Rurouni Kenshin (1996) Review

Synopsis

Rurouni Kenshin recounts the adventures of Kenshin Himura, a wandering swordsman struggling to begin a new life in the Meiji era. Once a feared manslayer, Kenshin has taken up a reverse-blade sword and pledged to use it only to protect others.

Review

During the war 10 years ago, Kenshin Himura was known as Battousai the Manslayer, the most-feared swordsman of the revolution, personally responsible for taking countless lives as an assassin for the Emperor. After the Imperialists were defeated in the war against Tokugawa, Kenshin has been attempting to assimilate himself back into society. His enemies aren’t so willing to forget his violent deeds, however; and he is confronted at every turn by shadows from his past.

The section of the show leading up to the confrontation with Shishio, known as the Legend of Kyoto Arc, is the best-executed portion of the show, with sufficient action, plot twists, and new developments to maintain viewer interest.

Unfortunately, instead of ending on a high note, the show continues to linger on, feeling sometimes as if it is languishing on life support and no one has the gumption to pull the plug. The final 20-30% of the show feels somewhat unnecessary, and the writers rely more on simplistic action and corny humor to propel the story along. Despite this, there are some entertaining moments, but they are certainly diamonds in the rough.

The characters of the show are lovingly-crafted, displaying a healthy range of personalities. The main cast consists of a stubbornly-independent swordswoman, a wise-cracking brawler/slacker, a street urchin turned apprentice, a young shinobi, and a beautiful druggist. Over the course of 95 episodes, we certainly have ample opportunity to get to know and love them, but there did seem to be some inconsistencies in their behavior.

For instance, Kaoru’s sudden transformation from an assertive dojo master to a simpering, needy melodrama queen was a bit startling. Kenshin, on the other hand, almost seems to have split personalities throughout the entire series, morphing from legendary swordsman to bumbling homemaker in an unnerving fashion. As much as I liked aspects of Kenshin’s character, the dichotomy of his personality was a bit overplayed. It is understandable that he struggles between a need to use violence and a desire to never kill again, but there’s really no need to portray him as a socially-handicapped moron in order to make the point.

The enemies that our heroes must face also have the very consistent habit of turning from their evil deeds and joining the circle of friends. While this could be used convincingly in isolated instances, as the show wears on it becomes a predictable and unexciting plot device. It is more than a little doubtful that even the most black-hearted of individuals could be so thoroughly rehabilitated by a few words from a known killer, but that certainly doesn’t seem to discourage them.

Regardless of these flaws, the characters are still very distinctive and enjoyable to watch, and this is one of the few shows that contain memorable secondary characters and enemies as well.

The battle sequences and sword techniques are a large part of the show, so it’s fortunate that they are managed with such aplomb. For such a long-running series, most of the action sequences convey a sense of action and intensity, although some are certainly more well-animated than others.

I found some of the earliest fights to be the most skillfully done, containing more dynamic movement, fewer still frames, and, in some cases, more brutal action. Some of the later fights in particular tend to rely on Kenshin being beaten mercilessly until he finally finds the wherewithal to end the fight with a single blow. Another gripe I had was that the near-supernatural techniques used by Kenshin and others were often explained away in rather mundane terms, removing much of their mystery and appeal.

Although I’m no historical expert, the setting seemed convincing enough for the era, with a few obvious exaggerations and anachronisms. Throughout the animation is crisp and colorful, and the character designs are excellent. Some of the episodes feature varying levels of quality, with several looking particularly hideous, but this is not at all uncommon, especially among the longer-running shows.

The soundtrack quality was above-average, effectively blending the past and present into a moody and fitting musical score. The voice-work seemed to fit the characters well, but be warned that Kenshin’s speech patterns can cause fits of rage. His habit of appending “that it is” or “that it does” onto almost every phrase he utters is an attempt at the cuteness that is immensely frustrating.

Humor, action, and romance are all incorporated into Rurouni Kenshin’s style, and the show manages to deliver on all counts, although it doesn’t particularly excel at any of them. The action was no doubt the high point, and the warrior philosophies espoused by several of the show’s characters were often thought-provoking. The comedy was consistently humorous, but I found little of it to be truly laugh-out-loud funny. Romance and drama elements were mercifully infrequent, and although they were sometimes moving and inspirational, they typically tended towards melodrama. Kenshin’s personal conflicts marked both the most effective and most frequently-used dramatic theme.

Conclusion

Rurouni Kenshin has a variety of elements that appeal to a widespread audience, making it one of the best-loved anime series of all time, despite its flaws. Its colorful visuals, a compelling theme, and lovable characters will leave an impression on any anime fan. It may not become your new favorite, but its quality and longevity cannot be denied.

  • Audio: Some cheezy voice-acting. Good soundtrack.
  • Video: Average animation with some consistency problems
  • Plot: Good, but the last season was lacking
  • Style: Nice setting and good character designs
  • Characters: Large and likeable cast of characters
  • Violence: Moderate (some blood)
  • Language: Mild
  • Nudity: None
  • Genre: Action
  • Episodes: 95
  • Rating: 4.0 of 5

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