The story of Rurouni Kenshin takes place 11 years after the end of the Samurai X : Trust and Betrayal movie. Though there are some short stories within the manga that take place 9 and 10 years after that end, the main story is about the events of Kenshin’s life 11 years after the beginning of the Meiji Era. There are some differences between the anime and the manga, though I have not yet seen a japanese version of the anime.
The story opens with the fact that the name Hitokiri Battousai has been circulating again. Threats have been heard that the legendary swordsman of the revolution is wandering around killing for the hell of it. Kenshin is stopped on the street by a young girl named Kamiya Kaoru, whom is accusing Kenshin of being the Battousai, because he carries a sword. In this time, after the Meiji Revolution, imperial edict has placed a ban on carrying swords for anyone other than military personnel. However, Kenshin shows her his sword, which is a reversed blade sword, which could not kill anyone. She lets it slide, and eventually rushes back to town as the ‘real’ Battousai shows himself. When he attacks Kaoru, Kenshin nimbly saves her life by scooping her up and out of the way. The man impersonating the Hitokiri Battousai, named Gohei Hiruma, was a former student of Kaoru’s father, who rebels against his teaching of “The Sword that Gives Life” saying that swords are for killing. When Kenshin comes to Kaoru’s rescue again later in the story, he utters the first of many notable quotes. Gohei ambushed Kaoru at her father’s dojo, and when Kenshin arrives, Gohei says “You again. Are you here to talk about ‘Swords that Give Life’ too?” Without delay, Kenshin responds with “No. Swords are weapons. Whatever pretty names you give it, swordsmanship is a way to kill. She speaks as one who has never bloodied her hands. Kaoru-dono maintains a sweet, naive lie. … But in the face of such awful truth, the naive lie she tells is so much better.”
Kenshin, in my opinion, is such an awesome character because of the sheer amount of confidence he wields when he fights. Often, in anime, you’ll see enemies or even heroes that are confident to a fault, but still have to strive to be better and work hard to get what they need. Kenshin has already endured that hardwork, and his confidence always pays off. His perception is nearly flawless, as he analyzes his opponent in the midst of battle, and is able to react with such speed that there are few in the story that can hope to match it, much less surpass it. While Rurouni Kenshin is far less bloody than Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal, the story is still what is deeply captivating, and the humor brought in by the kinder version of Kenshin makes it an all around great anime.
Gohei: Hey brother, it’s ok if I kill this guy, right?
Kihei: Uh-huh. Have your goons beat him to death. He’s been a pain.
Kenshin: Hurting more people seems so pointless. Anyone who dislikes seeing the doctor should leave now.
Goons: There will be no wounded. Only one dead body!
Kihei: One swing? It can’t be! Is this sorcery!?
The first few episodes of the series detail a few minor altercations, but the story really takes off once Kenshin faces off against Jin-e Udo. Jin-e was a former member of the Shinsengumi, a group loyal to the Shogunate during the Boshin and Seinan wars. At the time, he goes about killing officials of the new Meiji government, and doing so after announcing his target. He manages to take out all the guardsmen posted to protect the official and kill them as well before they can react. Kenshin quickly identifies such technique as Shin no Ippo, which paralyzed the target, unless their will was strong enough to break it. Kenshin was able to break it, but Jin-e was disappointed in Kenshin’s vow not to kill, and so he kidnapped Kaoru in order to force Kenshin to be serious. He used his technique on Kaoru, and told Kenshin that her will was not strong enough. Unless Jin-e was killed the Shin no Ippo would eventually suffocate her. This sent Kenshin back into his fighting habits of the bakamatsu. Kaoru didn’t want Kenshin to turn into a killer again and wander off, and somehow managed to break the hold on her, and call out to Kenshin.
Jin-e: Death by suffocation is so messy. The carcass spills out saliva and waste.
Jin-e: No time for talk. If you’ve something to say, speak with that sword.
Jin-e: Ho… very good… I never saw the sword… or even your body move!
Kenshin: No time for talk. Strike, so I can kill you.
Jin-e: Shin no Ippo Shadow Skill “Grasp of the Demon”. I haven’t used this since I escaped the shinsengumi 15 years ago. You could call it unfair, but I will use it.
