Rurouni Kenshin (Volume 6: The Flames of Revolution) Review
And so we come at last to the sixth volume in the long-running series Rurouni Kenshin, the final one before the famous 'Legend of Kyoto' arc commences. This instalment thus concludes the introductory span of the show (or 'Wandering Samurai', as the first Kenshin arc is referred to by Media Blasters). Over the first six volumes we have been introduced to a strong core of primary characters, seen their intriguing interactions with others in the world of post-revolutionary Japan, and also witnessed some impressive character development. The broadening and deepening of the protagonists has been carried out well and sometimes very subtly – I find myself caring a lot more about the characters than I once did, and further able to decide which are my favourites amongst them. For an 'introductory' arc, I'd say that meant its work has certainly been accomplished!
This disc consists of two mini plot arcs. The first is a two-parter and is the last manga-based story before the Kyoto arc begins in the next volume. The story takes a look at Sanosuke's past once again, with another survivor of the doomed Sekihoutai turning up to complicate everyone's lives. It also leads to yet another fight between Kenshin and Sanosuke, one in which we get to see just how much of Kenshin's philosophy has started to rub off on his friend. There's also some very funny moments in this story, not least the drunken party that Sanosuke throws for his dojo friends. The second mini story here is perhaps not quite so compelling, even though it deals with pirates! It does show Kenshin acting away from his friends though, and it's not a bad story at all in and of itself, just not quite so deep as the first one.
Episode Guide (and Possible Spoilers)
23: 'Sanosuke's Betrayal'
The episode opens in the Akabeko restaurant, where Sanosuke is eating. The waitress Tae and her sidekick Tsubame ask Sanosuke to go buy them portraits of Hachiro Date (apparently the most handsome swordsman of the Revolution) by the artist Tsunan Tsukioka. While at the portrait stand, however, Sanosuke meets up with Kenshin and Kaoru and also spots an intriguing painting: one of Captain Sagara (his commander and mentor from his time in the Sekihoutai). Sanosuke feels compelled to meet the artist, whom he then recognises as a childhood friend and fellow member of the Sekihoutai, Katsuhiko Tsukika. (Kenshin and Kaoru follow and note the reunion before heading back to the dojo to mind their own business!)
While they reminisce over some drinks, Katsu asks Sanosuke to aid him in re-forming the Sekihoutai and taking their fight to the Imperialists; he even has a wall of bombs at the ready... and a list of targets. Sanosuke refuses, stating that he has left his past behind. (Sure he has!) Meanwhile, Tatewaki Shindou (the man who oversaw the massacre of the Sekihoutai) is now a high-ranking police official (corrupt, of course) and has assembled a bunch of thieves (the Shiranuito) who kill and rob people, blaming their acts on the Sekihoutai. Unsurprisingly, Sanosuke and Katsu learn of this and both turn up to fight the gang... and with this act of defending the name of the Sekihoutai binding them together, Sanosuke decides to aid Katsu in his idealistic fight.
24: 'Midnight Battle'
The gang are more than a little shocked when Sanosuke suggests a big party at the dojo, but when he offers to pay they jump at the chance and agree. Everyone thinks he's acting strange, especially when he decides to invite Megumi as well – they can only assume it's because he's happy the fake Sekihoutai are over and done with. But no, he has slightly more nefarious reasons in mind: to get everyone drunk so that he and Katsu will have a free rein when they head to bomb the Internal Affairs offices that night!
The party scenes are great fun though, with lots of arguing, drunken behaviour and just a little bit of flirting. Megumi and Kaoru vie for Kenshin to pour them a drink, Yahiko gets drunk from one cup, Ayame and Suzume get to draw faces on the drunks... and at last Sanosuke challenges Kenshin to a drinking competition. When everyone has finally collapsed, Sanosuke sneaks out. Great plan, but one small flaw... when Katsu and Sanosuke reach the Internal Affairs department, Kenshin is of course waiting for them! Sanosuke says he'll handle Kenshin so that Katso can run inside and cause havoc, but we're not terribly surprised to see Kenshin whip Sanosuke's butt quite definitively, over and over again until the latter collapses. Cradled in Katsu's arms, Sanosuke mutters his thanks to Kenshin (who has already wandered off – well, he is a wanderer, you know?) for stopping them acting like a fake army. Even Katsu learns his lesson and buries his bombs along with his past; instead he starts a newspaper to decry the government and all is well once again.
