The initial Rurouni Kenshin TV series was mostly a blast, with its humorous, action-packed relation of the adventures of Kenshin Himura, a former master assassin sworn to atone for his crimes and to never kill again – only after the grand, sprawling “Kyoto Arc” did the story start to falter.
The TV series was followed up by both a movie, featuring Kenshin fighting to protect his friends against a revenge-driven rebel, and a two-part OVA, a sumptuous, carefully rendered outing about Kenshin’s origins as one of Tokugawa era (1800s) Japan’s most vicious and feared assassins. What, then, is left to tell?
Plenty, especially if you’re a fan fiction author. Rurouni Kenshin: Reflection (Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku Romantan – Seisou-hen) fills in a few lost details of the overall Rurouni Kenshin story arc, but it also adds a few new exciting battles and a tragic, noble ending for the contrite, good-hearted swordsman and his lady, Kaoru. It’s all done in exactly the same style as the first series of OVAs, which means that most of the characters look more detailed than their TV renditions and less cheerful.
Related: Rurouni Kenshin: The Real Life Historical Figures The Characters Were Based On
The first OVA Kenshin character design was interesting because it depicted his bright pumpkin orange hair as being deep crimson, the same color as the blood he spills. In Reflection, the story flashes back to events of the TV series several times, giving the orange-haired “hero” Kenshin a very exotic, realistic look.
In this treatment, Kenshin’s enemies, like the hypnotism-using Jin-e, seem less threatening but more human. It’s quite an enticement, if you’re a Rurouni Kenshin fan, to see a few of the show’s key moments recreated in this gorgeous, vivid art style.
Then there’s the part of the OVA’s story that covers the “Revenge” arc of the manga. See, in the original OVA series, Kenshin was eventually forced to strike down his own wife, an act that left him consumed with grief and self-doubt for years afterwards.
But his own emotional distress isn’t the only fallout of the murder; his dead wife Tomoe had a little brother, a boy named Enishi. Blinded by his sorrow at losing his sister and his rage at Kenshin, Enishi trains for years to prepare himself to turn aside Kenshin’s formidable Hiten Mitsurugi sword technique, and plays his ace by kidnapping Kaoru, the person Kenshin probably cares the most about.
The problem is, Kaoru sympathizes with Enishi, which puts him off guard – when Kenshin eventually arrives by boat at Enishi’s gigantic, western-style house, his entrance evokes the scene from Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai III film where Musashi Miyamoto arrives on Ganryu Island to challenge Kojiro Sasaki. Enishi seems very formidable, with rippling muscles and a nifty pair of dark glasses, but Kenshin is at the very top of his game.
The bulk of Reflection’s story, however, takes place well after Kenshin’s days as a reformed hitman are over. He’s been enlisted back into the army and gone to the continent to work in a support role in the Sino-Japanese war; rather than killing people, he’ll work only to save them.
Meanwhile, back in Tokyo, Kaoru faithfully waits for him to return, as he always has. The problem is, Kenshin’s weariness is really starting to catch up to him, and both he and his wife are suffering from an affliction that will inevitably destroy them. Will Kenshin and Kaoru meet again, under the cherry blossoms? Really, it’s almost a foregone conclusion.
The animation and design of Reflection are as sumptuous and beautiful as in its predecessor OVAs. The character designs, while adapted from creator Nobuhiro Watsuki’s rough, appealing work, are realistic in a manner that’s rather unsettling when the you start to notice just how much – and how badly Kenshin has aged since we last saw him.
Taku Iwasaki‘s bittersweet, lilting string numbers are the perfect choice for a story like this; the music really sets the mood for the story. The battle scenes are also nice, and longtime fans should be delighted to see Enishi rendered with such vividness. Some might grouse about the absence of fan-favorite adversaries like Makoto Shishio and Hajime Saito, but the battle from the TV series that is presented Kenshin versus Jin-e – is still exciting and striking.
Reflection is imperfect in a few other regards, as well. The most immediate problem is with the voice cast. Specifically, Mayo Suzukaze, the voice of Kenshin, isn’t a convincing middle-aged man. She’s an oddly appropriate choice as the youthful, cheerful Kenshin, but she really sounds out of place portraying him in his older years.
Her performance isn’t bad by any means, it just sounds really weird to me. As much as the concept of recasting the character seems somehow wrong, I wish they’d tried it with the older Kenshin. It’s not all bad, though– as Enishi, Nozomu Sasaki snarls and smolders his way through a great performance.
Some fans of Rurouni Kenshin will definitely love this OVA because it gives a real sense of closure where so many anime series do not. On the other hand, it also does a great job of rushing and glossing over Enishi’s story, a pivotal part of Watsuki’s manga storyline. Overall, I think Rurouni Kenshin: Reflection is a worthwhile thing to see even for casual Rurouni Kenshin watchers, but I have to wonder if it couldn’t have been a little better.