by Mike Crandol,

Ruroni Kenshin second OAV series

Seisouhen, part 1

Rurouni Kenshin OVA Series 2, part 1
Many years have passed since Himura Kenshin retired his reverse-blade sword and settled down at the Kamiya dojo. Yahiko has grown into adulthood, Kenshin and Kaoru have married, and their son Kenji trains with Kenshin's former master Hiko. When Kenshin once again answers the call to defend the peace of Japan, Kaoru anxiously awaits his return. Memories of her first meeting with Kenshin, their adventures in Kyoto, and of mysterious events that happened afterwards come flooding back to Kaoru as she waits in her empty home for her beloved. But it looks like this time Kenshin may not be coming back...
"Rurouni Kenshin: Seisouhen (roughly translated: the passing of years)" is a new two-part OVA series based on a story by Kenshin creator Nobuhiro Watsuki. It owes it's existence to two factors: Japanese fans who desired an ending to Kenshin's animated adventures more in keeping with the manga, and strong sales in the U.S. of the first Kenshin OVA series, billed here as "Samurai X". In trying to appeal to such a diverse fan base, "Seisouhen" fails to please either group. The first part (part two is yet to be released) is little more than a confused jumble of flashbacks from the television series, re-animated, along with a few bits from the previously unadapted Revenge Arc of the manga.

The bulk of the first part of "Seisouhen” is comprised of scenes from the first two seasons of "Rurouni Kenshin", re-imagined in the more realistic style of the first OVA series. As in the previous OVA the animation is of much higher quality than it's TV counterpart, in places rivaling the work of Disney. Unfortunately it's a waste of a great opportunity: instead of redoing the numerous action-packed battles that were "Rurouni Kenshin's" hallmark, the creators have chosen to revisit the quiet, more romantic sequences between Kenshin and Kaoru. Not that there's anything wrong with romance, but the exquisite animation is put to waste as the characters sit still and talk to one another in scenes we've already seen before. The one fight that has been completely redone is Kenshin vs. Jinei, and as expected it is a beautifully animated scene that far surpasses the original version. Swords clash in a fully-animated fury that even exceeds the gorgeous fight between Kenshin and the Shinsengumi that capped off the first OVA series. One waits in vain to see some of Kenshin's other famous battles so gloriously brought to life.....instead we are only treated to very brief shots of Kenshin defeating Sojiro and Shishio.

To make matters worse, the sequences that are presented do not form a cohesive narrative. Only a die-hard Kenshin fan will be able to understand the disjointed snippets of story that make up this new OVA. Even American fans may be confused by the ending sequences, which begin to bring bits of the manga's celebrated Revenge Arc to animation. People in the know may rejoice to finally see the adult Enichi in anime form, but someone unfamiliar with the untranslated Kenshin comics may wonder just who the heck the white-haired guy is.

There are also several inconsistencies of character. The story opens roughly fifteen years after the events of the TV series. Kenshin has left home at the request of Lord Yamagata to fight in defense of Japan "on the continent". Within the historical context of "Rurouni Kenshin", this is probably in reference to the Sino-Japanese War. This was a highly political conflict between China and Japan in which Japan was the aggressor... It is doubtful the peace-loving, idealistic Kenshin would have gotten involved. We also see Kenshin's son, Kenji, with Seijuro Hiko, presumably learning the ways of Hiten Mitsurugi. In an early episode of the TV series Kenshin once remarked, "I do not intend to pass on my skills," the Hiten Mitsurugi Style being far too dangerous for the reformed manslayer to share. He very likely wouldn't want his own son to study such a deadly art. More plausibly, he might have wanted Kenji to learn the non-lethal Kamiya Kasshin fighting style from his mother.

The biggest discrepancy, however, is Kenshin's demeanor. Instead of the goofy, genial wanderer with a newfound joy in life, Kenshin continues to be his old mopey self from ten years before. This is one rurouni who definitely never says "oro", and in one recreated scene from the old show Kaoru actually asks him, "Is it possible for you to laugh?". Certainly laughing was never a problem for the original version of Kenshin.

As afore mentioned, the artwork is one of the few strengths of the new Kenshin OVA, but even that has it weak points. The television cast has been overhauled to match the style of the first OVA, which had a decidedly more realistic look. This metamorphosis had previously worked well for Kenshin himself, but the rest of the redesigns prove to be a mixed bag. Yahiko fares pretty well, as does Megumi and Jinei...and an all-to-brief glimpse of the Meiji-era Saito Hajime is truly menacing. The new Sanosuke, however, looks pretty awkward, his original design perhaps being too cartoonish to translate well into this new style. But it is Kaoru's overhaul that is the least successful, which is unfortunate because she is the true main character of this new "Kenshin" anime. It would seem the creators tried too hard to make her look like Tomoe from the previous OVA, and in doing so lost Kaoru's distinctive girlish charm.

"Seisouhen's" music is the one area in which the anime completely excels. Composed in the alternately wistful and intense style of the first OVA series, the score continues to give the "Rurouni Kenshin" OVAs a grand theatrical quality. The closing theme is a gentle piano version of the bouncy, upbeat theme song from the second season of the TV show, which surprisingly enough works really well. It is a shame that little else borrowed from the television series translated successfully to this new work.

Based on the popularity of "Samurai X", ADV Films provided funding for this new series, and it is doubtful it would have been made without their involvement. But many U.S. fans of "Samurai X" have never seen "Rurouni Kenshin", and the first OVA series owes much of it's success in America to it's self-contained story that requires no previous knowledge of the television or manga incarnation. "Seisouhen", on the other hand, is completely incomprehensible to someone who isn't familiar with the first 60-or-so episodes of the TV show. Even a knowledge of later events which transpired only in the manga (which has never been released domestically) is needed to fully understand the story presented in this new OVA. When ADV finally releases it, they can expect a lot of confused and disappointed fans.

Overall (sub) : D+
Animation : A+
Art : C-
Music : A+

+ Technically, some of the best animation to ever come out of Japan, rivals the American masters in terms of motion; musical score to match
Jumbled flashbacks make for incohesive story, out-of-character performances; animation is wasted on static scene retreads, awkward character designs

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Production Info:
Director: Kazuhiro Furuhashi
Script: Reiko Yoshida
Storyboard: Kazuhiro Furuhashi
Episode Director: Kazuhiro Furuhashi
Music: Taku Iwasaki
Original story: Nobuhiro Watsuki
Character Design: Akira Matsushima
Art Director: Masami Hagiwara
Animation Director: Akira Matsushima
Director of Photography: Masahide Okino
Ena Kiriyama
Keiichi Matsuda

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Samurai X: Reflection (OAV)

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