One of the biggest movies I waited for this year was the two-part Kyoto Arc adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin. (Kyoto Inferno / The Legend Ends). Even at 2012’s showing of the first Rurouni Adaptation, I could not contain my excitement because I’ve always been a big fan of the anime series. My sister and I grew up watching Samurai X, something I also share passionately with my best friend. The first Rurouni Kenshin adaptation came out early December, a mere week after I moved to Palawan. Since they were only shown in selected SM Malls, and because Palawan does not have SM, I was very disappointed that I had to miss the premiere. Fortunately for me, I was able to watch it two weeks later.
The Kyoto Arc follows the story of Shishio Makoto, also known as the Shadow killer who took over Battousai’s place after he gave up his assassin days. No big spoilers in this review, but I would write about the things I absolutely loved about the adaptation, and some that I felt were lacking a bit. Over all, both Kyoto Inferno and the Legend Ends garner a 4.5/5 rating for me. I loved Kyoto Inferno more than the Legend Ends just for the storyline, but the fight scenes in the second part were FLAWLESS. Epic. Everything I imagined the fight to be.
1. Takeru Sato as Kenshin Himura. No one I think can play this part better than him. In fact, during the Manila premier, Ohtomo Keishi divulged that he knew that having worked previously with Takeru (who also interestingly played an assassin before), the part would come alive, as if he was made for this role. His facial features, his gestures, the way they dressed him, his fiery eyes, his gentle yet strong demeanor, his mannerisms –Takeru studied them well. I still remember the first time he said “uru?!” and he already had me there. One can also appreciate the devotion of Takeru to all the fight scenes. The choreography, the mastery of the sakabato (reverse-blade sword), those numerous, uncountable times he was injured on set during the fight scenes, these really show his devotion to his character.
2. Changing the plot. I think that was a good move by the director because fans and non-fans alike are at equal footing, and the director did collaborate with the original writer Nobuhiro Watsuki. Fans already know what would take place in the manga and anime series so changing the plot was a cause for excitement and mystery. That the storyline still ended up very similar to the anime series means there was cohesion and good direction with changing some of the parts. Even when Shishio battled four against one, it really made sense because letting them go at it one by one would have dragged the story.
3. The fight scenes. This is live action, no CG and just wires. The fights were seamless, perfect, and action-packed, keeping you at the edge of your seat the whole time. The choreography, the sword sounds, the techniques were flawless. It would probably confuse non-fans about the techniques used by each character, and admittedly, only fans would know the background behind Hajime Saito’s gatotsu sword form, Shinomori Aoshi’s twin Kodachi using Kenpo style, and of course, Kenshin’s Hiten Mitsurugi style (plus the ultimate technique, the Amakakeru ryu no hirameki.) My favorite fight scene in part two was the one with Sojiro inside the ironclad warship. That was just breathless, and I think the character that played Sojiro was just as skilled in mastering the moves as Takeru.
4. Ending with Kenshin and Kaoru. Emi Takei had very little role in part 2. She was sleeping, crying, screaming most of the time, but for the storyline, that already made sense because I think bulk of her storyline was in Kyoto inferno. I just wished there was a more emotional, dramatic meeting when they finally saw each other after the fight. Because, hello, they almost both died from the storm and they didn’t see each other until after the fight. You’d think the direction would draw out some deep emotion from them, so this to me was very lacking and anti-climatic. I wished this picture on the left was actually shown on the film. It would have given Kaoru even more emphasis as the person that Kenshin wanted to stay alive for. So ending it with Kenshin and Kaoru was how I would have liked it because even in the series, it was this bond between them, this devotion to living a new life in this new age, that really help Kenshin become a new person, shedding his Battousai past. It was as if he ended with a proposal to her to live in this new age together. :-) *fangirl swoons
5. Shishio Makoto, Megumi and Master Hiko – I’d give it to the “bandaged freak”, as Sano screamed. He may have been absent mostly in the first part but in the second part, we see him hot and burning alive. He was full of menace as expected, and the delivery of his character was on point. Master Hiko gave the audience the needed background to understand Kenshin’s training and spirit as a swordsman. He was cast well. I liked the lines where he mocked his “idiot” pupil for just digging graves, challenging him to move beyond his tragic state and have the killer instinct he once had, no longer digging graves but enabling people to rebuild lives. Megumi was fierce as in the first Rurouni Kenshin. She actually portrays so much more depth and character than Emi Takei. She’s always strong and I loved that part with Kenshin at the dojo. Non-fans may not know the one-sided love story between them. At the first Rurouni Kenshi movie, Megumi should have cried to Kaoru because she at least saw Kenshin leave while he didn’t even say farewell to her. There was an existing drama in the anime series. Them meeting at the dojo, and Kenshin seeing her first, gave Megumi a good follow up.
1. The Juppongatana, Aoshi and other major characters shortchanged – This is widely reviewed as a major flaw, but because the Kyoto arc is really long, covering a good number of episodes (more than 30!) in the anime series, adapting it to film would really mean shortchanging or even sidelining important characters such as the the Juppongatana or the Ten Swords that make up Shishio Makoto’s powerful army. Some would say Aoshi was not given the proper entry at the beginning of the Kyoto arc, but I think the characters that were mostly short changed were the Juppongatana. Non-fans would not know this, but each character had a significant part to play in the anime series, and in fact, before Kenshin fought Shishio, he was made weak by having fought at least three of them already. This would have explained why there was a four-on-one fight in the end, because Kenshin was really weak at this point and actually almost died. Sojiro’s entry to the storyline was good. He was already at the Kyoto inferno and his storyline was very accurate. His defeat, however, came too fast. Perhaps a background story on him would have given audiences the space to understand why he had such an inner turmoil, him ending in what seemed like a tantrum of sorts. In the end, the director really focused on the epic battle between Shishio and Kenshin.
2. Minister Ito – something about him, particularly his eyes, did not translate a genuine delivery of that last scene. I remember the movie the Last Samurai and how I was moved by the final salute, but in this case, I think he was trying too hard and there was little genuineness in him. I even think Saito, being the morbid, arrogant killer that he is living to his code of Aku Soku Zan (Evil immediately slay), he would have cringed at the supposed show of gratitude, and his face did show disgust! Maybe it’s just me, but I wasn’t moved by him.
This trilogy tops my list this year. I would say Rurouni Kenshin (the first one, 2012) is my favorite, then Kyoto Inferno second, and the Legend Ends as the least one I like. But overall, this trilogy is superb. Director Otomo really did put his life on the line for this adaptation, and I applaud all their great efforts to give what to me would be the best anime adaptation. I know I’m biased, being a fan and all, but, taking it from one reviewer, “The Rurouni Kenshin trilogy is cinematic adaptation done right.” It’s how a manga series is supposed to be adapted and brought to film and I would reject any calls to Hollywood-ize the film, because it just can’t. The spirit of this film is uniquely Japanese, though the lessons of Kenshin Himura, a man vowing never again to kill, a man trying to live a new life for the good, that lesson –is universally, and internally appealing. I love Samurai X! Go watch the film. :-)