Rurouni Kenshin: Requiem for the Ishin Shishi
The first review of this movie was from my first experience with fansub tape distributors but that was written a long time ago. This review is the result of needing filler while I wait for the DVD's I want from quickflix. There certainly seems to be a pattern there.
As a quick aside this series is "Rurouni Kenshin" in Japan and amongst virtually all anime fans. It's "Samurai X" to the American Distributors with dreams of $$ in their eyes... I can still remember the disgust in the fan-base when that decision was made.
It is hard to imagine how chaotic and violent a civil war must be. Cities become battlefields and the people separate into camps and factions determined to defeat the other. For those who die the story comes to a dramatic end, but those who live are not going to find it easy to forget and return to a normal life. This is the setting for this series and the lead, Himura Kenshin, has more violent acts to forget than most. Despite his somewhat goofy, gentle appearance he was one of the most deadly killers during the collapse of the Tokugawa Shogunate. He has sworn never to take another life, but he cannot change the past or the terrible skills he mastered.
He's not alone however, others remember allies lost, ideals betrayed and reputations tarnished. And unlike Kenshin, who has withdrawn from violence, many still believe that the power of the sword is the best way to change the present. Indeed on a trip to see the port city of Yokohama, and the Western influences it has absorbed, Kenshin and friends wander unwittingly into the middle of another spark. Its supporters hope it will blaze into another civil war, one that will end differently. But Kenshin, who has his own ties to their past, is unable to stand aside and let blood be spilt once more.
I'm not entirely happy with that synopsis. Doubtless a large part of that stems from the weaknesses of my writing skills, but it also manages to capture something about the movie. The first is that there is a lot of history that is fairly necessary to appreciate who these characters are, and what has created them. That history primarily being either the very long manga series or the equally long TV series (94 episodes worth). This movie clearly assumes you know them, it spends very little time setting up the characters, indicating that it was primarily intended for fans of the original. If you don't know them I can't help but think you will get a lot less out of it.
Likewise the story is very, very direct. The events follow one another in quick procession, without an immense amount of logic, and Kenshin is dragged into the story. He just happens to be standing there for a particular fight, just happens to be nearby when an attack is made, just happens to be called into the middle of it... and just happens to be determined to get heavily involved. Neither the revolution, nor Kenshin's part in it, actually feel that believable. The conclusion, in which Kenshin "saves" people who are almost certain to then be executed as murderous revolutionaries being particularly puzzling. Nor does the attack really feel like the start of a revolution, rather just a poorly planned and rather minor act of violence.
There is some nice "brooding" going on. Some gravity is gained by people dwelling on past sadness, or enjoying the last moments of peace and calm before the violence. That said it's all a bit familiar and there's never really enough time to get deeply attached to the characters. There does seem to be enough time to endlessly repeat the initial battle however, you will probably be quite sick of it by the end. The movie opens with a single fight set during the war, which has some relevance to current events, but which gets a lot of play... even though in story terms the actual direct influence proves to be surprisingly marginal.
Of course the real reason this fight is replayed is because it has much higher production values than most of what follows. Not great, mind you, much lower than the Rurouni Kenshin OAV and not a great deal higher than the TV series. However compared to some of the awful fights later in the movie it definitely marks the high point. This is probably the most serious strike against this movie. The "revolution" is an excuse for some mass violence and the "brooding" a lead up to a final showdown. However the production means that both of these end up being disappointments. The final sword fight (complete with silly names being announced before each move) being especially silly and doing very little to capture how damn cool Kenshin could be during the TV series. We do get to discover that when he gets really peeved his hair goes neon-pink but I'm not really sure that counts as "cool".
Ultimately it is watchable, especially if you know the characters, but it is definitely at the lower bound. I doubt anyone will be championing it as actually being good. It is also, without doubt, the weakest and least interesting of the various Kenshin offerings. Indeed it is very easy to suspect it was a bit of a "quickie" movie made to milk some cash from fans as the TV series was coming to a close. That's not really something that makes me look on this movie more favorably.
As indicated the production is nothing special, and definitely under-par for a movie. The characters are there, and it is good to see them again, but they seem strangely angular (especially in the face) and don't move all that well. The fighting scenes, both dueling and on the battlefield, are rather dull and un-impressive with no energy to them. Considering how cool sword fighting can be this is an impressive under-achievement. There are some cheap theatrical tricks, such as Kenshin's hair going neon and people suddenly bleeding glowing red blood (generally in copious volumes) but this just cheapens it rather than adding anything. The script is basic but given some weight by the quite good voices inherited from the TV series. Music is laughably out of place, but from memory that's actually the same as it was for the TV series.
One civil war creates scarred men who have become overly familiar with violence. Some reject it, like Kenshin the man we follow in this series, but others still believe in it as a solution, like the antagonist in this series. However there's very little excuse for such a limp plot, average writing and sub-par production. If you really like the characters it is marginally worth watching, but that is about as much as can be said.