Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal
This story tells of the time before Himura Kenshin arrived at the Kamiya dojo.
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Shinta who witnessed a horrible, senseless, vicious triple murder - the murder of the women who had taken care of him, falling to the swords of a band of robbers. Only the blade of a master swordsman, Hiko Seijuro, saved him from the same fate. Hiko brings up the boy, renaming him Kenshin, and teaches him the art of the blade, but as more foes fall to the boy's sword, Kenshin's soul becomes more and more tainted by the blood he spills.
It is the midst of the Meiji Revolution, and lives hang in the balance as a nation's ancient systems of privilege and rank are being overthrown in the span of a heartbeat. The end of the age of samurai draws nigh, and it is during this tumultuous age that young Kenshin comes of age in Kyoto, unaware of the fate that is to befall him.
This is the story of a young man who made the sky rain with blood - the story of a woman who would become his salvation - and the story of how Kenshin gets the scars, both physical and emotional, that he will carry until the day he dies.
I can't believe we haven't reviewed this sooner.
Those of you familiar with the TV series will *not* see silly "Oro-chan" bounce around the screen being whapped by daikon radishes. This isn't a story about the Kenshin you know now.
This is the story of Himura Kenshin before the scar, a story of the boy he used to be, the man he was forced to become, and the sins that he must forever atone for. And much like the character of Kenshin himself, this story is beautiful, tragic, and utterly breathtaking.
From the very first scene, the unseen camera highlights a Japan that is vibrant, mutable, violent, and savage, still lost somewhere in the transition between its storied past and its uncertain future. Into this arena of blood and survival is thrust the young Kenshin, and he must change his very being just to survive the horrors he endures on a daily basis. There is no denying that Kenshin is a killer, highly skilled and ruthless - the false "peace" of the time was a harbinger of the bloody civil war that would wrack Japan not too far in the future.
I could go on about the complexities of Kenshin's character, but I must also spare time for the vast array of other players who figure in the chain of events (mostly violent) that permeate this series. The most important, of course, is Tomoe, gentle, kind, and obviously holding secrets of her own. Tomoe and Kenshin do find happiness, a brief haven in the sea of blood surrounding them, but you know that their romance, like the falling cherry blossoms in spring, cannot last.
The story of Kenshin's past is told with a significantly different pace from that of the television series. Often deliberate and slow, it may put off some viewers, but it sets the mood and ambience quite well. Not all stories are meant to be told in a rapid-fire succession of stills. However, the animation for the swordfights is blindingly fast and well choreographed, and no punches are pulled - there are scenes in which people are literally ripped to shreds. You can easily contrast this with the poetic, idyllic scenes of Kenshin and Tomoe's life together, which are every bit as beautifully rendered. I tend to get the idea that if Kurosawa had commissioned an animated film with modern-day animation, it would turn out something like this - the visuals and storytelling style, and even the stylized, graphic nature of the violence lend a lot of the samurai films of old, though the time period is somewhat later.
If there was any strangely inappropriate music in the OAVs (as in the TV series), then I didn't notice it. The background music makes heavy use of traditional as well as modern instrumentation, and it fits the scenes well.
I could tell you about the host of historical characters and the rich "real-life" touches that lend credibility to this fictional show, but in the end, that doesn't really matter to the viewer as much as the story itself.
Powerful, evocative, saddening, and heavily charged, Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal is a series that goes far beyond its comic-book origins, testing the limits of not only its franchise, but the medium of original video animation as a storytelling device. And while it surpasses the original television series in many ways, it remains complementary and insightful to why Kenshin becomes the way he is. After all, nothing builds character quite so well as a stirring tragedy.
It doesn't get much more tragic or stirring than this.
Dramatic, tragic, and beautiful, this series is a sterling example of Japanese animation at its finest. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: NOT FOR CHILDREN. Several scenes of this series are extremely violent, with people being literally torn to shreds and otherwise put to the sword. The beginning and ending are highly violent, but the violence is integral to the plot and themes behind this series, and not once is it truly gratuitous. As it is, one could say that the violence is stylized much in the fashion of a Kurosawa film. There is also one tastefully handled sex scene, and brief nudity.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual
Review Status: Full (4/4)
Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal © 1999 Watsuki Nobuhiro / SPE Visual Works / Shueisha / Fuji TV
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