In the period of time when Japan was undergoing its transition into the modern world (for you history buffs, this is after Commodore Perry's arrival in old Edo in the mid-1800s), the samurai was quickly becoming an obsolete piece of tradition that was hindering the new government's ability to solidify its power. Using the Hitokiri (lit: man-cutters - professional killers), and the conscript army, the government was able to put down the rebellious samurai once and for all.
However, one of those Hitokiri, the most powerful and deadly of the lot, the one named Battousai ... gained a conscience. The deeds he had justified in the name of the new order had cost him his soul, and he could no longer serve the government in his duty. He swore he would never kill again, so he became a rurounin, a masterless wanderer who would use his powers to protect, rather than kill.
In a time when law was not yet just, and the lawless were still strong, only he was there to protect the innocent from those who would take away what little freedom they had. And he used his real name: Himura Kenshin. Can Kenshin hold his word that he would never again kill? Or will the onslaught of new threats finally force him to become yet again the Hitokiri Battousai ... one who relishes the sheen of blood on his sword?
This has been one of the *hot* series in recent years, and it has reason to be popular. With such a heavy premise and storyline, one would think this were Ninja Scroll the TV series, but Rurouni Kenshin couldn't be further off that mark. Kenshin is just plain silly! Oro? When the action hits a lull, he is to be seen going into SD, or at least squished-face form quite often. This seems, frankly, wrong, until you put it into the context of the character and the series.
Kenshin is regaining his innocence. With each life he saves, or spares, he seems to gain a bit of himself back. He's able to live a relatively good life with the spirited girl Kaoru, and their growing collective of friends, like the wild-tempered, but trustworthy Sanosuke, and the plucky pickpocket Yahiko (who, yes, is initially annoying, but he has his moments). Almost every single one of these characters, as well as a goodly portion of others, has great characterization (and suitably tragic background), and many of the so-called bad guys are really would-be-heroes who just happen to be working for someone else. (Like the four underlings of Aoshi ...) You could be rooting for Kenshin to defeat a character in one episode, and then find yourself rooting for that very same character in the next.
Another thing this series has going for it is the plot, which, so far, has been pretty darn good for a "popular" series. Not epic, by any means, but with no blatantly obvious logic loss, except for a few battles (which no normal human should ever survive - but this IS anime). But what holds this together well is the drama and action, which are placed well together. The background music is sufficiently well-done, highlighting the mood when needed, and giving a very authentic-seeming historical sound to it. The way of life circa 1860-1880 seems well-presented, and you wish you knew more about Japanese history after watching this from a Westerner's perspective. And the animation ranges from decent to slightly above-average for a TV series. Not breathtaking, but certainly not bad.
About the only major gripe I have would be the theme songs. Frankly, besides the BGM, Rurouni Kenshin music is mostly terrible. "Heart of Sword" is good, but Judy and Mary's opening song "Sobakasu" is almost unbearable. Nowhere near, say, Tokyo Babylon, but bad, all the same. Later songs ("Fourth Avenue Cafe") are decent, though.
Plus the fact that every technique, no matter how ineffective or visually powerful, has to have a ponderously long name that's apparently supposed to mean something impressive. ("Hey, I've seen that technique before! It's Crane-Eating-a-Large-Marshmallow-Fist!") It's minor, but it gets silly fast.
Occasional, later in the series, the show does lapse into filler (as many shows of this length are wont to do), but overall, Rurouni Kenshin does remain an exciting, enjoyable watch. It's a lot of fun, and it appeals to action-lovers and shoujo fans alike, surprisingly enough. Maybe that's because it's more than a little like an 19th-century shounen version of Fushigi Yuugi, intensely character-driven as this is. Kenshin himself proves to be actually one of the more memorable characters of the last few years of TV shows, with his motivations, and the conflict always present between the truly human Himura Kenshin and his other self, Hitokiri Battousai.
It's a good thing Media Blasters picked this series up ... Sony's old Region 2 trailers for Samurai X ("Sayanora, samarai!!!") are at once the most sickeningly godawful and inadvertently hilarious excuses for dubbed anime ever thought up in the West.
Action-filled, entertaining series that's a sure hit. Highly recommended. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: Yet another series best left for teens and older here in the States. Despite the sometimes utterly childish nature of the show, the violent action sequences (and gruesome flashbacks to Kenshin's past as Battousai), as well as reference to adult themes is not something parents would want to subject to younger children. Teens and over is the rule for this one - but it's a fun show for those mature enough to appreciate it.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub; R1 DVD
Review Status: Partial (45/95)
Rurouni Kenshin © 1997 Watsuki Nobuhiro / Shueisha / Fuji TV / SPE Visual Works
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