Friday, April 19, 2013

Some rant and comment on Rurouni Kenshin

As the title indicates, I'm just using the space to vent some of my frustration after revisiting Rurouni Kenshin (the anime and the manga) for the Nth time. Where is my Jinchuu arc anime?! And better yet....where is my faithful remake?! With RK's 15th anniversary in 2011, I was hoping to finally receive the news I had been waiting for, but what I got was a bunch of side projects that accomplished little more than bringing about another wave of nostalgia that reminded me just how remarkable the series is – and the grim reality that we probably won't see a reboot anytime soon. It's disappointing. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful that the industry still remembers this wonderful story and is showing some effort in preserving the public interest, but with so much that could be and should be done for this franchise, I am simply not satisfied with the result. 

I am a passionate RK fan and has been for almost 10 years. This is one of the first series I've watched after being introduced to anime, and curiously, my love for the story and the characters only grew deeper and deeper with each revisit. The TV series has 95 episodes; the first 60 episodes follow the manga faithfully, but the last 35 episodes are fillers due to the fact the last arc (Jinchuu arc) of the manga wasn't finished when the anime was in production. Well, this is a pretty big deal given the length and significance of the last arc – it spans roughly 100 chapters, and the entire manga is only 255 chapters in length. The Jinchuu arc explores the titular character Himura Kenshin on a profound level, connecting his past to the present, and thus bringing everything full circle. Perhaps to compensate for the lack of closure in anime format, two OVAs were produced after the manga concluded. The first OVA (Tsuioku Hen - Trust and Betrayal) details Kenshin's life amidst the revolution as the feared Battousai and more specifically, his encounter and ensuing relationship with Tomoe that ultimately ended in tragedy. It's told beautifully – poetic in narrative and in style. The second OVA (Seisohen - Reflection) recounts the manga story with a self-invented ending for the MCs. Adopting the same art style and atmosphere as the first OVA, it leads to an conclusion that's overbearing and simply too heartbreaking to accept – this is another reason why I want the last arc adapted, to see Kenshin getting the happy ending he deserves. Now, I want to talk about Himura Kenshin, the titular character.  

From all these years of being an anime fan, I've never come across a more sympathetic character than Kenshin. Similarly, I've never come across a character who's been through more pain and suffering than Kenshin. I guess that's not exactly a fair statement to make since pain isn't something that can be quantified. It's a feeling too subjective to measure. But frankly, there is no character whose predicament hit me as hard as Kenshin's did, and whose strength inspired my despite so. My heart went out for him; even his fortitude didn't come through without equal amount of sadness to carry it. He takes pacifist ideals to such extremes not because he's ignorant of the evils in the world, but because he understands loss and despair better than anyone else. When he's introduced in the beginning of the story, Kenshin appears to be a man with a gentle temperament, it's easy to mistake him as an easy target to take advantage of with his meek and amicable personality. But eventually we see that his actions are coloured by a deep wisdom that almost contradict his assumed simplicity. He's a pacifist but was also once the most feared assassin in the era of revolution, killing hundreds seemingly without remorse. With so much complexity and emotional nuances, Kenshin is a character worth exploring. Orphaned and sold to slave traders at a young age, his childhood was full of insecurities and grim circumstances. When the bandits attacked the slave traders caravan, he watched in horror as his companions who shielded him out of love were brutally murdered. To my surprise, he didn't wail and panic like you would expect of a child his age, but instead went out of his way to burry all the corpses, including those of slave traders as well as the bandits. Even as a child, he had a heart big enough to carry an unbelievable amount of pain and a rare mentality to treat all human life as equal. The sword-master Seijuro saw the untainted kindness in the young soul and adopted him as his pupil. During the revolution, driven by the belief that violence is inevitable to bring about peace in a chaotic time, Kenshin willed himself into a ruthless assassin whose name made people's blood run cold. But he paid a heavy price for the radical justice he believed in – psychologically and emotionally damaged, there wasn't a single moment gone by that he didn't engage in a battle with himself. Meeting Tomoe is a turning point in his life, she showed him a simple kind of happiness that he never knew existed and he vowed to protect it at any cost, but fate had unexpected plans for him. Tomoe was his salvation but also his deepest and most brutal scar, quite literally in a way, that played a big part in shaping his pacifist attitude. Knowing his past, we can understand why Kenshin is so insistent on shouldering the burdens himself without involving those he care about – there is no one more afraid of loss because he's a man who already lost too much. Kenshin's story is about finding the meaning of life and how to make peace with one's darkest memories. It's so very rare in anime where we are granted such intimate looks into a character's past, present and future – we develop an understanding of his whole being, not just a snapshot of him.

