I don’t know what. There are no words.
The 2012 Rurouni Kenshin movie is FUCKING FANTASTIC.
I really was planning on watching it two or three times before I wrote down my thoughts about it, but not only have my parents usurped the TV at the moment, I just can’t wait to talk about this. I’m going to have to go through it from beginning to end (not necessarily in that order), so this might get a little long.
If you don’t want to be spoiled, you can just stop reading after the following assurance: this is a wonderful adaptation and a wonderful movie. This was worth waiting twelve years for. FUCKING WATCH IT. Obviously it’s not as good as the manga, because there’s rarely any such thing as an adaptation as good as the original, but it’s still SO FUCKING GOOD. So here we go.
First off, Saitou. OH MY FUCKING GOD FUCKING SAITOU. He was the first character we saw and the first in my heart as ever. Perfect casting choice; I have never been so happy in my life as at the sight of his smug face and his twitchy expressive mouth and his amazing cheekbones. I loved the realistically silly-looking hairstyle that replaced the stylized canonical silly-looking hairstyle (not without the occasional bangs falling down across his eyes *SQUEE*).
Seriously. I am not attracted to many (read: just about any) actual human (i.e. not solely written-about/drawn) men, but this sexy, wonderful Saitou is an unqualified exception to that. Not that I wouldn’t still step aside and let Sano have him in a heartbeat. But more on Sano and his incredibly obviously love for Saitou afterwhile.
Kenshin: also perfect. Characterized as a tad less goofy and a bit more distant than we’re used to, which I thought was a good idea for this shortened story. His gentle smile and tranquility came across extremely well, but so did his tortured determination in his murderous flashbacks… and his deadly anger when Jin’e crossed a line. The only thing I didn’t like about him was that he kinda… lurched… at times. Like a zombie. It was weird.
Kaoru: visually, I adored her. Wonderful girl-next-door look, and I should also mention that I loved the dojo scenery too. It felt a lot more intimate than the somewhat sprawling canonical design (not that I don’t love the original design, of course), and therefore felt more like it could easily be Kaoru’s entire world. And it was great that she was obviously an important part of a small, tight community.
Kaoru’s best canonical moments, I’ve always thought, are the times when her strength and determination lead her to be a total badass; unfortunately, the best of these moments are all in the second and third parts of the story, and that is sadly reflected in this movie. The thing I’ve always liked least about Kaoru in canon is that, between those badass moments, she vacillates between boring and obnoxious, in neither state with all that many defining characteristics. Here the exaggeratedly angry side of her that leads to casual abuse of those around her with a bokutou has been removed, much to my relief, but unfortunately it hasn’t really been replaced with anything to show what a strong person she is.
This was probably because of time constraints; if she’d kicked as much ass as she should have been able to, those dudes would have been forced to come back several times and lengthen the movie pointlessly. There wasn’t an opportunity to display her skills as a teacher, either; that was just implied. And her damsel in distress shtick was necessary for the story currently being told. It was sad, though. Of course she still had her awesome moment during the fight with Jin’e, but I thought the impact of that (and therefore the conveyance of Kaoru’s strength) was lessened for a few different reasons.
One was that I didn’t think there was time in this truncated version of the story for the devotion between Kenshin and Kaoru to develop as well as it did when we had a volume and a half between their first meeting and the Jin’e scene. It wasn’t necessarily unbelievable, since the movie let us know that there was a certain amount of relatively peaceful domesticity going on that we didn’t have time to watch; but just a little more onscreen development of the relationship between Kenshin and Kaoru would have been nice.
Don’t think I didn’t squeal like a squealing thing at Kenshin’s “Tadaima” at the end, though.
Which brings me to Jin’e. Holy Poe, I loved how crazy he was. I missed that obnoxious laugh of his from before, but I’m not going to complain about that when he got all metaphysical about Battousai’s sword and then started calling himself Battousai while killing people in droves with that same sword. It made the false-Battousai business even creepier and more meaningful than Gohei ever could. Not that I don’t love me some Gohei.