25: 'The Crimson Pirate'
Financial concerns have come to a head at the dojo, with Kaoru telling Yahiko, Kenshin and Sanosuke in no uncertain terms that she's the only wage-earner and that they need to do something to earn some cash. Skulking off, they wander into town and overhear Senbonya, a local businessman, offering to pay for protection against pirates. Well, you couldn't ask for a more perfect job for our heroes! They sign up and next we know they're on a boat. (And so, for that matter, is Kaoru – moonlighting for some extra cash while she pretends she's holding more lessons.)
In the evening, Kaoru and Kenshin share a touching moment on the deck of the boat. Of course, it's soon disturbed by the arrival of Yahiko and Sanosuke, closely followed by the pirates. Cue 'big fight' time. In the ensuing battle we see Sanosuke take on Shura (the head of the pirates), while Senbonya stresses that one box in particular is important in his cargo. Well, things don't go so well for the gang: the pirates take everything, Yahiko gets thrown overboard (and Sanosuke jumps to save him), and Kenshin gets hit by a poisoned dart (but still manages to defeat Shura). When a Navy patrol boat arrives and starts to fire cannons, the pirates beat a quick retreat with the loot, one of them taking Kaoru hostage. Kenshin naturally follows and offers himself in Kaoru's place, a prisoner exchange to which Shura (who we can now see is female) agrees... leaving Himura alone with the pirates as his friends all clamber into a small boat and sail away.
26: 'Lightning Incarnate'
The pirates have their own little island and there's a little more of their background explained: they're the Kairyu, set up by Shura's father to help feed the starving children of the island. Unfortunately, although they've established rules to punish only the unjust, nor to steal from the weak, Shura doesn't have a very tight grip on the reins... the men she commands are chomping at the bit to be ever more bloodthirsty and less moral. Unbeknownst to her, Ginjo is the ringleader of these dissenters, while Sarojiro (a young mute) and Iwa (her father's friend) are Shura's only real allies. (Until now, of course.)
When the pirates go off to their houses, Shura questions Kenshin, wondering why he didn't kill her and moreover demanding a rematch (which he declines). As she can't bear to kill him, she sets Sarojiro to watch over him (tied up, naturally!) while she goes off to meet with Ginjo... and learns that he's not 100% behind her. But Ginjo's plans are only just beginning... one of his mates, Gekki, reveals that they've found opium in the special case, which gives Ginjo the opening he's been looking for. He sets off to see Senbonya and offer to go into business with him, swapping opium delivery services for guns and ammunition. Yahiko spots the Kairyu lurking about Senbonya's place and he, Kaoru and Sanosuke follow the pirates onto their ship and eavesdrop on their plotting.
Returning to the island, the pirates blow up their boat because they expect Senbonya to buy them a new one and they know they have stowaways on board. When they go looking to kill Shura, however, Kenshin breaks his bonds to protect her during a small but savage fight... that is, if jumping into a ravine with someone can be said to be protecting them!
27: 'Burn, Island of Terror'
While Ginjo searches in vain for Shura's body, with Sarojiro's help Kenshin finds a cave to hide her in and acts as a doctor, removing a bullet from her leg. All this effort is threatened when she awakens and tries to kill herself, embarrassed that she doesn't seem fit to lead the Kairyu. Of course Kenshin gives her the usual pep talk about how the current Kairyu are themselves an embarrassment and how she should seek to return to her father's ideals.
