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.
I wanted to give the story a higher score, unfortunately I gave it the highest score I could give. The story of Kenshin is excellent and the ending part of this OVA series was exceptional and extremely emotional. However, the beginning seems to jump around excessively. I understand the point of the flashbacks is most likely to illustrate how Kaoru is thinking back about the past as she waits for Kenshin. However, if you decide to watch this OVA series you should definately have seen the anime or read up to the part with Enishi before watching this because the flashbacks would only confuse you if you do not already know the story.
The animation was above average but I could definately tell that this was made before Kenshin's New Kyoto Arc. However, I was suprised to find out it was made after the OVAs about Kenshin and his Previous Wife. I really felt that the OVA's with Kenshin and Tomoi were made extremly beautifully both when it came to the intense action scenes and when it came to the extremely emotional scenes. The animation just felt more powerful than it did this time. However, maybe that was the intention given the circumstances of the characters. After all, they were no longer young and healthy. Maybe the duller animation was symbolic... or maybe I'm just reading too much into it.
The sound was also extremely good. I don't have much to say about it though. The Voice actors all did a excellent Job. I watched the engish Dubbed version and was more than satisfied with everything on this aspect.
The Characters I gave a high score to. I felt compelled to give them a 10, but I unfortunately couldn't. This is because they really don't give enough information about the characters and what they were doing between the time skip between Enishi and present day. They share a bit of information and flash back to things we already know about. However, other than Kaoru, Kenshin, and a bit about their child and Enishi, they really let the other characters go. They give little tid bits of info and let you imagine the rest. I know it is only 2 short OVA's but I really felt they could have done more with the character development. That is why this catagory recieved a 8.5. Honestly, it probably should be lower. However, Kenshin and Kaoru's preformance in the movie make up for what the other characters lack quite a bit and made me feel pretty confident in giving the characters this overall score. I especially like how mature Kaoru is in this series over how she is in the original anime.
Overall, I'd definately suggest watching this OVA series if you are a Ruroni Kenshin Fan, even Casually. If you aren't then I think you could still enjoy it if you get some backstory first about the characters and what had happened.
I write this review as kind of a summary of my thoughts about the whole Rurouni Kenshin franchise.
It took me a while to watch the TV Serie. I have to say that it was not as amusing and extraordinary as I could imagine after seeing ratings and revievs. Story was very convincing and fascinating and to some extent so were episodic fragments. Although aftetr tones of filler-like arcs I was feeling a bit fed up with it. They really slowed the tempo of watching the stories of Kenshin and I had to have couple of breaks for other animes. Finally reaching the end was extremely disappointing but somehow I felt that the OVA's will greacefully fulfill the plot. Lucky me, I wasn't wrong.
Tsuioku-hen's story was a hell of a surprice to me (never read the manga) and I was really pleased with it. It contained much actual history of the Edo period, filled the plot gaps from TV serie and treated us with one of the most beautiful bittersweet romance I have experienced in my adventure with japanese animation. The emotions were so realistic I was stunned. But little did I know this was barely the beginning of 'feels'.
I don't want to go into details for I avoid making any spoilers but I have to say that watching the last OVA - Seisou-hen was equally soul devastating to wrecking ball demolishing buildings.
First part was only a quick reminder of the most remarkable parts of story (including the arc that has not been animated and is actually pretty important) from the point of view of Kaoru. The next part of the OVA is the real deal which in my opinion makes the whole serie incredibly different from what we could expect and therefore really special and unforgettable.
First the most important thing, and the only thing that I don't actually like about it, is that you have to watch the TV series and it would be highly recommended to watch Tsuioku Hen as well, the reason is that it is all based on what is there, without that it is an already started story that you won't pour yourself since the lack of introduction, this it is technically the conclusion, and a master piece of conclusion in my opinion.
