Released December 12, 2001
Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story ( Rurōni Kenshin Meiji Kenkaku Romantan) is a manga series written and illustrated by Japanese manga artist Nobuhiro Watsuki with an anime adaptation. The story is set during the early Meiji period in Japan. The Japanese title literally means “Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman”, a collection of Romantic Folk Tales. “Rurouni” is a neologism created from the verb “ru,” meaning “to wander,” and “ronin,” meaning “masterless samurai.” A rough translation of the title would be “Kenshin the Wandering Swordsman”.
The English-language versions of the OVAs as well the film is released as Samurai X, although the original title was included in the DVD releases. The series tells the story of an assassin named Himura Kenshin, who was known as the Hitokiri Battōsai [Hitokiri (Man Killer) Battōsai (Sword Master or Battoujutsu master)]. Kenshin later grieves for all the lives he has taken, and vows that he will never kill again.
The manga originally appeared in Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump from September 2, 1994, to November 4, 1999, and the completed work consists of 28 tankōbon volumes. The United States release of the manga has been completed by Viz Media. Rurouni Kenshin is subtitled “Wandering Samurai” in some English releases, as a rough translation of “Rurouni.”
Writer Kaoru Shizuka has written an official Rurouni Kenshin novel titled Voyage to the Moon World. The novel has been translated by Viz and distributed in the United States and Canada.
The story starts with Kenshin meeting Kaoru in Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Kaoru is in pursuit of a man who claims to be the Battousai, and at first believes Kenshin is the man, but after seeing Kenshin’s clumsiness and “sakabato” (“reverse blade sword”), she decides he can’t possibly be the legendary manslayer. The actual culprit turns out to be a former student of the Kamiya dojo who seeks revenge after being expelled. Kaoru is captured and held captive by the fake Battousai, but Kenshin appears on the scene, reveals that he is the real Battousai, and proceeds to defeat both the fake and his gang without killing any of them. He uses a powerful, ancient style of swordsmanship known as “Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryu.” When offered a place at the dojo, Kenshin decides to temporarily stop being a Rurouni and stay at the dojo, starting the first of three manga arcs.
Usage note: Character names are given in Japanese order with the given name after the family name. The English anime uses the Western order (family name after the given name) while the English manga uses the Japanese order.
Nobuhiro Watsuki, in each tankōbon, details the creation of the characters, as well as the influences he had for the characters’ personality and design. Influences include historical figures (prominently seen with members of the Shinsengumi) and fictional sources including X-Men and Marvel characters, and SNK video games characters, mainly Samurai Shodown and Last Blade ones.
Rurouni Kenshin main characters:
The television series was split into three approximate seasons, with the first 27 episodes generally following the Tokyo Arc, episodes 28-62 closely following the Kyoto Arc, and episodes 63-95 being “filler” non-manga based episodes designed so that Watsuki could have more time to finish the Jinchuu plot so it could be animated. The anime series slid from high popularity (after the Kyoto Arc because of all the “filler” episodes) to eventual cancellation before the Jinchū/Revenge Arc could be animated. The anime series began airing on Japan’s Fuji TV on January 10, 1996 and ended on September 8, 1998. It was produced by Aniplex (formerly SPE Visual Works) and Fuji TV, and was animated from episode 1 to 66 by Studio Gallop, whereas the episodes from 66 onwards were animated by Studio Deen. The TV series was later licensed in North America by Media Blasters.
The animated series enjoys immense popularity worldwide, and although designed primarily for young male fans, its detailed exploration of emotion and relationships attracts many young female followers as well.
Main article: Rurouni Kenshin: Ishin Shishi he no Requiem
A movie, Samurai X: The Motion Picture , known in Japan as Ishin Shishi he no Requiem (―鎮, Requiem for the Ishin Patriots?) which tells a story where Kenshin meets a samurai who was very close to a man Battosai murdered in the war. The samurai is trying to start a revolution to overthrow the Meiji government.
The OVA series, which features a number of historical characters, attempts to be more realistic and accurate than the TV series, which begins as a romantic comedy but evolves into a period drama. The OVA made use of live footage spliced with animation cells giving the series a different feel than straight animation. Both OVAs were re-released internationally in “Director’s Cut” forms that spliced the separate “episodes” together into continuous movies, as well as adding some extra footage. The order of musical cues in both director’s cut OVAs were significantly lessened and altered, although the tracks themselves were not altered or omitted.
