Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Rurouni Kenshin Part III: The Legend Ends
In the wake of the Kyoto assault, Shishio and his allies have set sail for Tokyo. Meanwhile, having leapt after Kaoru into a raging sea, Kenshin finds himself washed up onshore and recovered by his old master. Briefly removed from the perils of warfare, Kenshin must take this time to discover a new strength, a power capable of defeating Shishio. If Kenshin cannot unlock his own potential, all of Japan is doomed.
Film trilogies are a tricky thing. It's relatively easy to make a single film with a coherent story - when a single work both introduces and concludes all of a story's narrative variables, you can create a sense of tight congruity throughout. But when a story is split across three films, it's much more difficult to both create three individually satisfying movies and craft a story that flows seamlessly between them. Middle episodes of trilogies often feel aimless, and final episodes overly bloated, given they're carrying the weight of three films' worth of resolution. Making a trilogy seem graceful is a difficult art.
Normally, this would be the part of the review where I about-face to discuss how the Kenshin films avoid these pitfalls. Unfortunately, the Kenshin trilogy is ultimately neatly reflective of all of these issues. After a riveting and largely self-contained introductory film, the two-part Shishio arc has rambled through too many characters and too little dramatic congruity. And here in the third film, Kenshin's grand finale feels far too much like one long goodbye.
Nearly the whole first half of this film is dedicated to Kenshin mastering his style's final technique, while the story's other players busy themselves recovering from Kyoto or worrying about Shishio. The “defeated swordsman returns to his roots and discovers a new strength” turn is a tried and true narrative device, but in most stories, it's contained to a brief sequence just prior to the climax. Presented as the third quarter of a two-part film, it leaves The Legend Ends' first act with very little narrative momentum.
The Legend Ends also suffers from generally loose plotting in other ways. Some of the film's issues feel unavoidable - the trilogy has introduced too many characters and sub-arcs for any one story at this point, and so the resolution for characters like Aoshi feels undercooked, while characters like Sanosuke don't seem to have any reason to be here. Kaoru is reduced to the woman who pines for Kenshin from afar, and only Kenshin's rivalry with Shishio feels truly meaningful.
Other problems are entirely the film's own fault. While Kyoto Inferno managed to make the threat of Shishio feel tangible and urgent, his plan this time never feels particularly threatening. Shishio has one iron boat and a bunch of bandits - the most he could ever hope to do is cause some bloodshed and perhaps shake the public's faith in the Meiji government. And the government, for their part, run through a series of plans that feel too absurd to carry much weight. When your villain's terrible plan is only made feasible through your heroes' utter incompetence, it's hard to feel like any kind of titanic battle is being fought.
But even if The Legend Ends' story is an undercooked muddle, the film still succeeds as a riotous action spectacle. Not only does The Legend Ends retain the wonderful large-scale sets of Kyoto Inferno, the choreography of this film's sword fights actually feels like an improvement over both its predecessors. Takeru Satoh's Kenshin feels more graceful than ever, alternating between bouncing across the terrain and letting his minimal movements allow his enemies to defeat themselves. Whether conducted on the bridge of a sinking ship or waged between willowy bamboo trunks, the fights here are a mix of visceral weight and consistent beauty.
The film is quite beautiful overall, easily matching the standard set by the first two. The direction here takes a nicely active role during sword fights, and the more subdued conversations are still lifted through dynamic framing, making for a welcome upgrade from the first film. The music remains a lively mix of orchestral and rock tracks, and the acting overall is quite strong. The Legend Ends may not be the dramatic equal of the first Kenshin film, but it's still a polished and entertaining time.
Funimation's release of The Legend Ends comes in the same packaging as the previous two, featuring film on DVD, bluray, and digital HD. The dub retains the same slight inherent weaknesses of the previous releases as well - a somewhat less naturalistic tone, and difficulty matching the emotional specificity and lip movements of real-life actors. The extras here are a bit less substantial than the prior films, unfortunately; along with a series of trailers and promos, there's just some live-action event footage from the film's release. No deleted scenes or cast interviews this time, which were the most compelling inclusions in the previous releases.
Overall, The Legend End succeeds as a fairly satisfying action showcase, but is somewhat underwhelming as a full film. The Legend Ends had an inherently difficult job to accomplish, but by making Shishio's arc feel more like the first and second halves of one larger film, this film's own cohesion and dramatic power are somewhat lessened. That said, the fights here are terrific, and there's still some beauty to be found in The Legend Ends' meditation on finding absolution and purpose beyond the sins of the age of Battousai. There's a stirring poignance in watching Kenshin stand trial for his crimes, or in seeing his resolution to move on contrasted against swordsmen broken by the brutality of their own ethos. There is power in Kenshin's story still.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ The action sequences are stronger than ever, thrilling in both scope and choreography.
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