The story of Rurouni Kenshin takes place during the early Meiji period in Japan. It tells the story of a peaceful wanderer named Himura Kenshin, formerly known as the assassin Hitokiri Battousai. After participating during the Bakumatsu war, Kenshin wanders the countryside of Japan offering protection and aid to those in need as atonement for the murders he once committed as an assassin. When arriving in Tokyo, he meets a young woman named Kamiya Kaoru, who was in the middle of a fight with a murderer who claims to be the Hitokiri Battōsai from her swordmanship school. Kenshin decides to help her and defeats the fake Battousai. After discovering that Kenshin is the real Battōsai, she offers him a place stay at her dojo as she notes Kenshin is a gentle person instead. Kenshin accepts and begins to establish lifelong relationships with many people, including ex-enemies, while dealing with his fair share of enemies, new and old.
Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku Romantan was published in English as Rurouni Kenshin by VIZ Media under the Shonen Jump imprint from December 23, 2003 to July 5, 2006 and again in 3-in-1 omnibus edition under Shonen Jump VIZBIG imprint from January 29, 2008 to March 16, 2010. The publisher has been releasing the series in 3-in-1 omnibuses since January 3, 2017.
As we move closer and closer to the next decade, it seems like we keep on getting farther and farther away from amazing samurai stories. With possibly the recent exemption of Samurai Champloo and Gintama (which, to be fair, aren't your typical Meiji era samurai story, there seems like an apparent lack of new series that features your traditional Japanese samurai. Well, new series that are actually entertaining and interesting to read. The mid-90's and the turn of the century saw the unveiling of many great series (most still ongoing) like Vagabond and Blade of the Immortal, which truly define and really
sets the standards of your traditional samurai story, though not your typical mainstream stuff. That is where Rurouni Kenshin comes into play. Nobuhiro Watsuki has really defined the standard of this genre, since his story was arguably the most mainstream and popular of the three. With the anime receiving mixed reviews because of the mistreatment of its final season (which were all fillers), its important to go back to the original manga counterpart and review what exactly sets apart Rurouni Kenshin from other manga and anime, and really, why when people hear the name of this series, have the tendency to group it with the elite of japanese work.
We begin with the story. Himura Kenshin, whose character is loosely based off a real life samurai during the Japanese Revolution back in the mid-1800's, is known as the dreaded Hitokiri Battousai and for some reason, he left the revolution halfway with a cross-shaped scar on his left cheek, a reverse-blade sword and a vow never to kill again. Simply with this much information that is revealed at the beginning of the story, we get a sense that Kenshin's past must have been full of strife, hardship and events which turned him away from the life of a hitokiri to that of a wanderer (rurouni). And simply put, that is where the broad story feeds off of. As you begin to read the manga, you are unfolded to events which will reveal his past to you, all the way up to the final chapter. Not only does this keep everything interesting, but it really gives you a chance to dive into the mind of Himura Kenshin and actually feel what he has felt, see what he has seen, and literally, witness Kenshin's developing character from start to finish. Watsuki has almost flawlessly done this as advertised, with three main arcs to his story - the Tokyo arc, the Kyoto arc and the Jinchuu (Revenge) arc - the latter two really the main players in defining this series.
Another feature that gets easily overlooked in Watsuki's legendary story is the art. I feel when people look at manga as a whole, they look at all the obvious elements of plot, character, etc., but a major categoy that is a factor in the enjoyment score is how well has the series been drawn. Is it consistent? How detailed? And most importantly, do I actually know what the hell is going on, especially during battles? Each of these questions are answered positively in the art as the character models and designs do stay consistent with the mid-1800 feel and culture. The environments, though not intricately as designed as other series, do hold up in its own right, but prevent that "outsanding" score. And the nice part with Rurouni Kenshin is that Watsuki has done a decent good job in drawing the flow of battles to the point where you're not questioning yourself what just happened. Although, some of the sword techniques some characters have will make you stare at the page and be like, "is that even physically possible?"
