It took place around the time that I had finished Naruto, Death Note and Bleach; I was browsing the internet looking for a new drug to get addicted to, just five days before one of my most important psychology exams. It was really unfortunate, because I still had to go through about 500 pages of scientific English, but after reading one particular review I felt attracted to this new series and a few days later at midnight, just a few hours before the exam, I found myself finishing the main part of the series (I still worked myself through the entire book and passed the exam somehow, so all rest assured xD). How could this have happened?
Enter Hitokiri Battousai, a young man who spends years fighting in the Meji revolution as an assassin with legendary swordsmanship, then disappears when the revolution comes to a close. He wanders around for 10 years all over Japan, then resurfaces as the kind wanderer Himura Kenshin, carrying deep feelings of pain and guilt under his cheerful appearance. He has the strong conviction never to kill again, but can't seem to escape his dark past as he struggles in a hopeless fight with old enemies - and with himself.
Upon starting to watch the first few episodes of RK, you will notice that it's more childish than you had somehow anticipated. The beginning of the series indeed suggests that its primary audience should be young teens. There is an introduction of the main characters, carrying a structure that most people find really tasteless and that I quite shamelessly enjoy. It sums up to something like lame-enemy-underestimates-protagonist, consequently-protagonist-kicks-ass. After this you are treated to some reasonably interesting arcs, some really brilliant jewels here and there and some fillers up to episode 27. This part of the story serves to make you care about the characters and to develop a feel for the feudal Japan. However, you will soon notice that the series will move away from it's apparent childishness, becoming more dark and violent bit by bit but not showing its true colours until the beginning of the Kyoto arc, which runs from episode 28 til episode 62. Although at this point it's probably suited for anyone above the age of 13 to follow the surface story, it requires someone a bit older to truly understand and appreciate the themes of guilt and repentance that are so brilliantly composed in this series. Although the main attraction of the series is, therefore, Kenshin himself, the Kyoto Arc carries this tragic character with flair.
A final point of something I really liked in RK is that it shifts from a childish good-evil perception to a view more mature than that. It's the notion that the side you are fighting for isn't necessairily the good side; the other side isn't necessairily evil. The one who wins a fight isn't, therefore, necessairily right. It was a good distinction that contrasted greatly with the strong and frankly somewhat childish borders of good and bad that we see before the Kyoto arc.
Leaving all the good remarks behind us now, a mayor flaw that almost meant the downfall of this series starts right after episode 62, as episode 63 right through til the end of the series at 95 consist of fillers. Pure trash, honestly, and it causes the series to bleed to death in a long and unpleasant struggle. Consequently, I have rated the series as though season 3 doesn't exist at all, hence the high ratings. The series from ep 1-62 as a whole gets an 8.5, however, if i were to rate the Kyoto arc only I doubt a 9.5 would be enough (based on pure fanboyism this is in fact the only anime show that I've given 5 stars. This is solely because of the kyoto arc).
Despite all my enthusiastic blabbering about RK (an inevitable consequence of trying to rate your favourite series) I have found some flaws apart from the fillers. The antagonists, apart from Shishio, are all quite lame and relatively easy overcome. The fighting sequences are not the best you will ever see in the sense that they are a somewhat predictable every now and then and not brilliantly animated, which will surely leave some of us disappointed. Also, Kenshins does display a kind of schizofrenic personality bouncing back and forth between kind wanderer and assassin in a way that is not entirely credible; this might raise some eyebrows. Finally, it does remain a pity that the series only truly shines during the 35-episodes long Kyoto arc.
Altogether, Rurouni Kenshin has a story that really impressed me on an emotional level. However, you gotta love samurai and swordfights in addition for this all to work out well ;)
Whatever there is to say about the nice way of drawing and the well-made character designs, the animation of this anime isn't exactly breathtaking. Although they sometimes depict all the movements, there are also a lot of instances where the most crucial parts of an attack aren't animated at all and we just see a kind of flash. That's a pity, but we have to take the fact into account that we are looking at a series that was made more than a decade ago. In spite of this flaw, like I said, I really love the design of Kenshin, from his beautiful eyes and hairstyle (somehow I really like red hair) to his slender body posture, which all fits really well with the character. Having said this, though the main characters are all created in an original and appealing way, most of the villains are ugly in the archetypical-villain sense, which is a pity sometimes because it exaggerates the good-bad antithesis more than it maybe should.
