The 34 episodes in this eight-disc set make up the "Kyoto" arc of the popular martial arts adventure-comedy. The tone of the narrative has darkened since the introductory story (Rurouni Kenshin: Wandering Samurai). When the forces of the Tokugawa Shogunate were defeated by the Imperialists 10 years earlier, Kenshin Himura abandoned his identity as Battousai the Manslayer. Makoto Shishio succeeded him as the country's deadliest assassin. Government agents captured Shishio, and although he survived a botched execution, an attempt to incinerate his body left him hideously scarred. Shishio has assembled a private army to overthrow the Meiji government and make himself ruler of Japan. Can Kenshin keep his oath never to kill again, or must he once again become a murderer to prevent a civil war? Kenshin's internal struggle is complicated by Seiko, his arrogant former sensei; Aoshi, the ex-commander of the Oniwaban; and Saito, a police officer who may be a friend, rival, and/or enemy. The drama and violence are played against the broad comedy of the cast of friends Kenshin made in Tokyo in the previous continuity: Kaoru, Yahiko, Sanosuke, Megumi. Yahiko tries to emulate Kenshin, clobbering an opponent as he shouts, "Hiten Mitsurugi style--or close to it, anyway!"
Director Kazuhiro Furuhashi stages the sword fights and martial arts duels with panache, using rapid cutting, split-screen, and reversed colors to heighten the excitement. But the filmmakers stress that the spiritual aspects of the samurai tradition of bushido outweigh mere physical skills. Kenshin's inner nobility triumphs over Shishio's commitment to a misguided social Darwinism. The emphasis on internal conflict demands nuanced performances from the vocal cast. As Kenshin, Richard Hayworth finds subtle transitions between the warm, slightly goofy Kenshin and the implacable warrior who once terrified Kyoto. This depth and complexity of characterization gives Rurouni Kenshin a resonance lacking in animation that pits blandly virtuous heroes against cackling villains. The Legend of Kyoto set makes it clear why Rurouni Kenshin remains one of the best-loved anime continuities of all time. (Rated 13 and older: violence, alcohol and tobacco use) --Charles Solomon
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