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Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal Limited Edition Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

Tragedy begets tragedy in the closing years of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

What They Say:
Journey into Kenshin’s past as a young orphan in nineteenth century Japan, where he learns his fighting skills from the great swordsman Hiko. Witness his beginnings, as he turns from an idealistic youth to a cold-hearted assassin in a land torn by warfare and rebellion. Amidst all the killing and betrayal, Kenshin’s world is thrown into further confusion by the arrival of a mysterious woman named Tomoe. Are Tomoe’s true intentions to help Kenshin, or does she hide a secret that can destroy everything Kenshin has come to depend on? Learn where Kenshin received his scar and discover Kenshin’s balance between trust and betrayal.

Contains all four OVA episodes of the Rurouni Kenshin prequel OVA, Trust & Betrayal.

Features exclusive new box art by character designer Atsuko Nakajima and includes both the original deluxe booklet from the Japanese release plus a second booklet of English translations.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release works very well and definitely adds a good bit to the mood and atmosphere of the show. The original Japanese stereo track is included in PCM form at a constant 1.5mbps encoding. Also included is a Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless track that takes it up a few notches with enhanced surround sound that has some disturbing and creepy moments to the rear channels but definitely takes the whole thing to the next level. In addition to that, we also get the English stereo mix included using DTS encoded at a constant of 447kbps. Each track offers something different, particularly in volume levels, but the real winner is definitely the DTS-HD MA track. It adds a lot to the audio presentation and just makes it all that much more engaging. The track has a lot of uses for the ambient sounds throughout it and the incidental music to really make it a complete work and that helps it to stand out even more.

Originally released in 1999, the transfer for this four part OVA series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is kept to the four separate OVAs rather than a blended movie and is kept to one disc. With the age of the show and the nature of how it changed over the course of it with how it was composed and filmed, the OVAs really look great here overall. The show has a lot of very dark and murky scenes by intent and it’s well captured here with some detail visible and little in the way of problems with break-up or other artifacts. The show has a lot of bright scenes as well taking place in the day, sunsets and so forth, and these areas have a wonderful look as well. The problems that were inherent in the DVD from years ago in the US are largely gone as the aliasing and cross coloration aren’t here at all and there’s simply a lot to like. While it can look only so good overall because of its age and the way it was created, the end result is very pleasing here.

The packaging for this release is definitely Japanese in nature but it has a slick and compact feel to it that’s rather appealing. The release has a slim digipak inside of a slim slipcover that holds it and a booklet. The back of it has a separate one sheet cover to it that has some good character artwork, the summary, shots from the show and technical information so you can make an informed purchase (if you’re able to read Japanese). The slipcover itself goes for the minimal, an appreciated approach as the front of it has the image of Tomoe in Kenshin’s arms while the back goes for all black with just the shows name along the top and bottom, all of which is set against a black frame. Inside the slipcover we get the digipak which has a beautiful piece of Kenshin and Tomoe together against the snow with the full Japanese logo. The back is kept simple and elegant with the logo itself against a black background. The inside of it has lots of soft purples and whites where it holds the disc while including a panel for the cast and staff credits.

The extra goodie with this release is the booklet that’s done in full color with character shots and a new interview with the OVA’s director. The booklet is all in Japanese but a translated booklet, done with just the text, is also included with black text on purple paper.

The menu for this release is really nicely done with a simplicity and elegance that’s wholly appropriate for the show. The navigation along the bottom doubles as the pop-up menu and it’s straightforward with just the main selections and it includes both English and Japanese text. The other 98% of the menu is given over to a shifting set of stills from the four episodes that, when combined with the music, draws together a very engaging piece that’s enjoyable to watch all on its own as it repeats. It brings some good shots together to build the right mood and blends it all together in just the right way to keep you watching it. Submenus load quickly and everything has a smooth feeling to it. Naturally, it defaults to Japanese with no subtitles.

The only extra included in here is a brief commercial.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
At the conclusion of the Rurouni Kenshin TV series, nothing made more sense than to make more OVAs that they could draw fans in with. And smartly, they went and did a four episode series first that went back to the early days of Himura Kenshin, showing his origins and how he came to be who he was at the start of the TV series. We had a lot of this covered to different degrees within the series itself, focusing more on his being the Battousai and what he went through there. But when it came to his childhood and his time in Kyoto, there was a lot of room to tell a good story. And this one did just that.

Artistically, the series retains the general design ideas when it comes to people so you can identify them easily enough, Kenshin with his hair and scars to be certain, but it goes with a more detailed, darker and in a way intense look to show that it is a very different time in Kenshin’s history. When we see him as a child, it’s when he’s in a traveling gang of slaves that’s just been attacked by thugs. The women protected him, but they weren’t able to do anything. And just before he was about to be killed as well he’s saved by a warrior named Seijuro. It’s a key moment in Kenshin’s life, known as Shinta at that time, as he wants to find a way to protect people after seeing what happened here. It’s a surprising time for Seijuro, the master of a method of swordsmanship known as Hiten Mitsurugi, Kenshin does more than he expects anyone of that age and he ends up taking him in, to teach him how to use the sword and to become stronger so he can protect people.

When the series advances further into the future with Kenshin as a young man, it shows us as he struggles with what it is that Seijuro teaches him about how he can’t go and use his blade to actively protect people as it just makes him a murderer. But Kenshin wants to help and thinks that he can help usher in the new age, bringing to an end what the Tokugawa Shogunate has done for several hundred years now. While many view it as a peaceful era, most know it as anything but. For Kenshin, his skills are sought after to help usher it in as he becomes the best of the assassins that the Choshu clan has, allowing them to take down many key Shogunate figures to help advance their cause.

This serves as a good backdrop for the show but it’s one that becomes very personal instead. You can easily not know the larger historical aspects since this plays in it easily, but you can connect with the characters. One of the bodyguards of a significant figure that Kenshin kills early on ends up leaving behind a woman that he was to marry. Over the course of time, she comes to Kyoto to see him and ends up falling in love with him even though he’s the one that took away her happiness. The show works the bond that forms between them very well, giving us a look at the first person that Kenshin actually becomes interested in but has to struggle against internally because he’s so focused on wanting to help usher in this new age.

Understanding the things that Kenshin goes through at this time, wanting to serve his master in Katsura of the Choshu, dealing with the Shinsengumi that are closing in on them and coping with the way the Tokugawa is ramping up against the Choshu themselves, it’s what defines the overall mood of things. But when it really starts moving forward in the main time period for him with Tomoe moving her way into his life, it becomes a solid romantic drama of sorts that just hits all the right notes. The distance and closeness between the two comes across quite well, especially as Tomoe falls harder and harder for him but has to deal with the conflicting feelings. It all goes horribly wrong, which we know from the TV series as it launches Kenshin into an even more intense role, but watching it happen is what makes it as engaging as it is.

In Summary:
While it’s been years and years since I last saw this show, getting back into it after the first few minutes as a breeze. It’s a work that definitely stands on its own, as it should since it’s the starting point for Kenshin’s life, but it’s much more fully realized if you know more of what happens in the other properties. This release has a great look to it and a great sound that’s just solid throughout. The visuals are spot on here, separating itself from the TV series but still having a strong enough connection to it. This release may not be as strong as some other shows from this time period getting high definition transfers, but it’s leagues beyond what we had in the US before on DVD and it’s a fantastic looking release overall. Very recommended.

Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese TV Commercial

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: C-

Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: August 24th, 2011
MSRP: $81.98
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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