[Review] Rurouni Kenshin – Kyoto Inferno

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Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno could have gone either way. The first movie was excellent, but the anime retelling of the Kyo Arc with the Shin Kyoto Hen OVA was terrible. Would the live-action veversion stay true to the level of quality from the first attempt, or does the Kyoto Arc not translate well into a more modern era? Let’s find out!

Having saved Takani Megumi from the clutches of Takeda Kanryu’s opium empire, Himaru Kenshin, played by Sato Takeru, gives up on his life of mindless wandering and settles down for a more relaxing life at Kamiya Kaoru’s dojo. That is, until the new Japanese government contacts Kenshin, asking for help defeating Shishio Makoto, an infamous murderer who helped make the Meiji Revolution possible, who is intent on overthrowing the new government by burning down the old capital, Kyoto. Initially uninterested, Kenshin decides to pick up the sword and travel to Kyoto when his old ally and famous politician, Okubo Toshimichi, is killed in Shishio’s name.

For those who aren’t too familiar with the Rurouni Kenshin franchise, the Kyoto Arc is famous as the best part of the story. Fans of the anime might point towards Tsuioku Hen instead, but manga fans know how deeply the revolution flashback ties into the Kyoto storyline, setting up the Jinchu arc after. Producing a bad version of the Kyoto Arc is almost like slapping the collective Rurouni Kenshin fanbase in the face.

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Thankfully, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno is an even better live-action representation of the franchise than the first movie was, and the first movie was amazing. Where the original made several changes to quicken the pace of the story, as it was covering 11 episodes into a single movie, Kyoto Inferno is much more true to the source material. The only massive changes being that Hajime Saito doesn’t assault Kenshin early on, due to him already having been in the first movie, and Shinomori Aoshi having an altered background story, due to him having been scrapped from the previous movie.

Both changes are understandable, Aoshi was originally scrapped as his story would not have been resolved in the first movie and the status of a sequel was still unsure. Saito on the other hand was a good excuse to give fans something to latch onto by putting him in several police force related storylines. Kyoto Inferno on the other hand was made with the knowledge that there would be two movies, so storylines are allowed to stay intact without any major changes.

SHISHIO

My biggest fears coming into Kyoto Inferno were the absurdity of the character designs and how they would translate over to live action. Characters like Shishio Makoto and just about any of the members of the Juppongatana look outlandish and being able to see them done convincingly in live action is a real treat. There’s a couple of scenes where Shishio Makoto doesn’t look too convincing, but it’s very hard to hold it against the creators of the movie as a man covered head-to-toe in burns and bandages with a few tufts of hair sticking out of the bandages on his head. Thankfully Fujiwara Tatsuya salvages the role, overcoming one of the most absurd characters in the movie. Likewise, Cho, who is played by Miura Ryosuke, successfully comes out of the movie with surprisingly few problems. It will be very interesting to see how they’ll handle the even more outlandish later members of the group in the third and final instalment, The Legend Ends.

I’d also quickly like to point out that as a massive fan of Seta Soujiro, the actor portraying him got the performance down perfectly. Although it is quite jarring to see a real person do his Shukuchi movements.

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Long-time fans are likely happy to hear that the musical homages to the TV series’s soundtrack are still going strong. It’s really the little things that can help make or break a production as large as this, and seeing such a true to life reproduction of a beloved old anime is not something you see every day. Even in the age of a high budget Marvel Cinematic Universe, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno is a very rare treat. As there aren’t as many of these movies being made based on anime of this caliber and they few that do get made avoiding sticking to the same formula, both overall and for the choreography during the battles, the experience still manages to feel fresh. Especially compared to the current comic book movies from the west recently. Not to knock them, but I’m definitely feeling comic book movie fatigue, and the very different cinematographic style of the Kenshin movies doesn’t make me feel the same way about them at all.

There isn’t too much to say about this movie individually, as all the praise I have already showered on the first movie is applicable to this one too. The biggest difference between the two being the scope of Kyoto Inferno, covering a much longer sequence of episodes with more story threads than the first. With the success of the previous movie backing it, and the assurance of another movie to expand on the content further, they really hit their stride in this movie. They knew that they figured out how to translate the material over and were given the time and resources to translate it over to film as best as they could. It shows.

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno is a fantastic movie. It’s safe to encourage new viewers to experience Rurouni Kenshin through the live-action versions if they’re unsure about the series being worth the time investment. Actually giving the franchise the time it needs to develop the plot and characters instead of having to rush through it has helped create a worthy retelling of every current fan’s favorite story arc, and I can’t wait to see how they handled the second half of it in the third and final movie.

Pros

  • Better than the first movie.
  • Another reason people won’t have to watch Shin Kyoto Hen.
  • Soujiro.

Cons

  • Shishio Makoto looks a bit off in some scenes.
  • Shukuchi doesn’t translate over too well.

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

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