Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story made it’s debut in Shounen Jump back in April 1994, and ran through to early November 1999. It’s written and illustrated by Nobuhiro Watsuki who also created Gun Blaze West. Rurouni Kenshin was, and is still an extremely popular manga as there was nothing else really like it at the time of publication. It has since been adapted into various video games, anime series, OVA’s and now the Rurouni Kenshin Live Action Movie Trilogy which covers the basic story until the end of the Kyoto Arc. Produced and distributed world wide by Warner Brothers and Directed by Keishi Otomo, they have set the benchmark for future anime to live action adaptions. All three movies have a MA15+ rating, so this one isn’t so much for younger audiences.
The first movie opens with the battle of Toba Fushimi during the Boshin War, where one of the last desperate conflicts is taking place at the end of the Shogun Government’s rule. The skirmish is fast paced, brutal and very well choreographed throughout the mayhem. The last scene at the end of the battle, Saito confronts Kenshin who is tired, hagged and staggering on his feet. Kenshin refuses his challenge and in a symbolic gesture his sword is thrust into the ground as he abandons his life as an assassin (Hitokiri Battousai). Leaving his sword behind he disappears into the silent battlefield as snow blankets the bodies of fallen soldiers and samurai.
Jump forward 10 years to Tokyo where Kenshin now carries a back-bladed sword (Sakabatou) and is helping many people as he travels around Japan’s countryside. We are introduced to probably the most hated character in the entire series, the grotesque and creepy Takeda Kanryu who is using our favorite Doctor Takani Megumi to create a devastating new kind of Opium. Kenshin re-appears in Tokyo during a festival and runs into Kamiya Kaoru, the love interest (if you could call her that) of the story.
This all sets the scene for the battles to come and the important characters they meet throughout the movie including Yahiko, Sanosuke, Jinne and even Tae-Chan. Acrobatics & sword fights are filmed well with realistic high jumps, wall flips, and people getting flung around by Sano’s Zanbatou. There were a few things that could have been done better or just differently, one would be Saito’s finishing move in the Gatling gun scene, he kind of superman jumps/glides up into the air to take out a chandelier with his Gatotsu move. Saito is just such a cool character, and this was just so uncool. There were a few slow moments, but this first movie is establishing the main characters, their relationships and settings to anchor the rest of the movies together. And honestly, with several great fight scenes keeping you on your toes, the things I have gripes about are minimal. The duel against Jinne is spectacular, and is almost exactly as I remember it in the manga.
DVD Extras: The DVD includes some Trailers for the first movie, and a “Making Of” clip which runs for about 20 mins. I really enjoyed this because we get to see the actors off set and filming different takes and relaxing off scene. When you watch this they are still incredibly fast just practicing, and it also delves into their training time together at the studio.
RUROUNI KENSHIN: KYOTO INFERNO
Kenshin, Sano, Yahiko, Kaoru and Megumi have been living together peacefully at the Kamiya Kashim Dojo for a little while after the first movie. Their quiet life is thrown back into chaos again when Makoto Shishio appears. Previously a violent and unforgiving assassin during the war, the higher-ups decided he was no longer needed in the new era they were creating. Shishio now clad in bandages to hide his horrible burns, holds a powerful grudge on the ones who tried to kill him off, and he wants to make sure they suffer by completely obliterating the new government and taking Japan himself.
The government secretly calls on Kenshin for help, and after seeing the horrific suffering Shishio is putting innocent people through it is impossible for him not to intervene. He says his solemn goodbye to Kaoru, and leaves for Kyoto alone on a personal mission to defeat the new enemy.
Once there we see inside the Oniwabanshu and meet Misao and the clans Elder at their Inn, and we even get to see some of Shinomori Aoshi. After liberating a village from Shishios torment he engages in a duel with Soujiro, a very skilled young swordsman. Kenshin is defeated after a frenzied duel and his Sakabatou is broken in half. The search is on for a new blade, and soon Kaoru, Yahiko and Sano also venture to Kyoto to find Kenshin and be by his side. Once they are all reunited with the Police and Oniwabanshu, they prepare themselves for the onslaught from Shishios men who plan to burn Kyoto to the ground.
With everyone fighting together they flick back and fourth between areas to show how each group is faring, and this large scale battle is absolute mayhem. Saito smashes through enemies with his heavy blows, while Kenshin darts in and around while dodging attacks and striking multiple foes down. Yahiko and Kaoru get in some really good hits too and it goes to show how skilled she really is. Sano seems to get the short end of the stick and ends up in the river. There are huge impressive bonfires drawn on carriages as the enemy group swarm through Kyoto. The ending fades out on a cliffhanger as the Black Ships leave for Tokyo, and Kenshin is overboard in the ocean.
