by Mike Crandol,

Rurouni Kenshin second OAV series

Seisouhen, part 2

Rurouni Kenshin OVA Series 2, part 2
Once again a dark figure emerges from Kenshin's past to seek vengeance on the reformed manslayer, but this one is special. He is Enichi Yukishiro, brother of Tomoe Himura, the wife Kenshin slew with his own hands. Kidnapping Kaoru, Enichi lures Kenshin to a secluded island where he plans to deliver "Jinchuu", or mortal revenge, to Kenshin. If the guilt in Kenshin's conscience doesn't prove his undoing, Enichi's specially-developed Anti-Hiten-Mitsurugi Technique surely will. But Kaoru's (or is it Tomoe's?) love proves stronger than the hatred in Enichi's soul.

Several years later: After passing on the reverse-blade sword to Yahiko, Kenshin decides to aid the sick and afflicted of Japan, a noble choice that unfortunately leads to both Kenshin and Kaoru contracting an incurable disease. To make matters worse, Kenshin still has yet to return from his mission on the mainland. As Kaoru lies ill, Sanosuke searches the Chinese coast for the missing Kenshin, while Yahiko heads for Seijuro Hiko's to bring Kenji home to his estranged mother.
The epic Rurouni Kenshin saga is brought to a definitive conclusion with part two of "Seisouhen", which is a slight improvement over part one's confused flashbacks but still has a patchwork, thrown-together feel. The animation continues the Samurai X tradition of being absolutely mind-blowing, but the story only seems to be half there, and it's ultimately so grim and depressing it's almost too pathetic to watch. It's as if the creators' felt bound to duplicate the dark feeling of the first OVA series, neglecting the fact that that series took place in Kenshin's turbulent past as opposed to his (supposedly) sunnier future. It's strange to see the Rurouni Kenshin cast in such an unrelentingly dour light. Tomoe was conceived as a tragic figure from the start; Kaoru, Sanosuke, and Yahiko were conceived as players in a more lighthearted tale. Turning Kenshin's future so gloomy undermines the ideas of redemption and rebirth that were at the heart of the entire Rurouni Kenshin story.

The first act foolishly attempts to condense the 2000-page "Revenge Arc" of the manga into about fifteen minutes. Needless to say most of the story is completely cut, including the single most dramatic and gripping moment in the entire Rurouni Kenshin canon (readers of the manga know of what I speak), as well as the return of such popular supporting characters as Saito, Aoshi, and Misao. Even Sanosuke and Yahiko have been inexplicably written out, and the grand Kenshin adventure that rivaled the "Kyoto Arc" in terms of scope has been reduced to a single battle between Kenshin and Enichi with Kaoru on the sidelines. Viewers familiar with the full story will bemoan the massive exclusions, and those new to the "Revenge" tale will feel it is unnecessarily rushed. Due to the slimmed-down cast, even the conclusion of the duel with Enichi had to be altered from the manga, and the change is not for the better. Following the battle Kenshin and Kaoru return to Tokyo, and the final chapter of the "Kenshin" manga is put to animation pretty much unaltered, with the arrival of son Kenji and a teenage Yahiko inheriting the reverse-blade sword.

Not content with the "....and they lived happily ever after" that so fittingly concluded the manga, "Seisouhen" takes Kenshin's story much further than it needs to. Denying it's protagonist peace at the end of his labors, the story sees Kenshin restlessly wander Japan over the next 15 years, aiding victims of famine and plague. This comes at the expense of Kenshin's health as well as his home life, as Kenji comes to resent his father for what he perceives as abandoning his mother. Eventually Kenji's bitterness spreads even to Kaoru; deeming her weak for passively awaiting Kenshin's brief, sporadic returns from his wanderings, the rebellious youth runs away to live with Seijuro Hiko in the hopes of learning his father's sword technique. These scenes, which comprise the majority of the OVA, are related in a disjointed manner, and while the action is followable the events don't seem as fleshed out as they might have been. In any event, the promise of a happy ending provided by both the manga and the television series is dashed as it is revealed Kenshin's later years were marked by illness and a dysfunctional family. The whole thing is so horribly melodramatic it is hard to take any of it very seriously.

There are some genuinely moving moments, however. Most effective is an emotional scene following Sanosuke's reunion with an ailing Kenshin. The two share dinner but Kenshin is too weak to eat, and Sanosuke is overcome with grief at the shadow of a man his best friend has become. Another interesting sequence involves an unlikely conversation between Seijuro and Yahiko, of all people. As a child it is doubtful Yahiko would have even been given the time of day by the distant Seijuro, but here we find two adults sharing sake and discussing the politics of swordsmanship and killing. It's a poignant and enlightening moment, and Seijuro treats Yahiko with a respect he didn't even give to Kenshin. And lastly, "Seisouhen's" final scene manages to cut through all the schmaltz for a genuinely touching (if a little depressing) ending to Rurouni Kenshin story.

Upholding the incredible animation standards set by the "Kenshin" OVAs that came before is no easy task, but thankfully this installment is a worthy successor. While not as long as it could have been, Kenshin and Enichi's battle has a raw beauty and power to it. This is followed in the later half by a duel between Yahiko and Kenji which understandably lacks the savage intensity of the earlier fight but is no less accomplished. And in a refreshing change from previous Rurouni Kenshin OVAs (and anime in general, for that matter), even the less action-oriented scenes are often fully animated, bringing the characters convincingly to life. As stated in my review of "Seisouhen Part 1", the redesign of the characters is a mixed bag, with some looking pretty good (Kenshin, Enichi) and others looking pretty awkward (Kaoru, Sanosuke).

Taku Iwasaki's score continues to amaze. While there are no standout melodies as in the first OVA series, the overall composition achieves a grand orchestral effect, lending "Seisouhen" the feeling of a big-budget Hollywood feature. Like Part 1, the incredible musical accomplishment fuses with the equally impressive visual artistry to make this new Rurouni Kenshin OVA a feast for the eyes and ears.

It is a shame the story doesn't measure up to the amazing technical merits. If the creators had devoted the entire length of this new OVA series to a more faithful and detailed telling of the manga's Revenge Arc they most certainly would have created the Ultimate Rurouni Kenshin Anime. Though I suppose it is unfair to judge this anime based on what it "might have been", there is no denying what it is, and that is jumbled, overly-melodramatic, and ultimately unnecessary. Though there are some strong points, most Kenshin fans will probably find this an unfitting conclusion to the adventures of their favorite ex-hitokiri.
Production Info:

+ once again the animation and music are absolutely incredible, story is more coherent than Part 1
tedious and depressing melodrama

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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