Style Living Self Geeky News and Views
In the Paper Shop Hello! Create with us

‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Final’ – this is how it ends

By EK Gonzales Published Jul 30, 2021 5:57 pm

Enough Filipinos are definitely ready to have more of reverse-blade swordsman Himura Kenshin in their life, especially through Takeru Satoh. Because the world has drastically changed and cinemas are still closed, we are now grateful to get that chance to see Kenshin in the small subscription screen, on Netflix, along with the first three movies. It was worth waiting months for the legal international release.

But unlike the first three movies, which need almost no introduction (just acceptance that things are somewhat different), these next two movies need some explanation.

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

Majority of millennial and older Gen Z Filipinos definitely know the first two major arcs of Rurouni Kenshin, having grown up with it as the Samurai X anime. The Tokyo arc, the first, introduces Kenshin and how he meets his found family while living with kendo artist Kamiya Kaoru. With regards to the live-action movies starring Satoh, this was covered by the first Rurouni Kenshin movie in 2012.

The second and most memorable arc, the Kyoto arc, introduces Shishio Makoto and his henchmen in his attempt to create a revolutionary government. The live-action version presents this in two movies given months apart in 2014: Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends.

The first two anime arcs are quite faithful to the Shonen Jump manga. The story gets complicated regarding the third major manga arc, the Jinchuu (revenge) arc, and it goes like this.

With Shishio out of the way, Kenshin thinks he can finally live in peace. But then begins the attacks orchestrated by a young man named Yukishiro Enishi, an arms dealer and mafia boss who made his fortune in Shanghai, China, and returned for the exclusive purpose of destroying Kenshin and everything he holds dear. Literally everything: his regular haunts like the Akabeko restaurant and the Tokyo police station, his friends, his found family, his new love Kaoru, and all of Tokyo.

Everyone does not understand why someone would go through all of this destruction, until Kenshin explains: Enishi is the brother of Yukishiro Tomoe, his wife during the time when Kenshin was an active assassin, the infamous Hitokiri Battousai. Enishi thinks Kenshin killed his sister. Kenshin knows that he did.

As is the story with many popular manga that became anime, when the Kyoto arc finished in the anime, the Jinchuu arc had not covered a lot of content yet in the manga, still somewhere in the middle of giving Kenshin’s backstory (sometimes known as the Tenchu/Remembrance arc). In anime parlance, the anime had caught up with the manga.

The decision was thus made to make filler episodes and mini-arcs, some of them based on the light novels, some of them fully original to the anime (there were actually feelers for Tomoe and Kenshin in the high topknot in the end credits of the first filler episodes, and at the time there were anime merch released that had Enishi in the anime series's established style). But by the time enough manga content was available, the ratings for the RK anime had reportedly tanked. The anime was canceled, and the Jinchuu arc was not animated as an episodic series.

Instead, several OAVs (original animated videos, direct-to-video short anime releases) were released, presenting shortened versions of the Jinchuu arc. The first four episodes, Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuioku-hen (Trust and Betrayal), released 1999, present Kenshin’s history as an assassin and his backstory with Yukishiro Tomoe and her brother Enishi.

The second two episodes, Rurouni Kenshin Seisou-hen (Reflection), released from 2001 to 2002, rapidly presents the present-day events in the Jinchuu arc minus Enishi’s henchmen. Both of these are done in an animation style that is more realistic and more serious and atmospheric, compared to the television series.

The Seisouhen OAVs also present a different and sadder, non-manga-compliant future for Kenshin, which is why it tends to be considered as “It Didn’t Happen, Really” by most fans. Sometimes these OAVs were shown on cable television, by AXN and Animax. The local anime channels also aired them. But always there was that low-key begging for more of the Jinchuu arc, a begging to see Enishi.

Why all this interest about a villain? Of the major enemies Kenshin had, Enishi came the closest to making Kenshin give up EVERYTHING. He was also the most calculated, delivering a psychological battle along with a physical battle. You do understand why he would have an axe to grind with Kenshin, personally. His reasons are believable, even if exaggerated. And at its most basic, most primal: he’s athletic, charming, and handsome, okay?

