© 1997 N. Watsuki/Shueisha, Fuji-TV, SPE Visual Works
Rurouni Kenshin: Wandering Samurai
Rurouni Kenshin is a 1997 TV series that has become quite popular in fansub circles over the past few years, and is also the most often requested title for me to review. While we'll pretend the whole Sony/Samurai X deal never happened, it's no wonder it was scooped up for commercial release here in North America. And luckily by AnimeWorks (aka Media Blasters), an anime distributor I have much respect for.
Rurouni Kenshin is based around a wandering samurai named Kenshin Himura. In the past, Kenshin had gained infamy as a feared swordsman Battousai the Manslayer, who fought without mercy and slew many. Since then, however, he has forsaken his violent ways and has come to revere life, so much so that he will not kill another. Kaoru Kimiya, assistant master of the Kamiya Katsushin style kendo school, is hunting Battousai, or at least who she thinks Battousai is. She encounters Kenshin in street at dusk and confronts him. Kenshin hastily convinces her that she is not the one he seeks, for in fact she seeks an imposter who has been using the Battousai name to gain infamy of his own. Suddenly, she hears a ruckus down the street and runs into the imposter Battousai. He turns out to be much more than she can handle, especially since she wields a wooden sword, and she narrowly escapes death when Kenshin saves her at the last minute. Kaoru is injured, though, and Kenshin returns her to her school and tends to her wounds. Thus, begins Kenshin's stay at the Kamiya Katsushin kendo school.
I originally had this series pictured as somewhat of a period piece; heavy on Japanese history and with all the charm of a samurai drama. What I wasn't expecting was the rather lighthearted and comical tone this series frequently takes on. Sure, there are confrontations and furious fight scenes, but those are more than balanced out by Kenshin's exaggerated facial expressions and frequent utterances of his inimitable "Oro?" catch-phrase.
Everything about Rurouni Kenshin points to a very character-oriented series. Much time is spent on very relaxed, almost whimsical moments, whether Kenshin cooking up breakfast or a visit in the city. There seem to be four main characters around which the series revolves. Kenshin and Kaoru are two, and the other two are Yahiko, a young street urchin turned swordsman-in-training, and Sanosuke (aka Zanza), a formidable opponent who fights for the sheer fun of it. To be honest, I can't really see just these four carrying the series for it's full run, and while there are several other supporting characters, I imagine a few more main ones will pop up later in the series.
Artistically, Rurouni Kenshin sports some decent visuals. The animation was on par with most anime TV series, but tended to be a little disappointing during the fight scenes (I'm no fan of still-shots and speed lines, mind you). The background music was quite well done, although some themes did get a little repetitive even after only four episodes. The only song I didn't really care for was the opening theme, as it was just a little too bouncy for my tastes. As for the dubbing, you can chock up another solid effort from AnimeWorks. Some of the minor characters were a little hokey (a southern bell waitress?), but it was very watchable on the whole. Die-hard fans may resent Kenshin's more masculine sounding voice in the dub (Kenshin was voiced by a female in the original), and while I do prefer Kenshin's Japanese voice, the English Kenshin comes across quite well.
This is definitely a series I look forward to seeing more of, but given the incredible length it will certainly be quite some time before a full review appears on the site. But even having digested only four episodes, I can safely recommend checking out Rurouni Kenshin.
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