[My thoughts on Rurouni Kenshin (anime/ manga)]
Rurouni Kenshin is one of the more popular products of the nineties and the first anime that I watched in Japanese. This stood out to me at the time, with its well-crafted characters, storyline and action, and I was so interested in it that I used to record the episodes and re-watch them while waiting for the next.
What I really love about Rurouni Kenshin is Kenshin himself. Kenshin is one of my favourite fictional characters because he’s a person of many contradictions and mysteries. At twenty-eight, his short stature and skinny limbs belie the lethal swordsmanship that he has mastered, and his polite and unassuming speech and mannerisms are in sharp contrast to his past as an infamous assassin. The incongruities in his personality are wonderfully explained by backstories that show the trauma he had endured (and meted out) during his time as a killer. His determination to atone for his sins and seek out a new way of living makes him, in every essence of the word, a hero.
Most of the plot revolves around Kenshin’s struggle, which is quite different compared to that of many other ‘shonen’ protagonists. Rather than acquire greater power and strength, what he wants is to protect the oath that he has taken – to not kill, but to use his sword to defend the weak. It’s a noble cause, no doubts there, but as the story shows, not easy to accomplish, given Kenshin’s history. His stint as the legendary assassin Battousai is slipped into the story in snippets, sufficiently sparse so as to not divert attention from the present-day storyline but also revealing enough that we can start putting some pieces together. His past has a strong hold on him, and as the plot progresses, Kenshin learns that that the swordsmanship that he once used to hurt, he can now use to help and heal. It’s a simple but profound understanding.
Another focal point of the plot is Kenshin’s developing romance with Kaoru, his eventual wife. There aren’t a whole lot of anime couples that I whole-heartedly ship but Kenshin and Kaoru are one of them. They have a certain harmony that is palpable from the beginning, and they complement each other perfectly. Kaoru is such a vibrant character, so full of energy and expression, and regardless of whether she’s celebrating or sulking in a corner, it’s all done with such honesty that it’s no wonder Kenshin is attracted to her.
I adore how clueless this couple was before they finally seemed to figure out their feelings and how they kept skirting around their feelings for each other especially in the first few arcs. Some of the funniest moments of the story, and also the most emotionally intense and heart-warming ones, stem from the relationship between Kenshin and Kaoru. It’s a fantastic example of a well-done romance.
Rurouni Kenshin also boasts many other colourful characters; their diverse personalities, appearance, habits and dialogues make them extremely memorable.
Makoto Shishio’s mummy wrappings are as embedded in my memory as Kenshin’s ‘oro’s. The characters were given room to grow and we got to see many sides of them, and treasure them for their complexity. Rurouni Kenshin was the first animation I watched that had such captivating characters. It was almost perfect.
While the manga doesn’t have any downsides, the anime does. The issue here is that it does not include the final and most important arc that directly deals with Kenshin’s dark history. This particular arc answers all the questions revolving around Kenshin and is pretty much the resolution that the entire story drives towards. It was partly adapted into an OVA (Trust and Betrayal), which is a very moving tragedy in its own way, but it does not capture the story in its entirety the way the manga does. This makes it difficult to fully grasp Kenshin’s character without reading the manga. Had they completed the anime series with that final arc, Rurouni Kenshin would have been a masterpiece.
I haven’t watched Rurouni Kenshin in a long while, but the story stays with me. I think every fan of fiction has a story or two that made them fall in love with narratives and every anime Otaku has an anime or two that shoved them into the wonder of Japanese animations. Rurouni Kenshin was mine. It wasn’t the one that made me fall in love with narratives but it did open my doors to the world of anime, and I haven’t looked back since.
(If you have any thoughts to share, do leave them here!)