I found all the main characters to be likable, but Sanosuke did stand out as the tough, slightly dim-witted but loyal friend with strong convictions. It's actually really hard not to like him (for some reason he really reminds me of Zoro in One Piece). As far as the other characters go, Yahiko and Kaoru are ok although it's a bit of a shame that the relationship between Kenshin and Kaoru doesn't make a lot of progress in the anime. As I encounter this flaw in a lot of series, including all the popular shounen, I bear with it most of the time, but sometimes I can't help wondering why they can't even include a single kiss, for crying out loud.
Having said all this, let's move on to the most interesting character of the series, namely Kenshin. I must be careful not to be getting overly enthusiastic at this point. It's really difficult to objectively rate your absolute all-time-favourite series, especially when you are about to analyse your all-time-favourite character, but I'll try hard ;). Kenshin is an intriguing character because he tries to live towards the future, but is inevitably forced down to turn to his dark past again and again. For a change, we do not witness a young character that starts off powerless and becomes more interesting and powerful as time passes (Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Inuyasha, Hunter x Hunter, etc). What we do see, however, is a man who's personality is a sum of his past actions, and who has already lived a whole life. He's an adult, a complete and layered person who has taken different paths in life at different moments, a person who bears deep scars from his past, physically and mentally. The focus of the series is therefore not on the future, but on the past.
A second point that's worth some praise about Kenshin is his inner demon. In most series this inner demon consists as a separate entity from the self, but in Kenshin's case the inner demon is his past self so it stands much closer to him than the usual inner demon in the typical shounen anime does. The amazing part does not really consist of the fact that he fights agains the disappearance of his present personality, but more strongly because it's a fight for his present conviction to never kill again, a fight to keep the little dignity he has left, a struggle in which he chooses the painful way of guilt and atonement instead of the easy way, even though he is a stronger swordsman when having his old personality.
This takes us right to the reason why Kenshin is the most amazing anime character ever made, for me. It's his silent suffering and the pain that tears him apart, the excruciating guilt he feels and the way he can't forgive himself for all the things he did, the way he covers his sadness in a chearful appearance. It consists of the notion that there are some scars that can't be mend by time, some wounds that will keep hurting no matter what you do. It's exactly this message that impressed me. It's a pretty heavy theme but quite realistic in real-life, and its beautiful to see how Kenshin acts around his resolve of saving as many people with his sword as he can as a repentance for slaying innocents in his past. Kenshin is the character who caused me to feel an emotional identification and involvement I had never experienced before. This identification gave me the feeling I could almost experience his pain and sadness myself. I admired him, and I found myself caring for him almost like a close friend.
Naturally, even the greatest characters in all anime do have their flaws, and although I don't see any real flaws in the manga, Kenshins personality does have its moments of exaggerated schizofrenia in the anime, when uttering 'oro' and playing with kids one moment and mercilessly slaying enemies right after. A bit of an antithesis would have been ok, as shown in the manga, but in the way it's done in the anime you can't help feeling awkward every now and then because the switch just isn't credible.
Rurouni Kenshin is a series with a strongly varying quality. Any episode after 62 consists of pretty awful filler material that lacks everything that was initially good about the series. The creators of this anime shall burn in hell for deciding not to follow the manga after the kyoto arc and instead presenting us with more than 30 episodes of fillers. This way it's just useless episodes that have the sole purpose of extending the series by drifting upon the glory of the Kyoto-arc. You should therefore consider Rurouni Kenshin a series consisting of 62 episodes and realise that I have rated it accordingly, without taking the bulk of episode 63-95 into account. If you look at it this way, there are 27 episodes of character introduction, some interesting arcs and some fillers, and a total of 35 episodes of a truly amazing series that will get to you up close and personal. This arc is a true masterpiece of identification, and at least to those who have themselves experienced their fair share of scars in life, Kenshin will leave a lasting impression.