Note: I hadn’t read a single page out of the original Kenshin manga when I wrote this review. This is probably an important factor to me enjoying the show. Also, this review contains minor spoilers for Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen and the Rurouni Kenshin television series.
There has been a lot of talk over whether this anime is “faithful” to the spirit of Kenshin. Admittedly, this show is a very strong departure from the TV series or even Reminiscence. While in the anime’s predecessors Kenshin is generally shown as a man of strong spirit, mind, and body, in Rurouni Kenshin: Seisouhen he is shown as something entirely different – a feeble, listless individual filled with doubt and regret. Even his character design is significantly changed – the new one feels not only older, but also immensely weathered from the previous trials of his life. The abrupt change is somewhat startling, and is probably a very large reason as to why many people dislike Seisouhen.
However, to me, this transformation seems almost inevitable. As the first episode of the OVA makes clear, Kenshin can never truly be rid of his past sins. The immense guilt he feels for those he has slaughtered can never be washed away, no matter how many good deeds he does to assuage his inner suffering. Seisouhen’s portrayal of Kenshin as a character feels like the logical conclusion to what is shown in Reminiscence and the TV series – as time goes on, Kenshin must realize that he can never escape his bloody origin, the legacy left by his former wife, or the ruthless killer that he once was. In a way, Kenshin has been dead far before the TV series even started; by taking up the sword to kill, he has long since traded away an important part of his humanity. Everything since then has merely been a futile try at redemption, an attempt to regain what he has long since lost. As Kenshin gets older and weaker, he can no longer distract himself; he instead must finally confront what he has done.
In the absolutely excellent Tsuiokuhen OVA, Kenshin realized that his philosophy of killing people to save people was wrong. As a result, he chose to never take another human life, and to atone for his sins through saving the lives of countless individuals. Here in Seisouhen, Kenshin realizes that his new world outlook is also unrealistic – no matter how many individuals he saves, he can never bring back the ones he has killed.
The way that Kaoru fits into this is that, well, she doesn’t seem to fit in. Kenshin has already lost so much that whether there is any more room in his heart for Kaoru seems dubious. Amazingly, in Seisouhen, Kaoru seems just as tortured as Kenshin’s first wife, Tomoe. While Tomoe was torn between her simultaneous hatred and love of the man, Kaoru doesn’t even know if Kenshin cares for her. Did he marry her out of his seemingly infinite kindness, or does he actually need her as a companion?
The entire first episode of Seisouhen is devoted solely to this single burning question. As Kaoru looks back on her life, she almost frantically searches for signs that prove Kenshin’s true love. Some may call these flashbacks a rehash, but I strongly disagree. Though Kaoru is remembering events that transpired in the TV series, here in this OVA they are given an entirely new context and meaning. Gone is the cheerful, optimistic air that permeated the series; instead, the events are retold through the eyes of a desperate woman wondering if she has wasted her life loving someone who is incapable of loving her back.
The second episode… well, I won’t go into specifics. However, allow me to say that both Kenshin’s seemingly undying guilt and Kaoru’s possibly futile love are resolved amazingly well. Will Kaoru finally know that she is a part of Kenshin? Will Kenshin ever be able to find true, untainted peace? Seisouhen refuses to take the easy answers.
Finally and most importantly, does this anime go against the “spirit” of Kenshin? Yes and no. While this OVA definitely diverges from what I remember the TV series for, it provides something that is just as good. Seisouhen can be viewed as an alternate interpretation of the characters of Kenshin and Kaoru; a darker approach filled with regret and despair. A few people seem to believe that this OVA contradicts the original storyline, but I heavily disagree with that. Both Tsuiokuhen and the Rurouni Kenshin TV series had all of the themes seen here; in Seisouhen, however, they are merely much more emphasized.
Unfortunately, the anime's storyline is remarkably disjointed. Much more time should have been devoted to certain parts of the plot, and the anime’s fragmented, rushed approach to tell the story borders on confusing. Finally, I for one don’t really understand why the creators decided to include the small portion of time devoted to Enishi. Enishi clearly deserves several episodes just for himself, not the 10 minutes given to him in the 2 episode OVA. There wasn’t really a way to do the character justice without spending a lot more time on him, and it probably would have been best if they had not included him at all.
However, the storyline also has moments of incredible power. In particular, I found the ending to be absolutely amazingly carried out, and the flashback scenes were poignant and served to cast the old scenes in an entirely new light.
Seisouhen’s is definitely below the incredible animation seen in Tsuiokuhen, but I was nonetheless still very impressed. While not quite as fluid as its predecessor, Seisouhen sports absolutely excellent character designs as well as beautiful background scenery. The various swordfights are competently executed (although not outstanding), and the facial expressions are very nicely handled.
Seisouhen’s soundtrack is every bit as excellent as the first OVA’s, and voice acting is just as good, if not better. Theres a pretty wide range of emotion covered in the story, and the seiyuu do a fantastic job in every case.
The fantastic characters of the original Rurouni Kenshin are drastically reinvisioned in Seisouhen. Some might be at odds with the changes, but I thought they added further depth and insight into some already fantastic characters.
I’ve been delaying watching this OVA for a long, long time. When the anime was first released, the negative hype was astounding; talk of defiling “the spirit” of Kenshin was rather common, with the ending in particular being complained about. I soon became convinced that the work was a clumsy, incompetent work that simultaneously confused those who had not read the manga and outraged those who had. Seisouhen was vilified so much, in fact, that I avoided it for several years before a series of outstanding AMVs piqued my curiosity enough to watch the show. However, what I experienced is not the "disgraceful" anime that I was expecting; on the contrary, Seisouhen is a remarkably powerful work.
Whether or not this is something worth seeing seems to depend largely on the individual; some like Seisouhen, and others hate it. However, I for one was captivated by the incredible depth added to Kenshin and Kaoru, as well as the very nice animation and the excellent soundtrack. Although the storyline is definitely lacking, the other elements of the anime more than make up for its shortcomings, and in the end I was thoroughly impressed. Granted, the anime doesn’t come close to matching the excellence in Tsuiokuhen, but few animes do.
This beautiful finale to the Kenshin series will tear at your emotions. Himura Kenshin is back for his grand finale, while a vengeful figure from Kenshin's past named Enishi seeks revenge for the death of his sister. Find out how Kenshin tries to overcome this foe when Kaoru, his love, is kidnapped.