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Review: Rurouni Kenshin "Seisouhen"

Found reviews of Rurouni Kenshin "Seisouhen" Parts 1 and 2 earlier today. They're very harsh reviews of Seisouhen, and I do not think they may not be justified on some points, but I do believe they're true about their criticism and not wrong in many ways. I did not know ADV paid to have Seisouhen made though, which is an interesting development to know.

I don't know. It makes me think a lot. I never quite thought of the depressing melodrama of Seisouhen as unecessary, or overdone, or even theatrical, as this review suggests. But from a different POV, I can see where the reviewer is coming from. I can sympathize, certainly, because I've read the manga including the Epilogue mentioned here, which did show a happier, brighter future for Kenshin.

But, I don't know. I think Seisouhen was the most horrible thing to have ever happened to any character of any series. In that, I don't disagree with the reviewer. But unecessary? I'm not sure. The start of the Meiji Restoration was, even in the predominantly genki RK manga/anime, a trying time for Japan. There was a lot of trial and error and chaos. This is aptly demonstrated in the RK manga/anime as it is.

Why are there so many disgruntled ex-samurai wandering around who don't want to give up their swords (eventually meeting our protagonist)? The Meiji government destroyed Japan's centuries of feudal society, thereby destroying the social classes. It's like how Communism destroyed China's feudal classes, but probably with a modicum of slightly more order and less angry peasants. Yes, yes, huge gaps in my logic here, not at all being historically accurate or even doing a good comparison and I should be beaten soundly for my most dishonorable generalization. Please bear with me a little bit more.

As the Seisouhen reviewer points out, there is a strong thread of hope and joy in RK manga/anime because Kenshin had that hope and joy for the future of his country, after he himself contributed to giving it a violent birth. Kenshin was, simply, not broken up about things because he wanted to make things better.

But not everything about the manga/anime was genki. The underlying violence of Kenshin's past, and that past catching up with him, was far from genki. This was first demonstrated to a large extent in the Kyoto Arc (which made it to TV), and then in full, mind-fucking force in the Enishi/Revenge Arc that the series originally ended on.

The Enishi/Revenge Arc that manga purists have no end of wailing about with regards to how it was never truly animated was the one point in the manga that Kenshin did break. He was dragged out of his self-hating woe by his love for his friends, and by how much they depended on and loved him in return. That Arc was more about him fighting his inner demons rather than a outer foe. So, manga RK ended with a lot of hope for the future, and it was a happy ending, if not the most complete one. And then, we have the OVAs.

The first OVA, "Romantic Tales of the Meiji", was the tale of Kenshin as a boy growing up to be the best assassin in Japan. It was dark, flawless and miserable. All manga/anime RK fans are in agreement that it is one of the best anime ever made, and it is a respected piece of art in anime circles. No, I'm not exaggerating. ;)

The second OVA, "Seisouhen", is different. It is not taken from the manga, like the first OVA. It's an original story by Watsuki-sensei, who created the manga. It was indeed a response to fans who wanted more RK, and he gave them that. It is a complete end to a beautiful series, but probably not what everyone was expecting.

See, while I believed the anime/manga was about hope, it was also about this very complex man trying to escape his past. It was never meant to be a happy story about a flawless, superhuman character at all. Kenshin hated beaurocracy, and he didn't want a part in the Meiji government for the entire RK manga. In Seisouhen, he does accept a role, one which doesn't need him to fight, but to comfort disturbed parts of Japan, I think he's a sort of government inspector?, who visits places where there are plagues and natural disasters. It's a fitting role. And that role serves the dual purpose of hope and escapism that Kenshin believed in.

Now, you can't go around starting a family and giving yourself to your country in the same breath. Seisouhen was realistic about this, not melodramatic. Kaoru wasn't a weak woman because she submitted to and accepted the fact she would have to share her husband with Japan, she understood him well enough to know he wouldn't be happy if he didn't try to help out. Kenji, their son, ran off to Kenshin's old swordmaster in rebellion. He didn't see how his father's passive ways was useful for anything. It certainly didn't make his mother any happier. The dysfunctional family made sense. Again, you can't start a family and give yourself to your country in the same breath without serious conflicts.

Seisouhen is about people discussing their feelings and hopes because that's where Kenshin and Kaoru are at that point in their lives. That's what this OVA was about, how they spent the rest of their lives, which, because Kenshin gave up his sword, was not about him slicing and dicing more enemies. Yes, it sucks a whole lot in that it didn't have to also animate the Enishi Arc very, very badly, and yes, it did try to condense 2000+ pages of manga into 15 minutes. I'm as angry about that as any other fan, because if they weren't going to do that part right, they might as well not have.

It is depressing. It is evil in a bottle to any Kenshin-loving otaku. But I stick with the realism angle. Kenshin was not the sort of person who could've lived happily ever after, not the way he kept going after trouble. It makes a lot of sense for him to continue giving up his safety and welfare long after giving up the sword. In the manga, he did make it clear he wanted to help people without the sword at all, if he could. It makes a lot of sense that this would eventually ruin him. Kenshin at the end of the manga was not at the peak of his health, he was asking for trouble by traipsing off into the sunset and helping people.

This is realistic plotting on the part of Watsuki-sensei. Good people who give of themselves without regard to their own welfare will suffer, will eventually make people around them suffer, and will eventually die. Kenshin, in Seisouhen, renounces the sword in both mind and spirit, to the point of taking away his sword-using name, and continues his quest to create hope. He suffers in the process. He makes his family suffer, and he apologizes for this. Kaoru has never hated him for what he does, which is in character. Their son hates his father for making Kaoru suffer, because he does not understand why Kenshin gives of himself. The friends they fought with before are all apalled at this turn of events, but what can they do?

"Seisouhen" is sad, and numbing. It is not as good as the first OVA, and certainly not the best thing that's been done with RK, but it is appropriate. It is not comforting as far as an end to a series goes, but it is complete. Yes, it is a very hard watch from the angle of one having to be a real follower of the show to remotely get, but this was an OVA that was made for fans. They could've done it better, I don't argue that. It's just that I think "Seisouhen" deserves a lot of credit for being a very good end-of-a-series. There are lots of other series that end badly, or with open endings that leave fans in the air. "Seisouhen" is a complete ending, a complete cycle of its main protagonists' lives.

It means a lot.

Bear in mind, I am the old, cynical RK fan. I have lived through the manga, the movie, the OVAs and the long, long TV series. I have read the specious doujinshi, the hentai, the fanfiction, the drinking game and most of the historical cliffnotes and research attached to the time period. My sense of humor regarding the series is lost in space. ;)

And of course, I am obsessed with the dark, creepy, murderous parts of Kenshin, as much as I was humored by the "Ore!" and egg-sized head bumps aspect of it. Actually, ok. I'm more obsessed with the dark, creepy, murderous parts of Kenshin. And I liked him defying physics. But also, creating dark, artsy drama!


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