Rurouni Kenshin TV vol. 1 + 2

rk1coverA wandering warrior with no place to call his own he can’t run away from. A plucky and hard-working young girl just trying to make it in a man’s world. A tough kid with something to prove. A taciturn warrior with an old grudge. Sound like just about every gunslinging Western that ever came out of Hollywood? Replace guns with swords and post-Civil War America for post-Meiji Revolution Japan and you have Rurouni Kenshin. Good thing I love westerns.

Kenshin is based on the long-running manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki, which itself is based on the period in Japan’s history after the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate. The modernization of Japan was in its infancy, and the samurai had been ordered to lay down their swords. Kenshin Himura, it’s eventually revealed, was one of the revolutionaries directly responsible for the new Meiji era, a political assassin.

However, circumstances in his past (detailed in the Rurouni Kenshin OAVs) lead Kenshin to vow to never use his sword to kill again. In his wanderings he meets Kaoru (the plucky girl aforementioned) at her dojo and decides to stay for a while. Of course, life can’t remain peaceful for the greatest murderer of the revolution, and Kenshin has to deal with a serial killer, a ninja army that includes a fire-breathing giant, corrupt policemen, and other annoyances.

The eight Kenshin episodes on this pair of DVDs introduce us not only to the major cast of the show, but also to the philosophy that guides Kenshin’s actions, and even puts his non-murderous resolve to the test. This resolve has turned Kenshin into a fairly mellow character for an assassin, which helps guide the tone of the show into an action-comedy. In fact, in many ways the show parallels Trigun (though this one came first): a very powerful warrior who has vowed to never take a life passes himself off as a goofy ne’er-do-well to help escape attention. While there are plenty of sword fights in the show, it never (to this point) reaches a level of intensity to the degree that the Kenshin OAVs do.

Kenshin’s character (in both senses) is really the main attraction here – he approaches life with a gentle, good decency that makes him immediately likeable. The entire show is grounded in his deep sense of honor, and everything gravitates around it. It doesn’t turn him into a humorless do-gooder, but rather a man that wants to spend his life dispensing good cheer as much as he does justice. Happily, this never becomes cloying or overwrought, either – Kenshin’s just a good guy, made particularly intriguing by the contrast between his current state and the Kenshin of the past.

These two DVDs from Media-Blasters are for the most part pretty good. The opening and ending are encoded once, and are re-accessed each time they play. I’d prefer they just be together with each episode, but that’s a minor issue. More problematic is an issue with the Japanese audio on the first disc – it’s identical to the problem on the Slayers Box Set: phase inversion. I listen to my shows through TV speakers, and if I set them to mono it sounds fine. Of course, it’d be better if I wouldn’t have to use a workaround at all and if the audio was just encoded properly, but c’est la vie. Everything was fine on the second disc.

Extras on the DVD are terrific, especially for a TV series. Each disc has a set of liner notes for the episodes therein, and an art gallery (mostly filled with cel pictures, no line art or design sketches). The second disc has outtakes, which primarily are of interest (I figure) for dub fans, and are fairly entertaining.

Speaking of the dub, for the most part I find it entirely enjoyable. Kenshin’s VA is soft-voiced and pleasant, and his tone becomes properly harsh when he gets upset. It is quite different from the Japanese track, where Kenshin is voiced by a woman. Personally, I prefer the English actor, simply because the Japanese VA doesn’t make a distinct attempt to sound like a man. She just sounds like a Japanese woman, and for me it doesn’t seem to fit the character at all. The rest of the English cast does a good job. I particularly like Kaoru, voiced by the same VA who does a similar role in Trigun, playing the sensible female follower of that show’s Kenshin-alike, Vash.

Taken episode by episode, Rurouni Kenshin is pretty darn good. There isn’t any Cowboy Bebop-level brilliance in these episodes, but the overall sense of the show is very intriguing. Just knowing the degree of violence that lies just underneath the surface of Kenshin’s decent exterior creates the tension: Will Kenshin be able to maintain his vow and uphold his sense of justice? Even more important, though, is that you like Kenshin, and you just want to see more of this nice guy.
Rating: B+

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