Julien Neaves, Editor
One of my favourite anime series ever is Rurouni Kenshin (known in the West as Samurai X) and I mentioned in a previous article my fond memories of watching it on Saturday mornings while growing up in Trinidad. The show ran from 1996-1998 and featured assassin turned hero-with-a-no-kill rule Kenshin Himura in 19th century Japan.
The franchise got the live-action treatment in 2012 and (surprise surprise) it was not only good, it was freaking fantastic! The casting was spot-on, the action was awesome and it was wonderfully faithful to the source material. The film was followed up by two interconnected films in 2014 Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends and they were even better than the first and easily the best anime live action adaptations I have ever seen (though, to be fair, the bar was never very high). But apparently “ends” was not the end and two more films were released this year, the sequel film The Final and the prequel film The Beginning. Well The Final was recently dropped on Netflix and this superfan was super excited. But how does it compare to the previous films? With a Fuji-sized SPOILER ALERT let’s grab our reverse blade-sword and review Rurouni Kenshin: The Final in three slices:
Slice 1: Heroes and Villains
The film features our returning heroes—Kenshin, love interest Kaoru, super cool, chain-smoking cop Saito, lovable brawler Sanosuke, and brave young Yahiko—and a new main villain, Kenshin’s brother-in-law Yukishiro Enishi who terrorises Tokyo with his ghoulish crew in a plot to avenge his sister Tomoe, who our protagonist accidentally killed years ago.
The returning cast, including Takeru Satoh as Kenshin, are all again solid in their roles and Mackenyu does great work as the unhinged Enishi. The opening scene with Enishi acrobatically beating the ever-living daylights out of the police force on the train was a stellar introduction and one of the best scenes of the film. But I do think the film could have dug a bit deeper into his motivation over and above “You killed my sister, prepare to suffer!” Why was his sister so precious to him? Why exactly was he acting like a terrorist to Tokyo? And why did his henchmen also hate Kenshin as he said? What did he ever do to them? I feel they could have given us more to really understand the character. As it is he is not even in the same league as a villain like Shishio or even Sojiro (more on him soon).
Slice 2: Have at you!
One of the best things about the films is the action and in this latest entry it’s good but not mind-blowing. Some of the one-on-one fights felt a bit anticlimactic, especially those not featuring Kenshin. Sanosuke is a beloved character who stands out among all the sword and weapon users with his bare-knuckle fighting style, but the sole fight scene he gets is Enishi handing his backside to him. Saito is my favourite character and he fares better with his fight against the cackling bad guy brawler but it was nothing to write home about. Ninja girl Misao gets a good bout with the claw guy but Aoshi, one of the franchise’s strongest fighters, shows up and he barely gets to do anything. Not cool.
Thankfully we do get some great Kenshin fight scenes. I enjoyed him taking down the bloodthirsty hook guy, I liked his battle with crazy cannon/Gatling gun-arm guy, and his fighting the Shanghai mafia guys pleasantly took me back to the first film. And it was also pretty dang cool seeing him fight together with former villain and child psycho Sojiro, though I thought the latter’s appearance could have been teased earlier to make his appearance less abrupt and more impactful. The final battle between Kenshin and Enishi was pretty dang epic though, and that alone makes the film worth watching.
Slice 3: Coup de grâce
Only after watching the film did I read about the existence of the fifth and final film The Beginning. So when in the middle of The Final they began showing lengthy scenes from the prequel I was confused. I was like, “Did I miss this from the previous films?” I think they really should have kept this tighter and had some Kenshin narration over it, because it’s somewhat disjointed and jarring. And while I felt the film worked well as a Kenshin/Kaoru/Enishi story the other characters just felt kind of there. They don’t do very much, don’t impact the plot all that much, and none of them have even a hint of an arc. And in a more than two-hour film that appears to chronologically wrap up this story (we’ll see) I think the other folks deserved better. The film kind of just forgets about them.
But on the positive side the Kenshin stuff is well done and the final scene where he and Kaoru visit Tomoe’s grave and then finally (and I mean FINALLY) hold hands was touching. And it was a much more satisfying ending than the depressing end of the OVA (original video animation) Reflection where (SPOILER ALERT) Kenshin contracts an unknown illness and dies in Kaoru’s arms (SPOILER ALERT OVER).
While I thought the previous two films were better in terms of both story and action and I thought overall things could have been improved, I was still entertained by The Final and would watch it again. My experience with this entry actually reminded me of how great the first part of the anime and how average the second part was. To be honest, I blame Shishio. Once you get that epic there’s nowhere to go but down.
Editor Jules’s Score: 6.5 out of 10
So are you a fan of the franchise? And what did you think of The Final? You can find more great Rurouni Kenshin content below:
Top 10 Rurouni Kenshin (Samurai X) Fights
Revisiting ‘Rurouni Kenshin’ 20 years later in 5 slices
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.