個腿軟吧！！志志雄會哭的！！Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno
and Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends
form two parts of the Shishio arc. The scope is considerably larger, and it relies people having either read the original manga or seen the first movie, as it wastes no time on re-introducing the original cast.
Before I start, I'm going to make an aside to say that the two fansub versions and the Madman official English translations for the Kenshin franchise have been fairly unreliable, ranging from outright incorrect ("Put up your sword" translated to "I'm not going to draw my sword", and "Unforgivable" translated to "I'll kill him"), to interpretation differences (e.g. use of "kill" instead of "assassinate" - there are some contexts where the difference is important), to omitting things that is deemed too difficult to understand when taken out of the Japanese historical context (e.g. all honorifics and the Shinsengumi).
My Japanese isn't good enough to understand some of the longer prose, which was why I kept being confused as to why Shishio was Kenshin's successor when - supposedly, according to the translations, Shishio succeeded Kenshin after Kenshin hung up his sword at the battle at Toba Fushimi, but Shishio was also "killed" straight after the battle.
It turns out there's a piece of Kenshin history left out here, which probably ties in with the omitted Tomoe story and a lot of the omitted Shinsengumi backstory. During his years, Kenshin's frequent clashes with the Shinsengumi (of which Saitou is a part) blew his cover, so to speak, and he was no longer able to function as a underworld assassin. That was when Shishio took over his job as the assassin.
Once again, the casting has been amazing. Tsuchiya Tao was adorable as the tomboyish Misao, Iseya Yuusuke suitably brooding as Aoshi, Kamiki Ryuunosuke deceptively innocuous as Soujirou, Fujiwara Tatsuya convincingly psychopathic as Shishio, and Fukuyama Masaharu has amazing presence as one would expect from an actor of his stature and calibre.
The action scenes continue to be a highlight, although having previously seen behind the scenes clips, I both admire and feel for poor Takeru having to do a lot of the stunts himself and without wires.
The choreography for the fight sequences has been surprisingly faithful to the original work. The otaku in me squees a little every time the characters do a recognisable stance. Impressively, they've also incorporated details like Aoshi using his swords defensively like a shield, and distinctive differences in the way that Kenshin, Saitou, Aoshi and Soujirou fights.
Kenshin getting ready for Souryuusen (雙龍閃)
Now for the complaints (although some of them are sort of repetitions of what I said in Chinese).
Firstly, Saitou. Don't get me wrong, I love Eguchi Yousuke in the role, but he's not any incarnation of Saitou Hajime that I can think of. Apart from the highly recognisable left-handed Gatotsu and the simmering cynicism, he's not quite as single-mindedly fierce as the original, but not quite as reserved and cool-headed as other versions.
Saitou's Gatotsu (牙突)
If anything, the situation has gotten more obvious by the 2nd and 3rd movies, where Saitou moves and acts like he's been taken over by Gintama
's Hijikata. The fact he decided to take up smoking between the first and the next two movies aside, there's his reluctant respect for the main characters, the dedication to his own men, and the resigned way he approaches his own loyalty with his government.
Which brings me onto the next point. Given that the director did Ryoumaden
, I was a little disappointed in the story circling around some of the thoughtful issues only to fizzle away at the end without saying much. 兔死狗烹 - when the hare dies, the hounds are slaughtered. That's a story we know too well and see repeated in every political jurisdiction. When the new government wants to bury the past, they bury everything along with it, including those people who had given up their humanity in order to "usher in the New Age" (it bugs me that they translate Meiji as New Age, but let's not start on that). Hounds like Kenshin and Shishio and Saitou represented what little choice these men had - Kenshin chose to fade out of history, Shishio was brutally murdered, and Saitou had to change his identity and become the new government's pet.
When Kenshin et co risked their lives to board Shishio's ship to confront him, the onshore forces continued to bomb Shishio's ship at the Prime Minister's orders. They wanted to bury Shishio for sure, but who's to say that they didn't also want to bury Kenshin, whose loyalty they could not be sure they had and whose past was so intimately tied with the ugly truths of how that government came into power. When Kenshin returned, the Prime Minister in a move of leniency shifted all of Kenshin's crimes under Shishio's name, but how is that any less hypocritical than everything they had done before? It's an ugly picture and in a way I'm glad they've painted it as thus, but also a little disappointed they didn't do any more with that material.
