This one is very near and dear to the homies heart. I love this anime. I think I have watched all the way through around ten or so times. The Rurouni Kenshin/ Samurai X OVAs are a cinematic masterpiece. It is also one of the few franchises that maintains enough consistency through all its forms to properly further the anime with the OVAs. The entire thing is so well done that it’s just awesome. And the story. Incredible. You know it’s a fantastic historical fiction when you start researching historical figures and events to see if you can find any real life basis for the character. So. Now I know a shit ton about The Meiji Restoration, The Bakamatsu, Perry and the Black Ships and the following boom in Modern Japanese Nation building. It’s a period drama as far as I am concerned. I mean a period drams combined with awesome action scenes and amazing characters.
We start out with a young Shinta who is starting out with a rotten lot in life. He is saved from death by women who protect him from bandits who come to pillage and plunder their caravan. These women, who have no relation to him, who have just only recently met him as they are slaves as well in this caravan as well, forfeit their lives to protect him. The repeatedly urge him to live as they are being slaughtered. They give up their lives for him for the mere reason that he is young. These women aren’t particularly old either. But to protect young, “Shinta”, as Kenshin was then known they throw themselves of marauders swords. This theme of sacrificing for the youth and laying down one’s life in the name of coming generations is the central theme in the narrative. Although too late to save the women, Hiko Seijuro, a master swordsman of the Hiten Mitsurugi Style enters the story and easily slays the entire band of marauders thus saving Shinta. He then proceeds to wish our young Shinta well and basically walks off along his merry way with a jug of sake strapped to his hand. We learn later that Hiko Seijuro is a hermit who doesn’t like to interfere in what he considers the natural cycle of trivial events in a inherently sad world. The next day however, our wandering master wonders back to the site of the battle somewhat contemplating the fate of Shinta. What he sees upon his return is a mass of graves all dug by Shinta. He is profoundly touched that the young boy even chose to dig graves for the bandits. This impresses upon Hiko Seijuro that the young boy is worthy of being trained in the ultimate style of swordsmanship. And so Shinta is trained in the way of Hiten Mitsurugi sword by wandering master, Hiko Seijuro. After learning this ultimate swordsmanship, Shinta, who was renamed Himura Kenshin by his master becomes extremely sympathetic to the events unfolding within Japan and joins in the fray distinguishing himself as the legendary Hitokiri Battousai. Basically, the man slayer who specializes in Battoujitsu; a super fast draw of the katana from the scabbard directed into an instantaneous offensive strike that kills opponents quickly and quietly. He is considered the greatest assassin of the revolution. After all of his personal experiences which are portrayed in the prequel OVAs and his experiences as a man slayer in the shadows of the revolution he becomes a pacifist and refuses to kill. He sees this as atonement for his sins. As a physical symbol of his pacifism and vow never to kill he carries a reverse blade sword which has the cutting edge facing the wielder and the dull edge facing the opponent. He vows to use his sword to protect those who are striving to make a life in the new world he helped create with his blood soaked sins. And that’s just the setup. It actually gets better from there.
He travels around Japan as a vagrant for the most part doing good deeds and protecting people. He takes his vow not to kill extremely seriously. At points it can be nerve racking but the coolest thing about his travels is exemplified in one of my favorite quotes. When a young women named Kamiya Kaoru tries to protect her dojo, which was left to her by her father, against a disgruntled former student who goes around murdering swordsmen using the name of Battousai the Manslayer, Kenshin helps her by defeating the man. Kaoru goes on a self righteous and simplistic rant about how swordsmanship is for the protection of people and then Kenshin steps in and drops this bomb of a quote…
“A sword is a weapon. The art of swordsmanship is learning how to kill. That is the truth. What Miss Kaoru says is sweet and innocent talk that only those whose hands have never been stained with the blood of men can believe. But, to tell you the truth, I much prefer Miss Kaoru’s sweet and innocent talk over the truth, indeed I do!”
I wish people would take the understanding when it comes to gun talk but that is another argument. Kenshin and Kaoru thereafter begin to cohabitate and pick up stray after stray until they create a little dysfunctional family setting. In that time Kenshin continues to help people and works to convince many people disillusioned with the Meiji Government that although things are not perfect, people should work to improve the situation without pulling citizens just trying to live out their lives back into the chaos, misery and destruction of war. He is able to keep this life up for a few story arcs but eventually Himura Kenshin has to face the demon of Battousai The Manslayer that remains in his heart. Kenshin basically also has split personality disorder or something. In times of true distress Battousai The Manslayer resurfaces and it’s all he can do to keep his vow not to kill. And not just that…The Meiji Government and the citizens of Japan still need the demon. They come calling for Battousai The Manslayer again and again but who they find is the kind hearted Himura Kenshin who has wishes to revert back to the kind hearted nature of the child named Shinta. A boy who would even did graves for bandits that killed the women who begged for his life to be spared.
Too many arcs and too many movies to go through but what I can say is that this narrative is so amazing. It’s messages are so profound and thoughtful. The story has this message of always working for a better future. It has a palpable empathy which creates rich characters. For instance, although Himura Kenshin and his main rival, Leader of the Third Squad of the Shinzengumi Saito Hajime, they respect each other as warriors fighting for what they believed in. When Saito Hajime meets Kenshin again in an attempt to recruit him for a Meiji Government mission, he laments that Kenshin has given up the sword. He says that the one thing that they shared was their creed “Slay Evil Immediately”. Although during the revolution evil was different for them they shared that creed to kill what they saw as the evil hurting their people. The same is true for Kenshin and his master. Hiko Seijuro urges Kenshin not to get involved in the revolution like a concerned father but Kenshin fights anyway. But later when Kenshin returns to his master requiring further training, Hiko grudgingly accepts him back in life a disappointed father who can’t help but to love his son. The story likewise deals with the meanings of people’s lives and their legacy. In the story, Kenshin means something to different people. In the movie dealing with his later life you see that his son sees Kenshin as pacifist weakling who neglects he and his mother Kamiya Kaoru for his duties as a Japanese statesman. He even goes so far as to take Hiko Seijuro as his role model. But like a good grandfather Hiko entertains the boys admiration and trains him in the basics of the Hiten Mitsurugi Style but refuses to train him in all of its ways. He sees the times as changing and realizes that the days of the swordsman are over. The story takes the time to fully develop characters and help the viewer to understand just who they are and why they believe as they do.
Now. The fights in Rurouni Kenshin are ridiculous. They are incredible. But as fantastic as the fights are in the anime. The best fights in the anime are Kenshin vs Saito, Kenshin vs. Soujirou (The Tenken), Kenshin vs Shishio and Kenshin vs Jinei Udou. These fights will blow your mind away. The action, the art and although many may be like WTF are you talking about. The fight dialogue in Rurouni Kenshin is one of the best things about the series. Having said that, I think the most cinematic fights are in the OVAs. They are more than masterful. They are sights to behold both as fans of animated artistry and action.
Great series that is considered a classic for too many obvious reasons to get into.