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Rurouni Kenshin: Reflection Limited Edition Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

Fans wanted action and the big material. What they got instead was a romance, a very good romance.

What They Say:
Kenshin’s history of death and destruction has made him known throughout all of Japan as the sword-bearing master assassin. Seeking retribution for his past, Kenshin wanders further away to a place he can call home. Although creating a time of peace through his actions, Kenshin continues to distance himself from the ones he loves, while Kenshin’s wife, Kaoru, anxiously waits for the moment of his return.

Contains both OVA episodes of the Rurouni Kenshin sequel OVA, Reflection.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release mirrors the previous OVA series in that it has three language tracks on it. The first is the show in its original Japanese stereo via PCM at 1.5mbps, the second being the Japanese track in DTS-HD MA 5.1 and the third being an English 2.0 mix done at 447kbps. In sampling the three tracks, the 5.1 mix is the one that came across with the most warmth and depth to it while having a solid surround mix that gave it more atmosphere and ambiance, which is welcome than a show that tries to rework the rear channels in an unnatural way. The 5.1 mix deals with the dialogue well, giving it a sense of depth and placement where appropriate and stepping it up for the few action moments that warrant it. It’s a very good presentation overall and one that serves the material appropriately.

Originally released in 2001, the transfer for this two part OVA series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is like many other Japanese authored discs in that it prefers to use the majority of the bitrate that it can to try and compress it as least as it can, though it’s doing a lot no matter what. The bulk of the disc feels like it’s at the high thirties and does that even during very still and unchanging scenes. The show has so much of its original source material visible here that it does add to its overall warmth and appeal, with the minor flecks of dirt and dust here and there. Colors are very appealing, even the darker and murkier ones, as it captures the mood of the moment well when it goes in that direction. The lighter moments and the action is very well represented here with the fluid animation showing itself wonderfully. There’s a lot to like here as we get the best visual presentation of these OVAs to date.

The packaging for this release is done identical in layout and design as the previous set with a digipak inside a thin slipcover to hold it all. The slipcover has the black and silver frameworking around it and inside we get the beautiful pairing of Kenshin and Kaoru, where he’s in his usual outfit and she gets a detailed flower filled kimono as both are set against a white background. The back cover uses the same framework but uses a black background and just has the series name in large bold print taking up the whole thing. The digipak has a great piece of artwork as well with the two of them together, yet apart, with the softness of the cherry blossom trees all around them to add that bit of serenity. The back of it uses the all black approach with the original Japanese log in red and blue in the center, going for simplicity. The inside uses the cherry blossom motif on the left side while the right breaks down the cast and basic staff production members in Japanese. We also get a small full color booklet detailing parts of the OVAs and the connections to the series as a whole, but like the previous set it’s all in Japanese as well. We get the translated booklet here too, but it’s a bit of effort again to match things up and figure out what’s talking about what. For some it may be worth the effort, but I couldn’t find it in me to do it.

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 two 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 extras available on this release are the two TV commercials for the individual OVA releases.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While there was some relative ease in getting into the first OVA series that dealt with Kenshin’s youth and past, going into Reflection is a bit different. It comes after the ninety-odd episodes of the TV series and a lot of baggage but it instead spends most of its time going back and forth in time here. When you want to see it move forward past the TV series, it instead focuses on looking at those experiences in the same style and manner of atmosphere as the previous OVA series. And there is merit in that as I loved seeing Kaoru done in this manner and to see the story that takes place by aging them up quite a few years, to show us the twilight of their relationship. Going across these different time periods was awkward though, since it essentially does ask you to know the TV series, making it a bit less accessible to newer audiences.

The two OVA’s, produced some three years after everything else had been completed, brings us to a different point in time in the lives of the cast we know so well. It’s well over fifteen years later, as Kenshin and Kaoru are now married and they have a fifteen year old son named Kenji. But the life from where we left off didn’t go in the happily ever after road that most people hope stories do.

We learn through flashbacks that even after all these years, the Meiji government still relies on Kenshin. Coming to him again, they ask him to go the continent to help out with the war there. So many of the soldiers of the day grew up in a relatively peaceful country that they don’t know quite what to do, so they need the leadership of one of the most violent men from one of the most violent times. Kenshin agrees to go, as he knows he’s needed and it’s another chance for atonement, but he goes not to wage war but to help others.

Kenshin’s left a lot over the years, as we learn again and again through the flashbacks. Kaoru waits for him patiently each time, and finds herself at the docks whenever a new ship arrives. But this time is different, as Kenshin has been lost at sea for quite some time, especially as we see him falling under in the first minute of the show. But Kaoru waits, as the two have a bond and a promise to each other. But as Kaoru waits, she begins to fall ill, an illness that Kenshin also has as the two have shared their burdens over the course of their marriage.

Through her illness, we take a trip back in time to when she first tried to hunt him down and through the Kyoto arc. We see Jin’e kidnap her and the events that follow that. A good portion of the two episodes in places are flashbacks to things we’ve seen in the series but done up in the OVA character design style, giving it a new freshness. They also expand the dialogue for these scenes, providing new bits before and after that help flesh out the inner turmoil of Kenshin and the understanding nature of Kaoru. The depth of their unspoken relationship at this stage becomes all the more apparent through her eyes.

There are plenty of new bits of course. The Jin’e section provides some extremely gorgeous visuals as the two fight it out. And the big draw is the Jinchu piece where Enishi kidnaps Kaoru to draw Kenshin out over a blood vengeance he’s sworn for many years. It’s entirely too short and you know it’s missing a lot of valuable information, but it still plays out beautifully here for its short time. But in the end, the focus here isn’t really on the battles Kenshin has fought, but on the relationship between him and Kaoru. During the last large segment of the second episode, as you know the world is changing around everyone and Japan is continuing to enter another age, you almost can’t help but to get emotional over the very simple romance of Kenshin and Kaoru and just how connected they are. It’s this connection that needed to be much more visible during parts of the series to bring it up even more.

In Summary:
While largely disavowed by the original creator and not well thought of by many fans because of how much it condensed the material from the manga, I continue to find that the Reflection OVAs work well for me. The actual ending revolving around Kenshin and Kaoru is one that goes against type and plays it tragic, which is pretty much not allowed in the eyes of many, but it gives it a different feeling and one that I appreciated. With it being told from Kaoru’s point of view, the shortening works and it lets the story of his other true love take center stage as we see the events largely through her eyes. And it’s a sad time for her for much of it, but she has some wonderful moments as well, moments that highlight how strong her love for Kenshin is. And while it’s only carefully realized in places, it’s a strong undercurrent throughout it and that left me feeling very pleased with it overall.

Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Commercials

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

Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: September 21st, 2011
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

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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