Rurouni Kenshin Vol. #07: Shadow of the Wolf -

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Mania Grade: NA

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  • 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
  • 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. #07: Shadow of the Wolf

By Zubin Kumana     February 18, 2002
Release Date: July 10, 2001

The Review!
The second season of Kenshin, the one people say "You've gotta watch!" is here. So, I watched. (I've seen the first five discs already; number six is in mail order limbo). I must say I enjoyed the first season, which die-hards will tell you is crap, but this volume looks like it will live up to the hype.

Before I begin, a word of warning: Reading the blurb (A.K.A. "What They Say") reveals some rather important story details that I would consider spoilers. I didn't read it until I was halfway through the disc (nature called) and I was shocked that Saito was a good guy. Now it's too late.

Zounds! A new Kenshin package design? With no spelling errors on the back?! Seriously, the new art is great, from the actual art (rather than the vague designs of the previous seasons' packaging) as the background. Nice crisp scans. The gray/red color mixture is also pleasantly striking. Only complaint? The red highlights on Kenshin and Saito on the cover remind me too much of the Metal Gear Solid concept art (those who've seen it know what I'm talking about)

The menus on this volume are finally something to write home about (Hey Mom! Check the mailbox!). They are fast, crisp, and have varied music that I actually enjoyed sitting through. The extras include liner notes, containing a plethora of historical footnotes regarding those characters based on real people, a few battles, and a few translation notes. We also get outtakes, which were hilarious the first time around, but here... well, I guess the cast is improving, which means fewer funny errors (notice most come from the bit players). A textless closing is also included, so you can see the (admittedly gorgeous) closing animation. The new song is good (I like the music, but I liked the vocals for "Tactics" better), but I find the very last scene in the closing animation to be a bit disturbing, because I know yaoi/doujinshi fantasists will have a field day with it. Anyway, lastly, there's the epilogue in the original kanji, for people with too much time on their hands.

The music in the menus isn't the only good audio here. I noticed an appreciable difference in the quality (in terms of both composition and reproduction) of the music. The voice acting in English is great, but not as good as some other shows out there (*Cough*). The video quality also seems to have improved, whether because of the lower episode count or increased experience of the studio (or neither).

Content? Well, the main story arc here involves the appearance of a character out of Kenshin's past. In fact, if you own the Samurai X OVA's, chances are you've already seen the first segment of the first episode of this disc (At the end of Episode 4, on Volume 2, during the flash-forwards at the end). It's interesting to see the same scene over again, with a different take.

Saito Hajime, a captain of the Shinsengumi, appears seemingly out of nowhere just as Kenshin (conveniently) starts to revisit his memories of his days as a killer in the Revolution (Betcha thought I was gonna say manslayer, didn't ya?). Saito has followed Kenshin here (and in fact has been observing him for some time) ostensibly under a contract by a local small-time crime boss. It is worthwhile to take note of the mannerisms of Saito; bear in mind that, were it not for the spoiler on the back of the case, this guy would look like your typical evil dude of the week. He licks his sword, has thin eyes and a wicked smile, and talks with the right amount of menace such that your first thought would be to cast him in with your standard forgettable villains.

Saito teams up with another troublemaker to (gasp) make trouble for Kenshin. Sanosuke gets assaulted, and Kenshin eventually learns the identity of his assailant by the clues deliberately left behind. Traps are set, threats are made, and eventually it boils down to what everyone knew would happen... Kenshin and Saito duel. This battle stretches over two episodes, and really must be seen more than once, because it is well-conceived and well-animated (Using your belt as a weapon? Cool!). During this battle, it's obvious that Saito is the better man, and Kenshin is forced to transform (insert "Chi-che-cha-chu-cho" Autobot sound) into Battosai the manslayer to defeat him, much like in his battle with Jinei (who actually gets his character expanded a bit in these next two shows; not bad for someone who's been dead since the second disc). Even so, Kenshin is still hard-pressed to best Saito, and only the arrival of a Government official (who else?) can stop things.

Here the plot shifts gears: Saito is a government agent who is trying to get the killer inside Kenshin to emerge so that they can defeat Kenshin's "Successor", Shishio (who, as the case was so kind to point out, is "insane"). We get a brief description of just who this Shishio character is, and why he must be stopped. We then get some rather interesting and well thought out responses from Kenshin's friends on why Kenshin shouldn't accept this assignment.

As grave as the future seems, things get a little worse in the next episode, and Kenshin decides that the best option is to stop Shishio. So, he strikes out for Kyoto, leaving his friends behind (for now at least). Here the disc wraps things up, including an epilogue basically recapping the fact that Kenshin has left for Kyoto. Now, we wait for disc 8!

These episodes are good by themselves; as part of a larger arc (which I have not seen in its entirety) I would think they're even better. The character of Saito Hajime is very intriguing: here is a character whose motto is "Slay Evil Immediately", and yet seems as wicked and vicious (while still working on the side of good) as can be. He truly is a man of his own principles, and yet his contradictions add to his character rather than detract from it. Definitely a character to watch in the coming story. On the technical side, the improvements in video and audio quality are noticeable, and at four episodes per disc from now on, it's still a good deal.

Bottom Line: If you haven't been watching, it's a great place to start.

Review Equipment
Sony PlayStation 2, 27" Sony WEGA FS12


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