The core Rurouni Kenshin saga is practically a three-arc story in its entirety. The first arc, which sees Kenshin meet Kaoru, Sanosuke, Yahiko, and Megumi for the first time, depicts how Kenshin can live a happy and normal life despite his bloody past as Battousai the Manslayer. The Shishio arc deals with Kenshin’s bloody past itself and its unintended consequences in the present.
The final arc (dubbed as the Jinchuu arc), on the other hand, rounds up all previous themes and shows the toll of Kenshin’s atrocities during the Bakumatsu period. While Kenshin may be considered a hero to those who fought alongside him, the simple fact is that he caused as much hurt and pain as the Battousai, and not just to the victims he so mercilessly cut down. Just because he chose to stop killing and desire a peaceful life does not mean his sins will be cleansed away so easily.
This is where Rurouni Kenshin: The Final comes in.
The Final takes place roughly a few months after the conclusion of The Legend Ends. The Japanese government is slowly recovering from Shishio’s attacks and has commenced a manhunt to capture the individual who helped him procure his iron-clad vessel: Enishi Yukishiro, a silver-haired criminal with strong ties to the Shanghai mafia. It is revealed that Enishi bears a deep grudge towards Kenshin Himura, and he sets into motion a series of events in a bid to take revenge and inflict emotional pain into the former manslayer’s heart.
If you’re already invested in Rurouni Kenshin’s lore and familiar with the story that the movie’s adapting, then you’ll have a lot of fun seeing all these bits come to life. It really shouldn’t be anyone’s first foray into this series as the film strongly banks on fan recognition to get its charge.
There’s a very big, emotional story at the center of this movie that delves into the themes of the whole series, but there just isn’t enough time to really let stuff land. Several important characters from the original Jinchuu arc were blotted out of the film, but it should be expected given the movie’s runtime and production constraints. There are also flashback sequences that sort of spoils the things we should brace for in Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning. I find it a little weird that The Final was released ahead of The Beginning, but if you pay deeper attention to the bits and pieces of the movie, you’ll kind of understand why.
Despite the strengths of the movie, The Final suffers from a number of characterization issues. To give you an example, Yahiko had a tremendous presence in the original manga arc. He trained hard prior and after the attack on the Kamiya Kasshin Dojo just to prove that he’s just as reliable as Sano or Misao in a fight. Sadly, he got the short end of the stick and didn’t provide any impact nor story arcs in the film. It would’ve been cool to see Yahiko master Kamiya Kasshin Ryu’s defensive ougi and strike enemies with a parry.
Amusingly, it is the side characters that get the chance to shine in The Final. Characters such as Misao, Aoshi, and even Cho Sawagejo receive sizable supporting roles in the movie – much to our fave samurai kid’s chagrin, I gather.
The Final is also, in essence, a showcase of Takeru Satoh and Mackenyu’s broad range as actors. Having gone through three RuroKen movies and various non-toku projects, Satoh evolved from the timid guy he was in Kamen Rider Den-O to the versatile thespian he is at the present. The same can be said for Mackenyu, whose career began in small TV serials from 2013 to 2015. His acting portfolio consists of several projects, from relatively wholesome movies to dark stories such as Tokyo Ghoul S and 12 Suicidal Teens.
Satoh effectively portrays the depth and inner torment of Kenshin as the character deals with the emergence of a surprise enemy from his bloody past. He can easily shift Kenshin’s personality from the jolly oro-toting homeboy of the Kamiya Kasshin Dojo to a no-nonsense warrior who slashes through troves of murderous mafia grunts. Truly, it would seem as if the role of Kenshin Himura is created specifically for an actor as versatile as Satoh.
Mackenyu plays Enishi with explosive power and intensity, especially in his final battle with Kenshin. He brings a physical presence unseen in the previous RuroKen entries, which is indicative of how he respects the role and the impact it has on the story. Enishi figuratively came out of the Jinchuu arc’s panels, thanks to Mackenyu’s impressive screen presence.
The Rurouni Kenshin series is known for its frenetic approach to sword and hand-to-hand fights, and Keishi Otomo raises up a notch in the Final by showcasing several memorable clashes between Kenshin’s party and the Six Comrades. The fight choreography is like the best version of modern wuxia, with constant motion and intricate clashes between various styles of weapon fighting. Otomo even takes the extra mile and manages to make all action sequences clear amid the number of people fighting on screen.
There is minimal use of CG in the film, and Otomo employed wire-fu just right to avoid cartoonish sequences and incorporate a sense of realism – if any – into the fights. The stunts also use the set pieces and props in really smart ways. Otomo maximizes the use of the fight locations to deliver visual masterpieces to the viewers.
In conclusion, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final is a film I’d definitely watch over and over again. It has the makings of a “final” chapter: a layered plot, higher stakes, and frenetic fight sequences. Really happy to see the Jinchuu arc come to life in live-action form.
Shame, though, that we won’t get to see the movie on the big screen anytime soon. Kudos to Netflix for bringing the RuroKen movies online!
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