Unfortunately, I thought the Shin no Ippou wasn’t quite well enough established. I mean, I was glad Jin’e didn’t go around using it all over the place, because it was a much more subtle ultimate technique that way… but part of the reason it was so moving and impressive that Kaoru was able to break out of it in canon was that we’d previously seen Kenshin break out of it with some effort and Sano break out of it after a longer period with more effort. In the movie I didn’t think it was made quite clear enough how difficult a technique this is to escape from to drive home just how much it meant that Kaoru was able to do it.
Anyway. Sano. Looked and sounded amazing, and I appreciated the hell out of the reasonably-sized zanbatou. I also loved how, a la canon, he basically just showed up and inserted himself into the Kenshingumi almost completely uninvited. However, and I say this with greater pain than you can imagine, he was also completely pointless in this movie.
Aside from the beautiful intensity of his romance with Saitou, Sano contributed literally nothing to the story. Obviously Sano is not a character that could have been omitted, and I have to admit that I wouldn’t have traded that kitchen scene for anything in the world except possibly some more Saitou romance, but the harsh truth is that Sano might as well not have been in this movie at all.
Kanryuu. Oh, he was so deliciously horrible. The underbite! The super unsavory slack-jawed smoking! The sliminess and heartlessness juxtaposed with the somewhat goofy music! The visible lust he displayed toward the Gatling gun (which was a beautiful piece of equipment, by the way)! The random rabbit that I would have sworn was stuffed until it moved! Perfect, perfect! And I loved that he had a quartet of minions all clearly trying to emulate his manners and appearance, and in the end emulating all his personal failings as well.
This, however, brings me to the topic of Kanryuu’s employees and some points about the story. Overall, I thought this was an incredibly good way to adapt the best parts of the collection of short stories that is the first “arc” into a cohesive narrative. We end with a good idea of who nearly everyone is, the Kenshingumi together as an informal family,
Saitou and Sano obviously eyeing each other if not actively making out behind the scenes, and a good opening for a sequel or two. But…
Aaaahhhh, my poor Oniwabanshuu!! My poor darling Aoshi! Obviously if Sano, Kenshin’s best friend,
Saitou’s boyfriend, and the secondary male lead of the entire series was entirely superfluous to the story, there was absolutely no way Aoshi could have been shoehorned in without having a negative impact on the overall flow and shortening even further the much-needed time allotted to other characters and events for important development. But, oh, Aoshi! How I longed to see your angsty dramatic live-action glory!
It’s sad to admit, but, much as I adore him and the complexity he adds, Aoshi isn’t really necessary even once we get to Kyoto. And having cut him from this part of the movieverse, I don’t know how much hope there is for his presence in a sequel. So no absurd trench-coat, no endless repetition of names, no moon-logic, no eventual erotic tension with Kenshin. Aoshi, I weep for you. And I don’t know what we’ll do with Soujirou without you.
The biggest problem with the lack of Oniwabanshuu, though, is the Gatling gun scene. It wasn’t a bad scene (FUCKING SAITOU OH MY FUCKING SAITOU IT WAS NOT A BAD SCENE), but the extreme emotional impact of the original tragedy was, of course, entirely removed without the Oniwabanshuu there. I do have to say, though, that Kenshin’s coldly scornful line about money while he has the cowardly Kanryuu at sword-point was extremely satisfying. Still I missed Aoshi and his pain.
That being said, I think Gein and Banjin were excellent choices to replace the Oniwabanshuu for Kenshin and Sano to square off against in the mansion. Their having worked for Kanryuu won’t prevent them from working for Enishi in the future, and might even raise the level of drama as they seek out rematches against those that once defeated them as part of the grand plan of revenge.
At least, Gein and Banjin would have been excellent choices if Sano hadn’t been pointless and Gein hadn’t been… WTF was going on with Gein. Why was he a young pretty blonde boy? Why did he have such terrible aim? That weirded me the hell out. It was a great-looking fight, but the character fell short of his canonical awesomeness.
Meanwhile, Sano and Banjin had hilarious enmity/camaraderie in the kitchen and I laughed like a banshee. You can be sure Sano told Saitou all about that later in bed, and Saitou called him an idiot and then kissed him.