Main article: Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen
The first OVA series, Samurai X: Trust and Samurai X: Betrayal, collectively known in Japan as Tsuiokuhen (Recollection) and later edited into a movie as Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal -Director’s Cut, was set during the downfall of the Tokugawa shogunate and telling of Kenshin’s childhood and teenhood. Only a few characters from the TV series appear in this OVA, namely Kenshin, Kenshin’s master Hiko Seijuro (Seijuro Hiko in the English anime), and Saitō Hajime (Hajime Saito in the English anime), as well as a cameo by Makoto Shishio in silhouette at the end. The OVA mainly depicts the life of Kenshin as Battosai and his time with his first wife, Tomoe. Kenshin is nine years old at the beginning and eighteen years old at the end of the OVA.
Himura Kenshin leaving the Ishin ShishiMain article: Rurouni Kenshin: Seisōhen
The second OVA series Samurai X: Reflection, known in Japan as Seisōhen (, Time?) and later edited into a movie as Samurai X: Reflection -Director’s Cut, was set both during and after the TV series and telling of Kenshin and Kaoru’s later years, differs from the manga on many key plot points, such as the details in regard of the Jin-e and Enishi fights. The OVA is best described as a montage of singular events surrounding the life of Kenshin, told from the point of view of Kaoru.
This OVA changed many plot elements in the manga, including key battle scenes, and should be considered a non-canon part of the Kenshin universe.
The sakabatō (reverse-blade sword) is the main weapon of the character Himura Kenshin. It was created by Nobuhiro Watsuki as an original weapon that represents Kenshin’s unwillingness to kill.
On a normal katana, the outwardly curved side of the sword is sharp, while the inwardly curved side of the sword (, mune) is blunt. In contrast, the sakabatō has the cutting edge on the inwardly curved side of the sword. The sakabatō is able to break other katana while fencing because the outward side is blunt, so the edge is more bold and it could damage the sharp edge sword.
Although the origin of the sakabatō is the cause of some confusion amongst fans, Watsuki has stated in an interview that the sakabatō was his creation. There is no record of reverse-bladed katana ever having been used historically in Japan and there is no existing school of swordsmanship that employs them. However, since the manga was published, non-functional sakabatō have been produced for purchase by collectors and fans.
Kenshin’s original Japanese dialogue contains some unusual words which can cause problems in translation. Most of the time, he refers to himself with the extremely humble pronoun “sessha” (translated by Viz as “this one”) and uses the formal verb “de gozaru” (conveyed by Media Blasters by sentence-final phrases like “…that it is.”). He shares this vocabulary with some characters in other series, such as Goemon Ishikawa from Lupin III (though Goemon refers to himself in the first person in the English version of the anime). He also addresses most women with an honorific that was generally reserved for feudal lords; the translation “Miss Kaoru” does not really express the same degree of extreme courtesy as “Kaoru-dono”. When in Battōsai persona, Kenshin stops being so polite; “de gozaru” disappears, and “sessha” is replaced with the more typical brash male pronoun “ore”. Kaoru is quick to catch onto this fact, as is demonstrated after the fight with Jin-e.
Both Kenshin’s name and his semi-nonsensical exclamation “oro” are tributes to Watsuki’s favorite comedian, Ken Shimura. As used by Shimura and Watsuki, “oro” expresses surprise or dismay, based on the similar exclamation “ara” (generally considered feminine). As proper Japanese vocabulary, “oro” only exists as a word for lochia. It seems in the English version that “oro” has been translated into “huh?” in the English anime dub (although in episode 62 of the dub, Kaoru notices that Kenshin is saying “oro” rather than “huh?”). However, “oro” is kept intact in the English manga.
The source of Kenshin’s cross scars were introduced later in the manga series, and in the OVA, but the source of the idea was revealed during an interview with the creator of the series. During concept design, Nobuhiro Watsuki started out with the usual, stereotypical masculine swordsman. He then proceeded to draw a character that, in appearance, was the complete antithesis of the other design. Even he felt that the character design of Kenshin resembled a girl. He added the scars, out of desperation, to make the character look more manly.
