Rurouni Kenshin is a Japanese anime and manga series created by Nobuhiro Watsuki. It differs from most anime series in that it is set in a particular time in Japanese history, the beginning of the Meiji restoration in the 1860s - 1880s. This is the time when Japan changed from a feudal Samurai society to a modern state.
The series was first created in 1994 for the Japanese magazine Shonen Jump Comics. It rapidly became popular and an anime television series was created. A movie and two original video animation (OVA) series were also created. They have been marketed by Sony under the title Samurai X.
Both the manga and the anime series have been syndicated around the world. They continue to have a large fan base appealing to lovers of comedy and battle fiction as well as Japanese history buffs.
The story concerns a man named Himura Kenshin (the family name is written first). A former warrior in the Japanese civil war (the bakumatsu), Kenshin has sworn a vow never to kill again. As a symbol of this, he wears at his belt a special type of Japanese sword called a sakabatou that is sharpened on the wrong edge so that it will not kill people hit by it. The story is set ten years after the war when Kenshin, who has wandered homeless for many years, meets a young lady named Kamiya Kaoru and decides to settle down. As soon as Kenshin stops moving, trouble comes to find him, and the tension in the series concerns Kenshin's desire not to kill in situations where he is forced to fight.
The series illustrates a time of great change when one could find both sword fights and steam trains, a time when the old Samurai social structure was cast away in favour of a Western-style imperial government. The societal upheaval created by this change caused culture shock for many Japanese people, especially those Samurai whose way of life was no longer needed.
Cast of Characters
A warrior in the Bakumatsu, he was once a famous manslayer known as the Hitokiri Battosai due to his mastery of the rapid-draw sword technique called Battoujitsu. He has wandered for ten years, hoping to find atonement for the lives he has taken. He can be identified by his reddish hair and a cross-shaped scar on his cheek. Although slight in stature, he uses a powerful sword technique called Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryu.
A young woman who has lost both of her parents, she runs a sword school (dojo) where she teaches martial arts as a form of exercise or spiritual training. When Kenshin saves her life, she asks him to live with her.
A very strong fighter for hire nicknamed 'Zanza', who carries a huge sword called a Zanbatou designed for killing horses. His mentor was unjustly killed by the government.
The orphaned son of a Samurai who is adopted by Kaoru and becomes her student.
A female doctor who knows Western medicine. She was saved by Sanosuke and Kenshin, of whom she is very fond.
Only to be found in the anime series, Genzai is a doctor and a family friend of Kaoru. He is the grandfather of two young girls, Ayame and Suzume, who often come to the dojo to play. He has taken Megumi in as his assistant.
Tae runs the Akebeko, a Tokyo beef bowl restaurant frequented by the cast. She has a sister in Kyoto who looks exactly like her.
A young girl who works in the Akabeko and a love interest for Yahiko.
A policeman who is also a member of the Meiji government's secret police. During the Bakumatsu, he was leader of the third squadron of the famous Kyoto militia group, the Shinsengumi, which supported the Samurai regime. He is an historical enemy of Kenshin, who fought for the Imperialists.
Aoshi is the leader of the Oniwabanshu, a band of Ninja formerly employed by the Shogun who ordered them not to fight when he surrendered. Aoshi is obsessed with gaining the title of the strongest for his group, which he feels was robbed of its glory.
A former manslayer viewed by many as being insane for his habit of killing both friend and foe, he tells Kenshin that a killer can never stop killing.
This cute 16-year-old ninja from Kyoto is the youngest member of the Oniwabanshu ninjas. She is constantly searching for Aoshi, whom she loves.
Kenshin's sword master, he appears in the Kyoto Arc when Kenshin must return to him to learn his school's final technique, the Ama Kakeru Ryu no Hirameki.
The villain in the Kyoto Arc. A former assassin like Kenshin, he also worked for the Imperialists, but he was considered too dangerous and the army attempted to kill him by burning him. He survived and has assembled an army and a group of special warriors called the Ten Swords to overthrow the Meiji government.
