[RK Rewatch] Episode 5: The Reversed Blade Sword vs The Zanbatou

Thursday, June 9, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Summary: Kenshin and Zanza/Sanousuke meet again to finish their duel and the story behind Sanousuke's past is revealed.

My Thoughts: In this episode we find why Sanousuke holds such a grudge against the Imperialists. As a child, Sanousuke was an orphan who was taken in by the Sekihoutai,an army under the command of the Ishin Shishi (the Imperialists for whom Kenshin fought). The Sekihoutai were sent into the countryside to spread news of the coming regime change and act as a propaganda machine to bring the peasants to the side of the Imperialists. They did so with promises of lower taxes, promises that the new government was unable to uphold after the Revolution ended. The Sekihoutai was condemned as a rogue army who had acted without orders from the Imperialist government. In Rurouni Kenshin, Sanousuke alone managed to escape when the Imperial army arrived and executed the Sekihoutai. Sanousuke, took his last name from the leader of the real life Captain of the first unit of the Sekihoutai, Sozo Sagara. He chose the life as a fighter-for-hire to become stronger, but I think he also chose the life of a criminal because he couldn't accept living peacefully in the world won and created by the Imperialists who had betrayed him and the only family he had ever known.

One of the things that I love most about Rurouni Kenshin is the history involved. Granted, this "history" ought to be taken with a grain of salt as it is taken and overly romanticized to suite the story; however, there remains a lot of truth in the show. The Sekihoutai did exist and were set up by the Ishin Shishi once the revolutionaries had no more need of them. Sanousuke Sagara did not exist, but Sozo Sagara - the Captain of the first unit did.

Kenshin himself is unaware of Sanousuke's connection to the Sekihoutai until the end of their duel, but allows himself to be baited into the fight anyway. I mean, I know Kenshin had to fight Sanousuke for the sake of acquiring this character among the good guys and that Sanousuke was not likely to ever stop coming for him until they had their duel, but come on! Kenshin usually has to be dragged into a fight (even when the enemy is a two-bit thug like Gohei that could in no way cause Kenshin much trouble or angst) yet this time his curiosity seems to overwhelm his pacifism.

The fight itself felt slow to me as I watched it probably due to all the flashbacks and the play-by-play narration by Kaoru which broke up the action; however, there were a couple of really interesting things happening during the bout.

1. This was the first time that Kenshin did not fell his opponent in a single stroke, foreshadowing that the enemies are about to get MUCH tougher.
2. It's also the first time Kenshin uses a named attack in a fight which is again - significant foreshadowing. Similar to how in Fantasy all special weapons tend to have names, advanced techniques will usually also have unique names, special effects, unique costs etc. Now we'll start to see what Kenshin's Hiten Mitsurugi style is really all about.
3. Firearms show up in this episode and it's implied that they are the tool of the corrupt. We're shown that the Sekihoutai were mercilessly gunned down by the Imperialists, and later Gohei (who can no longer wield a sword) fires a handgun at Kenshin after Sanousuke fails to defeat the Battousai. I should mention that Sozo Sagara, Sanousuke's mentor, was not shot in either the manga nor in real life but decapitated instead as punishment; however, this minor change does help to further illustrate the conflict between modernity and the way of the samurai in the show.

I believe I promised you a rant about the Zanbatou in my last episode summary, but as this write-up gets longer and longer I find myself asking - do I even need to? I mean...LOOK AT IT!?  As Kenshin points out, because of its size and weight it can only be swung at a diagonal or straight down making it very easy to predict. How did Sanousuke as Zanza become the most feared gangster in the Tokyo underworld with a weapon like that? I wish I could say that this is the most ridiculous weapon we'll see in Rurouni Kenshin, but alas I remember quite clearly that it is not.  I am so happy that the Zanbatou gets destroyed in this battle.  Sanousuke is a great character and a much better street brawler.  He doesn't need to be burdened by a ridiculous weapon with a fancy name. 

I loved the resolution of this fight. Sanousuke get's the snot beat out of him, but stands up time after time because his rage towards the Imperialists won't let him stand-down although he is clearly outmatched. What Kenshin finally tells him to diffuse the situation was brilliant. "Did the Sekihoutai teach revenge against those who wronged you or did they teach you to complete the Revolution." As we've already seen, the Meiji Era is no utopian. With so much corruption in the world there is still a reason for warriors to exist and fight to protect the innocent. In that moment Sanousuke realizes that what Kenshin stands for is the same principle of his former mentor. I think he also realizes that he wasn't serving anyone but himself in his pursuit to become strong and that's not true strength. As a fighter-for-hire, he never achieve his ideal to be strong like his Captain and stronger than any Imperialist.


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