Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration
GN 1 & 2
In the eleventh year of the Meiji era, a mysterious man roams Japan. Calling himself a “rurouni,” or wanderer, he was once the most feared assassin of the turbulent and violent Bakumatsu period, a man known as Hitokiri Battosai. Now, however, he has forsworn violence and wants to enjoy the peaceful era he helped to bring about, although he feels he may be too blood soaked for that to ever happen. A chance encounter with a young swordswoman in Tokyo begins to change all that, and self-proclaimed rurouni Himura Kenshin may finally find a place where he can belong.
Depending on how old you are, or how well-read you are, this may be your second go-around with Nobuhiro Watsuki's Rurouni Kenshin. The original series, published in English by Viz, ran between 1994 and 1999 and was comprised of 28 volumes. Rurouni Kenshin Restoration is not a sequel to that original story, but rather a two-volume reboot of it, created in 2012 in order to compliment the live action film. For those who have read the first incarnation, this is like Rurouni Kenshin Fast Forward, but if you've never experienced the manga version of the franchise, these two books make a fine introduction.
Rewriting the first arc of the longer series, Rurouni Kenshin Restoration opens with an unassuming swordsman being mistaken for someone else. Unscrupulous businessman Takeda Kanryu is trying to scam young swordswoman Kamiya Kaoru out of her dojo by forcing her to perform in staged sword fights. He has hired a thug to play the infamous killer of the previous era, the Bakumatsu, to take the young lady down a peg, but his minion, a troubled boy named Yahiko, mistakes the mild-mannered wanderer for him. Unbeknownst to all, this man is actually the real Hitokiri Battosai. He has recreated himself as a rurouni, or wanderer, in order to atone for his many bloody sins during the turbulent Bakumatsu, and has vowed never to shed blood more. He finds himself taken in by Kaoru, both literally as she brings him home and figuratively as he becomes emotionally invested in both her troubles and those of Yahiko. Before he quite knows what has happened, Himura Kenshin has a place in the Kamiya home and a purpose in making sure that the young of the Meiji era can live the life he fought for.
This, of course, necessitates some revocation of his vow. Takeda is a vicious villain, determined to get what he wants no matter what. There's an interesting line between he and Kenshin, however – in the peaceful Meiji era, Takeda hires others to do his fighting for him, relying on his own commercial prowess to hire the best. Kenshin, on the other hand, is the product of countless actual battles, and his idea of what needs to be fought for is based in an ideology that essentially died with the previous era. This is coupled with genuine care for those he's fighting for, which sets him apart from Takeda's goons and indicates that he will be able to survive in this new time, while such foes as former Shinsengumi fighter Jin-E, who cannot shed his old philosophy (or love of blood and pain) cannot. This also makes the character of Saito Hajime, another old Shinsengumi member who becomes a police officer, an interesting statement, although he gets barely any development or page time in this new version.
The bulk of the character development goes to Kenshin and Yahiko. It is a little disappointing to see Kaoru lacking in that department, but with only two volumes, one supposes that Watsuki had to pick and choose, and Kenshin and Yahiko do both show the way the times have changed, with Yahiko being young enough that he would have missed almost all, if not actually all, of the Bakumatsu. Old readers of the series will see that Kenshin now sports a scarf and has more internal monologue, the latter of which makes him a bit more accessible as a person. He refers to himself as “this one,” which is a nice touch and speaks to his feelings of unworthiness and shame, although it does make it a bit odd when he uses “me” or “my” rather than keeping it entirely in the third person. The rest of the text uses modern idioms (ie “what's up?”), which again is a little strange with Kenshin's general speech patterns, although I suppose that it could be argued that this emphasizes the differences between eras.
Watsuki's art is more refined than in even Busou Renkin and certainly has come a long way since he first drew Kenshin. He comments that it is no longer easy for him to draw Kenshin's bushy hair, but all of the characters are still recognizable and look rather better than they used to. Villains retain their cartoony air both in appearance and in personality, although both of those things disappear when the situation warrants it. Backgrounds are very detailed, giving a firm sense of place, and there's a real grace to the way Kenshin moves, particularly in Watsuki's drawings of feet. Most impressively, in the intervening years, Watsuki has learned to, or become more comfortable with, drawing action scenes, so there are no longer simply huge sound effects and faces when there's a fight on.
Rurouni Kenshin Restoration is either a nice way to revisit old friends or a good, easy introduction to the story, at least in its manga form. Watsuki provides a lot of notes about how he went about redoing the story, and the new Episode 0, somewhat strangely the last chapter of volume one, helps to set Kenshin's emotional stage. If you like a historical story with sword fights and a firm foundation, or if you just want to see how Watsuki reimagines the first arc of his best known work, this is a good series to check out.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B-
+ Good introduction to the franchise and an interesting and enjoyable revisit for franchise fans. Kenshin feels more human, Yahiko's arc works well. Some amusingly cartoony villain moments.
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