Due to the number of positive reviews for Densetsu no Saigo hen, I can’t help but set some high expectations for the trilogy’s final installment but I ended up having mixed feelings about the movie.
Sato Takeru is definitely one of the reasons why the Rurouni Kenshin trilogy will go down as one of the best adaptations in live-action history. Who would’ve thought that this skinny swordsman from Ryomaden would end up playing one of my dearest and one of the greatest childhood anime heroes. He wasn’t kidding when he said he gave his 110% in this movie. I certainly saw it in his eyes flooded with tears as he fought passionately, covered in dirt and bathed in blood.
With Director Keishi Otomo, Sato Takeru, Aoki Munetaka, Yu Aoi, Yusuke Iseya, Min Tanaka, and Tsuchiya Tao already onboard, a Ryomaden reunion will not be complete without Ryoma himself. And the perfect character was just waiting for him to take it. The huge star, popular heartthrob, and Takeru’s real-life senpai, Fukuyama Masaharu is aptly playing Hiko Seijuro XIII who is technically the strongest man in the Rurouni Kenshin universe. We got a few good scenes to build up his character but he ended up quite bland because of the lack of the original character’s dry humor.
The movie opened with a flashback of Hiko Seijuro and young Shinta. It was a clever introduction for Hiko to find Kenshin unconscious on the shore mirroring their first meeting when he found him burying dead bodies from the massacre the night before. I prefer the latter, the original story, wherein Kenshin intentionally searched for him. When he sought for Arai Shakku’s sword and his master’s guidance, it meant that he has a plan. He knew what he needed to accomplish his mission. However, in the movie, these events are purely coincidental.
HISTORY AND POLITICS OVERLOAD
Rurouni Kenshin is filled with political conflicts as it is set in the Bakumatsu towards the Meiji era. That’s what made it a rich, dark, and compelling manga with so many layered characters.
As a movie meant for international release, it shouldn’t have been written under the assumption that everyone in the audience knows about Kenshin’s story and has a bit of a background in Japanese history. I watched the film with my brother and he asked “Who’s Perry?”. So I had to explain a bit of the Bakumatsu: the Ishin shishi vs. The Shinsengumi, the arrival of Commodore Perry and the black ships and why it was so wrong that the film allowed Shishio to arrive in town aboard the Rengoku. The first two movies were already hard to explain to non-RK fans, this one would probably cause some nosebleed.(＾་།＾)
Kyoto Taika Hen focused on Kenshin’s shaky walk between the borders of being a hitokiri and a wanderer, Densetsu no Saigo hen concentrated on the value of one’s own life. The sad thing is that while Kenshin was given a huge amount of time to grow, the other characters remained stagnant and/or even reduced.
Kaoru turned into this helpless girl who had nothing to do but long for Kenshin’s return. Originally, she didn’t waste her Kamiya kasshin techniques as she joined forces with the Oniwabanshu against Shishio’s troops in Kyoto. I was waiting for the ultimate catfight when Kaoru and Misao came face-to-face with Juppongatana’s Kamatari but it didn’t happen since Kaoru is too busy missing Kenshin.
Sano isn’t the type who’d stay still especially when it seems that Kenshin and Kaoru are in trouble but instead of doing something, he stayed with Yahiko and wasted time when he should’ve been learning the Futae no Kiwami. I understand that the movie doesn’t have enough time to show his development but they could’ve just made it look like he disappeared for a while, had some training, and came back as a stronger man.
Yahiko also should’ve had his moments to shine. He is after all a legit samurai and the future heir of Kamiya Kasshin and Sakabatou. He lost another chance to show what he’s got since he was glued to the endlessly yearning lovestruck Kaoru instead of fighting against Henya of the Juppongatana.
I’m still disappointed that the film chose the perfect actor for Saito but fails to show why this character is such charismatic one. When Shishio ordered the new government to execute Kenshin in public, Saito isn’t the kind of character who would put up with such nonsense. Aku.Soku.Zan! He would’ve wiped them all out if the officials carried out such injustice. Eguchi Yosuke plays Saito but most of the time, we get to see his alter ego, Goro Fujita, instead. Well at least, we got to see his famous Gatotsu again. Usui is a menacing character but the Gatotsu finished him off in a second. Literally.
I miss the highly respectable, stoic but caring, Oniwabanshu okashira.
I was waiting for a change of heart but he was still driven by thirst for revenge even when he fought on Kenshin’s side against Shishio. It’s tiring to watch a character who doesn’t show any remorse. I couldn’t blame Misao for losing her temper at some point because Aoshi allowed himself to sink so low to the point of no salvation.
The Juppongatana was nothing but a spectacular cosplay. Their powers were not fully utilized and the reasons why key members like Hoji,Soujiro, and Yumi joined Shishio were just explained in passing.