The character development of Himura Kenshin really comes alive through his dialogue and interactions with the other characters. Well, one might think, "of course this would be the case," but the fact of the matter is that most of the characters that you witness this kind of relationship all have some vendetta or hatred against the Battousai, which makes it all the more interesting to see how Kenshin goes about putting to rest not only these characters, but also his inner hitokiri self. And for as much as these characters bring out the worst in him, it is evenly balanced with his daily, ever growing relationship with Kaoru Kamiya. These interesting character relations and interactions are augmented prodigiously during the Kyoto and Jinchuu arcs, where you get to see the other, more deadly, side of Kenshin for the first time. I will say that some of the characters will make you question what exactly was the manga-ka thinking when he created them, but after watching them in battle, it'll be a simply afterthought.
Witnessing Kenshin go through all these ordeals is what really makes the manga so interesting. With his belief and vow of never to kill again, you really wonder sometimes if he is able to keep it, as there are many circumstances which really push Kenshin's psyche to the limit and even at times, his hitokiri side is unveiled. This is really, in my eyes, what makes the story so enjoyable to read. Every avenue of Kenshin's past, present and future is explored in heavy detail, leaving you with a fulfilled story, an actual complete ending and a truly satisfied feeling of nirvana (okay, maybe I'm stretching it a little bit), but you get the point. To say the least, the story is captivating, especially if japanese samurai, traditional sword-style battles that don't drag on, are things you are looking for in a manga.
Summary - Great manga with good action, great characters and an excellent plot.
Action - the swordsmanship scenes are well-drawn and the fights are pretty exciting. The reasoning behind the techniques is also explained and it kinda makes sense, at least in the context of a manga where the characters can leap many times their own height into the air.
Characters - wow, almost all the characters are well-developed and have a good back story to them. There is almost no one who is genuinely good or evil - everyone has a reason they developed the way they did. This is one of the
few manga I've read where I have many favourite characters, some of whom are (at least originally) in the "opposition".
Plot - the story is really pretty well-planned (unlike in the anime where the filler arcs are yuck - and don't get me started on Seisouhen). The introductory section where Kenshin-gumi are getting together is fun, and the two major arcs are really stunning in terms of creating suspense and making little twists to the story.
Humour - Although it's mostly a drama, there are deft touches of light humour, especially funny drawings of Kenshin going "oro?" - never fails to make me laugh.
Historicity - I tend to like historical manga because it gives me an incentive to learn more about Japanese history. No different with Rurouni Kenshin - I know a lot more about Meiji-era Japan and the Bakumatsu than I did before (which was zilch!). There are also little explanations of the actual historical events and characters, so there's a nice mix of history and fiction there.
Re-summary - read it, you won't regret it. Seriously good.
Rurouni Kenshin is a well-paced, high quality shounen series with a plethora of interesting themes and organically developed characters that stands among the best of its demographic.
The story of Rurouni Kenshin, set in Japan at the beginning of the Meiji period towards that end of the 1800s, begins following a rurouni named Kenshin and his time at the dojo of Kaoru, a female instructor whom he assisted. Initially, the story is engaging but episodic, with the focus being on the slowly expanding cast and their small-scale battles against individual threats to their safety. Though the more relaxed first quarter of the story doesn’t quite have
the impact of what follows it, it does a great job at establishing the characters and even providing some development for them. One of the strengths of this section is how historically astute it is, as it references some very relevant conflicts and struggles, such as racism towards Europeans and the use of opium. This gives this first section, and to an extent the whole series, a more grounded and realistic vibe compared to most other action shounen, which typically try to serve as action blockbusters. When Kenshin and friends head to Kyoto, however, things become much more intense. During this time, the plot becomes more focussed and layered, the cast further expands to encapsulate dozens of relevant players and the scope expands greatly. The conflict between Kenshin and the government with Makoto Shishio and his revolution is the most action-packed part of the manga series, though thankfully it retains the charm that made the first segment so endearing.
