Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Japan: 1878. Ten years after the bloody Meiji Revolution which ended the rule of the shogunate, former imperialist assassin Shishio seeks to once again throw the country into turmoil and chaos. Our hero Kenshin, another former assassin who has sworn never to kill again, is the only person who can stop him. Together with his friends and allies, Kenshin has traveled across Japan to prevent a second revolution in Kyoto. They have faced many perils on their long journey, but can any one of them hope to defeat the man who was the invincible Kenshin's replacement as assassin ten years before?
Rurouni Kenshin: Fire Requiem presents us with the final five episodes of Kenshin's second season, or as it's commonly called among fans, the "good part." Considered a vast improvement on the first season of Rurouni Kenshin and immensely superior to the third and final season that followed it, the 35-episode "Legend of Kyoto" is a complex, stirring epic tale in the grand tradition. Fire Requiem begins in the thick of Kenshin's final battle with his archnemesis Shishio for the future of Japan. The action and drama in this volume are intense....every time it seems things have ended for the worse an unexpected turn of events drags the battle into another relentless round. No less than three episodes are devoted to this titanic struggle, but it never lags in it's fierce depiction of a conflict that manages to be both grueling and poignant. This is when all the cards are laid on the table, former adversaries become unexpected allies, and we see just who the strongest man in Japan really is. In short, it's the grand finale to a grand epic, and it delivers. "Rurouni Kenshin: Legend of Kyoto" goes out with a bang, unlike many anime which steadily build momentum only to fall apart at the end.
Fire Requiem is particularly interesting because Kenshin not only ends his battle with Shishio, but also puts his own past to rest. Shishio is representative of Kenshin's former self: a merciless killer who believes his sword to be the only justice in the land. Shishio is physically similar to Kenshin, a slight man only half the size of other warriors yet superior in strength and swordsmanship. Yet Shishio is horribly disfigured, covered in burns and wrapped in bandages: an externalization of the darkness in Kenshin's soul. Threatening to take to the extreme Kenshin's old philosophy, that only death and chaos can lead Japan into the new century, Shishio is a "Ghost of the Revolution" that must be dealt with before Kenshin can truly leave his old life behind.
Kenshin and Shishio are also representative of the past and future of Japan. Shishio clings to the older, warlike way of thinking while Kenshin dreams of a future filled with peace. Their battle represents the internal struggle Japan faced as it moved into the modern era and the world arena. One can't help but feel that if Kenshin lived to be an old man he would have been disappointed in the road Japan had taken, but ultimately his country has fulfilled his vision of peace and prosperity.
The artwork is solid and the animation overcomes it's limited television budget through clever use of staging and camera cutting. Rurouni Kenshin is drawn in a basic, almost generic manga style, and as such the characters often turn "super-deformed" when the mood is appropriate. This sometimes comes at the expense of the show's believability, but Kenshin is a series so steeped in Japanese history and lore it seems appropriate that it be told in the style of that distinctly Japanese art form, manga.
Perhaps because Rurouni Kenshin is so heavily tied to the spirit of Japan, the English dub has never seemed quite adequate. Despite including such talented voice actors as David Lucas and Wendee Lee, somehow it all sounds flat and uninspired, as if the performers were unable to grasp the intrinsic Japanese-ness of the story. The original Japanese cast, conversely, is excellent, and without exception each actor brings their character vividly to life. Indeed, it is hard to think of another anime series with as perfect a vocal cast as Rurouni Kenshin's.
The disc itself is a lot of fun. The menus are in the style of previous "Legend of Kyoto" releases, but the banners that normally decorate the title menu are here set ablaze in honor of the title and it's being the final "Kyoto" volume. A Kenshin tradition continues to be the hilarious outtakes of the English dub; the ones on Fire Requiem are especially funny as Shishio hams it up and Sanosuke suggests to Kenshin that they "go get a burger". The coolest extra, found only on this volume, is a complete list of every character's special attack names and a translation of their meaning. Next time you run at someone shouting "Ryu-Tsui-Sen!" at the top of your lungs you'll know it means "Dragon-Hammer-Flash."
To celebrate the final installment of "Legend of Kyoto", Media Blasters has included "Character Messages", which appear to be improv recordings made by the English cast and synced to existing animation from the series. Kenshin invites us back for the third season, "Tales of the Meiji", for which there is a preview in the "trailers" section. But the quality of writing on the show decreased so sharply following the end of the Kyoto Arc there is little reason for us to return. Fire Requiem's final episode provides us with a satisfactory end to Kenshin's adventures, and the few loose ends remaining were tied up in the excellent OVA prequel released stateside as "Samurai X" (by ADV Films).
Rurouni Kenshin: Legend of Kyoto is a masterful epic adventure worthy of the classics. Fire Requiem, being part of a large whole, cannot, of course, stand on it's own but is perhaps the best chapter of this grand tale. So if you're a fan of Kenshin, prepare to strap yourself in for a wild ride. This is martial-arts anime at it's finest.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : A+
Animation : B+
Art : B
+ A rousing conclusion to a sprawling samurai epic
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