Thoughts on Densetsu no Saigo Hen

OK, I have to start out by saying that I think these RK movies have appeared in order of best to least best. In less optimistic terms, they’ve gotten worse as they go along — which does not bode terribly well for any future Jinchuu action we may get. I didn’t dislike this movie… but I wasn’t exactly enchanted by it either, and found some points extremely annoying. So here are my mixed thoughts from beginning to end.

Aight, did I complain about the coincidences yet? Yeah, in canon, several things happen by coincidence, and that’s always a trifle annoying in an otherwise complexly well-arranged story… but it’s a lot easier to swallow in a longer story where they’re not back-to-back than in a couple of two-hour movies. And then these movies go and set up more coincidences than in canon, which makes it even worse.

This is really more a thought about KTH, but the fact that after Kenshin washes up on the beach he just happens to be found by his old kenjutsu instructor (whom he went looking for in canon) is really hammered home in DnSH. And that, of course, was after coincidences with the Oniwabanshuu and Eiji and Sano running into Aoshi in Tokyo and I don’t even remember what else.

The major complaints I’ve seen around the internet about these two movies is the lack of time for the characterization that drew us all into Rurouni Kenshin in the first place, and I couldn’t agree more. I mean, obviously I like the fights, or I wouldn’t love this series, but it’s the characterization that lends meaning and emotional impact to the action, and that’s pretty severely lacking here.

Hiko’s actor does a superb job, but most of what I love about the character has been stripped from him in this version of the story. He seems a bit generic, in fact, without his hilarious exaggerated arrogance and that underlying feeling of Can’t Be Arsed despite being the Absolute Ultimate Badass.

Is it just me, or do all the beach scenes with the distant Rengoku in the background look kinda… fakey? Special effects don’t make a great difference to me in how much I enjoy a movie (though, naturally, I do appreciate really good ones), but every time there’s a beach in the foreground and that ship in the background, to me it just looks… bad. I don’t know why.

OK, Houji? As bizarre as it seems, Houji is one of my favorite parts of this movie. His actor FUCKING NAILS his character. I know I mentioned this about KTH, but it’s even better here. Absolutely love this guy.

I think Shishio also slides toward genericness in this version of the story, coming across (at least a little) as more of a rich madman bent on having fun with news toys and an inexplicable gang of bullies than a calculating warlord with devoted followers of his ambition and a long-considered plan at last coming to fulfillment.

Understandably, he wants to make sure the threat of Kenshin is eliminated, but why does he do literally nothing while he waits for the police to deliver Kenshin to him? He doesn’t even have patrols along the beach (or, you know, like, someone with a telescope on the ship?) that could alert him to the patient, unsubtle setup of onshore artillery that later proves capable of of destroying his greatest weapon. Seriously, what’s he doing that entire time? Having tea parties? It makes him seem uncharacteristically sloppy.

And then instead of having characterization for Kaoru and Sano and Yahiko, we have BORING STUFF instead. Oh, she’s not dead! Surprise! Oh, she won’t wake up! Who cares? Oh, she did wake up, and had a nice walk along the beach! Yaaawwwnnnn. I feel like they put these parts in so Kaoru and Yahiko would have at least a few moments of doing anything at all ever in this movie, but honestly? Ugh.

The characterization I’m the most disappointed in, overall, is Sano’s. Even in the first movie, my distinct favorite of the three at this juncture, he was pointless; even there he came across as an ineffectual dumbass with neither right nor reason to be part of the story. His physical strength (or at least his combative skill) was undervalued, and his intelligence appeared to be downright nonexistent. But back then I thought, Well, Sano’s really good moments (and most of his interactions with Saitou) are mostly in the Kyoto arc anyway; I’ll just be patient.

Unfortunately, in this version of the story, Sano doesn’t really have any good moments, and also no interaction with Saitou. Yeah, he’s got some funny moments, but completely reducing an interesting, complex character to brainless comic relief is not a storywriting choice that makes me happy.

I’ve been saying that as soon as I’d watched all three movies several times (a point I have now reached), I would write some movieverse Saitou/Sano fic. But I find myself wretchedly uninspired by this Sano. I’ll just stick with the Sano I and the Saitou in my head prefer. Maybe I’ll use the movieverse storyline as a setting at some point but insert a different Sano… but, honestly, as long as I’m using a different Sano, there’s not much reason to mess around in the movieverse at all.

One thing I think a lot of people have mixed feelings about in canon is the explanation during battles. It does get silly at times, but I also feel it adds to the drama when the reader has a greater understanding of the minutiae of combat. And in this movie, without verbal explanation of what’s going on during the training sessions with Hiko and subsequent fight scenes, manage to convey very well that Kuzu Ryuu Sen is the method for teaching Amakakeru Ryuu no Hirameki, and that Kenshin learns both moves. I was very impressed with that. Of course, if I weren’t familiar with canon, I might not have gotten it, but still… good times.

