Revisiting the ‘Rurouni Kenshin’ Live Action Trilogy

Julien Neaves, Editor

Hola Red Mango Readers. So in recent months Netflix dropped the fourth and fifth films in the Rurouni Kenshin live action film series based on the manga and anime of the same name. And I reviewed them both (The Final and The Beginning) but for completion sake I thought I would review the first three films as well. And here we are.

So with a Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū-styled SPOILER ALERT let’s revisit 2012’s Rurouni Kenshin (also known as Rurouni Kenshin: Origins), as well as Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends, both of which released in 2014.

Rurouni Kenshin

When Kaoru ‘threatens’ to stop cooking

The first film had a lot of heavy lifting to do. It had to explain Kenshin’s backstory and character motivations, introduce the other main characters and also deliver a fun action adventure film. And Keishi Ōtomo’s film does a commendable job of balancing all the elements.

The casting here is just inspired. Takeru Satoh nails it as haunted former assassin turned heroic wanderer Kenshin Himura, Emi Takei captures the strength and vulnerability of Kaoru, Munetaka Aoki is a riot as rowdy street fighter Sanosuke, Yōsuke Eguchi is brilliant as the steely cop Saito and I could go on and on. Everybody brings their A-game here.

Dang. He nearly took that dude’s head off. If, you know, it was a ‘real’ sword

The plot features Kenshin and his new friends battling amoral, punchable-faced opium dealer Kanryū and Battosai imitator Jin-e (a chillingly good performance from Kōji Kikkawa). The action sequences are all well-done, from Kenshin beating the crap out of some hoodlums to the mega-fight outside the mansion to Sano’s hilarious mansion brawl to Kenshin fighting the masked, dual-gun wielding bad guy. Good stuff. The final battle between Kenshin and Jin-e is also a thrilling time. I would have liked Saito to get more action but I have a bias for him as he’s my favourite character.

Overall just a well-paced, thoroughly entertaining film that does a stellar job of representing the source material. And that main music theme? Fuhgeddaboutit!

Editor Jules’s Score: 8 out of 10

Kyoto Inferno

Looks like I picked to wrong day to quit smoking. Oh wait…

It’s never easy being the second movie in a trilogy (until the last two films this year, that is). The story doesn’t really begin nor does it end but it is all middle. And while some films have done an excellent job of this like The Empire Strikes Back and The Two Towers, Kyoto Inferno is closer to the middling Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

The film starts off pretty strongly showing the minions of former assassin turned psychotic megalomaniac Makoto Shishio slaughtering a group of policemen and brutally dropping a few of them into a literal inferno, much to the horror of a helpless and infuriated Saito. Then the pace of the film slows as the government tries to convince Kenshin to take out Shishio. We then get a scene straight out of the anime where child sociopath Sojiro (a spot-on performance by Ryosuke Miura) uses his speed to murder government official Okubo in his moving carriage.

Well that doesn’t look sanitary

The film introduces Misao, her clan of Hidden Watcher ninjas, grizzled elder Okina and troubled, relentless Aoshi, but I can’t say I was very much invested in this subplot. I also found this film delivered the least in the action department. The Aoshi/Sano fight is one-sided and uninteresting, the Kenshin/Sojiro clash is over way too quickly and the Kenshin/Cho battle is good but not the best in the franchise. All the good action comes at the end with Kenshin, Saito and Sano all having some great scenes fending off Shishio’s arsonists in Kyoto. Even Kaoru and young Yahiko get some hits in.

So while there are some good moments here and there overall I found Kyoto Inferno more campfire than raging blaze.

Editor Jules’s Score: 6 out of 10

The Legend Ends

Whoa dude. You just blew my mind!

While Kyoto Inferno does not do enough The Legend Ends maybe tries to do a bit too much. We have Kenshin training with his master Seijuro, the search for Kaoru, the Aoshi/Okina subplot, Shishio versus the government, and Kenshin and crew versus Shishio and the Ten Swords (though unfortunately more than half of the Swords are reduced to background characters). But the film makes up for its overcooked plot with a ton of action.

Now there are a few disappointing one-on-one fights. The epic Saito versus Usui clash from the anime is reduced to one blink-and-you-miss-it slash. And the visceral Sano versus Anji battle feels like a rehash of Sano’s fight in the first film. Even the Kenshin/Sojiro rematch lacks the emotional warfare of the anime, making Sojiro’s reactions feel unearned.

This hardly seems like a fair fight

But the devastating Kenshin versus Aoshi romp and the epic, fiery Kenshin/Saito/Sano/Aoshi versus Shishio battle are just brilliant. The big bad facing off against not one but four heroes/anti-heroes? Now that dude is a beast. And I couldn’t help laughing as Shishio treated poor Sano as nothing more than an annoyance. The final Kenshin versus Shishio duel shows the hero at his lowest and features the iconic Yumi stabbing scene. And Kenshin’s Amakakeru coup de grace on Shishio was extremely satisfying.

So while not the best on plot and some battles were rushed overall The Legend Ends ended the saga (at the time) on a positive note. Though they played the theme to the point of overkill. What is this? Zack Snyder’s Justice League and the Wonder Woman theme?

Editor Jules’s Score: 7 out of 10

In Conclusion

Despite some flaws, Rurouni Kenshin is the best live action anime adaptation I have seen to date. And if I were to rank all five films I would go (from best to worst) The Beginning, Origins, The Legend Ends, The Final and Kyoto Inferno.

So are you a fan of the first three Rurouni Kenshin films? Which is your favourite? You can check out more from the franchise below:


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.