Different attacks take off different star counts under different conditions. When an opponent’s star gauge is depleted, they become vulnerable to a Fatal KO. These Fatal KOs can even be used in combos. Consider these concepts when you watch Eji face off against the opposing team anchor, Magician. In the final round, he makes a gambit at round start and converts in a classic HnK Fatal KO sequence. This win was to secure his team’s position in Top 8!

Given the format is 3 vs. 3 teams, players from a variety of arcades and regions are encouraged to make teams and compete. Something I always find cool about these tournaments is how people in the Japanese scene support one another. For example, check out this match from top 8 when Team Risky Edge went head-to-head with Team “Triple Alliance” (a reference to how the three players on the team represent three different regions in Japan). Players and friends from three different arcades in Japan got on stage behind the team to cheer on their players during their fight.

The important thing to understand about the nature of this game and tournament format (3-person teams, FT1 single-elimination) is that moments like these happen all day, throughout the tournament.

-The Time of Retribution-

Years ago when Kusoru came to North America and stunned the world by winning the first Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 tournament at Final Round, I remember reading a blog post that talked about the mindset of kusoge players in Japan. This post gave insight on the perspective of many top kusoge players, and how they are usually pleased when opponents defeat them, as they play more for love of the game as opposed to fighting with a fierce competitive mindset. At the time, given Kusoru’s demeanor and reactions, this made sense. However, we always have to wonder when it comes to blanket statements: do all kusoge players feel this way?

When we consider the high-impact moments of this tournament, we must first discuss a big cornerstone of the HnK community, K.I. Ever since K.I claimed victory over (SBO Tougeki 2006 champion) Kurenai no Buta at SBO Tougeki 2008, he has reigned supreme in the major competitions for HnK in Japan. He has not only won every Seikimatsubutoukai tournament since the inaugural event at SBO Tougeki 2012, but he is also the producer/TO of the event series. His main character is Rei, but he has been known to play the whole cast at a high level. His execution, combos, and game knowledge are said to be of the highest class. For this tournament, his teammates were J-King and Soratobuyousei. J-King is essentially K.I’s protege. Like his teacher, he also uses Rei, and in time, he too grew into a champion all his own. These two players have claimed 11 of the 13 major events for HnK since since SBO Tougeki 2008. Soratobuyousei, playing Juda, rounds out the squad as a top class player from East Japan. These three are responsible for  running, commentating, and participating in events at Nakano TRF, an independent arcade in Nakano, Tokyo that serves as a stronghold for East Japan HnK. Please consider that K.I has never lost this event, and he has partnered with J-King, who has wins on his own in addition to the four shared wins as K.I’s teammate. It goes without saying that team “Ultra Japan” was the hands down favorite to go all the way.

The reigning Seikimatsubutoukai champion, K.I
SBO Tougeki 2008 champion and the reigning Seikimatsubutoukai champion, K.I

The highest-impact match of the tournament occurred when Team Risky Edge came across Team Ultra Japan in the first round of top 8. Team Risky Edge consisted of Hotarukanchou (Kenshiro), KG (Toki), and Yuttori (Toki). Hotarukanchou and KG (a well known artist in the community) are skilled players but without big wins on their resumes, so this team was overlooked for the most part. Yuttori, however, finished on the 2nd place team at last year’s Seikimatsubutoukai, meaning he lost to K.I’s team. For a player like Yuttori, who has had success on the local and regional tournament scale, finishing 2nd place in the national tournament in the game you love must feel good. However, for him to come so close and not take it surely filled him with some feeling of regret.

The challenger, Yuttori
The challenger, Yuttori

With the teams announced, the players stood near the cabinets and discussed their orders. Shortly after, both teams send their vanguards: KG (Toki) vs. J-King (Rei). This game goes to the last round, but J-King makes a good air to air on some air pursuit by KG, and drives to the basket the way he is famous for.

Seeing his opportunity for payback after last year’s tournament, Yuttori steps up after KG’s defeat. After reducing J-King’s star count while winning in the first round (thereby, making him susceptible to an instant kill), Yuttori triumphs over one of the strongest HnK players with some good abare and air tech pursuit.

In an attempt to remove Yuttori and save K.I for anchor, Team Ultra Japan sent Soratobuyousei up next. Note how Yuttori ends the first round, successfully resetting him from the combo to take another star, reducing Soratobuyousei to 4 at the next round start. This comes into play once Soratobuyousei makes a bad combo drop and eats a counter hit jump-in from Yuttori. Soratobuyousei eats a mix-up in the corner on okizeme, giving Yuttori the chance to seal the game.

Finally, K.I steps to the machine. This is his tournament. This is his legacy. This is his game. He is Hokuto no Ken.

After a dominant first round by K.I, however, Yuttori makes a good confirm in the second round and pushes his execution (and the clock) to the limit. Note K.I’s focus during the end of the second round when Yuttori attempts a move similar to what he did against Soratobuyousei in the previous game. The third round opens, and both players are flying around the screen fishing for something. K.I lands an air to air counter-hit confirm and attempts to bait on oki, but Yuttori doesn’t bite. After some good defensive movement and foresight from Yuttori, he intercepts K.I on the ground and confirms into a combo the Fist of the North Star scene will remember for a long time to come.