As for the other characters in the cast, I think they all more or less became quite special in relation to Kenshin. They are not exactly unique as far as Shonen stereotypes are concerned. But their roles developed and unfolded with more pathos than it is possible in most series containing parallel functions, largely owning to how effective Kenshin's character is. Take Kaoru for instance, she's a headstrong high-spirited girl who's righteous and kind – in other words, doesn't exactly scream originality – but she's a much needed presence in Kenshin's life marked by self-blaming, serving as his anchor and his will to live. When it comes down to it, the dynamic works out extremely well and it is one of the very best I've seen of any anime relationship. 

I have said this many times, hero syndrome is not an element I'm too fond of in a character, but I think I should clarify. It's not so much I don't like heros, but in my opinion many anime characters who preach heroism don't possess the depth or credential to do so. Even heroes need to earn the right to be heroes. I suppose shallow characterization is fitting in some series where the focus is inspiring a sheer thrill and momentary high, but with a show like Rurouni Kenshin that seeks to connect the audience on a deep level, justification is needed for a character to be believable. 

Well, I feel much better getting that off my chest. My hope for a remake (or an adaption of the Jinchuu arc) is not completely dead. The live action movie certainly made a lot of noise and successfully aroused enough interest to warrant a sequel, so maybe someday an anime studio will find another anime incarnation worth the investment. If you haven't seen/read Rurouni Kenshin, what exactly are you waiting for? =) 


  1. I actually stopped watching briefly before the Jinchuu arc and a lot of the latter half of the show, but I did enjoy it when it was on, but I felt it often fell into the typical 90s show structure: 15 minutes of dialogue, the last 5 minutes of action.

    And i mean dont get me wrong. People STILL do that today and sometimes it works depending on the story, but it gets tired fast :/ And before I ened, there ARE a number of episodes where the action's fairly consistent, but they're few and far between. And though I'm not an action junkie...for a show about (not) killing people, I always felt like something was..."off" if that makes ANY sense.

    Anyways, good rant/post :)ill try to check back

    1. Thank you for the comment! =)

      Well, they never really animated the Jinchuu arc, which is a shame. The entire last season in the anime was mediocre. I think the humor was good while it lasted it, but the plot didn't build up to anything substantial. It's surprising they managed to pull off 35 episodes of non-canon.

      "15 minutes of dialogue, the last 5 minutes of action" do you mean the Kyoto-Arc? It didn't feel that way in the manga at least, but for anime they had budget constraint, so I guess the dialogue/action divide was more apparent with relatively static animaton comparing to today's standard. Studio Gallop isn't really the best studio when it comes to animating fights, the Trust & Betrayal OVA was masterfully done, but that's by DEEN and made at a later time. This brings me back to the point that RK needs a faithful remake of the manga, beginning to end, with upgraded animation and preferably no fillers.

      Hmm, I think the "pacifist" message of the show goes deeper than skin and it's executed better in RK than probably any other show I've seen. Normally I'm not too keen on the idea either because there is rarely any in depth exploration beyond a character's shallow pacifist stance. I mean it's not very believable for a character to just love peace if the world they inhabit is corrupted, they need to have something more solid to support their belief. I suggest reading the manga and picking up the OVA (if you haven't already), they do well to shed light on Kenshin's past (the origin of his cross-shaped scar for instance) and why he chose the path he did.

  2. My first exposure to Kenshin was through the OVA's, and they were the second set of anime DVD's I bought (after Evangelion) because I loved the story so much. :) I was actually kind of shocked when I started watching the anime because the mood of the anime is so different from the mood of the OVA's (as well as the colors...neon hair!), and honestly, I still prefer the OVA's to this day. I stopped watching the anime after Shishio was killed off (and they made that visit to Tomoe's grave--loved that!), so I can't speak for the rest of the episodes, but I felt like the OVA's captured Kenshin's pain and his struggles better than the anime did. I quite liked the ending of Reflection, because while sad, it was a fitting way to end and I would like to believe he was happy to have finally found his peace with himself and all that he had tried to do in order to atone for his sins.

