[RK Rewatch] Episode 1: The Handsome Swordsman of Legend

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

The show opens with a brief (very brief) history lesson of the revolution that lead to the Meiji Era in Japan (1863-1912). It's a pretty typical thing to do in Anime, but I feel like it has gotten less common now and is a characteristic of more dated Anime.  I find it interesting though that the summation is told from the perspective of our modern age which the audience never again returns to (in my memory) in any recap, info dump, or preview.

150 years ago amidst the chaotic times of the Bakumatsu, a revolution that would spell the end of the 350 year reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the (completely fictional) legend of Battousai the Manslayer emerged.  The Hikokiri Battousai (roughly translated in the English dub as 'Battousai the Manslayer') was a swordsman of extreme and legendary skill who helped the Imperialist forces achieve victory over the Shogunate and restore the Emperor to his throne.  With the Emperor leading the country again, the isolationist policies of the Shogunate came to an end and free trade with the West in goods and ideas resumed unfettered by the conservative ideals of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Meanwhile, swordsmen like the Hitokiri Battousai passed on into stories and were never heard from again after the age of the sword came to a close.

The opening sequences show a young Kenshin, kicking ass with cold hard eyes. It's a pretty awesome fight scene set against the backdrop of the city of Kyoto burning to the ground. You're thinking 'Wow!  This is awesome! I can't wait for more of this!' until we flash forward ten years and oh my,...it seems like the Battousai has fallen on some rather rough times.

The audience recognizes this wide-eyed, effeminate swordsman wearing a ratty pink haori as the Battousai of legend and we definitely won't be the last to do so.  Oh and the most feared swordsman of the revolution: yeah, he's taken a vow never to kill again.  His katana is called a sakabatou - a fictional sword that has the sharpened and dull sides of the blade reversed thus preventing Kenshin from delivering fatal wounds to his opponents in combat. Bummer.

In this episode we're introduced to the man that the Battousai has become after he comes to the aid of a local girl in Tokyo named Kaoru Kamiya.  Another man claiming to be the Battousai has been hanging around the city lately and killing unlucky townsfolk in the name of his sword style - Kamiya Kasshin Ryu. This is the style of swordsmanship that had been mastered and passed down through Kaoru's family for generations.  As the last of her line and with her ancestral dojo on the brink of financial ruin, Kaoru is hellbent on restoring the honor of her family's swordsmanship.  Kamiya Kasshin Ryu teaches that the sword is a tool to protect the innocent and that it should never be used to take a life for either revenge or justice.  They fight exclusively with wooden swords which is probably a good thing given that it is illegal to carry a bladed weapon in Meiji Japan. It doesn't really sound like the sword style belonging to aN assassin does it? But the suspicion that these incidents have cast on Kaoru's school is enough to drive away all her students.

Feeling some responsibility for what has happened, Kenshin hangs around in an attempt to get to the bottom of this mystery.  He is forced to reveal his identity as the real Hitokiri Battousai after the fake Battousai, a former student of Kaoru's father, sneaks into the dojo to take his final revenge on Kaoru for the banishment and humiliation that he received at the hands of her father.

After the business with the fake Battousai is wrapped up, Kaoru asks that Kenshin stay on and help her rebuild her school.  Kenshin is hesitant at first fearing that others will come after him and cause trouble for Kaoru, but her insistence that she doesn't care about his past moves him to accept her hospitality with the understanding that there may come a day when he'll have to wander off again.

So conveniently our no-kill samurai has come to stay at a no-kill dojo belonging to a kind and compassionate female lead.  Let the Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story begin!*

Some random thoughts:

Besides being an angsty, ass-kicking, Bishounen warrior, Kenshin cooks, cleans, and is great with children.  It's no wonder the character has such a rabid fangirl following. Kenshin relies on politeness and his good humor to hide amongst the crowd.  It makes him really endearing, but I find it interesting that he rarely takes any pains to hide his physical appearance other than to dress like a ragamuffin.  He could have very easily adopted one of the western hairstyles that you see cropping up in the Meiji era, or better yet -  dyed that mane of red hair as much, as I hate to say it.

Gohei, the fake Battousai and two-bit criminal, is able to match Kenshin pretty easily to a description that he's heard of the real Battousai so Kenshin's reputation is fairly widely known. I often wonder if Kenshin is unable to accept and really understand the fame that his title has earned him.  After all, he doesn't value it or view any of his actions during the war as anything noble.  In his mind he was simply an assassin and murderer.  He believed in the cause, but probably can't see himself as a hero of rumor and legend.  The only adjustments he makes in the post-Tokugawa world are behavioral. He intentionally acts in every way contrary to what he fears might be his true nature.  Kenshin the Wanderer is a quiet-mannered, polite man who does not assert himself (especially not around bossy women). And although he doesn't kill anymore, but it remains to be seen who Kenshin Himura really is.

*The full series title of Rurouni Kenshin is Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story.  Nobuhiro, the original creator, was very clear that this was a Romantic story and not a Love story.  While the romantic elements are very strong in this series it remains an action samurai story that can be enjoyed by both boys and girls.


Anonymous said...

what is the name of the girl beside to kenshin.

Laura Fitzgerald said...

@Anon I can't remember whether it is Ayame or Suzume

Kristel Carol said...

@Anonymous Suzume de gozaru. =)

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