Rurouni Kenshin: A Perfectly Balanced Blend of Nuanced Antagonists and Moral Conflicts


R E V I E W – A N I M E


Shadique Mahbub Islam


The 90s is a time of nostalgia for us all. The decade presented us with a good number of great anime that aged like fine wine. Rurouni Kenshin, aka Samurai X, based on Nobuhiro Watsuki’s manga series of the same name, definitely belongs to this club of timeless anime. 

Samurai X is a well known name thanks to BTV. BTV began airing this series in the late 90s, when we still lived in an era where watching TV was a more common form of entertainment for everyone. Well, back then, most of us watched the series for its detailed action scenes and vibrant characters. However, the series has a deep, philosophical side as well, which is unfortunately scarce in the anime universe these days. Samurai X possibly has one of most detailed character developments and moral conflict arcs in all of anime. Mangaka Nobuhiro Watsuki put his soul into this manga, and needless to say, it totally paid off.

Set a decade after the Meiji restoration, a bloody revolution in 1868 which was followed by the unification of Japan under Emperor Meiji, the Japan of Rurouni Kenshin is seen to be one undergoing rapid industrialisation and westernisation following a long period of isolation from the world. 

The protagonist of Rurouni Kenshin is Kenshin Himura — a  former assassin known as Hitokiri Battousai, who has now vowed never to kill again in order to atone for his sins. He allies himself with a swordplay trainer Kaoru Kamiya, the orphaned son of a samurai Yahiko Myujin, former fighter-for-hire Sanosuke Sagara, and a brilliant physician named Megumi Takani.

One of the traits that really sets the series apart from generic action animes is the depiction of the antagonists. Rurouni Kenshin has some of the most determined, versatile, and unforgiving antagonists in anime. And, I daresay, such nuanced antagonists in modern anime are a rarity.

The principal antagonist of the series is Makoto Shishio. A fellow imperialist disillusioned by corruption and driven by revenge, Shishio has vowed to destroy the Meiji government. Shishio’s band has characters like Sojiro, a young warrior whose smile never fades; Usui, a sadistic blind assassin; Anji, a Buddhist monk turned destroyer prosecuted for his religion; and Yumi, Shishio’s love interest who has sacrificed everything for the latter’s success.

Over the course of the series, Kenshin befriends two of his former adversaries — Hajime Saito and Aoshi Shinomori. Saito and Aoshi are, without a trace of doubt, two of the most decorated antihero characters out there.

Hajime Saito was one of the commanders of Shinsengumi, the imperialists’ primary opponents. Saito is an able swordsman who lives by the code – “Slay Evil Immediately”. Aoshi Shinomori was the leader of Oniwaban ninja whose sole obsession is to defeat Kenshin, the legendary imperialist, to redeem the honor of his fallen comrades. 

Perhaps the most striking feature of the series is the detailed action sequences that are finely, almost flawlessly, entwined in the storyline. Watsuki has based the series on two major themes — power and responsibility. Throughout the series, we see Kenshin and his compatriots fulfilling their responsibilities despite facing seemingly gigantic obstacles. Kenshin’s vow of not killing is detested by fellow warriors and is challenged many times. However, Kenshin adheres to his vow and carries out his mission at the same time. This attitude is rarely seen in modern anime where childish talks of pacifism prevail. 

Rurouni Kenshin has such powerful dialogue that the viewers are propelled into its world with the aid of little more than these lines alone. The plot is masterfully knitted with the characters’ perspectives of life and reasoning. There is not one shred of OTT in the whole series. Rurouni Kenshin plays with the viewer with a soothing, minimalistic approach and unfailingly captures their heart. The subtle presence of humane empathy has enriched the philosophy of the anime. Watsuki’s devotion to character development has brought out the finest of specimens. 

The heart-warming romance between Kenshin and Kaoru will melt your heart. The chemistry, bond, and trust among the residents of Kamiya Dojo will be a refreshing change after all the clichéd, mindless action animes that we see these days. The conflicting personas of Sanosuke, Saito, Aoshi, and Anji evoke powerful emotions that nowadays we hardly ever feel across 2D screens. And the cheerful dialogues and comical moments are brimming with such playful energy that they are sure to make you laugh, making you want to consume them at times of despair.

The anime has a fine soundtrack. The background music is astoundingly crisp and melancholic — depending on the scene. The anime gets a bit boring after the Shishio arc; other than that, in my opinion, it is among the best animes ever produced in history when it comes to storytelling, character development, and brevity.

The series has a sequel movie named Requiem for Restoration Patriots, which is highly recommended for anyone who wants to experience the desperation that grips failed revolutionaries and avenging samurais.

The prequel OVA series, named Trust and Betrayal, deals with the warring period and is a must-watch for anyone who is interested in how an orphan boy named Shinta became a merciless killer called Battousai; how he got his cross-shaped scars across his cheek; and how the silent, remorseless manslayer became an amicable roaming warrior. It is to be noted that the OVA series has a completely different feel from the original bright ambience of the main series. It is bleak, melancholic, and dark.

Rurouni Kenshin lacks the glamour of new, highly modernised anime series. However, if you wish to watch this series to savour its innate art, you will certainly fall in love with it!

 

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