The word Battōsai (抜) translates into Master of Sword Drawing. Battō (抜) is the action of drawing a sword; Sai is a suffix which has no literal meaning, but in this context, can refer to having mastered a set of skills or knowledge. The name directly indicates Kenshin’s mastery of all forms of Battōjutsu. However, Kenshin did not give himself this name, nor does he value it.
The name Samurai X was created to be used as an international name for the Rurouni Kenshin series. It is used for many different versions of the series. ADV Films’ English language release of the OVAs and the movie used the title Samurai X so as not to confuse their releases with Media Blasters’, which had the TV series. This name is unpopular with fans of the series, who also point out that Kenshin was not technically a samurai to begin with, although a few fans of the OVAs say Samurai X makes Kenshin sound more brutal. His use of a surname before the end of the Shogunate may mean that the Ishin Shishi granted him a samurai-equivalent status although he was born into a family of peasant farmers (peasants were not permitted to have family names).
Watsuki, being a fan of American comics, particularly Marvel, based some of the characters in Rurouni Kenshin on various characters in X-Men, Spider-Man and numerous other Marvel characters. Kenshin’s enemy, Jin-E, was physically based on Gambit while Shinomori Aoshi’s long coat and the length of his double-kodachi (based on Gambit’s cue stick/bō) are borrowed from the same character. Saito Hajime’s character design (dark blue uniform, white gloves, hairstyle and 5 o’clock shadow) and credo of brutally killing those who are evil were patterned after The Punisher while his smoking habit and penchant for sarcastically berating his friends (especially Sanosuke) are inspired by Wolverine. Moreover, Kenshin himself also exhibits wit, sensibilities, and morals similar to Spider-Man’s. The character design of Yatsume Mumyoi, a character from the Jinchu arc (see above), is extremely similar to the supervillain Venom from Spider-Man, something which Watsuki himself points out in his respective character-commentary section. The cloak of Hiko Seijūrō, Kenshin’s master, Watsuki admits in one of the manga commentaries was inspired by the cloak of Spawn. Anji, the master of Futae no Kiwami, was partially inspired by Colossus.
This series is also, in part, inspired by the classic SNK game Samurai Shodown, as Watsuki frequently makes references to the game and its characters in his own character notes. It is also noteworthy that the Last Blade games series, also from SNK, has many characters that in turn took elements from Rurouni Kenshin characters, most notably Moriya Minakata, whose cloak was inspired by that of Hiko Seijuro and whose primary skills are in battōjutsu. The Last Blade is considered an act of admiration for Watsuki by the SNK team that developed Samurai Shodown. Watsuki was later invited to design the characters for Samurai Shodown Zero.
According to Watsuki’s “Secret Life of Characters” sections, his characters are also visually based on characters from other popular anime series. Sanjō Tsubame’s haircut was modeled on Hotaru Tomoe’s from the Sailor Moon series, while Yukishiro Tomoe and Honjō Kamatari are based on Rei Ayanami and Yui Ikari respectively of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
The alternate title for Kenshin, Samurai X, is used in another Watsuki series, Buso Renkin. Sword Samurai X is the name of Shusui Hayasaka’s Buso Renkin (an alchemic weapon).
In the first appearances of Yahiko, he is shown in the English manga to be naming himself as Myōjin Yahiko, Tokyo Samurai, though by Meiji era, most members of the samurai class became shizoku, who retained the same salary but were no longer permitted to wear and draw a katana unnecessarily in public. In later releases by Viz depicting Yahiko’s introduction, Yahiko refers to himself as Tokyo Shizoku, confusing many of the readers who had seen the previous edition. In the English dub by MediaBlasters, he refers to himself as “Yahiko Myojin: Son of a Samurai”.
The character Baiken from Guilty Gear was heavily inspired by Kenshin, to the point where her initial physical appearance in the first game was a pallette swap of Kenshin. It is said that Daisuke Ishiwatari (the character designer) got the idea when he saw a picture of Kenshin and mistook him for a woman.
In the first episode of the OVA series, Kenshin buries his caretakers and their murderers with crosses on top of the graves. This would be highly unlikely since Christianity was forbidden under the Tokugawa Shogunate.
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