Like Sano, Yahiko was pointless… and oddly filthy throughout most of the movie. He was fine as a side-character, though, and the way he introduced himself to Kenshin was just so freaking cute I wanted to hug him.
I’ve saved Megumi for last, as far as character discussion goes, because HOLY FUCK she was so amazing. Show-stoppingly amazing. The actor’s performance was flawless, she was visually and aurally perfect, and some of her scenes just left me breathless.
The poison scene in the dojo was absolutely brilliant — watching her waffle over whether or not to reveal her abilities… put two and two together and realize what must have happened, then verify it by tasting the water herself… then TAKE CHARGE LIKE A BADASS MOFO when even the very competent Kenshin was frozen in shock and indecision left me rigid with tension and tears and delight.
And the brief flashback to her time making opium, with that glance she threw to the addicts in the corner, was heartrending, especially when we returned to the current moment and saw her further anguish. Oh, Megumi. Also, smoking? Because she needed to be even hotter, right? Just… wow.
In the light of all this, it’s even sadder that Kaoru kinda got the short end of the characterization stick. I’m glad they didn’t really hint at Megumi being in love with Kenshin, because I’m afraid that, in this context, that pairing would have come across as a lot more interesting and likely than Kenshin and Kaoru. Not that I object to Kenshin and Megumi being together; but it would be kinda sad for the story to appear to be leading toward a couple that will never actually end up together.
Oohhhh, speaking of couples. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVED the flashback to Kiyosata and Tomoe. The thing I particularly adored was that we never saw Tomoe’s face, and I’m pretty sure Kenshin didn’t either. That means we can see him meeting her later and it’ll be perfectly logical that he doesn’t recognize her and can be drawn into his interaction with her without ever realizing who she is.
And it was great to use her as a symbol of his regret for the killing he’d done before viewers that don’t know the story are even aware of who she is and her even greater impact on him later. Also? The significance of Kiyosata’s undying determination in relation to the lasting scar. Holy crap, what a great scene.
Another great scene was every moment that had Saitou in it. I wonder if we’ll get a more drawn-out fight between Kenshin and Saitou in a sequel; as it was, I loved that Saitou took advantage, as practically no one else ever has, of the fact that Kenshin’s sword does have a sharp edge and this can be inconvenient to its wielder at times. And Saitou’s scorn toward Kenshin’s way of life was palpable. I didn’t entirely understand their conversation at the very end of the movie, but the clear sense of “We’re not done” was just delicious.
I was holding my breath waiting for him to mention Aku Soku Zan at Kanryuu after his one brief, beautiful gatotsu and complete disinterest in safely avoiding the direct route to the Gatling gun. Well, honestly, I was hoping he would kill the bastard, but no such luck on either count. Doesn’t matter; he’d just touched Sano.
A couple more general notes before I wander off to contemplate movieverse Saitou & Sano fic: music. It’s difficult to be more awesome than Asakura Noriyuki (and if you’d asked me, before, who could do it, I would have said only Iwasaki Taku), but this composer provided a run for whatever money one might have fronted. Fan-fucking-tastic score, very much in the spirit of the series (by which I mean a somewhat traditional Japanese sound combined with totally badass anachronistic electric guitar).
Occasionally I thought the use of the music was a bit heavy-handed… but not only is that absolutely typical after how the anime’s amazing soundtracks were shoved somewhat annoyingly into our ears, it also seems fairly typical of Japanese preferences in general (from what I’ve seen), so I got right over it and will soon own the soundtrack.
Filming, costuming, sets, and pacing were all perfect. I felt drawn into every scene, and there was a wonderful sense of the setting and the time period about everything — most especially the dizzying change that was taking place in Japan just then, the contrast between old and new, the clash of ideals, the struggle for survival in a rapidly-evolving world.
And that might be all I have to say about this movie. For now. It’s about my bedtime, but I may very well watch this immediately again after school tomorrow, and at that point I may very well have more to say. For the moment… I am just giddily, ridiculously, exhaustively happy.