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Rurouni Kenshin: The Movie Limited Edition Blu-ray Anime Review

7 min read

Kenshin’s complicated past, and that of Japan itself, continues to raise problems and issues for both.

What They Say:
The war against the Tokugawa Shogunate ended years ago, but there are those who are not pleased with the outcome. Shigure Takimi witnessed his family and friends being slain in the name of freedom and prosperity. Holding a cold, hard grudge inside, Shigure Takimi and a band of misguided rebels have sworn to exact revenge. There is only one man who stands between them and their goal: Himura Kenshin. But when Shigure discovers Kenshin’s true identity, Shigure’s fight becomes a personal vendetta.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release mirrors the previous OVA releases 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 1997, the transfer for this ninety minute feature film 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. It does have more things visible within the film print, such as scratches and other noise associated with this kind of material like flecks of dirt and dust, but it just adds to the warmth overall. Growing up on this kind of animation has me certainly expecting it and finding it a natural part of traditional film features. 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.

The packaging for this release is done identical in layout and design as the OVAs released with a digipak inside a thin slipcover to hold it all. The slipcover has the black and gold frameworking around it and inside we get the main men of the series together against an all black background. It’s striking in its simplicity and just looks good and, for lack of a better word, manly. 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 theatrical poster style artwork that has all the players from the film here set against the moon and the dark of night. 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 film and the connections to the series as a whole, but like the previous set it’s all in Japanese as well. Unlike the previous two OVA sets, a translation booklet as not included with our release.

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 extra included here is a pair of trailers for the feature which are in 480p and without translation. Even the menu selection doesn’t spend the time to let the viewer know what the extra is in English.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Like a lot of anime series that prove to be popular while a manga is ongoing as well, Rurouni Kenshin received a theatrical film in the middle of its run. Because of this, and that the manga itself was ongoing at the time, the feature pretty much stands on its own while retaining the look and feel of the TV series with just a few areas where it stands out better. You could, for the most part, break this into four episodes and run it for a month on TV at the time and you wouldn’t notice a real difference for a lot of it. Of course, they went and changed it dramatically when they followed up with the OVAs after this, but the route they took here is definitely appropriate to the time and what it wants to do.

In this movie, we find the main foursome of Kenshin, Kaoru, Sanosuke, and Yahiko together as typically seen in the anime series. While on a trip to Yokohama, an ugly encounter with some drunken British sailors introduces Kenshin and his friends to the noble Takimi Shigure and the lovely Toki Takatsuki. Shigure leads a group opposed to the Meiji government, which they believe is corrupting Japanese culture. His misconceived attempt at rebellion against the government brings him into conflict with Kenshin.

The arrival of a visiting British diplomat under the new government further complicates matters. Various factions are playing against each other as well as those who’ve infiltrated the government ranks in attempts to gain power. Friends and enemies tend to be interchangeable here, but in the end the important players are all ones that are standing up for what they believe in. The core of the story though, dealing with Shigure and the way he’s trying to bring something new into the world, connects with Kenshin because of what happened during the Bakumatsu and his role within it. Especially with Shigure who lost someone that Kenshin had killed, which leads to the very curious and moody way the two end up spending time together for a lot of it. There’s a somberness about it even when talking simply that permeates it.

The flashback side of the show, which details what happened in the past, is covered a few times here which can get draining considering it’s a single standard length movie. What the feature has to do beyond that though, considering when it was released, is to tell a story that keeps everyone involved that defines the series. And that means sort of shuffling some of them in even though they don’t have much of a role. But being able to see your favorite characters like Kaoru, Yahiko and Sanosuke on the big screen at the time must have been exciting. It just doesn’t translate as well to the small screen, especially since the story itself feels a bit weak. Coming after the Kyoto arc in the scheme of things, it lacks a certain resonance to events that had happened.

In Summary:
There are certainly things to like about the Rurouni Kenshin movie, but it is considered the weaker and less dramatic of the non-TV series things produced. It was an obvious angle to take at the time with the popularity of the series and the manga and it’s a decent story, but it’s not one that really stands out. And coming after the Kyoto arc material, it had a lot to go up against as well. Especially for Western fans who likely didn’t see the movie until after the TV series itself was released. Or for those that went with just the OVAs and then checked out the movie, which doesn’t feel like it fits well considering its animation style. I think the movie gets a bad rap in general, but it’s a solid effort that tells a good story but has some definite flaws to it, notably with all the flashbacks. Going back into it after nearly ten years was interesting, but like the OVA releases, it just made me want to watch the TV series again and hope for a remake TV series as well.

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

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: October 26th, 2011
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 100 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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