Kenshin: Use whatever you like. But, when I say I will kill you, your death is assured.
Following the altercation with Jin-e, Kenshin and Sanosuke meet a woman named Megumi, who is on the run from assassins, however, all is not as it seems. Megumi is the daughter of a famous family of doctors from Aizu. As a young girl she was by all intent and purpose made into a slave. She made opium for a man named Takeda Kanryu. The opium she made happened to kill a friend of Sanosuke, and so while she was forced into doing such things Sanosuke was still unable to forgive her. Still, the assassins working for Takeda continued to go after Megumi, and while he still held her responsible, Sanosuke protected her, because Kanryu was the one smuggling the opium around. The assassins working for Takeda were a small portion of a group called the Oniwabanshu, a Ninja clan that was loyal to the Shogunate before the era of Meiji. Kanryu and Aoshi Shinomori, the leader of the Oniwabanshu referred to as Okashira blackmailed Megumi into returning, and held her prisoner for Kenshin and his friends to come after. Kanryu attempted to bribe Kenshin into letting Megumi stay, but what he could not realize, despite Aoshi’s explanations, was that Kenshin did not care about money or fame. Sanosuke and Kenshin went to Kanryu’s mansion, and fought their way to the top room, where Kenshin fought Aoshi. The Oniwabanshu were not bad people however, and laid down their lives to defend Aoshi when Kanryu betrayed them. Kanryu was arrested, and Aoshi escaped to bury his comrades.
Following the events involving Aoshi and his group, there were a few short events, and a minor story involving a man named Raijuta, who sought to restore the world of swordsmen. This however involved attacking dojos that taught swordsmanship with wooden swords known as Shinai. After some time, a policeman named Fujita Goro appears on the scene. However, he’s not who he appears to be. Masquerading as a medicine man, he visits the Kamiya Dojo, looking for Kenshin. Sanosuke is the only one there at the time, and questions how a medicine man winds up with callouses on his hands. Fujita Goro, though truly a police officer, is truly a man named Saitoh Hajime, a former captain of the third squad of shinsengumi. He wishes to challenge Kenshin to a fight, and tries to bring the Hitokiri back out of him. Due to the injuries Sanosuke endured, Kenshin agrees to the fight, and like with Jin-e, he re-enters the state of Hitokiri. Unlike with Jin-e, Kaoru’s voice doesn’t reach him, and Kenshin and Saitoh fight nearly to the death, only being stopped by the emergence of another police officer and someone of higher import, Toshimichi Okubo, one of the three leaders of the Meiji reformation. He had come to ask Kenshin for help, for a man by the name of Shishio Makoto had begun to make trouble for the Meiji government.
Okubo: They say it takes 30 years for a new country to strengthen itself. If so, then these past ten years have been the period of construction. The next ten years will be the period of growth. These ten years will be the most important, and we will spend them organizing the government and perfecting the domestic administration. While I am unworthy to do so, I must accomplish these goals at all costs. The third period, fortification, will be left in the hands of my successor. Then we shall switch to a democratic government with an assembly open to everyone. Japan will be reborn as a nation-state. Then, the restoration will finally be complete.
Okubo asked Kenshin to assassinate Shishio, but his friends wouldn’t allow it. When Kenshin ventured to meet with Okubo a week later to give his answer to such a request, Okubo was assassinated in his own carriage. With such done, Kenshin decided to do what had to be done. He said his goodbyes to Kaoru and ventured off to fight Shishio. Saitoh joined him, and soon to follow, would be Sanosuke, Yahiko, and Kaoru. Kenshin would meet other members of the Oniwabanshu in Kyoto, among whom were Makimachi Misao and Okina. Aoshi Shinomori was in training since his fight with Kenshin, and was approached by Seta Sojiro, Shishio’s second hand man, and was recruited into aiding Shishio, though Aoshi merely accepted to get another chance to fight Kenshin. Kenshin would also need some training, and so, once in Kyoto he visited his former master to attain the last of the training he neglected when he parted ways with him back when Kenshin was 12 years old. At first, there was still some hostility between the two, Kenshin would finally learn the two final technique of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki.
