Sunday, December 29, 2013

Manga Review: Rurouni Kenshin

Well this review has been a long time coming, back in the fall of 2011 I gave in one night, wondering what this series was all about (probably after seeing half a dozen posts on tumblr about the live action movie) and read more than I meant to. I was wondering what to do the next day, especially since I try not to read licensed manga online, when I was in a local use bookstore, looked up in the manga section and found two omnibuses about to beam me in the head and magically enough they started right where I had stopped reading the previous night. Not one to ignore the universe I grabbed those and picked up the next omnibus soon afterwards, I really liked how long they were, but soon after that was when I had to cut my manga spending down to next to nothing to save up money and didn't come across any more omnibus editions at the used bookstore. However, when I moved this time around I noticed that the local library seemed to have all the volumes and recently I decided to take advantage of that and finish off the series in more or less one go.

Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki

Summary: It is 1878 and Japan is beginning to return to normal after the Meji Restoration and Satsuma Rebellion which tossed everyone's lives into disarray. Kaoru's life continues as it always has, having not really known war she continues to run her deceased father's dojo but it's gotten a bit more complicated lately as some neighborhood thugs are trying to pressure her into selling it. A wandering swordsman named Kenshin helps her out and ends up sticking around afterwards. Slowly more people come to gather around the dojo and Kaoru finds about Kenshin's sad past and his connection to the Japan that is growing and changing around her.

The Good: I can see why this series ended up being so popular, thematically it feels just enough different from the majority of shonen (specifically, Shonen Jump shonen) to appeal to a wider audience. It's really nice to see a "hero" who doesn't want to take on the world and prove their the strongest, honestly Kenshin would be quite happy if he never had to fight again and I thought that the ending, where he's able to look at his own bloody past and yet still keep moving towards the future was a really satisfying one (especially since I did wonder at a few points he would be "redeemed" or not, shonen conventions say yes but the story danced around just enough that I wasn't positive). Without this cast the series would not have been nearly so enjoyable or memorable and I'm definitely going to keep buying the omnibus editions of the manga for when I decide to reread it.  

The Bad: I was a bit surprised to see just how few arcs there were in this story given that it's 28 volumes and, I know that Shonen Jump manga are known for having really long, "tournament" arcs  and while I never got terribly bored when I was in the middle of one of them looking back on them I thought that a number of the arcs dragged. I will admit that none of the heroes had too many "mysterious power-ups" (although I can't say the same of the villains, again I know it comes with the territory but I don't think I was able to take a single character that the main group fought against seriously), but I was a bit frustrated that practically everyone but Kaoru got a chance to fight. Really that didn't start bothering me until Yahiko, whose more or less her disciple, started taking on some of the villains, and is never implied to be stronger or better than her at sword fighting at this point, and it just felt weird that she was always on the side lines, where there was a chance she could jump in, and just didn't.

The Art: I don't really have much to stay in regards to the art, about halfway through I gave up trying to "follow" the characters movements from one panel to another during fight scenes and just assumed that everything was going the way it should. This is far from the first series where I've done this and I always have to wonder, is that a failing of the manga or is this normal? Is it bad that I can't seem to follow the action as well as I think I should or are we all just oohing and aahhing at the flash moves, pretending we have a clue what's going on?

So, as I hope I made clear, yes I did like this series quite a bit and it's one of the stronger long-running shonen series I've read. However, after having read over half the manga in about, erm, let's be generous and say a week, I'm not in any hurry to watch the anime that crunchyroll has streaming, especially since I've heard about how filler killed that series and it never even reached the later arcs (to which point I must ask how in the world they got 90+ episodes out of like, 9 volumes of manga). But for those interested it is up and streaming, both subbed and dubbed, and Viz is also selling the manga digitally online for those who aren't sure they have enough room on their bookshelves for all 28 volumes/7 omnibuses of manga.

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