Mania Grade: A+
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- Audio Rating: B-
- Video Rating: C+
- Packaging Rating: A-
- Menus Rating: A+
- Extras Rating: N/A
- Age Rating: 13 & Up
- Region: 1 - North America
- Released By: Media Blasters
- MSRP: 29.99
- Running time: 100
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Rurouni Kenshin (aka Samurai X)
Rurouni Kenshin Vol. #01: Legendary Swordsman
By Kenneth Lee
February 18, 2002
Release Date: July 25, 2000
Finally, after years of waiting, Rurouni Kenshin the TV series comes over to the US, courtesy of Media Blasters / Anime Works. For those that didn't follow the fiasco, Sony had originally wanted to push Rurouni Kenshin onto the mainstream by trying to sell it to any US television studio that was interested. With a horrific English dub, and an equally horrific "Gen X, wanna-be-hip" name of "Samurai X," Rurouni Kenshin was essentially locked away from eager US fans until Sony sold the rights to a willing bidder for TV broadcast. Luckily, that route never became realized and finally Sony sold the rights to the series to various US anime companies, with Media Blasters gaining the TV series rights and AD Vision gaining the OAV rights.
And in only a few months after being announced by Media Blasters, the first DVD has been released, day and date with the VHS tapes! And after viewing the initial first volume, I can only say that anime fans are in for a treat, as this is easily Anime Works best DVD to date, chock-full of extras, and the best localization effort by any company ever! (And Anime Works finally got a much better logo to boot!)
Rurouni Kenshin is essentially about a former swordsman, Kenshin Himura - known as "Battousai the Manslayer" - who killed countless people during the political upheaval of the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate. He essentially was one of the key reasons for the success of the revolution and the rise of the Meiji Government. Having given up his ways, Kenshin now wanders Japan protecting people with his sword, vowing never to kill again.
The first four TV episodes included on this DVD show how Kenshin meets up with the female protagonist, Kaoru Kamiya, and his adventures surrounding this time period. In the process of staying with Kaoru, they meet up with Yahiko, a son of a former samurai family, and Sanosuke the Zanza, a gangster who wields the largest sword ever made.
Upon the surface, the story may seem simple to some, but that belies the true beauty of "Rurouni Kenshin." Rurouni Kenshin is truly one of the best anime series ever created, in my humble opinion. It has an indelible quality to it that combines a perfect mixture of action, comedy, romance, and bad-ass samurai sword fighting, all set against a powerful backdrop of Meiji Era Japan.
The DVD production is a mixed bag, but ultimately I would still wholeheartedly recommend it. The video quality is rather disappointing: After seeing Cinram / POP DVD Studios work for Pioneer and Bandai, with their stunning video transfers, this DVD comes off as looking rather poor. There is noticeable moire effects (shimmering) in many places, slight video artifacting at times, and the color saturation seems a bit flat. But to be fair, the original Japanese DVD's look no better, as they, too, are replete with moire effects and artifacting (I bought the original import DVD's as well). Overall, though, the video is quite acceptable, and much better than any VHS / LD picture quality.
The audio is standard 2.0 stereo and comes across clean. The highlight of the audio is actually the Original Japanese Language track, as the original Japanese voice actors do an absolutely brilliant job of capturing and creating the memorable characters within Rurouni Kenshin. Kenshin is voiced by Mayo Suzukaze, a female actress who provides a unique and memorable voice for Kenshin. But of course the high spot would have to be the beautiful Miki Fujitani, a real Japanese actress and model, who voices Kaoru Kamiya, the spunky and cute master of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu dojo. She has a very distinct voice that captures both the femininity and toughness of the original character from the manga series. And of course Yahiko is also great, voiced by Mina Tominaga, voice actress for Noa Izumi from Patlabor.
Another great aspect of the show is the music: While set in Meiji Japan, an anachronistic flavor is thrown in via the music tracks - a blend of traditional Japanese flutes, soulful acoustic guitars, and on some tracks, some wicked drum & bass / jungle remix tunes! While it may not sound too good on paper, in execution it blends together all too well, like the rest of the show.
