Rurouni Kenshin (Volume 12: Blind Justice) Review
This disc continues the Kyoto arc of Rurouni Kenshin, an consists of episodes 48-52 in the overall TV series. There are quite a few duels packed into the five episodes presented here: Sanosuke and Anji, Saito and Usui, Kenshin and Aoshi, Yahiko and Henya... so by all means expect a lot of great fight scenes! But there's a huge amount of character development too, which really surprised me in such an action-packed DVD. It's important as a reminder of what makes this animé series so watchable and so successful – characterisation is never sacrificed for good action or merely to speed along the storyline.
Kenshin, Saito and Sanosuke are still in Shishio's secret compound, working their way through a series of duels before one of them will meet Shishio himself and finish the epic battle. Meanwhile, back at the Aoiya Yahiko, Kaoru, Misao and the rest of the Oniwaban are confronted by three of the Juppon Gatana and a large number of troops all intent upon killing them. So naturally the fights in this volume are conducted on two fronts and both must be won by the good guys if our heroes are to prevail.
In particular, there's the final fight between Aoshi and Kenshin, two characters that have taken long journeys to get to this moment and settle the question of who is indeed the strongest. It marks yet another welcome return of Aoshi into the thick of the story. Nor let us forget the chance to watch Saito come head-to-head with the blind swordsman Usui. Both Aoshi and Saito have become really integral to this story arc and it's always a pleasure to see them fight.
The battle scenes themselves are all solid pieces of action, with well-crafted tense moments. They also include a great deal of commentary regarding the specific fighting styles used and an analysis of the fighters' psyches and emotional outlooks. Kenshin isn't all about good sword-fighting, after all; it's also about understanding the emotions and characters behind the action – again, something I feel really makes the series worthwhile.
Episode Guide (and Possible Spoilers)
48: 'Reborn to Salvation'
This episode concludes the fight between Sanosuke and Anji. While Sanosuke is explaining his technique to Kenshin, Anji gets to his feet. We finally learn how Anji switched from being a monk to become such a tough killer who believes he has the right to choose between life and death for people. Flashbacks telling Anji's story take up a good part of this episode, but are a reminder of how well characters are established in Kenshin – even if they serve as a break from the ongoing plot.
After Anji makes his case for bloodshed and salvation, we're back in the thick of the fighting. This time it's Sanosuke's turn to speak (though he manages to fight at the same time); he talks about the resentment that used to keep him going before he met Kenshin. After another bout of fighting (with commentary by Kenshin and Saito on techniques), Sanosuke defeats Anji with both words and strength. The fighting's taken so much out of Sanosuke that Kenshin and Saito have to leave him behind in Anji's care (with some medicine from Megumi, of course!). But as the two prepare to move onward, Anji tells them of Houji's plan to attack the Aoiya, warning that they must return to help their friends. However, after Yumi makes it clear that they'll never find their way back to the entrance of Shishio's labyrinth on their own, they decide to press onwards. Yumi leads Kenshin and Saito to the Room of Screams where the next duel is to be held, with Usui.
The Aoiya, meanwhile, is surrounded by fighters and the remaining Juppon Gatana.
49: 'The Wolf Destroys the Eye of the Heart'
Winning yet another award for blindingly literal episode titles, there's no real surprises in store here. Of course it's Saito that steps up to fight the next battle – we never really think Kenshin is going to fight anything but the final duel; he is the hero of the series after all! Usui again mouths off about his plans to kill Shishio someday, though this upsets Yumi, Shishio's main squeeze (in case you'd forgotten).
Sanosuke comes around thanks to Megumi's medicine and Anji's care. He learns that Kenshin has moved on to the next duel and also catches up with what's happening at the Aoiya. He thanks Anji and the pair say their goodbyes on friendly terms before Sano rushes off to try and catch up with the others. He manages to reach the group before Usui's duel starts, and just in time to see Saito step forward to fight.
