After two major successes, expectations were high for Rurouni Kenshin – The Legend Ends. The second movie, which started the famous Kyoto Arc, left us with Kenshin losing to Shishio aboard his battleship. The vast majority of the arc still uncovered, can the third movie tie all of the loose ends together, or is it crushed beneath the expectations and quantity of source material left to cover?
The movie starts with a short flashback, showing us how Kenshin met his master as a little boy, being taken in under his care and learning his signature fighting style, Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu. We then cut to the present day where Kenshin is once again taken in by his master after the end of the previous movie. In the meantime, Shishio is rapidly advancing forward with his schemes, pressuring the Japanese government to follow his command. Sanosuke, in the meantime, caves under the pressure of, what he believes, was the cause being lost as both Kenshin and Kaoru lost the battle as Kenshin has gone missing and Kaoru is now comatose.
If you hadn’t guessed it yet, Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends goes off into a completely different direction than the original. It must have been clear that with the time given to them with two movies, it wouldn’t be possible to tell the exact same tale again. And after the failure of Shin Kyoto Hen, I don’t blame them for not attempting another accurate retelling of the same tale. The changes also give new viewers a reason to go back and either read the manga or watch the old anime after watching the movie and finding out what changed.
The changes themselves aren’t bad. While a lot of them seem incredibly strange at first, the logic behind them works internally for the story they were trying to tell, which ultimately, is still by and large the same story the original told. Sometimes when moving to a different form of storytelling, changes have to be made to make it fit better. So long as they’re not done out of shame for the source material (so the opposite of everything DC has done with Superman on the big screen), the changes can work out in the long run.
Watching all three Rurouni Kenshin live-action movies, it’s very clear that there is absolutely no shame for the source material at any step of the way. Again, every aspect of the production seems to pay tribute to its origins, from Kenshin’s new outfit being the iconic red and white one, to members of the Juppongatana appearing in full costume in the background of scenes despite not having much of a role in the movie. As a Soujiro fanboy, I have to confess it made me smile when I saw him run up walls while fighting with Shukuchi, something I didn’t expect to make it in because of all the changes made.
A very common theme for comic-based action movies is the tendency to be so packed with long-running action scenes that halfway through the fight you forget what it’s even about anymore. What’s especially amazing about Legend’s End is that it could have very easily fallen into this problem, as the movie is packed with action sequences within the first hour already, but it manages to sidestep this problem. Not just by making the fights very well choreographed but, unlike most recent major action movies, by having raw power and emotion behind some of the more effective moves.
It especially helps that a lot of the characters have very different styles of fighting that bring some variation to the different fighting scenes going on, with Sanosuke’s scenery destroying brawling being a most welcome alternative to Kenshin’s usually fast-paced cut and run style. It doesn’t just change up how the fights are acted out, but it also changes up the way the scenes are shot, changing the mood enough for it to avoid blending all together.
It cannot be understated how much that approach is needed in this movie, because after the first hour and onwards The Legend Ends turns into one massive non-stop action sequence, with still a little over an hour on the clock. Several battles in a row bleed into one as the urgency behind the events is stressed particularly well. Several of the character’s stories being told mostly through the sequence of moves in their struggles against each other. I can’t speak for how well some of the more nuanced details translated over for people who haven’t followed the original Rurouni Kenshin anime and manga, but as a fan it all stood out clear as day.
As a side note, I timed the Shishio fight, and it lasted about 20 minutes. He started struggling after the first 11 or so. Fans should know what the significance of that is. I think it’s worth noting that they might have overdone it in terms of making Shishio look strong, as it makes the ending of the fight feel like an even more desperate reach than it did it in the original.
Costume design for The Legend Ends is stellar, as everyone’s outfits have started to look worn and lived in, to offset the colorful designs in the serious, action heavy historical background. Especially Sanosuke’s clothes looked ragged and dirtier the longer the movie goes on, as if it’s the same outfit he’s been wearing all three movies. Because it probably is.
Despite the changes and altered ending, I really enjoyed Rurouni Kenshin – The Legend Ends. I wouldn’t rate it as highly as the second movie, although the fight scenes, which for many are understandably the main meat of the franchise, are the best of all three. It’s a shame that there isn’t much of a reason for a fourth movie, although I’m happy that they ended the run of live-action movies on a good note. I still stand by my earlier comments that the trilogy of movies are a great introduction to new viewers with little to no understanding of Rurouni Kenshin, while still being massively enjoyable to long-time fans.
- The second hour of non-stop action.
- Costume design.
- Strong conclusion to the series.
- Some of the changes might anger purists.
- Juppongatana relegated to background characters.
- Shishio being even more ridiculously overpowered than he already was.