Rurouni Kenshin (Volume 11: Faces of Evil) Review
What can I say – it's another great volume of Rurouni Kenshin. Everything has really been set up well in previous episodes and so we come to the fifth volume in the 'Legend of Kyoto' arc, spanning episodes 44-47 of the show. All the main players have reached Kyoto and it's time to start unraveling Shishio's plans to take over the world... oops, I mean the country, of course.
One of the simple delights of this volume is the return of Saito and his acid tongue – particularly when directed at Sanusuke, his withering comments bring another level of humour amidst the increasing tension of the action sequences. This disc also sees the reunion of Saito and Kenshin – our master team to stop Shisio and his cronies of the Juppon Gatana. (At least Saito has stopped ragging on Kenshin, which is probably wise as Kenshin returns from training wiser and battle-honed once more.)
What other treats are in store? Well, Kenshin and Kaoru do get to share a couple of moments together; we meet the final members of the Juppon Gatana and learn a little about their internal politics (more interesting than you would perhaps have guessed!); and Misao blossoms as leader of the Oniwaban. The volume starts with our heroes' reaction to the revelation that Shishio plans to destroy Kyoto and bring down the government in the process. Everyone must take their skills up a notch in order to defeat the evil that is Shishio, and for the first time in a long while it's all working in synchronisation (despite the usual handful of differences and insults along the way). Yet as one plan is defeated, another hatches, leaving Kenshin, Saito and Sanosuke in the middle of what promises to be an incredible series of battles – of which we only see the first on this DVD.
With this instalment, the show has really begun to deliver on some of its major promises, both for a showdown between 'good' and 'evil' and in terms of intrigue, politics, action and humour – as well as romance (lest we forget!). With so much of our time having been engaged with the characters and their development, it's time to let loose with some full-blown action at last – and once again I was left jumping to get the next volume to put in the DVD player.
Episode Guide (and Possible Spoilers)
44: 'A Decisive Battle Like Violent Waters'
This is very much an introductory episode to the action on the disc, but with all the different storylines progressing it nonetheless feels like quite a long episode – no real action, mind, but good to see Sanosuke back, to hear Saito's withering comments about him, and to finally hear something definite of Shishio's plans.
The episode starts with Kenshin trying to revive Seijuro Hiko, while Sanosuke and Saito exchange words back at the police cells of Kyoto. When Saito insults Sano enough he gets to see firsthand the new technique Sano learned while on his travels. (Predictably, this is still not enough to earn Saito's respect and there's a lot of yelling and all sorts of fun stuff between the two of them.) Ignoring Sano, Saito heads for Chou's cell and starts to question him about who might be responsible for the massacre of fifty policemen in Kobe.
From Chou, the two men learn that the Juppon Gatana member responsible for killing fifty men within two hours is none other than Usui (the blind swordsman whose technique is called 'Eye of the Heart'). This is nicely intercut with the scene of Usui arriving at Shishio's – we discover that Shishio is the one who blinded him in the first place and that he only joined the gang if he had the right to try and kill Shishio whenever he wanted. Meanwhile, Saito further questions Chou about Shishio's plans and finds out about a plot to set Kyoto ablaze while assassinating key government officials!
Sano dashes off to find Kenshin, while back at Shishio's compound the last of the Juppon Gatana arrive: Kamatari (sporting a death scythe), Saizuchi (a wizened old man), and Fuji (a dim-witted giant). Finally, Seijuro Hiko recovers and pronounces Kenshin's training complete, leaving Himura free to turn up at the Yamashina police station looking for Saito.
45: 'As If To Fly' (a.k.a. 'As If In Flight')
While Saito apprises Kenshin of the impending Kyoto conflagration and tells him it's staged for that evening, both men are suspicious at how easily they've learned details of a seemingly 'secret' plan. At this point it's down to Kenshin to get into mind of the manslayer (in this case, Shishio's) and work out what the real scheme behind the smokescreen might be. In the end, he determines that the hidden plan is for Shishio to sail to Tokyo and bomb it from the sea. Sanosuke arrives just as Kenshin is dashing out the door, and after initial greetings Saito calls for a fast carriage to the port of Osaka while Kenshin quickly pens a letter...
...to Misao and the Oniwaban, warning them of the plans for the Grand Inferno. They in turn send messenger pigeons throughout the city with warnings for the residents – and so the defence of Kyoto begins.
Meanwhile, Shishio, Yumi, Houji and Soujiro wait aboard a seemingly-harmless civilian boat under whose masses of wood cladding a steel battleship hides. Our bad guys are watching for the fires to start in distant Kyoto before they set sail – having left the remaining Juppon Gatana behind to assassinate key figures during the ensuing chaos. However, the immense police presence in Kyoto is making it hard for Shishio's mob of hired thugs to set fires, so the Juppon Gatana members themselves step in to assist. Ably warned by the Oniwaban, the people of Kyoto also help stop the various arsonists... but just as Misao pauses to congratulate the residents, Usui grabs her from behind and is about to kill her when Anji steps in and breaks his blow.
The delay in the fires has kept Shishio's ship docked, providing Kenshin, Saito and Sano with just enough time to get there and find their target – but just as Sano is making an off-hand comment about how a shoddy vessel like that is hardly any threat to Tokyo, Shishio's blows the wooden cladding off the sides of Shishio's ship, revealing the steel underneath!
