Rurouni Kenshin Vol. #10: Between Life and Death (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, February 18, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, September 11, 2001
Ahh! Another hit of digital crack, straight from the distributor to my DVD Player!
We are now into the fourth volume of the Kyoto arc of Rurouni Kenshin. And I am pleased to announce another solid entry into the series.
The menus on this volume are pretty much identical to Volumes 7, 8 and 9. They are fast, crisp, and have varied music that I actually enjoyed sitting through. The extras include the now standard liner notes, with plenty of meaty information. We also get outtakes, again mostly of the mumbling type. Also included is the creditless opening for the new opening animation (beginning with ep. 39). On a disappointing (but accurate) note, the best ending song to date, "4th Avenue Café," plays over the credits for the first three episodes of this volume, but is replaced by a retread of "Heart of Sword" on episode 43 (An excellent song itself). The front cover presents a striking image of Hiko and Kenshin. The back cover has no (obvious) spelling errors.
Though I was using a PlayStation 2 as my primary DVD player, I would like to say that, barring a noticeable amount of rainbowing and line noise, the video is quite good, and that, apparently, the flashbacks in episode 43 are SUPPOSED to look like that (You'll know what I'm talking about).
Content? This disc concludes the events on the last disc, then move straight ahead into another small story, ultimately finishing it up at the end of episode 43. The scope is smaller on this disc, and some of my favorite characters (Saito and Sanosuke) get literally seconds of screen time (Blink, and you've missed them.) On the other hand, we get the introduction of one of the coolest characters ever, as well as quite a bit of character development for Kenshin, Aoshi, and Misao. Fear not, for we get several good fight scenes as well.
Things start off right where they left off. Chou the Swordhunter (bearing a Texas accent and a striking resemblance to Vash the Stampede) is holding hostage the son of the only man capable of replacing the reverse blade sword. The standoff in front of the shrine begins, while Misao, Okina, and the swordsmith race to get there in time. Kenshin, armed only with a sheath, defends against Chou various swords. Ultimately Chou pulls a whip-like sword, and injures Kenshin. The swordsmith, realizing Kenshin will fight to save lives, gives him Shakku's last sword. Kenshin attacks Chou to defend the baby, but believes that he has killed Chou, until it is revealed that the sword is in fact a reverse blade sword (Who'd a thunk?).
We're treated to a brief flashback where Shakku offers the original (replica) reverse blade sword to Kenshin as a youngster, after being run through a homily of how making weapons that kill people and actually killing people is a very different thing and other such propagandizing. Moses would be proud. The swordsmith offers the sword to Kenshin for good, and the episode ends.
The next episode begins Kenshin's meeting with his former master. Yes, that's right kiddies, Kenshin ain't the last word in unstoppable (non-) killing machines. Someone had to be responsible for him, and here's where we meet the man who made Kenshin what he is today (err... whenever). The Kenobi to Kenshin's Luke, Seijuro Hiko lives the life of a potter. A surprisingly brash and arrogant one, but a potter nonetheless. Kenshin seeks the Hiten Mitsurugi style's final secrets, so that he may be more than a match for Shishio's legion. The past is unearthed, in conversation and in flashbacks, and Hiko refuses.
Kaoru and Yahiko arrive in Kyoto, and run into Aoshi. Chasing after him, Yahiko collides with Misao. At the mention of Kenshin's name, the three become allies, and rush off to find Kenshin. They talk with Hiko, and Hiko eventually agrees to train Kenshin in the final attack. Leaving Kenshin to his training, they walk home, and at the mention of Aoshi's name, the events of Kanryu Takeda's Gatling gun and the final moments of the Oniwabanshu are related to Misao.
In the meantime, Aoshi is accosted by the Juppongatana, and is brought before Shishio. Shishio offers Aoshi information about how to locate the Battousai. An effort is made by the Juppongatana to subdue and interrogate Okina, but fails. Okina, sensing that it was Aoshi who has betrayed the Oniwabanshu, returns a challenge to Aoshi and the Juppongatana. Aoshi then meets Okina in a cabin on the outskirts of Kyoto to settle the score.
As it turns out Okina is good for more than comic relief; he's a pretty good fighter too. He and Aoshi square off in what is probably the best fight on this disc. Ultimately, however, it must end, and Okina is on the receiving end of what we call in these parts a "beatdown". Misao arrives in time to see Okina fall in battle, and to be threatened by Aoshi.
The final episode deals with the final secrets of Hiten Mitsurugi, as taught to Kenshin by Hiko. I won't spoil these attacks with a written description, as they really must be seen (when they are). There are also a lot of flashbacks to Kenshin's childhood, but nothing will be new to those who have seen the OVA's.
Thus ends volume 10. Now, we wait for Disc 11!
The real meat here in this volume is the relationship between Hiko and Kenshin and the development of Aoshi. Hiko came across as a completely different character than I suspected (based on the OVA's). Arrogant and brash, he is still the master, and to see Kenshin in a more submissive role really changes the way you perceive him in the context of the whole story. Additionally, Aoshi's obsession with revenge causes him to make some contradictory decisions... to let Okina, head of the Oniwaban group, be tortured, so that Aoshi can defeat Kenshin, just for the honor of the Oniwaban group? This kind of irrational behavior just makes anticipating his fate all the more interesting.
These episodes are great. But if you haven't been following they'll mean nothing to you. So go pick up this series, either from the very beginning, or from the start of the Kyoto arc.
Bottom Line: An excellent addition to the series. Buy it.
Sony PlayStation 2, 27" Sony WEGA FS12, Sony MHC-M630AV Sound System
Mania Grade: NA
Audio Rating: N/A
Video Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: N/A
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Rurouni Kenshin (aka Samurai X)