Rurouni Kenshin Review: Abandoning a Violent Past
About a week and a half ago my family went on vacation to San Francisco, and at the time there was the Japan Film Festival in which a number of Japanese movies (both anime and live-action) were presented. Sadly, we were not there for very long so I only got to see movies on one of the days. However, we went to see two movies. The first one is the live-action adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin. While I have seen a few scattered episodes of the anime on Toonami long ago, the truth is that for the most part I haven’t seen much of any of this story, whether in anime or manga form. As such, I’m not that familiar with the original story (besides the basic idea that almost anyone with any awareness of the series already knows) so I could not judge how good this movie was in comparison to its previous forms. That said, however, I certainly enjoyed watching this film and though I may not be aware of how properly it adapted the source material, I feel that it was made into a very enjoyable movie regardless and one that definitely makes me more interested in reading the manga or watching the anime.
Rurouni Kenshin is a series that has long been known by the anime community, and as such many can probably assume the main idea of the story of the movie as well. For those who (like me) haven’t yet gotten into the series, however, Rurouni Kenshin is a story about a wandering samurai named Kenshin Himura. Kenshin was once known as the fearsome Hitokiri Battosai, a skilled and violent swordsman well known for his killing. However, Kenshin’s regret over the actions he was forced to take during this time have led him to abandon this road and instead pursue a more peaceful stance. Kenshin refuses to take a life because of the horrors he has seen and even caused himself, though the ambitions of a wealthy businessman named Takeda Kanryu lead to a number of violent incidents, drawing Kenshin back into a chaotic world in which he is forced to protect those close to him, even if this means he must resort to his old ways in order to do so. Another swordsman claiming to be the Battosai is also on the move, complicating things even further for Kenshin and those he meets.
The story may not be the most complex, though it is portrayed well and is kept interesting throughout. Though the story at its core is basically Kenshin attempting to stop the plans of a greedy villain, there are a number of elements that keep things entertaining throughout. As one would expect from an adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin, the action scenes are well-done and the fights are great to watch. Though I cannot say how they compare to the anime or manga, I felt the creators did a good job with the fights and the intensity was certainly there. Kenshin’s moral conflicts also play a big role in this movie as Kenshin thinks back to some of the things that happened during his time as the Battosai, and this adds more depth to the character that initially seems like either a cold killer or a relaxed wanderer.
The characters play a big role in shaping the story and obviously Kenshin is the main driving force as far as development goes. Kenshin has the most depth and growth throughout the movie and it’s interesting to see how his character responds to the situations that arise. Kenshin is a very respectable character and you can’t help but root for him because of his good nature and desire to avoid bloodshed in spite of his deadly abilities when fighting at his best. The other characters may not receive the same treatment as Kenshin in the movie, but they all play their roles well. Kaoru, Yahiko, and Sanosuke all make appearances in this movie and seeing as how those are some of the more important characters, I quickly recognized them despite not having watched/read through the story before. Kaoru serves as an interesting contrast to Kenshin in that she views sword fighting as something that brings about life and should be honored as she has not lived through deadly experiences, whereas Kenshin is aware of the harsh realities about the use of swords to kill and destroy life because he was the Battosai at one point. Saito Hajime, a swordsman who works with the police, also plays an important role. Saito repeatedly warns Kenshin that he cannot escape from the world of killing so easily and that his refusal to kill may be his (or his friends’) demise in the future, presenting another dilemma that tests Kenshin’s resolve even further as he goes about his journey.
One of the main things that makes Kenshin’s story stand out is the moral question that it presents. Kenshin’s greatest conflict comes from his desire to avoid killing, and while in many other Shounen action series it simply seems like this is because the protagonist is more of a goody two shoes, Rurouni Kenshin explores this area much more and instead makes it one of the strongest aspects of characterization for the protagonist. The movie (and I’m sure the series) emphasizes the tragedy that ensues from death and the reality that ending a life means shattering the lives of others close to those people, and this fact breaks Kenshin to the point where he cannot bear to kill as opposed to just being conveniently “too good” to murder. However, these ideals are certainly tested and while this part of the story may not play on them so strongly, it’s very possible that the later stages of the series do so, which brings up many questions. Can Kenshin continue to hold onto these ideals? Will sparing a life be the best way? Perhaps a better question is, will not killing someone end up being a bad choice in the end? As the movie only covers one arc, this idea does not dominate the story and Kenshin’s ideals are only tested to a certain extent, but it still presents an interesting idea and for all I know, this may very well become more relevant to the plot in the future. With more Kenshin movies being made, I might just find out how much this is explored in later arcs.
Having finished this movie, I can say that I’m definitely more interested in watching the anime and, even more so, reading the manga. As a fan of action series, I’m sure I can appreciate the fights that are presented in the anime and manga just as I did with this movie, and Kenshin’s development just makes me all the more interested in seeing how the full story is. This movie only seems to cover a small bit of the Rurouni Kenshin story and I certainly cannot wait to see what else the next movies and the other installments of this series have to offer. Overall, the Rurouni Kenshin movie receives an 8/10 from me. Even as a standalone movie I can say I enjoyed this quite a bit, but perhaps I might even appreciate it more after seeing the original series for myself. Either way, this was certainly quite a worthwhile watch and a good example of how live-action adaptations of anime and manga truly can be enjoyable.