Rurouni Kenshin: Some arcs are better than others

A while back I reviewed the OVA Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku Romantan- Tsuiokuhen. It was fantastic. During my review I mentioned that I’d never seen the series it was a prequel of. Well, we’re going to correct that now. Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku Romantan is a series that ran from January 96 to September 98. Studio Gallop began work on it, but it’s last third, roughly speaking, was finished up by Studio Deen. So, is the series as well done as its prequel? Let’s examine it and find out.

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Story:

Himura Kenshin is a wanderer, also known as a rurouni. Since the Meiji era began, he’s sworn off of killing and dedicates his new reversed blade to protecting. During his travels, he comes across the Kamiya dojo and the current master, Kamiya Kaoru. He quickly becomes attached to the people around him but there are questions looming over the whole situation. Can he stop his days of wandering? Will his past as a man slayer haunt his new life? Can he truly live as a swordsman without killing?

Honestly, the biggest problem with the series is the final arc. Basically, magic Feng Shui masters and stupidity happens. A lesser but more prevalent issue is with the romance. While it has potential, it never really goes anywhere. It quickly stagnates and just gets brought up occasionally to remind you that that’s still the dynamic betwixt our leads. Because they couldn’t possibly advance it in any significant way with only ninety episodes left. That would be crazy. There are also occasional joke moments that don’t work.

That being said, the series is mostly pretty compelling. We see Kenshin take on another man slayer, cultists, the conspiracy version of freemasons and more. One thing I do really like about the conflicts in this series goes back to something Kenshin talks about. The stronger person, the winner, isn’t necessarily in the right. You have to make up your own mind and fight for what you believe. So, the antagonists tend to be significantly more nuanced than you normally get in a long action-oriented series. I will also say that the story arcs, as a whole, are nicely paced. They don’t drag on so that Kenshin can spend ten episodes or so yelling to become stronger. The last one aside, the arcs are also good at keeping you invested. There’s always, with the aforementioned exclusion, something interesting about the situation.

Characters:

the character cast is certainly one of the strong points for the series. Every one of the major cast has a development arc that they undergo. At a more basic level, they’re all multi-faceted and feel very human. Which is true for the vast majority of the characters in the series be they supporting character, major character or antagonist. And there are a lot of them, so that’s pretty impressive. I also like that, unlike a lot of long, action-oriented series, none of the characters are ever reduced to irrelevance because they aren’t among the strongest. There was clearly an effort put into making these characters not just dynamic but different.

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Art:

The artwork is mostly well done. There are some issues here and there. The last episode tries to incorporate either real footage taken with a very low quality camera or an art style designed to look like it. Either way, it doesn’t mesh well. A lot of the fights in the whole Feng Shui arc are pretty bad. There’s a lot of Feng Shui masters holding things in front of them while motion lines happen. Some of the other action sequences can be a bit repetitive. This series loves the whole spiel where two swordsmen rush one another, you see them standing still and then one falls. That being said, the character designs are nice and distinct. I do love that Kenshin wears the whole pink robe, if only because it reminds me of Master Splinter. Some of them do delve into the whole shounen cliché of trying way too hard to be strange, particularly with some of the antagonists, but they don’t look bad. The backgrounds and set designs clearly had hard work put into them and most action sequences are nicely done, even when they are similar.

Sound:

The cast is pretty good. Suzukaze Mayo, Ueda Yuji, Fujitani Miki, Tominaga Miina, Sakurai Tomo & Doi Mika all do a good job and there are really no weak performances in the series. The music is quite good as well.

Ho-yay:

There’s a little bit. One of the antagonistic characters is a homosexual Gent with romantic feelings for the guy he’s serving.

Final Thoughts:

That’s Rurouni Kenshin. It has some flaws but, as a whole, it’s a really good series. The characters have depth. The writing has a sense of nuance and it certainly provides that action that the kids are into these days. My final rating is going to be a solid 8/10. Next week I’m looking at the first series of the prison comedy Nanbaka.

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