Also, the translation is probably the best highlight of the DVD: Folks, you have to thank Rika Takahashi for the amazing translation work here - she has done a truly excellent job of maintaining the artistic integrity of Nobuhiro Watsuki (the original creator) and the show itself, keeping all the key names and terms intact. Let's start with the show itself: The original title, "Rurouni Kenshin," was kept, which is made up of two words, "Rurouni," a derivation on "ronin" (a masterless / wandering samurai), and "Kenshin" the name of the hero of the series. So, for the title, kudos goes to Media Blasters / Anime Works for respecting the original creative staff and listening to the fans: The official US name is "Rurouni Kenshin: Wandering Samurai" which is perfect, unlike some foolish company (cough... ADVision... cough) that decided to use the "ultra-hip" name "Samurai X" which has nothing to do with the show whatsoever.
Yet beyond the title, even the original key terms are kept intact, like Kenshin's school of fighting, the Hiten Mitsurugi style. Many fans were fearing that during localization the US company would hack it up and call it some stupid Gen-X name like "Black Dragon Style" or something (which is not what Hiten Mitsurugi means). Even Kenshin's former, notorious nickname was kept honest: In the original series he was called the "Hitokiri Battousai" literally "Mankiller / Manslayer Battousai," and Rika has kept it as "Battousai the Manslayer," which works fine.
But perhaps the best part of the translation work is that they kept Kenshin's unique style of talking intact: The way Kenshin speaks in the original series is by adding a unique "suffix" to the end of most of his sentences while he's normal (a wanderer), adding the phrase "gozaru." Rika has taken this idea and translated his idiosyncratic way of speaking into the English Subtitles! It's really cool, and a very nice gesture to really give the subtitles a true reflection of the personality of the original Japanese language. She also translated the yakuza's speech with more slang than normal to add to the flavor.
Lastly, the extras on the DVD are equally impressive, complete with Illustration Galleries, Character Profiles (which are actually *informative* rather than useless as seen on many other DVD's, e.g. "[XYZ] is a bright girl, who loves flowers."), Textless Opening, and the coup de grace, Extensive Liner Notes. These notes perfectly describe all the key terms that people watching the anime might not understand, and give insight into Rika Takahashi's translation process, such as what "Kamiya Kasshin Ryu" means, and what she did for Kenshin's "gozaru" colloquialisms. All of you who still have the wretched Hecto / Shinsen Gumi fansubs (complete with horribly incorrect translations) can safely replace them with this far superior DVD.
All-in-all, this is in many ways the "perfect" anime DVD from Anime Works: Despite the slightly disappointing video quality, the wonderfully accurate and beautiful translations (subtitles and liner notes), DVD extras, and care put into this DVD make this an outstanding DVD to own. From the classy font for the title, to the inclusion of the Original Japanese Voice Actors' Names in the End Credits sequence (finally! Thank you Media Blasters!), this DVD exudes feelings of "respect" and "care" from those that made it. John Sirabella, Sam Liebowitz, Sean Molyneaux, and Rika Takahashi have to be given major kudos and thanks for putting out a very Japanese title and keeping the original artistic integrity, while simultaneously making it accessible for those that are new to the series; they did *not* bow to any pressure to make it some "hip, Power Rangers, Gen X" show that only bubblegum-chewing, 10-second-long attention span juveniles would like. Instead all is well, and this is one of the best translations of one of the best anime series to come out of Japan in a long while. The characters are wonderful and endearing, the stories are equally engaging (both the backstory of the dynamic times of Meiji Japan as well as the immediate stories that are Kenshin's adventures), and the directing is impeccable. Cute, funny, cool, and powerful, Rurouni Kenshin is a masterpiece.
Pioneer DV-606D (Code Free) DVD Player, Mitsubishi CS-3503R 35" TV, Yamaha RX-V2095 DD / DTS Receiver, MIT S-Video cable, KEF C85 Front speakers, B&W Center, Infinity Rear speakers, and NHT Subwoofer.