This beautifully-drawn manga was the first for its author. It was subtitled Meiji Kenkaku Romantan, which is approximately translated as 'the romantic tale of a swordsman in the Meiji era'. The manga has been bound into 28 volumes or tankoubon:
- Volume 1: Kenshin - Himura Battousai
- Volume 2: Two Hitokiris
- Volume 3: A Reason to Act
- Volume 4: Two Destinies
- Volume 5: Patterns of Meiji Swordsmanship
- Volume 6: No Need for Worries
- Volume 7: May 14, 1878
- Volume 8: On the Meiji Toukai Way
- Volume 9: Arrival in Kyoto
- Volume 10: Master and Student of the Sword
- Volume 11: Overture to Destruction
- Volume 12: The Great Kyoto Fire
- Volume 13: A Beautiful Night
- Volume 14: The Promised Time is Now
- Volume 15: The Giant Against the Great Man
- Volume 16: Divine Providence
- Volume 17: The One to Decide the Age
- Volume 18: Do You Still Have the Scar?
- Volume 19: Phantoms and Reality
- Volume 20: Remembrances
- Volume 21: And So Time Passed
- Volume 22: Three-Front Battle
- Volume 23: Consciousness of Crime and Punishment
- Volume 24: End of the Dream
- Volume 25: Truth
- Volume 26: A Man's Back
- Volume 27: Answer
- Volume 28: Toward A New Age
The manga has also been syndicated in many languages, including German, French, Spanish and Italian, in addition to the original Japanese.
The Rurouni Kenshin anime television series mostly follows the manga directly with some extra filler episodes created when the anime outpaced the production of the manga. This 95-episode anime is composed of a number of story arcs - groups of episodes that tell a continuous story. The longest and most famous arc is the Kyoto Arc, where Kenshin leaves Tokyo and returns to Kyoto to battle an old colleague, Makoto Shishio, who is plotting to topple the government. The last episode was unaired1.
The English version, produced by Media Blasters, is divided into three series:
Rurouni Kenshin: Wandering Samurai
The beginning of the story, which introduces the main characters. This series is generally light with a few pleasant filler arcs.
Rurouni Kenshin: Legend of Kyoto
The story gets suddenly darker when Kenshin's old rival Saito Hajime returns. Kenshin learns of a plot by Shishio Makoto and leaves for Kyoto where he must face the past that he left behind ten years ago.
Rurouni Kenshin: Tales of the Meiji
These stories do not follow the manga, which was still in production when they were made. It includes a number of smaller story arcs - some good, some funny and some awful. Despite the uneven quality of the storylines, the animation quality continued to improve.
Japanese voice cast:
- Himura Kenshin - Mayo Suzukaze
- Kamiya Kaoru - Miki Fujitani
- Sagara Sanosuke - Yûji Ueda
- Myojin Yahiko - Mîna Tominaga
- Takani Megumi - Mika Doi
English voice cast:
- Himura Kenshin - Richard Hayworth/Richard Cansino
- Kamiya Kaoru - Dorothy Melendrez
- Sagara Sanosuke - Lex Lang
- Myojin Yahiko - Wendee Lee
- Takani Megumi - Jane Alan
The Movie - Samurai X: Requiem for the Ishinshishi
Known in Japanese as Ishinshishi he no Requiem, the movie was released in theatres in 1997. In this story, Kenshin befriends Takimi Shigure, who is secretly plotting rebellion. The friendship becomes strained when it is revealed that Kenshin killed Shigure's best friend during the war.
Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal
This first OVA series was originally released as four thirty-minute episodes. The beautiful animation tells the story of how Kenshin got his cross-shaped scar. Set during the war when Kenshin was only 15, it depicts the violence and uncertainty of the time as well as discussing how killing others scars a person's soul.
Samurai X: Reflection
The second OVA series, composed of two episodes, is set at the end of Kenshin's life. Told from the point of view of Kaoru, who is now Kenshin's wife, it gives an overview of Kenshin's battles and tells how they led to his marriage to Kaoru. This series is notable for including the character Yukshiro Enishi, who is found in the manga but not the television series. It also has a teenaged Yahiko and Kenshin and Kaoru's son, Kenji.