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Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration Chapter #1 Manga Review

5 min read

The legend comes to life again in a new way but with plenty of familiarity as well.

The Review:
Rurouni Kenshin was a huge property quite a few years ago, one that lit up the anime sales charts with the TV series and the OVAs and movie and then with the lengthy and completed manga run, one of the few that I actually finished out that ran that long. The original series finished back in 1999 with twenty-eight volumes to its name and now series creator Nobuhiro Watsuki is back with it again and doing a new take on the story and characters. It doesn’t rewrite the series in some other setting, which could be interesting, but rather is done to support the upcoming live action film in Japan that looks like it’s coming together well. In the end though, it’s all Watsuki and that means it’s full of his style, sharpened and polished considerably since then, and it all looks even more striking with the digital black and white edition that we get here, which does include the two page full color spread of the core cast.

Taking place in 1879, it’s been eleven years of the meiji period and comes after the horrors of war that were fought throughout it between the pro imperialist forces and the shogunate. Peace has largely returned to the land and modern conveniences and ideas aren’t just creeping in, they’re becoming statements as the country is more open to western ideas and styles. During the war, one young man known as the Batousai was highly feared because of his skill with the sword, but he’s not been seen since the end of it. What he’s done since then is take on the name of Himura Kenshin with the intention to not draw blood again or use his sword in violence, but rather defense. His arrival in Tokyo has him in a bit of a tourist mode, to much amusement, as he’s wide eyed and enjoying what he’s seeing.

What he doesn’t like seeing though is what he’s gotten dragged into as there’s a merchant sponsored sword fighting performance going on with a young woman named Kaoru Kamiya against… him. Or at least, a planned imposter, only the young man that was bringing him grabbed the real one instead. Kenshin’s drawn into it and abused, but it leads to him meeting Kaoru and understanding how she’s being taken advantage of by a merchant over his dojo. It’s not exactly convoluted, but it takes a bit to get there but is done in a way that makes it enjoyable to read since it’s a very different kind of meeting than we had in the original series. Here we see a confident and strong Kaoru, though one that will go to less than honorable means in order to keep her dojo. And there’s also a rather neat new relationship status between her and Yahiko as at the start here he’s little more than a reverse hostage. Utilizing the merchant as the catalyst situation that brings them all together works rather well too, since it paints the picture of how that class of people operates much the same as it always has and can lead to some other reworkings as well.

Like any first chapter, extended as it is here by clocking in at just under fifty pages, it has a lot to cover. When Kenshin arrives in Kyoto and moves forward, it’s pretty fun if a little chaotic as is kind of the manga norm. The setup chapter before it that deals with the Bakamatsu was the weakest part for me and felt like it was poorly paneled and formed, especially with all the black space, as much as it does work to create a particular mood. I’m hard pressed to say how well this series is going to work in a way because in reading these characters I can’t help but to draw on the many experiences I’ve had with them, rather than what new flavor is being presented here. But at the same time, Watsuki is far more invested in them than I am and I’m sure that those influences are even stronger for him, which makes some of the changes seem forced and some more natural. I liked Yahiko’s new role, one that will change quickly, but I’m not sure about the way the whole first meeting goes.

Release Notes:
This VizManga.com edition of Rurouni Kenshin: Resotation is a part of the Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha and was read using a first generation iPad.

In Summary:
Rurouni Kenshin is the kind of title that I definitely loved a whole lot in the past and have a lot of very good memories of. So I’m throwing some nostalgia into the picture here as well, which is no surprise, but it’s not going to be helpful since I have to try and deal with the changes and what I was expecting. I don’t want a complete remake of what we’ve already seen, I want to see a new approach. And that’s what we get here, though with the core of the characters still intact so far. Watsuki’s style feels very much the same, especially in his pacing and structure of the panels, but his artwork feels more polished and I have to say that the digital viewing for it is a huge plus because it’s so crisp and clean. I’m very keen to see where this goes and what they’ll do with it and whether they’ll bring something new enough into it for it to really stand out on its own, if not eclipse what came before.

Grade: B+

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