Meanwhile, in her absence Ginjo is named leader of the pirates and they set up a feast to celebrate. Sarojiro has snuck back to the pirates lair and finds Kenshin's sword and a drugged-up Iwa they have been testing opium on; he brings both back to Shura and Kenshin. Of course, Shura runs off to challenge Ginjo - and wins - but then he uses dirty tactics to plunge a knife into her bullet wound. As is pretty standard for the show, Kenshin then appears and challenges Ginjo in Shura's name, winning fairly easily... which only incenses Gekki, who throws a bomb, igniting all the ammunition in the camp and setting the village alight! Oops. Our man Himura earns cool points by saving Shura from the conflagration and in the forest they meet up with Kaoru, Sanosuke and Yahiko. Shura decides to return to her father's commitment to good deeds and the open waves and they say their farewells.
Picture & Sound
Video-wise, the opening and ending sequences show a marked improvement from the last volume – a definite plus. The actual picture quality of Rurouni Kenshin is still running very strong, with clear, deep colours and few occurrences of rainbowing or artifacting. Some of the more airbrushed styles return here to good effect, especially stills of the pirates themselves. There's also a really pleasant contrast between evening and daytime animation – for evenings everything seems tinted with muted blue hues, whereas in the daytime things are bright and rich.
And with the coming of the pirates there is the first manifestation in this series of 'strange animé coloured hair' (at least so far as I have noticed): Shura has the standard teal and Gekki... well, even ignoring his hair he could well be an orc, he's so non-human looking. Still, it doesn’t actually detract from the show at all; the pirates are supposed to be a little debased, after all!
The sound is still clear and crisp, with pretty good left/right directionality and some stereo separation obvious. The music continues to please me a lot; it just fits very nicely. Both casts continue to do a good job with the voice acting, although I did find some of Sanosuke's scenes a little flat in the English dub this time around – a very minor quibble for a dub I like more than most.
Menus & Packaging
And it's mostly minor quibbles here as well, though it's good to see most of the typos have disappeared. Instead, though, we have an unresolved mystery as to this volume's actual name. The disc itself is labelled 'Flames of the Revolution'... a slightly different turn of meaning from 'The Flames of Revolution' (which is what the cover of the Amaray case proclaims). Even looking on the Web didn't clarify matters much; there are hundreds of references to either Kenshin title to be found with a simple Google search. Another obvious mistake is that the insert only lists 4 episodes despite there being 5 on this DVD... but thankfully these are the only really noticeable errors.
The packaging is again in line with previous volumes, prominently featuring Katsu, Sanosuke and Kenshin on the front cover. The episode summaries on the back are much clearer to read - keeping with that bolder, brighter typeface - which is definitely good as previous volumes had some problems in this regard.
Alas, there are also fewer special features on this disc. The liner notes sets a new record (and not a good one), consisting of just one item. The art gallery has but 4 pictures in it... all of which are covers or potential covers, framed and with backgrounds. The outtakes are fortunately still quite enjoyable, again featuring only the English dub cast. (Not riotously funny, it has to be said, but this time there were a couple that at least made me laugh.) And then there are the standard trailers for other Media Blasters releases, this time covering Magic Knight Rayearth, Magic User's Club, Twin Signal, and Virtua Fighter.
I am a little disappointed that character profiles appear to have vanished completely. There haven't been any at all for a few volumes now and they were one of the more enjoyable (and useful!) extras. I certainly thought that important characters like Shura and Katsu deserved profiles, particularly considering that Aoshi got one and his presence lasted for a similar number of episodes. Maybe the profiles will be restored for the Kyoto arc. I hope so, anyway.
Not really billed as an extra, but available on the disc, is a short preview of the Kyoto arc which is very beautiful. I got to it by watching the preview at the end of episode 27 which starts off with a look forward to the next story and then segues smoothly into the preview of the whole Kyoto arc. Not really an easter egg perhaps, but it was quite cool all the same to see it on screen.
Even though it's safe to say that I enjoyed this final chapter in the 'Wandering Samurai' arc, I have the nagging suspicion that it would have been better had it finished on the Sanosuke storyline, as that was certainly the stronger of the two plot lines included on this DVD. Nevertheless, we again saw good character development (both individually and as a group) and I now feel ready to launch into the 'Legend of Kyoto' arc... which I know is a firm fan favourite and something people have been telling me to look forward to for a very long time indeed!