Once again, there is not much down time between fights which is how the manga traveled, so the characters backstories are kept pretty short and sweet so they don’t consume too much time. There is quite a bit covered in this movie and they fit it all in well.
DVD Extras: The DVD inc
RUROUNI KENSHIN: THE LEGEND ENDS
Kicking off straight after the second movie finishes, we get a glimpse back to when Kenshin was very young, a memory of first meeting his Sword Master Hiko Seijuro. He then wakes to find himself in a Forest, where he is surprised to see his master again after 15 years. It turns out, Hito found him washed up on the beach after a storm and carried him back to his home. Kenshin knows he cannot defeat Shishio as he is, and requests his master teach him the secret techniques of the Hiten Mitsurugi style. Hito agrees pretty quickly, and Kenshin gets pushed to the limits physically and emotionally searching within himself for what he is lacking. The intense pressure, skill and power of Hito makes Kenshin appear almost an amateur, he is overwhelming and by far the most powerful swordsman in the entire series (probably even Japan), yet still has Kenshins best interest in mind.
Once his heart is ready and training complete, he heads back to Kyoto in order to finish his business and continue on to Tokyo. He doesn’t get far before he must defend himself again, and Shinomori Aoshi of the Oniwabanshu is standing in his way. With his head clear and determination renewed, Kenshin puts Aoshi in his place after an impressive high speed duel, and makes his way back to Tokyo. They have changed this slightly from the original storyline, which I think was a good move and it hasn’t been tarnished by doing so either. We do miss out on some battles, but there are so many to keep us enthralled anyway they are not too important to the overall story.
The Black Ship is now docked in Tokyo, and Shishio is intimidating the Police to use Kenshin as a scapegoat. Once Kenshin returns, he gives himself up to the police and is carted away to be executed on the beach, which turns out to be an attack plan against Shishio. After the initial beach battle Kenshin and Sano head over to the Black Ship and start taking out his men. This whole section is filled with fantastic battle scenes, and when Kenshin challenges Soujiro again they weave in and out of the cluttered ship like an obstacle course. In the final battle Kenshin uses his new Technique to finish things off after a frantic 4 on 1 battle together with Sano, Saito and Aoshi against Shishio.
Back on shore they are greeted by Kaoru and Yahiko, and it’s the first time Kenshin has seen Kaoru since the Kyoto battle so he is quite relieved. The Tokyo Police salute to their efforts and heroism, and they are allowed to limp home a bit worse for wear. Back at the Dojo with healed wounds, Kenshin decides he has now found his forever home and wants to share it with Kaoru.
DVD Extras: The last DVD has the most extras, and we get to see more Making Of goodies, some Cast Interviews, Event Footage, Trailers and TV spots.
This is an incredibly detailed, well made, high quality production that is recognized around the world for their incredibly fast paced fight scenes which are beautifully executed, and lack of CG effects. Almost all stunts are performed by the actors themselves so they have very physical scenes to endure, and massive choreographed fights to learn. They have mostly stayed true to the original storyline, characters, sword techniques and even the fight scenes and settings. The producers and actors have respectfully represented the characters in their true, original form as best as they could, and it shows how much they themselves wanted to make this the best it could be. The costumes are well done, and you can pretty much tell at first glance who the characters are if you are familiar with the series. It is an amazing re-telling and a MUST for any Kenshin fan or someone who just loves a great action movie. I was almost surprised at times on how nostalgic it was even though I had never watched this trilogy before. There were one or two things that prevented this from being 5 Stars, mainly some of the side actors were a little too “drama schooly” and some sound effects were a bit over the top, but those qualms are minuscule compared to just how good these movies are. The Blue-Ray discs all include some nice extras, and the picture quality is rich and clear. I will certainly be watching them again!
Himura Kenshin was played wonderfully by Takeru Satoh, and he had the most physically demanding roll by far. Watching how much effort they put in behind the scenes it’s no wonder they could pull off such stunts. Emi Takei was very believable as Kamiya Kaoru as she had a strong will and passion for Kenshin to uphold his ‘no kill’ believes. Yoshuke Eguchi was a great choice for Saito Hajime, and I think Munetaka Aoki gave us an awesome Sagara Sanosuke.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.