Kamiki Ryunosuke was born to play Soujiro Seta. His character is like Kenshin’s evil child counterpart. Both physically gentle and effeminate, they grew up in a world filled with violence and were saved by powerful mentors. He proved to be Kenshin’s equal in speed and sword technique and Kamiki’s acting abilities surfaced once again when he went cray but the implication of Kenshin’s philosophy against his was so abruptly done, removing the pathos and justification of his breakdown. If his “The strong shall live and the weak shall die.” motto was already included the first time he fought Kenshin in Shingetsu village, their emotional connection would have been more firmly established.
Meanwhile, Shishio Makoto escalated into an all-powerful, almost invincible monster who could crush a team of formidable fighters. Even though it was made clear why in his condition he was only given a 15-minute limit for battle, the source of the fire from his sword was not explained.
Aside from lack of development, there was also a lack of connection. Aoshi kept challenging Kenshin for a fight even though the latter wasn’t even involved in his past. Sano fought Anji without the emotional pressure of attacking the one who actually taught him his fist technique. When Shishio fought with Sano, he was like,“Who are you?”, but then he just kept on pounding him to a bloody pulp.
Aoshi’s Oniwabanshu, Saito’s Shinsengumi, Sano’s Sekihoutai, Kenshin’s Ishin shishi -they are all warriors fighting for their own respective factions then, and for principles they live to uphold now. They fought for different reasons but they acknowledge and respect each other’s philosophies and strength. The admiration they have for one another was missing in the movie since the characters barely know each other.
One of the endearing themes I enjoyed about Kyoto arc, which sadly wasn’t totally emphasized in the film, is the strong teacher-student ties. Shishio and Soujiro’s relationship is parallel to Hiko and Kenshin’s. This senior/father/teacher-figure arrived in their lives at the very moment when they needed someone to help them the most. It’s the same with Misao who looked up to Aoshi all her life and Sano who respected Anji so much.
Densetsu no Saigo Hen has many non-canon scenes that placed fans and non-RK fans on equal footing. I appreciate the movie staying faithful to the manga’s central theme but problems come along once you deviate from the original story. Altering events and sequences mean that the characters’ feelings would be different as well. When Kenshin woke up and was hit by the reality of possibly losing Kaoru, of course, he was upset but it didn’t bother him as much as it did in Jinchuu arc. He’s the kind who goes berserk when someone lays a finger on Kaoru. Instead, he remained focused on the task of defeating Shishio by learning his master’s ultimate technique. Like he just assumed that she’s alive somewhere.
I also don’t understand Kenshin’s public parade and execution. It was such an illogical move to make the execution public when in the first place, the government’s concern was to save face and keep it under wraps that Shishio has been controlling them.
And then there was Kenshin’s sudden appearance at the Kamiya dojo. It just didn’t make sense that he had time to come back just to get into his signature red garb for the sake of inserting an appearance by Megumi. If it were so easy to travel from Kyoto to Tokyo and vice versa then what’s the point of a dramatic goodbye. What’s the point of leaving for Kyoto when the final battle would take place in Tokyo anyway?
There was too much talk in the first hour of the film and too little on the second. There was enough electrifying action but too little humor. There could have been a lot of comedic sources aside from Sano’s antics like Hiko’s actual personality-being a condescending apathetic mentor with a kind heart. I can’t forget the way he narrates the story about Kenshin wetting his bed deadpan. Old grandpa Okina has a funny side and Oniwabanshu has a stupid member like Owanbu.
The scenes which I thought unnecessary were prolonged. Does Hoji really have to read the names of the retainers the Battousai has killed? One by one, really?? While the things I deemed essential were overlooked; like,the fact that passing on the final technique of the Hiten Mitsurugi style would cost your sensei’s life, or if you fail, your own.
The moment everyone’s waiting for was the exhilarating action sequence that kept me on the edge of my seat. Finally, the movie’s highlight and probably the sole reason I’d be willing to excuse Aoshi’s existence: The 4 vs.1 final battle that took place in the Rengoku that didn’t sink til the last minute.
If you blink or look away, you might miss Takeru’s breakdancing moves incorporated in sword fights and, of course, the flawless execution of the Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki. It all happened too fast though. Non-RK fans would probably not be able to marvel at the magnificence of this technique and the only thing they’d remember is that Shishio died of literal self-destruction.
THE NEW AGE
I couldn’t guess how this is going to end since the original Kyoto arc ending was already used in the 2012 movie.
Kenshin and Kaoru were totally bringing on the pretty and the chemistry on screen. I love the symbolism of a new beginning. The romance is subtle and heartfelt. It’s just not as impactful as the Okairi- Taidama ending.
One Ok Rock’s song befits the film’s dramatic finish. It’s a bittersweet moment, leaving the theater both happy about impressive adaptations but sad that they’ve come to an end.