Battosai, the Manslayer. One of the most legendary names in anime. The story is a familiar, but touching one. A killer vows to atone for his sins by traveling and helping those in need. Rurouni Kenshin follows Kenshin Himura, a man trying to leave his past behind though it continues to follow him. He’s easily one of the most recognizable and popular characters in anime. Mostly due to his badass scar.
Taking place in a somewhat historically accurate Meiji era (1870’s) in Japan, the show follows Kenshin, a simple man trying to leave his murderous past behind, though he’s constantly finding himself in conflict. Kenshin is iconic for numerous reasons. The short, talented fighter is the semblance of an idyllic swordsman. He has mastered his craft, able to fall any foe, with a rage deep inside but wants nothing more than to live a life of peace. What boy would not be all about that? Plus, his X shaped scar is always a plus (pun). Trust me, I traveled these circles well in my youth. Aside from design aesthetics, Kenshin also carried a reverse blade sword, allowing him to fight without harming others, but able to kill if needed.
Rurouni Kenshin has had a 28 volume manga, 95 episode anime, 6 OVA’s (original video animation), and a trilogy of live action movies. Despite all this, I really don’t enjoy the series. On paper, it sounds enticing, no? But in execution, the pacing is just above a crawl, requiring someone with a black belt in patience to progress. The series is divided into three arcs, or seasons. Three separate times I tried to make my way through the series, with a long enough time between forcing a restart rather than a continuance. Every time I tried, I made it to the end of the first arc, quitting.
I can only speak of the first arc, but the show is slow, repetitive, and plodding. A few arcs were fun, but they became fewer and far between. I’ve heard it does improve, though I’ll never know. Plus, Sanosuke is a ridiculous character, wielding his zanbato. There’s a place for over the top designs like that, but here it was poorly placed.
The OVA’s were released here as movies. The first, Trust & Betrayal, details Kenshin’s time as Battosai, the origin of his scar, and his first love. The second, Reflection, takes place after the series. Kenshin had taken to wandering again, unable to find happiness with his wife and child, Kaoru and Kenji, weighed against the death he’s rot. A sad movie, denounced as non-canonical by series creator Nobuhiro Watsuki due to its ending. There was a movie mixed in there as well. All three were originally released under the moniker Samurai X (guess where they got that name from). These were all just as boring. I barely finished Trust & Betrayal, made it halfway through Reflection, and didn’t bother with the movie.
The show aired on Toonami for a time in 2003, but by then the anime ship had sailed in America, with Cartoon Network only showing the first two seasons. Maybe everyone else found it as slow as I did. Watsuki rebooted the series with a new manga. The first arc is called Restoration.
On paper, this is everything I love in a story, and character. Something was lost in translation, as the execution fails. Many have loved it, and I don’t begrudge them, this was too slow for me. There’s something to be said about a slow burn, but this feels like the candle blew out a few times.
Finish the anime? Think I too harsh or was I missing something? Comment below!
I would like his sword.