Rurouni Kenshin (Volume 15: Firefly's Wish) Review
Kenshin, Kaoru and Sanosuke are back in at the Kamiya dojo in Tokyo after saving Japan from the threat that was Shishio. Seemingly returned to the quiet life, this disc opens the 'Tales of the Meiji' series, the final arc of Kenshin released by Media Blasters. It's definitely a different (and yes, slower) pace compared to what just came before, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Apparently the episodes included on this disc were originally shown directly after the Kyoto arc on Japanese television, and mark the actual close of the second series, with episodes 67 onwards counting as the 'true' third series of Rurouni Kenshin. It doesn't really matter though, and I think the cut-off point we were given on the previous volume (Fire Requiem) makes perfect sense. Of course, there is that camp of people who believe that all episodes after 62 aren't really worth watching because they diverge from the original manga [Japanese comics] and aren't of the same calibre of the more famous Kyoto arc when it comes to the fighting or storyline. Personally, I don't know what's ahead with the show as I'm watching it disc-by-disc for the first time ever... but so far I don't feel the new episodes have been a waste of my time!
So back to the manga/animé discussion. Apparently at this stage in the TV series the production was in danger of overtaking the published manga, as Nobuhiro Watsuki (who wrote the manga) was working on a massive story arc and the animé producers didn't want to embark upon a story that might not be finished in time – so instead they decided to fill in time while the manga storyline was completed. Unfortunately this led to a drop in ratings for the animé and the subsequent cancellation of Rurouni Kenshin as a TV series. Now, that's not to say that these episodes aren't worth watching, regardless of what some people may say. So far I found the beginning of 'Tales of the Meiji' (as this final arc has been named by Media Blasters) to be reminiscent of some of the very early episodes of Rurouni Kenshin, featuring comedic interplay between the major characters as they interact and respond to strange occurrences in their daily lives.
It is a quiet start to this final season, with episodes that remind us of all the characters and how they interacted before the whole Kyoto arc fired up and took them away from the Kamiya dojo. There's very little in the way of fighting, and what there is over fairly quickly – it's definitely a change from those sprawling Shishio showdowns. The return to comedy is a bit of a relief after the Kyoto arc, though I am hoping for a few short story arcs and a bit more character development as the show progresses. And sure, I miss Misao, Aoshi and Saito – but that's not to say I don't enjoy watching the original gang back together and back in action. That it may not be everyone's cup of tea is a certainty from the unkind comments it's received from dedicated fans of the Kyoto arc and the later OAVs [original animated videos], but if you liked the first series of Rurouni Kenshin then I think you'll get the same gentle enjoyment of these episodes as I did.
Episode Guide (and Possible Spoilers)
63: 'The Legend of the Fireflies'
Kaoru tells her lovable collection of layabouts that it really is time for them to start earning their keep, much to the indignation of Yahiko and Sanosuke. Kenshin takes Ayame and Suzume fishing with him to catch dinner and witnesses an old fisherman taking out some local hoodlums who attack a rich boy as he crosses the river with his father. The small scuffle over, the fisherman leads Himura and the girls to a better fishing spot and opens up to Kenshin.
Both men seem to be able to sense a kindred spirit between them – that they are both excellent fighters who have given up that life to pursue other goals and dreams. The fisherman is called Ryunosuke and tells his life story, revolving around a lost love, killing many people, and later finding out that what he had been searching his whole life for had already been found. It's a tale that resonates with Kenshin. Ryunosuke says that once a man meets a special woman they are never far apart, leaving Kenshin to think of Kaoru and the time he said goodbye to her by the fireflies…
64: 'The Birth of Prince Yahiko?'
Kenshin steps in to rescue an old man whose carriage comes under attack only to discover that the boy inside is the Prince of a small, unassuming kingdom... and not to mention the spitting image of Yahiko! Alas, the Prince is due to meet with various diplomats at a dinner in his honour, but the attack has incapacitated him.
Well, it's fairly clear that we have a Prince and the Pauper set-up here, with Yahiko reluctantly taking the Prince's place. Kenshin, Sanosuke and Kaoru also take parts in the deception and have to dress up as fellow dignitaries of the country. This leads to an amusing sequence of lessons in etiquette and Western table manners as Sanosuke struggles with the concept of a fork and Kenshin attacks a steak with a dinner knife. Yahiko, as often is the case, lets the importance of his role go to his head. However when the time for the dinner arrives, the yobbish youth and his close friends manage to deceive the diplomats and survive an attempt on the royal life!
65: 'Find the Lost Treasure!'
…in which we return to some pure slapstick comedy in the Kenshin universe.
Sanosuke prays at a shrine for some better luck with his gambling, and apparently the gods do but laugh, as he immediately stumbles across a sick-looking dog. After he brings it back to the Kamiya dojo, Megumi has a look at it and the dog proceeds to get more healthy and rampage through the episode in a kind-of amusing manner. It's a huge chow (for those interested in breed) and the gang nickname him Notaru. So as Notaru slobbers all over everyone, eats most of their food, and steals and buries their prized possessions, everyone gets more and more frustrated with Sanosuke's new best friend, posting information notices around town to try and locate Notaro's owner and get rid of the pooch.
