Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rurouni Kenshin

I thought I'd talk about an older series today. Rurouni Kenshin was one of the first anime series I ever watched and it still ranks up there among my favorites.  Actually I watched the two Samurai X OVAs:  Trust and Betrayal before I watched Rurouni Kenshin.  It turned out I was glad I watched them in that order.  It was nice to have some background on Himura Kenshin's past and subsequent actions, even if that past was actually created after the series itself. 

Himura Kenshin was a world-class swordsman who left his swordsmanship apprentice as a young man to try to help people in the chaos at the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate.  He became an exceptional assassin known as Hitokiri Battousai who worked for the rebels who overthrew the shogunate and eventually created a new government at the beginning of the Meiji era.  During this time he accidentally killed the woman he loved, Yukishiro Tomoe.  He swore that after the shogunate was defeated he would never kill again.  He became a "rurouni"  - a wandering swordsman.

This early part of Kenshin's story is covered in Trust and Betrayal.  Kenshin and Tomoe are shown in this picture.   The Rurouni Kenshin anime series begins with Kenshin wandering through Tokyo and meeting Kamiya Kaoru, the surviving daughter of the head of a dojo who has taken up her father's sword style and kept the dojo running.  Kaoru takes him in and Kenshin stops wandering.  They pick up a few other main characters, including a boy named Miyoujin Yahiko and a man who hates the Meiji government named Sagara Sanosuke.  These four, Kenshin, Kaoru, Sano and Yahiko, are the core of the series characters and they are shown in the first picture.  They spend the series trying to help people in need.

The series is broken up into a few story arcs, with random episodes of helping people interspersed in between the arcs.  The biggest story arc revolves around a massive plot to overthrow the government that is put into motion by the assassin who took over when Kenshin resigned as assassin at the start of the Meiji era.  That assassin's name is Shishio Makoto and he has pulled together a lot of bad guys to build his own government on the basis of survival of the fittest.  Shishio happens to enjoy killing, so his superiors became afraid and tried to kill him in multiple ways.  They failed.  Shishio decided he would rule Japan and set out for some payback.  The government asks Kenshin to stop Shishio and his minions.  A very large part of the series is the story of what Kenshin-tachi must go through to stop Shishio-tachi

Since Kenshin vowed not to kill again, he still carries a sword, but it's a sakabato - a reversed-blade sword with the cutting edge on the sword's inner curve, so that the sword cannot be used to kill.  Besides his amazing skill with a sword, Kenshin has super-fast reflexes and is extremely strong, despite being small and frail looking.  Plus he has the support of his friends and these things all work to keep him going and allow him to come out on top in his battles.  

A few other story arcs in the series include: 1) the meeting with Sano and Sano's past; 2) the rescue of a female doctor named Takani Megumi from a ring of opium producers and suppliers who are protected by a shinobi group called the Oniwaban and led by Shinomori Aoshi.  Aoshi shows up again in the Shishio arc, etc; 3) stopping some renegade samurai out to create a kingdom and taking advantage a small boy named Yutaro; 4) stopping a group of Christians led by a man named Amakusa Shougo who has the same sword style as Kenshin's: and 5) stopping some foreigners from finding the secret of immortality.  

One of the things I like about this series is that none of the good guys die.  Since this was one of the first anime series I watched, I mistakenly assumed that was true for anime and only later found out how wrong I was.  I also watched this one dubbed when I first watched it.  Luckily, I bought all 94 episodes on DVD so when I came over from the dark side and began watching subtitled anime, I could go back and watch it subtitled.  I still hear both Kenshin's voices when I watch it now.  This series is worth watching.  The music is outstanding. The characters have relationships and growth and the plot is interesting.   I do recommend it, even if it is 94 episodes.

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