46: 'Purgatory Bursts Into Flames'
Returning at once to the action back at the port, Kenshin and Saito swim for the ship's main deck, sending Sano off to sneak around and bomb the mechanical room in the stern. There are some very humorous put-downs of Sano in the process, but it only serves to make him more resolved to prove his worth. As it happens, Sanosuke's new technique not only saves him from the inevitable onslaught of Shishio's Gatling gun (a weapon that's all the rage amongst the baddies of Rurouni Kenshin), but also gives Houji the clue that Sano has had some prior interaction with Anji, as he recognises the attack. Sano hurls the specialty bombs made by his mate Katsu, effectively knocking the mechanical room out of operation and setting fire to the ship. So, so much for Shishio's master plan, eh?
Shishio thinks the same, and admits he was too off-guard and challenges Kenshin, Saito, and Sanosuke to a duel in his real hideout up on Mount Hiei – he's now decided he must eliminate these three before he can take over the country. Agreeing to the duel, the lads return to Kyoto. Back at the Aoiya, Kenshin and Sano learn how Anji saved Misao's life, and Sanosuke discovers that his former master is actually a member of the Juppon Gatana. Kenshin, meanwhile, is brought up to date with the news on Aoshi – Okina even regains consciousness and asks Kenshin to put Aoshi out of his misery. Much to Misao's relief, Kenshin says that Aoshi has not turned irredeemably to evil and that he will instead bring Aoshi back to the Aoiya and the Oniwaban.
Kaoru and Kenshin meet on the roof at night, as he's due to leave the next day. Yahiko shows up and gives Kaoru a talking to – advising her, of all thigns, to stop hesitating and just kiss Kenshin! His arrival is followed in short order by Sano, Misao and the rest of the Oniwaban. Words of farewell are spoken by all, but the little romantic mood is somewhat ruined. The next day Kaoru and Kenshin actually get to say a farewell when Saito arrives to start the journey to Mount Hiei.
47: 'Crash! The Lethal Punch, Futae No Kiwami'
Back in Shishio's office, Houji reveals he has come up with a new plan – to only use the three strongest Juppon Gatana to face off with Kenshin, Saito and Sano and to send the rest off to slaughter everyone back at the Aoiya as punishment for ruining the Grand Inferno plans. It's an interesting piece of action here as we get to see Shishio's interaction with his men, and a little of his psychosis. Houji actually stands up for himself versus Shishio this time, telling him that he has sworn to do everything in his power to help Shishio, whether the latter likes it or not.
To test Houji's resolve, Shishio calls in the other Juppon Gatana and tells them it was Houji's suggestion that they be left behind in Kyoto (with the strong implication that they were expendable). Here given the opportunity to simply tell the truth and blame Shishio, Houji instead accepts responsibility for his leader's actions and stabs himself in the hand before the others as penitence. As a result, Shishio decides to go ahead with Houji's latest tactic... sending Soujiro, Anji and Usui to battle Kenshin's group while the rest of his team goes to kill the Oniwaban, Kaoru and Yahiko.
Kenshin, Saito and Sano reach the shine with the six archways on Mount Hiei and are greeted by Yumi, who leads them through a giant maze towards the hideout. She informs the men that each duel will be fought one-on-one without any interference from the others. The first fight is to be Anji and Sanosuke – an interesting reunion for master and pupil. They exchange words on the nature of salvation and religion and when the blows start to fly it seems Sanosuke is definitely out of his league. It's a really good, emotional fight scene, very evocative. Just when Anji thinks he has killed Sano, the final strike comes from our 'wicked' lad and downs the wayward monk, much to everyone's surprise. The first duel is over, and we have an inkling of how cool the action will be on the next volume. Bring it on!
Picture & Sound
The picture quality remains firm here, colours look good whether they're meant to be rich or quite muted - depending on the animation style at any given moment. There's a few cases of pixellation and edge bleeding, but they're not very noticeable at all, just the odd glitch I've come to expect in all but the most recent of animation on DVD.
Sound is again centre-heavy, as you might expect from a show not initially designed to show off the latest audio techniques. Dialogue remains clear and distinct from any background music that happens to be playing at the time. Credits music is much richer and uses more stereo separation, as the previous discs have borne out.
The Japanese dub remains my favourite, especially for episodes where Sanosuke appears – but the English dub is once again perfectly acceptable to listen to. There's a couple of amusing typos in the subtitles, but on the whole, quality control on the subs is done to a much higher standard than witnessed in the previous series of Rurouni Kenshin ('The Wandering Swordsman'). My personal favourites for this particular disc were 'deceleration' instead of 'declaration' and 'conceded' instead of 'conceited'.
Menus, Extras & Packaging
Menus are the same as we've come to expect from the Kyoto arc discs, featuring striking pictures, atmospheric music and that tricky-to-read vertical text. That being said, I'm now viewing them on a slightly larger TV and it does make a huge difference! Extras come in the form of yet more English dub outtakes and the linguistic liner notes we've come to know and love (five pages on this DVD, and very interesting material too – if you usually skip them, read them this time, honestly!). There're also trailers for Apocalypse Zero, Berserk, Knight Hunters and Puppet Princess.
Although in general I'm not going to talk much more about the packaging of the Rurouni Kenshin discs, I decided to break that rule almost immediately for this particular volume. Why? Because it's such a superb cover shot. Shishio looms in ruddy hues in the background, with Saito, Sanosuke and then Kenshin superimposed in front of him with various looks of determination upon their visages. Quite striking – especially when combined with the title of 'Faces of Evil'!
In terms of key plot progression this volume is a real must-see. Plots are discovered and foiled, everyone is involved again in some capacity (just like the good old days) and there's some fine action for each of our heroes to get embroiled in. The overall story just seems to be getting better and better – and I defy anyone watching this disc not to want to move on to the next volume straight away!