While the others dash off, Saito and Usui start their duel, sizing one another up. There's a lot of talking for two such accomplished fighters – but the lesson here is that learning what drives your enemy to fight is as important as the fighting itself. As before with Anji (though across only one episode this time), we learn some of Usui's backstory through flashbacks as he explains the Eye of the Heart to Saito. Big mistake! Saito counters Eye of the Heart with his powers of observation and through his insight into Usui's actual motivations he manages to catch his opponent off-guard, leading to triumph in this surprisingly wordy encounter. That's not to say there isn't any fighting – there is, including Usui's ultimate attack – but Saito is the eventual victor.
Back at the Aoiya, three Juppon Gatana inform the Oniwaban that they only need fight them, not the 150 hired goons backing them up. The Oniwaban, including Yahiko and Kaoru, split up to each take one of the Juppon Gatana. Meanwhile, Kenshin, Sanosuke and Yumi are racing towards the final duel with Soujiro when Kenshin stops at Houji's room. Inside Aoshi waits.
50: 'The Promised Time has Come'
Kenshin remembers his promise to Misao to bring Aoshi back, and his promise to Aoshi that he would fight him again; he enters the room ready to meet Aoshi and keep both promises. Aoshi is determined to fight the Battousai to gain the title of 'strongest' and claims he has thrown aside everything else to achieve this goal. But when Aoshi draws his twin kodachis, Kenshin steps forward and says Aoshi is no longer the man he made his bargain with. He also mentions his promise to Misao to bring back Aoshi, Commander of the Oniwaban. He refuses to fight Aoshi seriously as he is now, instead using defensive moves only to prove to Aoshi that even siding with chaos will not help him win this fight.
Yumi sneaks over to a telegraph system and uses it to inform Shishio of the duels' progress. Shisho guesses the fight between Aoshi and Kenshin will take some time, because they're both of similar levels; he's counting on these fights to soften Saito, Sanosuke and Kenshin up before the final battle. That's evil genius for you!
Back to the fight, Kenshin is forced to draw his sword to defend against Aoshi's constant attacks and the real action takes off, with both sides as evenly matched as Shishio expected. After giving Kenshin a heavy hit, Aoshi demands that Kenshin flip over the reverse-blade sword and meet him at full strength. Kenshin gets to his feet and delivers a rebuke to Aoshi, agreeing to use all his strength to fight him... but he will not flip over the sword to become the Battousai again.
As with the other duels in this sequence, there's a lot of posturing and debate, interspersed with cool action sequences. Kenshin explains that his desire for life will always trump Aoshi's current deathwish – he also chastises Aoshi for turning to evil in the names of four brave fighters that died (they get many many namechecks over this and the next episode!) who don't deserve such a testament.
At the Aoiya, meanwhile, Oniwaban members attempt to take out the Iwanbo (the enormously fat Juppon Gatana member) but they can't even make a dent before they're flattened.
51: 'Wake Up Now!'
Kenshin's words finally get through to Aoshi and the latter returns to his former self, albeit after hitting Kenshin many more times! Both men are wounded by the fighting and they reach a standoff moment, when both prepare for their final attacks – this is, of course, explained by Sanosuke for the audience. Aoshi offers his apologies to his former Oniwaban colleagues, stating this is his final attempt against Kenshin. It's a surprisingly tense moment and it's good to see Aoshi back to his former self.
The stalemate is broken when Sanosuke catches Yumi telegraphing Shishio, yelling a warning to Kenshin not to use his ultimate attack. Feeling safer now, Aoshi launches his assault. Ignoring Sano, Kenshin uses the special manoeuvre anyway and defeats Aoshi, leaving Sanosuke and Yumi in a state of shock (though she still sends a telegraph to Shishio stating that the attack was so fast that she couldn't observe the finer details). Aoshi lies defeated, but his honour has been restored. However, he does warn Kenshin against using his ultimate attack too often as it tires the body and loses some of its firepower if the enemy can see how it's done. Leaving Aoshi behind, Kenshin orders Yumi to take them to the final room and they head off.
At the Aoiya it seems Iwanbo didn't kill his opponents; they're OK, just a bit woozy. We get a quick cut to elsewhere in Kyoto, where a giant monster called Fuji is setting fire to parts of the city (thus keeping the police occupied and away from the Aoiya). Kamatari – a cute 'chick' wielding a huge scythe – taunts Yahiko, Kaoru and Misao and the three exchange a few words about which woman is the sexiest... until finally they work out that their opponent is actually a man!! It's good to see an injection of humour back in amongst the generally serious tone the show has taken during these major skirmishes with Shishio's forces. Yahiko tells Kaoru to go help Misao with Kamatari while he deals with the final Juppon Gatana member, so the girls square up to fight.