As Filipinos, enough of us understand this family drama story, done large. We’ve all grown up with the dramas of estranged families, followed by the desire for revenge. We understand Enishi. We also understand Kenshin, in his need to atone, his need to make things right, his need to finally, ultimately, move beyond his bloody past.

That’s where these two movies come in: Rurouni Kenshin Saishushou: The Final and The Beginning. The Final addresses Enishi coming into the picture and beginning his attacks. The Beginning is to show why.

Similar to the earlier movies, The Final streamlines the manga storyline to accommodate the film medium. The story quickly zeroes-in on the main plot: soon after arriving in Yokohama, Yukishiro Enishi gives the police under Saitou Hajime a display of who they are dealing with, taking down many policemen in the process. Soon after that, the attacks on Tokyo begin, targeting the places and people Kenshin loves. Enishi makes his declaration of Jinchuu: the judgment of man, in that men will be judge and executioner of justice, over what Kenshin has done.

The meticulous care in setting the historical accuracy for this movie is a dream come true. It is never lost on the people in charge that Enishi spent a lot of time in China and gained power there. As such, the movie correctly uses a lot of Chinese architecture, interior design, and clothing as they are found in Japan, and clearly had assistance from specialists in Chinese movie martial arts. This reflects in how the movie is presented overall, making you feel that you are partly watching a wuxia martial arts film, with all its usual memorable massive fight scenes. It correctly binds fiction to historical fact, when tensions were high between Japan and China. Enishi (Arata Mackenyu) correctly speaks both in Chinese and Japanese. Most importantly, Mackenyu used a version of wushu in executing the watoujutsu style (a Chinese type of kenjutsu, using a wadou sword) Enishi is known for. This allowed him to pull off Enishi’s trademark deep-dive moves.

As a minor complaint, this attempt at historical accuracy made them adjust Enishi’s outer clothing to something far more loose, but still following the manga colors. Those of us who were waiting for him to have a sleek manga-accurate look to him were slightly disappointed, but this is forgivable.

The manga follows the battle-of-the-week shonen manga pattern, so for the film several battles occur at different areas at the same time. Enishi in the manga has five henchmen with him, and one second boss Wu Heixing (originally Wu Heishin). In the film four of the five henchmen are retained, some with adjustments. They do not necessarily fight the same people they did in the manga, as one-on-one or few-to-one battles. Nonetheless, they are retained to facilitate the sense that Enishi has people helping him with this vendetta.

Conversely, the simultaneous battles help to remind the audience of what is different now: Kenshin has dependable friends and allies. Saitou (Eguchi Yosuke) has a significant role in the events, even more than he has in the manga version. Oniwabanshuu allies Makimachi Misao (Tsuchiya Tao) and Shinomori Aoshi (Iseya Yusuke) arrive to offer their help, and they deliver in spades. Some may be happily surprised to find Seta Soujirou (Kamiki Ryunosuke) still in the cast list. Trust me: his scenes are worth waiting for, in a change that is compliant to newer content.

The core found family is still around for Kenshin in their various capacities, and they are given sufficient airtime within the film. Myojin Yahiko (currently Onishi Riku) is portrayed as gradually maturing and growing braver in the process. Sagara Sanosuke (Aoki Munetaka) still provides the comic relief but also asserts himself as a dependable friend. Takani Megumi (Aoi Yu) is still the voice of love and reason, while being a strong woman in her own right. Finally Kamiya Kaoru (Takei Emi) proves herself a strong and brave woman that does not need rescuing, but does deserve and need Kenshin in her life.

The pivotal moments of Enishi’s attack (i.e. that one that Aoshi had to explain in manga, and is quite brutal, leaving Kenshin devastated and out of commission for weeks) could not be utilized in the film, so what they did was similar to the OAVs, still accurate to manga but modified. This is not too much of a letdown, especially since this storyline has only two hours to it, and the manga version lasted for weeks.