The last third of the series doesn’t feel quite as well-realised as the first two parts, with some unusual pacing and a conspicuous lack of tension despite the stakes and emotionally intensity being at an all-time high. Kenshin’s backstory and development in this half is what solidified him as a favourite character of mine, but for many of the side characters, barring Kaoru, their developments seems slightly redundant given everything they went through in the Kyoto arc. Ultimately, with a great backstory for Kenshin (which was adapted into the universally acclaimed “Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal”) and a story final boss figure, the finale does manage to stand alongside its predecessors, though it lacks their consistency. Overall, in spite of its rather intimidating length, Rurouni Kenshin is one of the easiest manga series to read, rarely feeling boring and often proving that shounen series can be more than just fan service, explosions and childish philosophy.
The characters, even more so than the story, are where Rurouni Kenshin shines. Kenshin himself is by far and away the best character in the story, having won every single popularity contest within the manga and complimenting, rather than overshadowing, the rest of the cast excellently. He’s a kind and fair person who has strong moral obligations, but he never comes across as annoying, naïve or obnoxious, which is very uncommon in a shounen protagonist. His backstory and time spent as Himura Battousai are very intriguing, but he is neither a character completely defined by his past or separated from it; his character at the beginning of the series feels natural and relatable, as opposed to going for the lazier and more deterministic “I’m angry because my childhood sucked!” His struggle with self-acceptance, moral incapability to kill and desire to protect his new found family really sell the less consistent third of the story, and permeate throughout its entirety. On top of that, he’s multifaceted without being inconsistent, and can believably switch between being funny and serious in the space of a few seconds. The other main characters include Kaoru, a relatively fine character who doesn’t do much in the way of action, serving mainly as foil for Kenshin, Sanosuke, a delinquent who becomes more mature and willing to make sacrifices as the story goes along, and Yahiko, a brat who becomes a fine warrior, though physiologically really shouldn’t be anywhere near the battle. Sanosuke and Yahiko receive abundant development in the second third of the story, but are relatively likeable throughout and have good chemistry with the other characters, while Kaoru goes through the most in the final few chapters, reaching a satisfying conclusion with her character arc.
For the most part, the various supporting characters are interesting, varying significantly in their input to the story. Saito is a stone cold professional with a peculiar interest in Kenshin, and serves as great foil for him, and is an engaging recurring character that never ceases to be entertaining. Aoshi is another reoccurring character, but as he doesn’t quite have Saito’s flare, serving mainly as a walking sword after his emotional resolution in the Kyoto section. Megumi is strong and likeable, and gives some very wise and thoughtful advice, grounding the series very effectively and serving as a reminder that these characters are human and fragile. The villains towards the beginning are fairly generic, but Shishio and Enishi are anything but. Shishio is very much a megalomaniac, a psychopathic, power-hungry and fierce, having no ethics or people he isn’t prepared to sacrifice whatsoever. Serving as the only true “super villain” in Rurouni Kenshin, this scenery gobbler and his army are intimidating and add a layer of urgency that wasn’t present in the earlier sections. He doesn’t have much development, having been shown in a flashback to have always been the way he is, but with such charisma and energy it isn’t needed. Enishi is a much more misguided character, someone who is not kind by any definition, but doesn’t quite have Shishio’s hellfire attitude or complexion. He serves as a good final boss for Kenshin, though doesn’t quite reach the heights of Shishio. On the whole Rurouni Kenshin’s cast of characters is strong, with no dreaful characters and many great ones.