You know, on first viewing, I was kinda thinking that they might have decided to make Kuzu Ryuu Sen the final technique instead of ARnH simply because it’s so much easier to insert dramatically into a battle without a fairly detailed explanation of why it’s so badass. I couldn’t decide how I felt about that idea; I would have been able to see why, for visual purposes, they might have made that choice, but for purist and symbolic reasons (though the symbolism becomes much more relevant in Jinchuu) I didn’t think I would be able to handle it. Then when Kenshin actually did the ARnH and we got to see the two steps and the atmospheric effects of the Quickest Draw Evar, I was absolutely overjoyed. It’s possible that I am a little too attached to the Hiten Mitsurugiryuu.

The “Kenshin needs to value his own life” theme plays out very well, I think. The first couple of times through, without subtitles, I couldn’t understand Hiko’s dialogue minutely (though I’m familiar enough with canon that keywords I did understand made it clear what he was talking about), but even those times I felt pretty well the impact of what he had to say and how Kenshin reacted to it. I especially like the moment just before Kenshin is totally about to be executed by that totally legitimate executioner when he seems to be very specifically weighing the value of his own life against what he did in the past. Well done, guys.

How the hell does Misao find Kenshin at Hiko’s place? The power of Good News? (Which, by the way, brings the most delightful expression to Kenshin’s face thanks to the power of Great Acting.) Nah, I think it’s the power of Coincidence again.

All right, guys. *deep breath* Aoshi. FUCKING AOSHI. It’s time.

I mentioned before that Aoshi shouldn’t be in these movies. I mentioned before that his presence and his idiotic subplot annoy me. But I had no idea of the DEPTHS OF RAGE AND DESPAIR into which his parts in DnSH would plunge me.

This storyline is SO FUCKING STUPID I can’t even. This is not the Aoshi I know. This is not the story I know. I don’t care about him or any of his stupid made-up past or incomprehensible motives. He doesn’t even do any of my favorite Kodachi Nitouryuu moves in his stupid pointless battle with Kenshin. He is 110% in the way, an unalloyed waste of time that could have been spent on characterization that would have solved some of the other issues this movie has.

I never thought I could dislike Aoshi this much. One time, I came back to my bedroom from watching this movie in the rec room, and I caught sight of the poster of Aoshi on my closet door, and I ACTUALLY GOT ANGRY. What the fuck, people. What the fuck have you done to my Okashira. A fourth in the battle against Shishio was not worth this bullshit.

On a more positive note, though, shee-yot, this score is so good. I listened to the soundtrack for six months before I ever saw the movie, but I am still often startled, while watching, at how fantastic the music in my ears is.

Hey, remember how Okina didn’t die in canon? Those were good days.

“Why the hell would you bring me here,” Aoshi wonders, “after everything that’s happened?”

“Oh, we’re planning to nail some candles to your hands,” Misao replies. “Canon style.”

Meanwhile, Megumi continues to be the most beautiful woman ever around. Allow me to reiterate my happiness at her apparent lack of romantic interest in Kenshin. Male-female friendship and support and lack of catty rivalry between women for the win!! Also, Megumi is such a badass. I think she actually embarrasses Kenshin a little when she yells at the police officers. He’s like, “Damn, she’s more awesome than I am!”

I have no particular thoughts on this new, pretty government official and his theme of “to the Meiji government, there is no difference between Shishio and Kenshin,” except that I think perhaps the government and the police come out of it looking a little worse than they really should… Whatevs. I do love it when Saitou holds out the wanted paper all, WTF is this shit you cannot be serious. I kiiiiinda maybe ship Saitou and Kenshin a lot in this version of the story. Having already mentioned my feelings on this Sano (and this Kaoru, back in my review of the first movie), this should come as no great surprise.

Hmmmmm…. what about a movieverse fic that’s Saitou/Kenshin and Sano/Kaoru…? Well, I’m probably not interested enough, but still…

I love how Kawaji’s like, “Even though I know we’re not really going to go through with this, I can’t bring myself to read the rest of this bullshit.” It’s a nice touch to a very good scene. Did I mention how much I love Houji, by the way?

Not as much as I love Saitou, of course.

Watching this, I solidified a thought I’d often hazily had in the past… If I were making movies, and I were filming a significant scene that I knew I would (or even suspected I might) want to flash back to later or in subsequent installments in the series, I would film the scene from several angles. That way, when a flashback to that scene appeared, I would be able to show it from a different angle than it had originally been seen from, putting a fresh spin on a familiar scene and avoiding tedious repetition while maintaining the impact of the flashback.

