Japanese Title: Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku Romantan
Related: Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal (prequel – watch after main series)
Samurai X: Reflection (sequel)
Samurai X: The Motion Picture (side story)
Rurouni Kenshin: New Kyoto Arc (alternative version)
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 94 episodes + 1 OVA
- Enjoyable with some good humour.
- Takes a season to reach the main plot.
- Neutered from the manga.
- Poor understanding of physics, even with suspension of disbelief.
- Go-nowhere romance.
- Kenshin’s voice.
Rurouni Kenshin (or Samurai X in some places) was the first mange I ever read. I was visiting some friends in France and they had the full collection. I am ashamed to admit that I read too much Kenshin instead of spending time with my friends – Nicolas, Simon, je vous en prie de me pardoner. Needless to say, I found the manga a great read. I thought nothing of the sort with the anime.
Kenshin is a wandering samurai trying to distance himself from the world, but he can never escape his past as the Hitokiri Battousai, for someone in every town either wants to hire him or wants to kill him for the massacres he committed in the previous era. He goes largely unnoticed because of his unassuming nature and he carries a reverse-bladed sword. After an initial moment of disbelief that he is the legendary manslayer, dojo owner Kaoru takes him in, charmed by his goofiness and aid he leant her against a Battousai imposter. She has a ‘in love, but I will deny it at every turn’ relationship with him.
The first few episodes serve to introduce the main gang of Kenshin, Kaoru, and later, Sanosuke, a street fighter who lost his honour, and Yahiko, a street rat in need of disciple, which Kaoru provides. The subsequent episodes focus on minor conflicts – bandits, thugs, people after Kenshin, etc. You wouldn’t know that the main plot involves a presumed-dead warrior, successor to the Hitokiri Battousai name, Shishio. Surviving live immolation, he wears bandages at all times and must regularly cool himself, as his skin doesn’t ventilate anymore. You wouldn’t know of this main plot because it takes a season of meandering to reach him. It’s not as though he is some surprise revelation or the first season was about building him up. No, beyond the character introductions, the first season has no effect on the second – the third is non-canon filler.
This would be okay, if season one was good in its own right, but it’s too light hearted, feels too tailored for children, and void of meaningful tension. At one point, a group of villains run at a Gatling gun one at a time, only to die – too stupid to garner emotional investment. The season gives bits and pieces of relevance among filler plot of the week. The manga didn’t have half this nonsense, was darker, and faster reading washed weaker segments away. The writers also separated the manga’s best story and created Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal out of it (the quality is better in that segment, so I am actually thankful).
The action translated poorly from the manga as well. The special techniques already required suspension of disbelief, but to accept them in the anime approaches ignorance. Better animation to illustrate them would have helped. The one aspect that did translate was the reverse blade plot device; they make far too big a deal out of it here and on paper. Kenshin refuses to kill anymore and wields a katana with the blade on the inside to avoid killing in combat. Er…yeah…even the blunt side of a sword would kill with his speed and strength. He even makes a huge fuss over using a normal katana, at one point, as though he couldn’t simply turn it around – again, with his skill, that would impair him little.
Look, Kenshin is still a decent anime, above average – good humour – but with the source material they had to work with, this should have been much better.
Art – Low
Did they have one animator chained to desk animating three seasons with the time and budget for a single season? Stiff animation, lots of stuttering. Next time, take the money you wasted on season three and use it to animate the episodes that mattered. The sequel, prequel, and OVAs look far better, a high quality.
Sound – Medium
Voice work is equally average in either language, except Kenshin. You have a choice of poison: you can take his annoying Japanese voice or take his stupid speech mannerism in English. (“It is beautiful, that it is.” “You should not fight, that you should not.” “Please, cut my tongue out, would you, please.” [Alright, that last one is fake.]) Acting is better in the sequel, prequel, and OVAs as well.
Story – Medium
A manslayer wanders around to escape his past, until he meets a woman. Bits of story with lots of filler, then story, then filler.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: I rarely advocate for reading manga instead of watching the anime, but this is one instance where I insist. If you do want to watch, prepare to skip some episodes – the ones with pirates are useless – and don’t bother with season three.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)