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Rurouni Kenshin TV

The first steps down a very popular road

* Rurouni Kenshin TV
* Media Blasters
* Vols. 1-2: (Episodes #1-8)
* 100 Minutes Each
* $24.95 Dubbed
* $24.95 Subtitled
* $29.95 Hybrid DVD (Reviewed)

Review by
Tasha Robinson

I n 1878, just over a decade after the Meiji Restoration removed the corrupt Tokugawa Shogunate from power and restored rulership of Japan to the traditional emperor, Japan is still struggling with the effects of the new regime. Samurai are forbidden to carry swords. Although the common people are in theory equal under the law, policemen and bandits alike lord their weapons and their power over citizens looking for peace in the wake of years of civil war.

Our Pick: A

Himura Kenshin is a walking artifact of the war. He's a jovial, self-effacing wanderer who nonetheless carries a sword in defiance of the law. Shortly after his arrival in Toyko, he is taken for a murderer because of the sword, and a local girl named Kaoru attacks him to preserve her family honor. As it happens, Kaoru is half-right. Kenshin is not the killer deliberately blackening her family name, but he is a murderer. As an assassin in one of the revolutionary groups that drove out the Shogunate, he killed hundreds of people with a skill that earned him the title Battousai (translated here as "Manslayer").

Kenshin has sworn never to kill again. The sword he carries is strangely made, with a blade on the wrong side, making it a weapon unsuited for murder but useful for defense. With his mild manners and his country phrasing, he seems harmless enough. And he honestly wants to protect the innocent and the weak, as he proves when he and Kaoru rescue an orphan boy named Yahiko from a local group of thieves.

But after Kenshin and Yahiko settle in at Kaoru's family dojo, Kenshin's past starts to catch up with him. From the revolutionaries he once served, to the enemies he once fought, figures out of history step forward to try and awaken the Battousai inside Kenshin. Some want to fight him, to prove their strength or their hatred of the Meiji government. Others want to use his abilities for their own ends. No matter what the cause, they all want him to forget his oath and become the killing machine he once was.

Good start, great series

Rurouni Kenshin was one of the most popular anime series of the past decade; it ran to 95 episodes in three years before declining story quality and subsequent declining ratings finally got it canceled. Media Blasters currently plans to market the series through episode 68, the end of the famous "Kyoto arc," via an ambitious plan that would have them releasing a DVD every month (coinciding with the two VHS tapes released simultaneously every alternate month) through February of 2002. Production problems have delayed the second DVD, but the DVDs look to be worth the wait--if nothing else, for the liner notes, which explain some of Kenshin's complex history and vocabulary and the decisions that went into the translation.

The reason behind the series' popularity is obvious. The characters shine with individuality, both from their strong personalities and from their sharp, simple design. Kenshin's schizoid personal conflict between his ruthless-killer side and his country- bumpkin side almost immediately develops into a plot hook capable of anchoring a variety of interesting stories. The complex historical setting gives those stories a sense of background depth that makes the sudden, dramatic conflicts seem organic and authentic. The animation flows smoothly, with a great deal of attention paid to creative ways to stylize combat and make it interesting each time.

And, of course, the series is just plain fun. Sanosuke, the swaggering mercenary with a horse-sized "sword," is an early indicator of how this series works--with his insouciant attitude, unbelievably huge weapon and impossible endurance, he's more of a video-game icon than a character. But a quick look into his past gives viewers a real sense of his humanity, recasting him as a tragic figure whose goofy peccadilloes have solid reasons behind them. Typical Kenshin--a show that operates on a lot of levels, with a lot more to come. As Kaoru cheerfully says at the end of each episode preview, "Please look forward to it!"

Having only seen the "Kyoto arc" of Kenshin, I was a little leery of the earlier episodes, which I'd been told were much sillier and shallower. These were a pleasant surprise--the action and the drama start up right away, and while there's some slapstick and the usual super-deformed comedy action, it serves to lighten the tension rather than replace it. -- Tasha

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