[Review] Rurouni Kenshin Live-Action (2012)

Rurouni Kenshin logo

Kenshin has always held a special place for me. It was one of the first major anime series that I actually went out and bought on DVD along with Escaflowne, and one the very first series that I read as a manga from start to finish. When I heard there was a live-action version coming out and saw the trailers for it, my fanboy side came out. Hard. Then Shin Kyoto Hen came out, instantly crushing all my hopes and dreams of good new Kenshin material. I finally sat down and saw the live-action Rurouni Kenshin movie. It can’t possibly end as badly as Shin Kyoto Hen did, right?

The story for Rurouni Kenshin mostly follows the first twenty or so episodes of the anime, with a couple of plotlines from later in the show sneaking their way in, while excluding other parts of the story, likely to save time. They also take some liberties in changing the order of events, and the character’s motivations around.

So for both the fans of the old Rurouni Kenshin and for newcomers alike, let’s recap the most important aspects of the story quickly without giving too much away for the sake of those who still care for spoilers to a story that originally came out in the ’90s.

We start with Kenshin fighting at the end of the war, right before the Meiji revolution. Then we cut to 10 years later, 10 years after the Meiji revolution came to full effect and the age of samurai was long over. Kenshin, a wandering swordsman with a reversed blade runs into Kamiya Kaoru, who mistakes him for the killer who tarnished her dojo’s name, Himura Battousai, which actually is the name Kenshin fought under during the war…

And this is where things get changed up.

The fake Battousai is in fact Jinei, who still uses his own fighting style, complete with Shin no Ippo. Also, he’s the main strength supporting the drug lord Takeda Kanryu, which leads us towards the doctor forced to create opium, Takani Megumi. In the meantime, we still have Hajime Saito investigating Kanryu, testing out Kenshin in the hopes of recruiting him in his fight against the drug lord. Oh, and we have Sagara Sanosuke walking around with a Zanbatto, and they actually give us part of the back story to Kenshin’s X-shaped scar.

Himura Kenshin and Sagara Sanosuke

It is outright incredible how much of the story they manage to cram into a 2 hour movie. What’s even more incredible is that there are a lot of hints to the excluded storylines of the first 20 episodes of the show in the background at an almost constant basis. I’m not going to give any of these away, if you’re a fan of the movie and you’re still on the fence I just want you to find all of them yourself. They even went as far as having a lot of the themes in the soundtrack fall in line with the original background music during certain scenes without outright mimicking it.

Not all of the changes and liberties taken with the franchise are agreeable for me though. It feels strange to leave out the Oniwabanshu when tackling Takani Megumi’s story, and Takeda Kanryu is not a strong enough villain to be threatening by himself. Kanryu, a self-important drug lord who only cared for power through money was a good contrast to Kenshin and Aoshi, a strong force not bound by material goals. Although they still try to put that contrast up in the movie, it’s not quite as strong without the presence of the Oniwabanshu.

Instead of Aoshi, we got a guy who I feel is best described as Dante from Devil May Cry worked into a Rurouni Kenshin version of him.

What’s most impressive about Rurouni Kenshin is how the anime characters are portrayed. All of Kenshin’s mannerisms, both the good-natured and goofy Kenshin outside of battle, as well as the dead serious and icy Kenshin when he’s fighting translate over very well in this movie. Almost every scene was a pleasure to see, just because you got to see that much more of Kenshin’s way of moving. Even to the point of his hair falling in front of his eyes, or the way his fingers would twitch at points when he hesitates to draw his sword.

Jinei and Kenshin

And it’s not just Kenshin who they got right either. Although I had my questions at first, Sagara Sanosuke just downright worked. And every bit that made me unsure early on was almost instantly forgiven when we get to see him fight a large group with his Zanbatto. Even Saito was exactly as I hoped him to be, although I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of “Aku, Soku, Zan.”

In a time where the west seems to have figured out how to correctly translate over comics to the big screen, it’s very good to see that the east seems to have a good idea of how to make their manga work as well. Especially with a manga that’s set in a historical setting while still drawing a lot from Marvel, and the X-Men in particular, in terms of character design.

With Shin Kyoto Hen, I wasn’t sure who I could recommend it to. Newcomers would end up being confused, and old fans would be enraged by it. The Rurouni Kenshin Live-Action movie could easily be recommended to both new and old audiences though. It starts at the beginning, offers enough new content, and dares to change things while still understanding how to keep it in line with Kenshin.

And you know a movie is good when you actually catch yourself hoping for a sequel hook at the end. Because if they make a movie like this with the Kyoto Arc, there’s not a single way my inner fanboy can ever calm down again until I see it.

Pros:

  •  It’s Kenshin
  •  Found a balance between Tsuioku-hen darkness and TV series comedy that works for live action
  • Great amount of details worked into it

Cons:

  • -Amount of storylines running alongside each other got a bit confusing at times
  •  Lack of Shinomori Aoshi and Oniwabanshu
  •  Yahiko, although he’s pretty accurate to the source material, but I hated him there too

You might also want to read my other Rurouni Kenshin related reviews:
Rurouni Kenshin: Shin Kyoto Hen
Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno
Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends

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7 thoughts on “[Review] Rurouni Kenshin Live-Action (2012)

  1. That a good review and I am glad that you point out the lack of Aoshi and the Oniwanbashu. Also I don’t know how you going to have Aoshi on the sequel( He has no reason to be there since his storyline was scrap from the movie). Another thing the fight between Kenshin and Saito was sooo lame and could have been better. The flashback of Kenshin getting the first scar was uneccesarya nd could have been used for the Jinchu movie instead. Still a good movie but after seeing it I realize there is not such thing as a perfect adaptation.

    • Yeah, it was far from perfect. Still, it was a much better take on the original story than I expected to see. Although it could be because Shin Kyoto Hen brought my expectations down a few notches.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. I saw the Shin Kyoto Hen Ova and it is not bad. What do you expect from an Ova of 45 mins each? At least they got everyone in it including Aoshi.

    • Click through to the link in the post and you’ll see what my problems with Shin Kyoto Hen were. I was expecting comparatively better animations and coloring, as OVAs have a higher budget than TV series, which it didn’t deliver.

      And at the very least the same story with the proper motivations driving the characters, which again, was missing. Time wasn’t an issue, since new scenes were added that didn’t go anywhere or added anything of value to the story, plus it had massive pacing problems. Then there were the fight scenes, which were completely static, likely to further conserve the animation budget.

      They might have “kept everything in it”, but they didn’t capture the actual feel of what made Kenshin fun to watch. The movie managed to mix with the story, including and excluding a lot of content and even characters, but it got closer to that feeling than Shin Kyoto Hen ever got.

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