I wish they’d left out the members of the Juppongatana that have no part in the story. Where there’s no time for these characters, a little teasing inclusion that means nothing and just clutters up the place (like someone else I could mention) is worse than their blatant absence.

I really love Saitou’s “Gokuro datta na” moment, however. This aspect of Saitou is one that greatly interests me: the fact that there must be times in his life where he feels some emotion other than disdain toward the people around him, and he doesn’t seem to be very good at expressing it. For a bit there, it really seems like he has no idea what to say to that guy, while perfectly aware that he needs to say something and can’t exactly put it off. It’s a brief, brilliant moment that delivers a snippet of characterization that’s more than some other folks in this movie get throughout the entire thing. Or that could just be me loving Saitou best of all.

So the last third of the movie is kinda boring. Lecture from pointless Anji during his pointless and Futae-no-Kiwami-less fight with Sano (though I did like the tickling) tries to make up for lack of characterization — too little, too late. Soujirou has an unexplained breakdown, and I’m getting more than a little tired of the way people scream and wail in despair after they get beaten by Kenshin. Then I get another moment of Houji love, but I’m mostly just drumming my fingers until Saitou appears again.

I’m going to admit freely at this point that the fight with Shishio was dragged out a bit longer than I had patience for in the manga as well, so I shouldn’t really be complaining that it takes seventeen minutes here. That’s actually much better time than in the anime. And I never measured it in Shin Kyoto Hen because Shin Kyoto Hen was boring as fuck and I fast-forwarded through all the parts that didn’t feature Saitou front and center.

Bite = why? When we’ve cut all relevant dialogue? Also, Shishio’s stupid red thing he’s wearing at crotch-level? I don’t know what it is, but I freaking hate it.

Shishio gives some amazing reactions to his opponents in this battle. At one point when Sano’s pummeling him, he has this look like, Seriously why do I have to deal with this I don’t even know what this guy is supposed to be. And when stupid Aoshi pops out of nowhere, I love the way Shishio’s like, …who the fuck is this and why is he in my movie..?

I may already have complained about Yumi’s characterization, so I won’t bother bringing it up here. In any case, I think her death worked very well, and I’m glad that scene remained intact. I especially liked that the wound delivered to Kenshin via Yumi’s internal organs seems so much more significant than the wound in canon. Though this version of Shishio has shown himself far more willing to betray his underlings to their deaths than the canon Shishio (and therefore even more likely to stab someone through his girlfriend), I still prefer to see him gaining a more serious advantage in battle by killing Yumi. In canon it didn’t seem like that murder accomplished all that much, which always kinda bugged me.

Another thing that interests me about this scene is the reversal of the reference to waiting in Hell. It had never occurred to me before, but I think it is more appropriate to have Shishio say it. In canon, Yumi seems such a devoted follower of Shishio and his beliefs and ambitions that it actually strikes me now as a bit odd that she just assumed he would be joining her in Hell. But that Shishio the asshole would place them both there is no surprise whatsoever. So I kinda like that change.

Shishio’s maniacal but determined laughter as he combusts is really well delivered. And I love the looks Saitou and stupid Aoshi and Sano give him — a big three-way WTF.

Aaand Misao out of nowhere again.

So they walk off away from the shore in pairs: Kenshin and Kaoru, stupid Aoshi and Misao, and Sano and… Yahiko. And Saitou looks after them all like, Something’s not quite right about this arrangement… I know I’m not really getting a lot of Saitou/Sano inspiration out of these movies, but that part still made me grin a bit.

Kaoru looks so astonished at the end when Kenshin becomes a little romantic at her… she’s like, “But I could have sworn he and that police guy…”

(Look at me doing the shippy hypothetical dialogue thing with these pairings I’ve hardly ever been into before, just because this Sano has failed me XD)

Right, so this movie. I don’t even know. I think stupid Aoshi drags it down for me more than anything else, but that’s at least in part because I’m imagining all the time that was wasted on him used to flesh out other characters instead, so that’s a tower of cards in any case. I’ma have to work on his HoH story with Soujirou soon to make up for all the bad feelings I’ve been directing toward him lately because of this.

Yeah, so, this movie. What can I say? I don’t know.

I was waiting to see this one to decide about music video(s), and now I’m not sure I’m even going to bother making any. Or maybe I’ll make one that’s all about how amazing Saitou is. I did mention, in the notes under my first-movie MV, that that seemed like a good idea even back then. We’ll see, I suppose.

In the meantime, back to fanfiction based on canon.

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