Henya, Flight of the Juppon Gatana, expresses disappointment that he only has a child set against him, but Yahiko doesn't seem too worried about that. So the fight between Henya and Yahiko begins, with a bomb to obscure Yahiko's sight and to launch Henya into the air so he can show off his flying battle tactics.
52: 'To Make a Miracle'
Yahiko's battle continues, though against one of the Juppon Gatana it's a rather one-sided battle, until he takes inspiration from all of Kenshin's fights that he's witnessed. Determined to keep his promise to Kenshin to protect the Aoiya, Yahiko manages to find a way to defeat Henya – much to the surprise and relief of Kaoru, Misao and the assembled Oniwaban.
Kaoru and Misao are then left to face Kamatari on their own. They try using a solid strategy, but this fails and the battle continues. As with the other fights on this disc (with the exception of Yahiko's) there's some conversation interspersed with the action – in this case explaining the great chain scythe and how it affects fighting, along with the now-standard posturing from both sides. After being knocked out, Misao hears Hannya's voice telling her that Kenshin has been successful and that Aoshi is on his way back to the Oniwaban – which inspires her to keep fighting, despite broken ribs. Between the two of them, Kaoru and Misao attack the scythe and break it!
Kaoru steps up and asks Kamatari to retreat instead of continue fighting. The offer is rejected; both Kaoru and Kamatari can apparently fight with broken weapons. Kamatari's love for Shishio also comes to the fore and the girls get a better insight into his motivations, and they still manage to strike him down. The battle at the Aoiya seems over, with Kaoru offering to bandage up the troops.
Seeing the Juppon Gatana being taken out by a boy and two women, the grunts look to Iwanbo to finish the fight. But he's too stupid to do anything without direct instruction, so the thugs flee instead. Then Iwanbo runs off too and the fight is finally over. As Okina makes the victory speech, the ground starts to rumble and Fuji makes his entrance, along with his wizened accomplice and seeming master, Saizuchi.
Picture & Sound
The picture quality and transfer remain strong on this volume of Rurouni Kenshin. There's a little noticeable colour bleeding and pixellation, but it's not very intrusive and doesn't occur often. Colours remain true and the transfer holds up particularly well through all the action sequences.
Sound is once again stereo, which is all this series really needs. Both the Japanese and the English soundtracks are clear and distinct. I would heartily recommend the Japanese though, the acting is better – and to be brutally honest the English voicing of Kamatari is so hideous that I found it hard to handle. It's the first Rurouni Kenshin English voice that has upset me.
Menus, Extras & Packaging
The first thing to note is that there are five episodes on this disc, as opposed to the four seen on previous volumes! Definitely extra value-for-money there. The cover art depicts Anji, Sanosuke, Saito and Usui in the background with Kenshin taking up the foreground with disturbingly pink hair – this picture is duplicated for the main menu.
There's a new closing song on this volume, so the extras includes the creditless closing, as might be expected. There are trailers for other Media Blasters titles; Fortune Quest, Berserk, Gokudo: Swordsman Extraordinaire and Puppet Princess.
The excellent liner notes continue, giving explanations of Japanese cultural and linguistic references that appear in the episodes here. The liner notes continue to be a strong element of the extras packages for these DVDs as they really add value to any understanding of the series. The outtakes similarly continue to be a little disappointing, even though there are around 30 of them presented this time around – they're mostly line flubs, rather than anything actually funny.
What can I say? It's another strong disc in a series that just keeps getting better all the time. Even though I've now watched the entire Kyoto arc and know what's coming – this is one of my favourite discs for its mix of action and analysis, and for its storyline. It's important to Rurouni Kenshin for some of these loose ends to be tied up before the final fight (especially Aoshi/Kenshin and the Aoiya action), and it's been really great to see that they're not brushed aside or rushed – instead they're given a good amount of showtime and treated well.