Rurouni Kenshin: Reflection (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, June 05, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2003
The final chapter in the Rurouni Kenshin story, Samurai X: Reflection (aka Rurouni Kenshin: Seisouhen) has been released here in America by ADV. This two-part OVA brings an end and a sense of completion to the story that has engaged fans across the globe.
Menus: Good, for the most part, although, since I have issues with the cover art, which has been re-used here, not the best (more into that in the packaging). The menus are fast and responsive, and that's good enough for me.
Extras: There are the typical ADV previews, but they're to be expected. There are production sketches, but unfortunately they're the kind that play continuously, not the kind that you navigate with your remote. There are interviews with the Japanese cast, which are interesting, as the actors discuss returning to the characters, who themselves have aged. Lastly they've included the creditless ending, which really is nothing more than waves lapping against the beach in the twilight.
Packaging: What the hell is up with Kaoru's eyes on this cover? Has she been chasing the dragon? Her eyes are so wide and her pupils so contracted it kinda freaks me out. Fortunately, the reverse of the cover uses some of the R2 cover art, as well as displaying the original Rurouni Kenshin logo.
Video: Presented in anamorphic 16:9, the transfer is, for the most part, excellent. Seeing the characters in OVA quality animation really was a pleasure.
Audio: Let me say this: having listened to the TV series in English, I couldn't stomach the cast of ADV's other Rurouni Kenshin releases, Trust/Betrayal (Tsuikohen) and Samurai X: the Movie (Requiem for the Ishin Shishi). However, the acting itself wasn't so bad; better than average, but not great. The Japanese track was superb. The music, however, was unimpressive, frequently recycling bits from the first OVA. It isn't bad, but I expected more.
Fifteen years after the end of the TV series, the story picks up again. Kenshin, having given up his sword, has continued his penance by doing whatever he can to ease people's suffering. This takes him all over the land; it also takes him away from Kaoru. Ever hopeful for the day he comes home for good, Kaoru has waited patiently every time.
This time, Kenshin has left for China as the stage is being set for the first Sino-Japanese War, but he is lost at sea on his return voyage. Every day, Kaoru goes down to the harbor to see if Kenshin has returned. Their son, Kenji, has left to train in the mountains with Seijuro Hiko. As Yahiko checks in on her, Kaoru thinks back on the past, bringing up memories of the times she spent with Kenshin, and all the times they have had to separate, only to be reunited in the end.
This is the frame in which several flashbacks are presented, revisiting parts of the TV series (only those that were adapted from the manga) and filling in coverage of a small portion of the Jinchu arc (namely, the end). Don't worry, though, they are not just clips from the TV show; not only are they redone with the OVA character designs and higher quality animation, but in some cases events happen slightly differently or from a different perspective. The major events are covered, some in detail, and some with only a brief glimpse. There are also scenes added that build on the romantic relationship between Kenshin and Kaoru.
A considerable portion of the OVA is devoted to the Jinchu arc, as it hasn't been seen in animated form before. More exactly, the animated portion covers the abduction of Kaoru by Enishi (Tomoe's brother), and subsequent showdown between Enishi and Kenshin. However, the condensed version allows us to get to the meat of the issues here: a) Kenshin's past with Tomoe is something Kenshin must live with and Enishi must accept (and forgive), and b) Kenshin's acceptance of the challenge shows that he cares about Kaoru (in case you didn't know that already).
There are several touching scenes played out here. Over the course of the flashbacks, it is slowly revealed that Kenshin is dying from a disease he contracted on one of his journeys (while never explicitly identified, the symptoms point to leprosy). To share his burden and remain close to him, Kaoru exposes herself to infection.
Also, surprisingly, Sanosuke doesn't show up until the near the end, but his scenes prove to be some of the most powerful, as he locates Kenshin in China/Korea, nurses him back to health, and arranges passage for Kenshin back to Japan. His farewell on the docks is perhaps the most moving of all: Sanosuke embraces Kenshin, knowing they will never see each other again. Kenshin barely has the strength to speak Sanosuke's name, but words are not necessary; we know the history of these characters, and the depth of their friendship.
The final scene, tragic though it is, nevertheless brings about an end to the whole story, as the burdens of Kenshin's past are finally lifted.
This OVA is an excellent addition to the Kenshin story. While it is has not been without controversy, due to the brief treatment of the Jinchu material (which fans still clamor for in a complete form) and the tragic nature of the ending (as the story goes, Nobuhiro Watsuki, while originally envisioning a happy ending to the story, nevertheless accepted the director's version as a different but valid interpretation), its excellent production values and emotional storytelling.
Bottom line: If you haven't seen the rest of Rurouni Kenshin, see it first. Trust me on this; you'll thank me later. Nevertheless, this is a powerful piece that truly captures the essence of the characters as they gather to help their friends in their final moments. This chapter in the story absolutely should not be passed up.
JVC XV-SA602 (RF), Sony Grand WEGA 60XBR800, Sony DA4ES Receiver, Klipsch Reference Series 3 Speaker System, Samsung DVD Rom Drive
Mania Grade: A+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 17 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
Running time: 60
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Rurouni Kenshin (aka Samurai X)