As the combo counter rises and the timer ticks down, reality begins to set in. Watch Team Ultra Japan’s expressions as the round comes to a close.

From J-King’s nervous laughter to Soratobuyousei hiding his face, everyone knows what is about to happen. When you watch K.I’s face as the announcer proceeds to lose his mind, do you think he is someone for whom this was simply a game? Does he look like someone who is “happy” to lose his crown? K.I then walked over to the commentator booth, and refused the microphone when it was offered to him. As he held his head in his hands, it became clear to me that though this was merely a tournament for many, for K.I, this was his life.

Just like Scott Hall at Starrcade 1998, Yuttori played spoiler to K.I’s streak on the biggest stage for the game.

The shot of the crowd at the end says it all: The streak was over. Just like Scott Hall stunned the world (and Goldberg) at Starrcade in 1998, Yuttori came in and knocked out the champ. The only question that remained was which team would play the role of Kevin Nash; Who would be the ones to claim the title of HnK champions given this huge upset?

-Decide the Destiny-

The grand finals were decided not long after Team Ultra Japan’s fall: Team Risky Edge versus Team “MicrotransactionTV.”

In classic SBO style, the championship teams are given an opportunity to address the crowd before they play.
In classic SBO style, the championship teams are given an opportunity to address the crowd before they play.

Team MicrotransactionTV consisted of Soddo (Judah), Yowachan (Toki), and Fukunaga (Toki). Fukunaga was on the championship team last year alongside J-King and K.I. Yowachan hailing from Nagoya, also has experience being on a championship team, having joined J-King and K.I on their run at the 3rd Seikimatsubutoukai. Soddo rounds out the team as Yuttori’s teammate from last year’s 2nd place team.

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Both teams send their first players up, and Fukunaga takes on KG in the Toki mirror. In the final round, KG mistimes a parry attempt, giving Fukunaga the opening he needed to remove him from the cabinet.

Yuttori then steps up to fight Fukunaga. In the first round, Fukunaga manages to not only dizzy Yuttori, but he takes full advantage of it and reduces his star count to one going into the second round. Despite Yuttori’s air to ground confirm at round start and the successful mix-up after, it only took one good call out from Fukunaga to end the game and send Yuttori packing.

With Team MicrotransactionTV on tournament point, Hotarukanchou steps up to the cabinet. After taking a moment to collect himself at the intro screen, he engages.

After two rounds of awesome baits, footsies, and abare, Hotarukanchou saves Team Risky Edge from an OCV. Fukunaga gets up, calling for Soddo to finish off Hotarukanchou. Soddo dominated the first round leaving Hotarukanchou with no stars. However, Hotarukanchou runs it back in the second round, showing off some nice pressure and confirms.

Note the exchange at the end of the round when Hotaru Kanchou dizzies Soddo. Just as Soddo did to him in the previous round, Hotaru Kanchou reduces his star count going into round three. This was the set-up for the now, iconic, third round clip that went viral.

After that jump back DP into instant kill, the crowd went nuts. Hotaru Kanchou, now riding the wave, gives (an actual) pop-off, and calls for the opposing anchor, Yowachan.

Yowachan had complete control of the first round, and managed to bring Hotaru Kanchou’s star count very low going into the second round. From the start of the second round, you can sense the desperation on Hotaru Kanchou’s part, showing some risky DPs and Dragon Kicks. Yowachan notes this and punishes him for his impatience to seal the tournament for Team MicrotransactionTV.

The 6th Seikimatsubutoukai results:

  1. Champion: 【MicrotransactionTV】 Fukunaga(TO)/ Soddo(JU)/ Yowachan(TO)
  2. Runner-up: 【Risky Edge】 Hotarukanchou(KE)/ KG(TO)/ Yuttori(TO)

-We Still Fight-

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For the first time in the Seikimatsubutoukai tournament series, Matsuda asked K.I to present the award for first place (since he had won the award every year before this). With a false smile, he begrudgingly hands the award to Team MicrotransactionTV.

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Whether it’s the Patriots in the 2003-2004 NFL season, Anderson Silva’s UFC record in the mid to late 2000s, Justin Wong’s MvC2 run, Infiltration in SSF4AE: 2012, Sonic Fox in NRS titles, or Goldberg’s streak from 1997-1998, there is something incredibly alluring about major eras of dominance in sports and competitive gaming alike. As a fan, it doesn’t matter if you watch to see them win, or see someone else rise to take them down; you can’t deny the thrill of the spectacle.

I will never forget watching Starrcade 1998 at my friend’s house in the 4th grade. In a similar fashion, the HnK community will never forget this year’s tournament, which saw the fall of the two players who have utterly dominated the tournament scene for years. Fukunaga now has 2 consecutive years on a championship team, but we will have to wait until next year to see J-King and K.I return for their crown, hungry for revenge. Whether it’s tiddlywinks, soccer, checkers, or kusoge, if you compete, you are invested on some level. While the nuance and depth of that investment varies per person, recognize that even for fighting games like these, there are people who take the competition very seriously. If you can’t see the value people like that have for communities both in and outside of the FGC, well…

You're Already Dead

A fighting game player from New Orleans, LA, now living in Japan. A sports fan and arcade gaming enthusiast, find him in Mikado on Saturday nights!