On a seemingly-unrelated case, the Police Chief calls on Kenshin and informs him that the Kenwa gang have recently obtained some dirt on local politicians and intend to use it for blackmail – that is, if they hadn't lost the key that could open the safe with the information stashed in it. Apparently Notaro ran off with the key and the posters led the Police Chief straight to the Kamiya dojo. So, using Kenshin's brain and Notaro's love of burying his stashes, the gang manage to find the key and save the politicians, while Notaro's owners are eventually located. But not before Sano needs to spend one more night looking after his chow chum!
66: 'Kaoru Ecstatic'
OK, remember Tae, the owner of the Akabeko? And Tsubame, her young waitress? Well, they're back in full force in this episode. Tae, Tsubame and Kaoru are out shopping when Tae starts to explain Western engagement traditions to Kaoru; she also mentions that an engagement ring given on Tanabata (a Japanese festival day which seems a bit like Valentine's Day) is especially fortuitous. Of course this starts Kaoru dreaming about the possibilities of Kenshin proposing to her – and Tae seems determined to push their relationship to that next stage.
Come Tanabata, Kenshin heads out fishing and returns with a catfish (see, he's already learnt a new skill and in only a few episodes too!). Kaoru seems a bit disappointed that no one has gone out of their way to make her Tanabata special and she mopes off to her room, not being too fond of the idea of catfish as a present. The others continue eating without her and discover an engagement ring inside the catfish. Ever meddling, Tae suggests Kenshin go give it to Kaoru (Kenshin, of course, has no knowledge of the Western tradition or its implications). Off he trots, thinking it's merely Kaoru's birthday and that's why everyone's telling him to be nice to her... of course Kaoru is over-the-moon at the gift of the ring and immediately starts acting worryingly housewife-esque.
Sanosuke meanwhile heads out fishing and discovers a man so distraught he's about to commit suicide. Naturally the ring they found was his, thrown away due to a misunderstanding between him and his would-be fiancée. Sano breaks the news to Yahiko and Kenshin and the three are now tasked with getting that ring back from Kaoru in order to save another relationship. After a few slapstick attempts to grab the ring, Kenshin comes clean with Kaoru and she storms off after a big punch that frees the ring from her finger. As Kenshin eventually brings Kaoru flowers to apologise, Sanosuke tells Tae it's better to let the two work out their relationship without her meddling.
Picture & Sound
There is some talk that the animation isn't paid as much attention in these later episodes of Rurouni Kenshin, but so far I haven't seen much evidence to support this. The quality of colours and design are as strong as ever, albeit with the odd example of cross-colouration or bleeding. But overall it's a good transfer of the animation and there's very little to quibble over. Kenshin himself does look a little younger than he did during the latter part of the Kyoto arc, but maybe that's what a bit of rest and relaxation have done for him!
Sound continues to be pleasant enough with enjoyable background music throughout the show. Dialogue is easily distinguishable and there were no noticeable drop-outs. Both the Japanese and English soundtracks use little in the way of left/right directionality, but it's not really missed either. Acting also continues to be strong in both language tracks.
Menus, Extras & Packaging
For 'Tales of the Meiji' Media Blasters have again revised the menus and packaging. Backgrounds are muted and contain repetitive patterns on both the Amaray cover art and on the DVD menus. The cover here has butterflies in the background with Kenshin and Kaoru in the foreground, with purple being very much the theme colour here. The disc title is ensconced in a left-hand bar in a deeper shade of purple and everything is nicely legible.
Menus have also been redesigned with an eye-pleasing background, lovely music to accompany browsing, and (wait for it) horizontal, legible text. Hurrah! Seriously, though, these are nice, crisp menus and all changes made have been for the better in my opinion.
There are few extras this time around, just outtakes from the dub actors' sessions and the extremely useful liner notes which help to explain cultural and linguistic points of potential confusion (for example, this set includes a lot about Tanabata and what kind of festival it is). In fact, we're graced with no fewer than 10 pages of liner notes on this particular DVD – so quite a lot of information to take in there!
There's no real need for credit-less opening and closing segments as the episodes here use the same theme songs as those at the end of the Kyoto arc (which makes sense seeing as they were the original epilogue to that arc). It would have been kind of nice to see a credit-less closing for the final episode, however, as that has bits of action taking place throughout the credits scroll – but it's hardly life and death, is it?
Well, after the excitement of the Kyoto arc, I really don't know what to expect from the final story arc of the Rurouni Kenshin television series. From this opening disc it seems like we're returning to the more comedic form of the first series. I like the characters and I am pleased with how they've interacted throughout, so I enjoyed these episodes. Sure, they're hardly as epic-scale as some of those in the Kyoto arc were, but they're still eminently watchable and give me an excuse to see more of the characters I've grown to know and love. Looking forward to what's in store and finding out what's next for our heroes, I found this a welcome reintroduction to the series.