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Yang Guo (Youka) is an orphaned martial arts student in 13th-century China. Seeking revenge for the death of his father whom he never knew, Yang studies under the Taoist Quan Zhen sect in Zhong Nan Mountain, and under crazy kung fu master Ou Yang Feng, nicknamed "Western Poison" for his oddity and lethal skills. On leaving the Taoist temple he meets another kung fu master with a temple on the mountain-Xiao Long Nü (Shoryujo). The beautiful heiress of the Gumu Bai school, she is compelled to accept him as a student by a friend's dying wish. The pair are so naïve that they don't realize the love which grows between them is forbidden until it's too late, and Xiao Long Nü leaves the mountain to get away from her feelings for Yang. But away from the mountain, the tide of history is moving. The Mongols have conquered the northern Chinese kingdom of Jin and their next target is the Southern Song empire. The region has many great martial artists who band together to fight the invaders, but in the end they will be defeated at the historic battle of Xiang Yang, and China will fall under Mongol rule.
The 1959 novel by Jin Yong (aka Louis Cha), Return of the Condor Heroes (Shendiao Xialu) on which the anime is based, is actually a sequel. The first book, Eagle-Shooting Heroes had a number of spin-offs of its own, including a 1994 live-action Chinese TV series and a live-action movie filmed by Wong Kar-wai as Ashes of Time (1994). A third novel followed. The anime series was a Japanese-Hong Kong coproduction, conceived partly in anticipation of import restrictions that would shut out the lucrative Chinese broadcast market to some "foreign" imports. Showing up on official records as a "coproduction" with a heavy Chinese staff presence, the show was thus deemed enough of a local production to evade any import restrictions, one of many such anime in the early 21st century as Japanese producers set their sights on the last and biggest market remaining, China itself. Two seasons were produced, but only the first season was dubbed into Japanese and shown on late-night Japanese satellite television, in such an obscure slot that it escaped the notice of all but the most scrupulous scrutineers of the anime magazines. The show didn't prove as successful in Japan as in mainland China (nor did it need to), and season two was only shown in Cantonese, with Mandarin subtitles. The first half (i.e., the Japanese half) was eventually released in the U.S. with English subtitles, although the U.S. version does not contain Japanese language tracks, only Cantonese and Mandarin ones. V