Reviews of Rurouni Kenshin (1996) and related work

Rurouni Kenshin (1996Moving picture, 40 hours)

In 1878, a lone wanderer enters Tokyo. Though small and seemingly young, he is scarred and miraculously skilled with his gently curved sword. It has been forged edge-backwards, so the swordsman can uphold an oath never to kill. It unfolds that this man was once the battōsai, a legendary assassin from the revolution’s days of blood and fire, ten years in the past. One day, the wanderer is challenged by a man sufficiently cunning to bring that old persona to the surface. The assassin’s successor is about to conquer the nation, and so his quest for atonement grinds on.

Usually enemy-of-the-week action with largely static romantic situations, goofy in their domestic aspects. Some parts of this series and the larger franchise deepen into stories about the nature of warriors and the Meiji era.

Episodes 28 to 62 inclusive (“the Kyoto arc”) are outstanding work for its genre. Episode 63 and the rest of the series represent a return to the preceding enemy-of-the-week concept, and are not based on the original comic, which the adaptation was outrunning at that point. They are interesting only for some relevance to the earlier good stuff and the history of Christianity in Japan. The exception is the last episode (95), which was originally created to wrap things up after the Kyoto arc. It’s largely independent of the 63–94 interval, and more relevant. Some historical connections are noteworthy, such as Kawakami Gensai.

References here: Gosick (2011), “Yamadeloid” (2015), Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (2019).

moving picture animation Japanese production fiction series

Rurouni Kenshin: Requiem for the Ishin Patriots (1997Moving picture, 90 minutes)

A samurai in Yokohama has some ties to Kenshin and plans to overthrow the government.

Feature film. Roughly as flat as the last third of the TV series.

moving picture interquel animation Japanese production fiction

Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal (1999Moving picture, 120 minutes)

Kenshin’s childhood and some events of the Bakumatsu which ended the Tokugawa Shogunate. Knowledge of that history is helpful here. Probably the most obscure allusion is to the influence of the completely unseen Yoshida Shouin (“Master”) on Katsura Kondou’s ideology. You’ll do OK just knowing about the motives and relationship of Chōshū and the Shinsengumi, and the alleged plot to burn Kyoto.

Apart from some ugly use of processed live-action footage in episode 3, this is rock solid entertainment. The OVAs of the franchise are a much more gritty and realistic take on the story. That said, this OVA remains quite firmly in the realm of schlocky chanbara, albeit of the highest calibre.

moving picture prequel animation Japanese production fiction series

Rurouni Kenshin: Reflection (2001Moving picture, 83 minutes)

A summary of events, plus the next generation and the end of the saga, in a very concentrated format. Drama rather than action. Strictly for the initiated.

moving picture sequel animation Japanese production fiction series