What really caught my eye in the first movie was how much people struggled to live in "the New Age". It was a step that the country had to take, but the war has done horrors to people, creating lost souls like Saitou and Kenshin and Soujirou. As the country moves on and in a rather typical Oriental way, tries to wipe the slate clean, it commits even more atrocities, and Shishio is only the extreme example. Those who had been pawns in the war had been bred to fight, and as peace came and the sword-ban came down, the bushi (samurais) and the onmitsu (ninja spies) are left without a job and a way of living.
Moving onto Aoshi and Soujirou, two of my favourite characters from the manga, Iseya and Kamiki both did admirable jobs with them. Unfortunately, these two are fan-favourites for a reason - and that is because they had such rich histories and such a tragic background, and just putting them in the movie because they're fan-favourites didn't really quite do justice to their respective stories.
Given that Shishio was Soujirou's mentor, he really had to appear. As I said in the Chinese above, the disappointment about movie Soujirou was that none of his tragedy was mentioned, and so when his smile finally cracked and when his emotions finally surfaced as Kenshin drove him towards defeat, you don't get the impact that you did in the original. The kid was based on Okita, and he was a prodigious athlete just as Kenshin was. He was as fast (if not faster) as Kenshin, and his main weapon was actually his smile, which meant that his opponent was completely unable to read him. Kenshin won - not necessarily because of better sword skills, but because he broke down Soujirou's conviction and cracked that mask - making Soujirou's moves readable and predictable. Kenshin was probably kinder on Soujirou than he was on some of his other enemies because I think he saw himself in Soujirou - the young ideal kid who hadn't had the chance to think for himself, ushered into being a killer because of misplaced morals and loyalty. In the end, Kenshin was able to guide Soujirou onto a path that mirrored his own as Soujirou resolved to embark on a 10 year journey to find his answer. In the movie, for Soujirou to lose first and then drop his mask and then to break down...didn't make sense. The break-down scene is a pivotal part of his character arc, but unfortunately didn't fit into this story.
Soujirou's deceptive smile
Aoshi's story had some major changes, and not exactly for the better. Remember how I said I was glad in the last movie that they took Aoshi out of the story? Well...I regret it. Aoshi was actually an important presence in the Tokyo/Opium arc, and it was there that he lost his comrades. Moving the sequence to having his comrades being killed by the Meiji government (or whatever it was...I confess my brain froze when all this happened) was consistent with the theme of the movies, but really threw the chronology and Aoshi's motivations into a mess. In the manga Aoshi also worked briefly for Shishio, during which he attacked his old teammates, which might have made him less likeable but would have at least made a lot more sense and certainly would have involved him a lot more in the whole Shishio story. His drive to fight against Kenshin didn't make sense in the movie, and I'm not too sure at this stage if I've missed something or the translation missed something or the plot is missing something.
Back to the original cast - Aoi Yuu finally shows off her range as she completely dominates a scene when she lets rip at the hypocrisy of the police. I like Takeru, I really do, but he still struggles in some scenes where he really should be emoting a little bit more than just looking confident. The only scene where I can happily say he emoted well was when they read out the names of all those people he assassinated, and he actually looked like he was struggling with his guilt and the belief that he needs to stay alive. I've never liked Takei Emi or her character Kaoru, and I'm happy to say that the 2nd movie reinforced my views on both of them... Sano is getting really annoying with his antics. He was funny the first few times, but maybe my patience was running low at the end of a 5 hour marathon. He's the muscle man, sure, but can we please give him a bit more IQ than a giant dog?
They've really saved on the music. Most of the BGM is recognisable from the first OST, sometimes used in quite jarring effect. I was surprised to discover that the OST was written by the composer who wrote for X/1999 anime
, which had some amazing tunes. RK's music is atmospheric, certainly, but it doesn't want me to put them on replay.
To finish off this extremely long post, here's the beautiful ending song to the 3rd movie, "Heartache". I actually had "Mighty Long Fall" (2nd movie song) on my iPod for months before realising last week that it was the Rurouni Kenshin
ending song...I was also nonplussed to discover that "ONE OK ROCK" is actually pronounced "one o'clock". OH JAPAN.