Finally! The Rurouni Kenshin Anime I Always Wanted

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Stef Watson
| January 20, 2024
hello world!

Oro? The Battousai is back! 

Long-time fans of Rurouni Kenshin have a lot to be happy about in the new Rurouni Kenshin anime series. The show launched in Summer 2023 and hit Crunchyroll in the fall. On watching both the subs and dubs (sometimes repeatedly) over the last three months, it’s hard to put in words the joy I’ve felt. Director Hideyo Yamamoto and the production team over at Liden Films have created the Kenshin anime I’ve been wanting for years! Here’s a bit about my own journey with Kenshin and my thoughts on the new series, given that context.

Let’s start by going back two decades: I first heard “Rurouni Kenshin” from a friend who was a fan back in the early 2000s. She would gush about how much she loved the anime, and I was certainly curious. But anime wasn’t my thing at that time, nor did I have an easy means of watching it until the rise of streaming services in the late ’00s.

Then, after I plunged into the deep abyss of otakuism in 2011, another friend gifted me the first five volumes of the original manga, Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story by Nobuhiro Watsuki. I fell in love with the title character, Kenshin Himura, an assassin (hitokiri) turned wandering swordsman (rurouni) known during his notorious past as Battousai (master of Battoujutsu). Everything about Watsuki’s story drew me in, and I loved the characters and historical setting (the dawn of the Meiji era in Japan). I even named two of my characters in Star Wars: The Old Republic after Sanosuke and Saitô. 

Some of my favorite cover art from the early Rurouni Kenshin manga volumes. (Jump)

After that manga binge, with all these emotions running high, I attempted to watch the anime adaptations up to that point in both subs and dubs. I was entertained but disappointed. Each production had altered something about the story or visuals that lost too much of what I loved in Watsuki’s manga. Even the best ones were a mixed bag for me in terms of capturing the manga’s visual and emotional impact, and some of the English dubs were grating. The discrepancies distracted me so much that I never fully enjoyed those adaptations.

Given that experience, I hesitated to watch the live-action films, even though I heard they were amazing. Live-action adaptations of manga and anime are notorious for falling short of the mark, and my disappointments with Attack on Titan and Fullmetal Alchemist left me bitter. However, after the Corridor Crew featured some of the incredible fight choreography from the films, I gave them a try, and I’m so glad I did! 

Kenshin (Takeru Satoh) encourages Kaoru (Emi Takei) to honor the essence of her father’s sword fighting style. (Warner Bros., Netflix)

The live-action films enhanced the emotional impact I’d experienced in the manga, making up for what the anime lacked. Beyond that, the productions added richness to Kenshin’s story in a way that’s difficult to reproduce in any other medium. Even people who aren’t familiar with the characters and story can appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship in these films. I was enthralled by the authentic and timeless portrayal of Kenshin by Takeru Satoh and true-to-character performances from the rest of the cast (though Sano was comically over the top). Those films made me feel the same joy I felt reading the manga, even though they abbreviated the original narrative to fit story arcs into feature films. 

As we go into 2024, I’m excited to report that this new Rurouni Kenshin anime series has hit that same emotional high I felt in the live-action films while following the manga narrative! I’ve watched all 24 episodes of Season 1 in Japanese, and now I’m watching through the season’s English dubs as they come out. Each time I’ve watched, I’ve paused and replayed moments that I thought were masterfully realized in animated form. 

Kenshin Himura resurrects his past as Hitokiri Battousai, taking his iconic battoujutsu stance in the fight against Jine in Episode 7, “The Two Hitokiri.” (Liden Films, Crunchyroll)

Yamamoto and the creators at Liden Films have preserved elements from both the original and the Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration manga that appeal to the nostalgia of long-time fans like myself. At the same time, they’ve used backgrounds, coloring, and animation techniques to create a viewing experience that’s on par with modern digital anime productions. Add to that some excellent performances in the Japanese and English casts, and this is definitely the Kenshin anime I’ve longed to see!

For the purists out there, I’ll clarify that while the new show follows Watsuki’s old and new manga narratives, it isn’t an exact replica of every detail. Creators made small adjustments here and there which seem to emphasize Kenshin’s tactics and moral strength and deepen connections between the core protagonists. As I watched it, I revisited the original manga in the Shonen Jump app on my iPad, and certain sequences impacted me differently between the mediums. 

An example of this is Kenshin’s fight with Raijūta from Chapter 42 of the manga and Episode 17, “Settling the Score,” in the 2023 anime. Both fights follow the same sequence and highlight Kenshin’s tactical superiority. In the first run of the manga, Kenshin is bare-shouldered and taunts and shames his inferior enemy throughout the encounter. In the new anime, though, Kenshin is fully clothed, and he forgoes the taunts to coolly point out his opponent’s shortsightedness. While I love the brutal edge in the manga here, this tweak puts the focus on Kenshin’s strong moral principles. It also reins in Battousai’s brutality, waiting to unleash its fullness in Episode 23 and adding greater impact when Sano says, “…our voices won’t reach them anymore.” 

Regardless, when Kenshin shoots that Battousai glare at someone, IT IS ON, ya’ll!

Two images showing Kenshin in the same moment of a fight scene from both the anime and the manga.
The artistry in the 2023 Rurouni Kenshin anime creates a stunning visual experience and an amplified emotional impact for each scene from the original manga. (Liden Films, Crunchyroll, Shonen Jump, Watsuki)

While I was excited that the new series closely follows the manga narratives, I also took a step back to examine why that was so important to me. Modern viewers often place a high demand for literature-based films to reproduce the original narrative as closely as possible. Blogs and comments sections across the internet get mired in vitriol from gatekeepers who insist that any straying from the author’s story is sacrilege. While I loathe to count myself among hatemongers, I kinda understand what triggers such a reaction. It’s hard for even the most open-minded person to reconcile a different view of something they’re emotionally connected to.

But it’s also part of human tradition to retell stories and change their flavors over time to connect to different audiences or highlight specific messages. By letting go of my hesitations and giving Yamamoto an opportunity to bring a new vision to Rurouni Kenshin, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I get the impression that the creators love this story as much as I do and want this production to both respect and elevate Rurouni Kenshin. Because of that, they’ve earned my trust as a fan.

Let me also address the elephant in the room for some of you. You may be aware that Rurouni Kenshin creator Nobuhiro Watsuki was prosecuted in Japan on charges of possession of child pornography back in 2017, after which he paid a modest fine. Reading his statements about it definitely had me cringing a little, but I still appreciate and support his art. It’s up to each of you to decide whether these actions of the artist impact your appreciation of the art.

Keep an eye out for my next article that dives into the details that make the new Rurouni Kenshin a must-watch for both new viewers and long-time fans. In the meantime, let me know what you think of the new series!

Kaoru stays a bit more reserved after Megumi teases her by flirting with Kenshin, but she still has that hilarious “NO VIXENS ALLOWED” sign. (Liden Films, Crunchyroll, Shonen Jump, Watsuki)

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