[Spoiler: Rant about Authour Opionion]
Let's go on, If someone doesn't like this OVA, it is fine, I really see why, but when people throws the lame excuse by using a phrase that the Author of the Manga said "Kenshin went through so much crap and deserved a happy ending" which he actually said, I'm glad to show them my middle finger, since them can't even give their own arguments to why it sucks, but not only that, the thing is that when I read that sentence I was really curious to think why he though that, I was blissed with the OVA that just got me intrigued. I laugh to them even more, people are using a sentence out of context to trash this OVA. Here is what I found on wikipedia: "Although Samurai X: Reflection was not written by Watsuki, he stated that he "checked in on the script." Watsuki mentioned not having input in it, and let the director "run wild with it." In response to Kenshin's death in comparison to the happy ending in the manga version, he felt that his own work eventually would have reached Kenshin's death had he continued writing. He had not wished to pursue that line because "Kenshin went through so much crap and deserved a happy ending." He felt that neither version was better than the other because "it's a personal taste thing." Here is the actual interview http://www.mania.com/anime-expo-friday-report_article_86123.html where he actually flatters the OVA as interesting. So to give a director a second chance to go wild on a script on one of his beloved stories is because there is actually respect from him to the director, as he as well accept the cruel fact of what could have been on the manga and was actually in this version, were it is really a matter of taste which one you prefer.
The thing is that most of people think of this as an full adaptation, and it's clearly an INTERPRETATION just by not listening Kenshin saying "oro" and the bittersweet realistic athmosphere, adding that this is not written by the original author. The key is that if he actually respected the essence of the story, and I think it actually was marvelous on it but on the almost literaly opposite point of view. While the TV format was more focus cheerful, childish, good spirit, it also had serious and mature matters as well for sad strong emotions. Here you got that on reverse, grimace, mature atmosphere and harsh reality, but it also had moments of beautiful warm hearted moments.
It use a lot of flashbacks, you actually see a summary of the whole TV show adding the Enishi arc, which does feel strange since it was a kind of harsh change on the pacing, but I don't blame this OVA I blame the stupid last 33 episodes of the show for exploring the mysteries of religious treasure hunting fen shui, instead of actually going on with the plot since I read that Enisihi arc is pretty kick ass and it seems so. So this was necessary for those who didn't knew about this arc and because it actually has to do a lot with Tomoe which is heck of important as important for Kaoru, but they deal with this summarized arc just as they should.
The main protagonist here isn't Kenshin, it is Kaoru, and I actually was afraid of this when read the premise, just happen that It is just really hard for me to take Kaoru seriously on the Show, she is just so blind in love for Kenshin that I just can't end of understand in detail why? is just so childish, and don't take me wrong, I actually think she was a good character in there, it actually had good development. What I got here? I couldn't be more satisfied, it is almost as Ruruouni Kaoru since we see all from her perspective and it let me clear what was going on with her and his love for Kenshin on a full panorama and done just right. All the other cast also receive their importance and dedication, but compared to the shounen style of the TV it is actually pretty subtle due the realism, so if you like explicit and exaggerated emotions you might not get what you ask for, but they stay faithful to the spirit of the characters, except for one and clearly the biggest complain.
Kenshin is not the same, is the same from Tsuiokuhen, but not from the original story one. What we see here it actually contradicts the point of view of the original story, or what I understood, since Kenshin is very cheerful despite of his grimace and actually could fight with the guilt of the past. Here the story starts telling you that it was all a LIE! but remember, this is an INTERPRETATION a SPIN OFF, a PARALELL UNIVERSE, I don't know how would call it but is not the same line, that you can guess just by looking without much depth. And yeah, I know, it sucks at first sight, that's why not giving the whole credit as something perfect, since the contrast is just too big, but I don't blame whether if I like the other the best or not, instead I go for how they play with what they choose, and they did a perfectly legit Kenshin, having Tsuiokuhen as a base, and a full show were you have to unfortunately figure out how it went so he took this path, on the other hand they give a lot of backdrop in here so it's very easy to figure out how it all went, and I have to say that I really like this Kenshin, although I still prefer the "oro" one because he is the awesome classic one.
I just love everything, the presentation was outstanding, moving through flashbacks to flashback to the present to flashback in a very dynamic and fluid way that doesn't really gives you the feeling that you are in the past but actually living the present of the memories of the characters and the way they act so real and human with a lot of emotions everywhere with a very good direction, I was immerse from the beginning to the end so easily with the help of the music and animation, for me this was just a fantastic ride even better than Tsuiokuhen, and a Master Piece
Animation (Great) Sound (Superb)
As for the animation, the little of action is done very very neat, as well for the atmosphere, the character design feels a little bit odd but when getting used to, they are great, my only complain tend to be some still expressions they make from time to time. But outside of that it is a fine piece of art, including the high musical standards of the Kenskin franchise.
Oh, the heartbreak. It was a good ending to everything, though. I was just hoping they showed a bit of happiness on their married life here though. I feel like they just compiled all the challenges and sufferings Kenshin and Kaoru had to endure in theor lifetime.