Rurouni Kenshin Vol. #20: Soulless Knights (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, November 16, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, July 30, 2002
The sixth entry in the Tales of the Meiji series, Soulless Knights eschews historical relevancy and storytelling prowess in favor of an adaptation of that once-great 80s movie, "The Goonies". I have fond memories of that movie, remembering the schoolyard daydreams of myself and two friends, convinced that the left half of America was really One-Eyed Willie (hey, I was like, 8). Today, however, the movie feels like only a shadow of what it once was to me; I guess I grew up. Unfortunately, Kenshin seems to have gone in the opposite direction.
Let's get the usuals out of the way:
Menus: Same as before. If you're a fan of consistency, you may like them.
Packaging: This time we get a background resembling wallpaper the likes of which are best suited for old ladies who think that the 70s are still hip. To top it the cover consists of a smiling Kenshin in the background and Yahiko pinching the androgynous Yutaro's cheek. Now, that's all well and good... but then why the title, "Soulless Knights"? I was thinking something a little more ominous would be better fitting - at least a more serious look on someone's face.
Extras: Liner notes, outtakes, and the creditless version of the new opening "Just I Touch You" (With completely new animation as well). Note that there is also a new ending for these episodes, "No"; I assume that will be included as an extra on the next volume. The liner notes this time are pretty thorough, with a lot of idiomatic expressions translated. The outtakes are about as unfunny as they were last time.
Video: Video quality this time seems better than last time; no complaints here.
Audio: Technically it was fine; I'll say more on this later.
Content: Yutaro, the orphaned samurai from Season one, has returned, along with his German caretaker, a medical doctor of advancing years. He immediately takes up the sword against Yahiko, resuming their duel from their last meeting. Meanwhile, three German knights, belonging to a secret society, hunt the doctor to find clues to the location of...
A Divine Elixir.
You see, apparently the recent advances in medicine (recent by today's standards) in the fields of virology and pathology actually took place 120 years ago. The Divine Elixir is the extract of a plant that can cure any virus. Not only that, but its only known location is inside a hidden cavern in Japan guarded for hundreds of years by a clan of Ninja who may or may not be related to German seafarers - the same German seafarers who were the ancestors of the Knights' secret order.
If you believe that, then you may also believe that the person who discovered the virus inhibiting extract also managed to write out a riddle and set up an elaborate labyrinthine scheme involving frozen lakes and subterranean caverns, monolithic hydraulic pumps (Hey, that's how they built the pyramids, right?), and even a circular floor that crumbles away (remember the bone organ scene?).
To top it off, they've even substituted the cast: Misanagi Sanada takes on the role of Ma Fratelli (although she's definitely a lot hotter than Anne Ramsey was), the Germans Meldars, Lentz, and Schneider take on the enforcer roles of Robert Davi and Joey Pants, and they even manage to get some rather uniquely costumed bodyguards (though they are on the other side, have never heard of a Baby Ruth candy bar, and don't yell "HEYYY YOU GUYS!").
Anyway, for those who never saw "The Goonies", here's the rundown. After Hans, the old man, is nearly murdered, Yutaro, Kenshin, and Company find a book he left detailing the way to find the Divine Elixir. They proceed to decode the riddle, following clues from location to location, running across the occasional bad guy (and good guy - Misao shows up as well), until the real mastermind behind the villains gets the bright idea to let them find the treasure (or get as far as they can) and then just take it from them.
There are a few unique moments, as well as some interesting diversions. There are even a few good battle scenes, although I don't like the new trend where Kenshin's attacks are merely shown as three blue flashes on a black background (that animation has been used far too many times recently).
Two volumes of Rurouni Kenshin TV remain; let's hope that the series ends on a better note.
I readily admit that I truly enjoyed the Christian (Shimabara) Arc, and thought that the previous volume, Dreams of Youth, was a worthy addition to the Kenshin saga. Now, however, I find myself forced to reconsider the bad things I've heard about the final episodes of Rurouni Kenshin. I've tried to see the good in these episodes, but the whole concept feels like such a departure in terms of tone and believability (plus there are the obvious parallels with the movie "The Goonies"). It isn't that I don't believe there could be Germans running around Meiji era Japan (it seems perfectly reasonable from a historic context, with the opening of Japan), nor can I fault the mysterious locales and hermetic schemes (Shishio had his own labyrinth and oil field/arena, Kayo had an underground cathedral). It's the combination of these, along with the search for this "Divine Elixir", as well as the rushed and poorly thought out incorporation of Yutaro into the Kenshin & Company dynamic.
On a side note, while I love the music of the third season, to have pieces of such emotional significance as those played during some of the unforgettable scenes in the Shimabara Arc repeated here endlessly dilutes the preciousness of the experience, in my opinion. I wish they could at least vary the soundtrack a bit.
Bottom line: I thought I'd be the last one to say this, but unless you have deep pockets or are a die-hard completist, this one is officially a renter.
Microsoft X-Box, 27" Sony WEGA FS12, Sony MHC-M630AV Sound System, Samsung DVD-Rom
Mania Grade: D
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: C-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
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)