I feel this is reasonable, especially considering censor board concerns. Opinion about this varies for each person, and it is legitimate to feel that something about Kenshin’s acceptance of himself was lost in this pulling back. There is also the opinion that this movie's content should have been divided into two parts, all the better to present the original manga version, which is also fair. In any case, directorial decisions have been made, with many factors already considered, for better or worse.

The pivotal battle, though, is retained with adjustments for film, a masterful balance of drama and action. It also retains the important manga elements of this final battle, in doing so.

We definitely must discuss how perfect this Yukishiro Enishi is, in Arata Mackenyu. The son of actor and martial artist Sonny Chiba, fans of Japanese drama know him from earlier appearances in the live action Chihayafuru, and maybe from Kamen Rider Drive. Mackenyu accurately and passionately shows the humanity in the character, when so many have made out this character to be a maniac or a psychopath. Mackenyu correctly showed him as intelligent, driven, calculating, and vengeful, but also tormented, volatile and confused. Add to that a masterful ability of executing both fight scenes and dramatic moments, and you have the Yukishiro Enishi we waited literally 20 years to see.

Once again, Satoh shows that he was the perfect choice for one of the most well known characters ever made. Even with the gap of six years, he returns to the role so naturally. This movie takes even more out of him than the first ones, because of everything being targeted directly at Kenshin. His silent scenes are as incredible to watch as the high-octane jumps and slashes. It is astounding to just see him show Kenshin’s despair in his perfectly-controlled stillness. But also, he shows the living, breathing version of a great swordsman still fully in control of his skills, as he single-handedly battles hordes of guards and henchmen.

The movie even took care to notice the symbolism of the colors of his gi, and when they changed. They emphasized when Kenshin changed from the default peacetime red gi to a mournful set of grays and blues, and when he chose to show that he was different now by returning to the default colors.

Finally, the movie feels more balanced, compared to the Kyoto arc movies. The action is balanced with the dramatic moments, emphasizing the emotional aspects of the story along with the battles. The pacing correctly emphasizes the turmoil within Kenshin as well as in Enishi, and the impact of everything on Kenshin’s friends and allies. But when the big battles come, they are a sight to behold, all well-planned and well-choreographed scenes of orchestrated mass mayhem.

The movie ends cleanly, so it is a bit of a mystery how the true final movie, The Beginning, will introduce itself. It will obviously have Kenshin’s full backstory with Tomoe, but it is unsure what extra content it will have to fill out the story. The Beginning already released in Japan, so I suppose we should just wait patiently for the answers.

As in the first three movies, there are many adjustments and changes, so asking for full canon compliance is impossible. Majority of these changes were made to make events loom large as they happen. Yet many scenes and many pieces of dialogue are directly or almost directly lifted from the manga. Thus it all still feels true and right. We have pretty much given up on having a television anime series of the Jinchuu arc, but this movie has finally gotten us as close as we wanted.

One thing that should be addressed before I conclude: the manga creator’s current horrible reputation. Enough fans do know that Watsuki Nobuhiro was charged with possession of child pornography in 2017.

The manga sequel Hokkaido arc was temporarily suspended before resuming in 2018 after Watsuki was fined. Actually many feel that this is weak, coming from Shueisha, especially considering that a newer series, Act-Age, was permanently discontinued when its manga creator was arrested for indecency. Enough fans, myself included, made the decision not to read the Hokkaido arc on any platform, as a conscious choice not to condone this creator any further.

But in the same manner, I have decided to support at least the people involved in these movies, who are innocent of this creator’s crime. And maybe this is also done as a sense of closure, a clean ending of a good relationship gone sour. You may think this is hypocritical, condemning the creator while still watching his content, or separating the creation from the creator. This is your own choice to make, and either choice should not be taken against you.

After all, this is the world of Rurouni Kenshin. The world is not black and white, and it is stained with red. History has many players, and many choices both good and bad have been made, altering the state of the world, for better or worse. What we are asked to do is to learn from history, even in this historical fantasy tale, and to learn what we could about how to be better people.