The art for Rurouni Kenshin isn’t quite as polished as other shounens, but has a strong Eastern flavour and character designs that makes this entirely forgivable. The characters eyes are more Shoujo than shounen in the earlier parts, though this does fit with the more laid back tone of the beginning. The backgrounds are rather plain, though detailed when necessary and very true to Japanese culture. The designs of the swords are a stand out, and the curvature, length and weight of them are all addressed and presented with consistency, giving each of the main characters’ swords a sense of identity. The outfits for the characters are also quit detailed and characteristic, from Kenshin’s teacher’s ridiculously long collar to Megumi traditional attire, the formality or militaristic qualities of the characters are well reflected in their clothes. The actions scenes are also quite strong, with each blow having a sense of weight and direction to it that never leaves the audience confused as to what is going on. The subtle facing expressions are another quality worth noting, as they capture complex emotions in a way that few manga series are able to do effectively, making the characters truly shine.
On the whole, Rurouni Kenshin is a narrative and artistic success that exceeds the quality to most shounens that followed it. Kenshin and the other characters serve their purpose well, even if some development feels repetitive, and the story is deliberately paced, rarely feeling rushed or drawn out. Rurouni Kenshin is a should-read manga that stands high among shounen titles.
Rurouni Kenshin is a series I've just recently read and enjoyed a lot so I thought I'd give it a shot! My overall rating for the manga is a 9/10, and here is why:
Story (8/10): The story might not have been the most original but I believe Watsuki made the best of it.
The manga is separated into 2 main arcs.
Personally I prefer the first one. The characters are more interesting to me and I think it was developed better. However, the 2nd arc is a lot of fun to read as well.
What I don't like about the first arc is that the end feels like
it was stretched a bit too much. No matter how much I enjoyed it, during the last few chapters I kind of wished it would come to an end already. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't boring. I just feel like it could've been a bit shorter.
The second arc started off slowly to me, though it had great development and a nice plot twist.
Compared to a lot of similar manga who tend to go on forever, Kenshin ended at exactly the right time. Of course, it was possible to add tons of chapters if you wanted to but the end was set where it was fitting. The end was at a point when the story wasn't stretched out to a point where it became repetitive and boring.
Art (9/10): I'm not so experienced with art in manga but I know for sure that I don't read manga if the style doesn't appeal to me. It's obvious that I really liked that art-style.
I also think that the art had a perfect balance between being detailed and simple. It was detailed where it was pretty and was simple where being detailed would've been distracting or would have made things complicated and hard to understand. You can also see development during the manga without the style changing so much that you feel like reading something entirely different (which tbh does not happen a lot but it still happens in some manga).
Character (10/10): What I believe is the strongest point in Kenshin.
The characters are all so realistic & understandable that you have a hard time hating any of them. They aren't separated into good & evil either - everyone has their motivations and reasons to act the way they do, as well as those twists that make a character round and interesting.
Nobody lacks development and the background stories of most of the characters are my favorite part of the manga. What I love is that the type of characters who usually wouldn't develop much still do.
This goes for a lot of less important characters and I really wish some of them were given more time and appeared a second time at least. They were too amazing to just appear and leave again, some of them would've even made great main characters!
The characters are all so different and yet most of them just fit so well in to the story (when I gotta admit that there is indeed some that don't really fit into the setting, but considering that they are amazing characters nonetheless, you can overlook that.) There's some really unique ideas that you don't see often in other manga. (I would give examples but I really don't want to spoil anyone.)
I probably sound like a stupid fangirl here but really, I was so in love with the characters in this manga - there's barely anything I can criticize.
Enjoyment (9/10): Well, I really loved the manga a lot. I got it from a friend who borrowed me all the volumes. I must have been so annoying because I always borrowed 3 or 4 at the same time and I had them finished the next day, asking for more and being really annoying when she didn't bring them along. The manga is just addicting like that. It's very deep and has both, emotional and goofy moments without either of them being out of place.
The setting is great and it really makes you interested in the time period. You already find out a lot about it and even want to find out more because it looks so amazing.
The only reason I gave it a 9 out of 10 is what I already mentioned - in the story, there's the one part where it's kind of slow which is the transition between the two arcs with one ending being too long and the next one starting a bit too slow. Other than that, it was a lot of fun reading it.