    And I may be crazy/weird, but I actually loved Kenshin as the Hitokiri Battousai and the entire time I watched the anime I kept fuming at Kaoru for stopping him from reverting back to his old badass (though tortured) self xD. I think this is because what I loved most about Kenshin was that he had no misgivings about what he was doing and that he had such a realistic view about murdering people so that a greater good could be achieved. I loved his efficiency and his willingness to shoulder the crimes he committed all on his own because he knew it was his responsibility and that he wanted to do it, not just because someone told him to do it. I haven't read the manga at all...would you recommend it to someone who preferred the OVA's to the anime series? :)

    Thanks for your thoughts! This was a very good rant. :D

    1. Haha, I can only imagine how absurdly shocking it would be going into the TV series from the OVAs, which are so brutally realistic in comparison. For me is the other way around, I actually saw the OVAs last, after the manga.

      You stopped at a good spot because the rest is really non-canon, you won't get too much out of it save for a few laughs, hah. I know many people pick up the manga after the Kyoto-Arc in the anime, there is a reason for Tomoe's grave to be revealed at that exact moment, but the anime didn't dare to guide the plot in that direction with the manga incomplete at the time. Everything prior to that followed the manga pretty closely, so if you are saving on time, you can go straight to the last arc without revisiting all the chapters before.

      The first OVA is actually canon taken from the final manga arc. Basically, Tomoe's brother seeks out Kenshin for revenge, he had no choice but to disclose his past to his friends, so the OVA basically adapted the flashback chapters, with a couple minor changes. As for the style and overall tone, the TV series is definitely closer to the manga, though probably less slapsticky. I do believe the OVA captured Kenshin's past extremely well and I hold it in high regard! It's beautifully tragic.

      On the other hand, I don't dislike Reflection, but I guess coming from the Manga, I felt the OVA missed the point of Kenshin's post-Hitokiri life, the point the author was setting up for anyways. It wasn't just about atoning for his sins at the end, but discovering personal happiness through and despite his struggles. Before his fight with Shishio, all that time he thought happiness is something he doesn't deserve, his own life meant nothing to him and he could throw it away anytime for the sake of others. It's almost masochistic in away, the kind of defeatist mentality Reflection focused too much on. But in the canon, Kenshin eventually come to realize his life has values beyond redemption, and he had a responsibility to his own happiness, not just other's. This change in philosophy is further highlighted in the Jinchuu arc as he truly freed himself from the past, not in the sense he has completely rid of the Batousai in him – it'll always be part of who he is, but in the sense he made peace with it and is no longer burdened by its weight. I guess what I'm arguing is the Kenshin from the OVA appeared to never have gone through that self-introspecting process....he continued to be haunted by his guilt, unable to move on until death came for him. The only thing Kenshin managed to accomplish in the OVA was allowing Kaoru to share his pain, which I think is too narrow a focus for someone with so much insight and wisdom. Not to mention he put the repentance business before his family and his own happiness. He was certainly freed at the end, but was he a happy man? Well, that wasn't the impression I got at least. totally got me started. xD..Anyways, you aren't the only one who like him as a Hitokiri, I know a ton of RK fans were pissed off at Kaoru for interfering LOL. I was a little ticked off myself, it was thrilling and gratifying to see him go all out in his badassery. After having seen RK so many times, I sort of understand him better as a character, and now I'm in love with both the Battousai persona and his usual dorky self. As for the manga, of course you should read it! I'll personally hunt you down if you don't lol. I'm teasing~ But really, it's a great manga that ties everything together really well, at least, I think it presents a complete picture of Kenshin's life with all nuances intact, unlike the TV series or the Reflection OVA.

    2. Thanks for your thoughtful reply! After seeing that the manga is 200+ chapters, I think I might take your advice and pick up where the Kyoto-arc ended.

      And I agree with you--Kenshin was such a tragic but tough guy in the OVA's. And yes, the part where he left his son and Kaoru to go atone for his sins was maddening! I mean, that's his SON! xD I'm trying to finish up the Kare Kano manga atm, but I think I'll put Kenshin on my list for after. I've also been forever trying to finish Reborn, but after the excrutiating first 50-60 chapters, I just can't seem to get past chapter 100...haha.

      And I'm glad that Kenshin got to be happy in the end. Lord knows he deserved it, even though he did he was so good at being a ruthless killer... :)

    3. lol, what's funny is in the manga, at the very end, the young Kenji bullies his dad..>.<..I was ready to give him a piece of my mind, no you do not do that to my crush (who's happily married and give birth to a mini-Kenshin, but he's still my crush..D=..)

      Oh god Kare Kano, I read that manga like ...I don't know 7 years ago, but I never finished it because not all the volumes were out! Maybe I should go back to it.
      And Reborn..>.< ain't the only one, I can't really get into it either for some reason, HxH is more up my alley. Though in all honesty, I prefer to watch Shonen than read, for obvious reasons, when the animation is good that is.