A reader requested that I review some volumes of the Rurouni Kenshin manga. At present, I’ve almost finished the series and can almost review the antepenultimate volume of the series–i.e. volume twenty-six. (Yes, I could not resist using the word antepenultimate.) Now appears a good moment to look back on the series and why I enjoy it so much. This manga is such a delight that I obtained the complete series in the original language in order to translate it from the original.
After reading the first two volumes in English, I purchased all of the tankobun volumes. I must say that the level of Japanese stood far above Inuyasha, which counted as my first exposure to manga and even to translating foreign works. (Later, I would read Latin poetry, but it required three years of high school Latin before I started reading excerpts of Classical literature. Conversely, two months of Japanese sufficed for me to plunge into Inuyasha.) With Rurouni Kenshin, I soon developed a fear of running into boxes of historical digression written in kanji. Having watched the anime previously, some of the long monologues were much easier to deal with; but, in Rurouni Kenshin, unlike in Inuyasha, most of the fight is cerebral. Cases where one can sit back and admire pages of action with interjections here and there are seldom found in the pages of Rurouni Kenshin.
Nobuhiro Watsuki has a unique art style. I love the intensity he can pack into certain scenes. Also, the character designs strike one as more Asian than Caucasian, which is always nice. The art undergoes a significant transition after the first two volumes. The style in the first two volumes is more…je ne sais quoi…fluffy? Kenshin and Kaoru look far cuter in these two volumes. After the first two volumes the style of the character designs becomes much leaner. A mangaka’s style tends to evolve over the course of a series, but I cannot but think the transition in style reflects the story becoming more serious and less lighthearted. Though, humor can be found in every volume.
My father pointed out something interesting about the dynamic between the hero and the villains of Rurouni Kenshin: these relate to each other as the heroes and villains of Marvel comics. Basically, one very common thing one sees in Marvel comics is that the villain is very much like the hero, except for a tragic flaw. Whether one talks about Sousuke Sagara, Jin-e Udo, or Makoto Shishio, they all resemble Kenshin but are twisted in one significant way. This makes the stories that much more compelling.
The reader will also enjoy a very accurate history of the Bakumatsu and Meiji Era. More than one person has claimed to have passed history class because of Rurouni Kenshin, and I myself found it very useful in passing one exam. Many of the characters are either based on historical figures or historical figures themselves. My favorite character, Hajime Saito, stood as a very important figure within the Shinsengumi, a military unit of the Shogunate government immortalized by their raid on the Ikedaya Inn. Kenshin Himura himself is based on Kawakami Gensai, one of the four greatest assassins of the Meiji Revolution. No other manga has history so well woven into its story with the possible exception of The Rose of Versailles.
Lastly, one has to love the heroes. They’re all very likable with fascinating backstories. Also, Kenshin is not so overpowered that the other characters are reduced to not having a part in the battles. Kenshin stands as the first major hero I can recall with a vow not to kill, which adds some interesting obstacles for him to overcome. Very often, the reader wishes him to take the easy way out and deep six this vow, especially when the stakes get higher.
At any rate, be sure to give the Rurouni Kenshin manga, anime, or both a try! I myself hope to move onto Watsuki’s Busou Renkin after finishing RK.