Hiko Seijuro: This man Shishio Makoto is plotting to take over Japan. You, on the other hand, are slowly reverting to Hitokiri Battousai. You want to defeat Shishio without becoming the Hitokiri — In other words, you need to be stronger than you are now. Well, you know what they say. He who runs after two hares won’t catch either one.
Hiko: I’m sure I taught you this. A sword is a weapon. Kenjutsu is the art of killing. Whatever pretty words you use, this is it’s true nature. Your own foolish ideals, or today’s harsh realities… whatever you are trying to protect, it’s complete selfishness.
Kenshin, Sanosuke, and Saitoh would eventually become the core group going after Shishio. They would find their way to his secret hideout at Mount Hiei, and infiltrate it. Sanosuke would fight Anji, a monk who he had run into on his way to Kyoto, and for a time trained under. Despite this, Sanosuke chose to fight him because of his affiliations despite the way he spoke of his philosphies and beliefs. Saitoh would fight Usui. And Kenshin would fight Aoshi. Shishio’s woman was to use a communication device to transmit Kenshin’s secret move to Shishio so he could be prepared for it, but all she could transmit was that she couldn’t see it due to his speed. In the final encounter, Aoshi, Saitoh, and Sanosuke all lent a hand to Kenshin for fighting Shishio, but it was Shishio’s own health conditions that spelled his demise in the end. After fighting for so long, his blood literally boiled, and he died. While this went on, the rest of Shishio’s best men attacked the Oniwabanshu remaining in Kyoto, which included Kaoru and Yahiko. Due to the aide of Hiko Seijuro, the Aoiya, the Oniwabanshu’s Inn Headquarters, remained safe.
The final arc of Rurouni Kenshin centered on a theme revolving around the events of the Trust and Betrayal movie. Yukishiro Enishi, the younger brother of Yukishiro Tomoe returns from Shanghai to take his vengeance on Kenshin. However, he doesn’t plan to kill Kenshin just yet, and prefers to inflict upon him jinchu which is a reference back to the beliefs of the Ishin Shishi back during the Meiji Reformation which had been called tenchu. ** Tenchu means Wrath of Heaven, while Jinchu means Wrath of Hell ** In his first attack, he kidnaps Kaoru in a cloaking mist, and when the mist clears, Kenshin sees Kaoru’s corpse. However, one of Enishi’s subordinates specializes in making dolls he can control in combat. He can easily create a corpse-like doll, to fool Kenshin into thinking Kaoru is dead. Thinking this the case, Kenshin falls into despair, and runs off to a place where vagabonds and homeless spend their days. He sits there speaking to no one for days on end, with a chain wrapped around his sword. He gets many visitors, including a specific elderly man who brings a vial of Hakubaiko (White Plum) perfume which prompts Kenshin to utter his first words there. “That scent… take it away.” He eventually finds out Kaoru is still alive, and he rushes off to Enishi’s island fortress to rescue her. He is again aided by Aoshi, Misao, Sanosuke, Saitoh, and Yahiko.
The story of Rurouni Kenshin ends a few years after the interactions with Enishi, where Kenshin, now having taken too much damage to his small and frail body due to the harshness of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu to fight as a swordsman anymore, now helps Kaoru run her dojo. The two have started a family, and have a son named Kenji. Yahiko has turned 15, and Kenshin ushers him into the age of manhood for a swordsman by giving him his final test, and though Yahiko still can’t land a hit on Kenshin, he is nevertheless a man now, and ready to truly be a samurai.
All in all, Rurouni Kenshin is a great series, in my opinion because of my love of history. Many characters were truly involved in the events of history discussed in this series. Saitoh Hajime was truly a captain within the Shinsengumi, and Okubo, as stated in the series, was assassinated on May 14th, 1878, though by the samurai who in the series took credit for his death though it was one of Shishio’s men who killed Okubo. The events of Kenshin’s past occur around the Boshin and Seinan wars that truly did exist around the Meiji Restoration, and Kenshin himself is based after a famous swordsman of the time who bore similar physical resemblances to Kenshin, though his hair was black not red. Combined with Trust and Betrayal, I rate these together in my top 5 favorite anime. In fact, it holds the #1 position.