All right, time for some apologies. First, I apologize for missing two weeks in a row. Things have been kind of crazy and some issues arose that made watching Guin Saga difficult. On that second note, apologies for the fact that this, and the subsequent review that should come on Wednesday, is/are not Guin Saga.
Quick & Dirty
Initial Interest: High
Favorite Character: Sanosuke
Opinion: Mixed feelings
Himura Kenshin is a vagabond with a dark past and sunny disposition. Not a ronin but a rurouni, he was never a samurai, but an assassin of utmost skill in the Meiji restoration, who in the turning point of the war simply walked away. His travels lead him to Tokyo in the 11th year of the Meiji era, where he befriends a female Kendo master, a former thief, a brawler and a doctor all with their own secrets. Together they fight off the enemies surfacing from the dark past that Kenshin cannot escape.
The following may get a little long winded and isn’t technically part of the review, skip to the last paragraph in this section if you just want to know my opinions on the anime itself.
So there’s a reason that I put my pre-view thoughts in here. The fact of the matter is that how I feel about a series going into it will greatly affect how much I enjoy it. If I expect a series to be great I may like it more than I would have if I’d had no expectations or I may like it less because it fails to meet my expectations even though it may still be good. On the other side of that scale is if I expect to hate a series, and this barrier is a little harder to overcome. I don’t often go in thinking I’ll hate something but I can’t think of one instance that I did and came out feeling any different. So I like to declare my biases beforehand so that all of you reading can keep that in mind when reading my opinions. The only problem with this insistence on stating my feelings going into an anime is that it means to properly post a review for this blog I have to make a conscious decision to do it beforehand. Because of this I haven’t watched a single series strictly for leisure purposes since I began this endeavor. Now, in the past two weeks, for the first time, I watched not one, but two series just because I wanted to and with no real consideration for this website. What results is that I can only give a vague idea of my pre-viewing thoughts looking back. They may be skewed.
So I watched Kenshin back in the days when it was on Cartoon Network (you know, when they still only showed cartoons). And I really enjoyed it then. But I was at that time (I believe) in middle school, so my tastes and standards may have changed quite a bit since then. One thing that has changed quite considerably is my knowledge of Japanese history. I’m no expert on the subject, I’m not really a history person and I really only have a cursory knowledge, but I recently started learning about the Shogun of Japan and the time period leading up to the Meiji Restoration (Kenshin being set in the Meiji period) and it made me really want to watch Kenshin again. This was compounded by the fact that I never actually saw all of it in the first place, and always thought I would finish it someday.
I picked Sanosuke. I know I used to prefer Kenshin, and I did consider whether I liked him better, but I really think that I like Sano best. Sanosuke is kind of rough around the edges but he sticks to his convictions and he seems to know who he is. I like that. The thing about Kenshin is that he’s trying to rewrite his own story and it makes him act in two distinctly different ways. On one hand he’s the bumbling wanderer who is clumsy and gets hit by things often and on the other he’s the legendary Battousai who can defeat any and all opponents. The switching between these two personalities honestly kind of annoys me. Where is it written that you can’t be cool and competent and still not kill people?
So like I said, I watched this back in the day and loved it, so I had high expectations. Honestly it was kind of a let-down. Maybe it’s a nostalgia issue, maybe it was just better when my standards were lower, who knows. I did enjoy the little bits of history stuff that I now had a better understanding of and I feel like knowing what it meant to be and imperialist or the enemy of imperialists brings a new level to the anime that I didn’t have when I watched it before, but these are very specific things that deal with extraneous knowledge and so I can neither classify them as “did well” or “didn’t do well”.
Also, I watched this dubbed the first time, long before I ever started watching anything subbed, and I enjoyed it. I was going to watch this one in English but within the first two minutes I thought my ears were going to start bleeding. Kaoru’s voice is obnoxious and for anyone who has a solid grasp of Japanese pronunciation their insistence on pronouncing Battousai as bat-too-sigh (instead of bah-toe-sigh) will make you cringe every time.
What they did well: The story so far (I’ve watched all of 11 episodes) is pretty easy to follow. There’s a certain amount of mystery as to what made Kenshin decide he didn’t want to be a killer anymore which encourages the watching. The characters are mostly likeable.
What they didn’t do well: For an action anime that is really about the fight scenes, they didn’t seem to pay much attention to them. The action is presented as happening “too fast” for the casual observer to follow so fight scenes tend to involve the characters moving in and around each other and black screens with sword flashes that completely conceal all of the action. Really the only time we get to see the characters make contact is when they tie up. It gets really annoying really fast. Also this anime came out in the formula days. It has a cast that was comprised right out of the anime handbook. Mighty hero who doesn’t want to hurt/kill people anymore, good intentioned female that lacks strength but is the love interest, little kid sidekick that can’t do anything but keeps trying anyway, buddy sidekick (at first an enemy) who can do some things but isn’t as awesome as our hero, cool female who is competent at some task or another but will not feature strongly in the plot. It’s so cliché that some of the roles seem rather forced. I feel like Yahiko could be completely removed and it wouldn’t hurt the story at all – it may actually help. Also, to get kind of nitpicky, there was an entire plot that revolved around a heartless killer who could use sheer force of will to paralyze people. I understand the concept of clashing wills and I’m totally okay with the idea of a strong murderous intent/presence being detectable and possibly even freezing lesser people with fear…but they took it just a little too far. At one point he uses this on Sanosuke, a confident and strong willed character, and he is barely able to move for the power of it. Twice he uses it on Kenshin who then has to actively break out of it. Basically they took something that was purely a matter of mental fortitude and made it into a physical attack and that just felt really stupid. Also, people don’t bleed nearly as much as they should in this series, and before anyone objects, I am watching it uncut.
In the end I’m not going to pass a final judgement on this one. I used to love it and it was hugely popular in its day so it may have some merit. But I’m just not enjoying it that much anymore.