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Rurouni Kenshin Part 1: Origins Blu-ray Review

8 min read

Rurouni Kenshin Movie 1 CoverWith a strong past in manga and anime, Kenshin conquers the big screen.

What They Say:
In the wake of a brutal civil war, the legendary and feared killer Kenshin Himura throws down his sword and vows to turn his back on bloodshed. Choosing instead to live his life as a peaceful wanderer, Kenshin soon finds that the world around him is rapidly changing and not for the better. A sadistic drug lord, Kanryu, oppresses the people, poisoning them with opium and stealing what little they have left. When this greed-driven monster threatens the beautiful kendo instructor Kaoru, Kenshin can no longer stand idly by.

Together with his street fighter comrade Sanosuke, Kenshin sets his sights on a showdown with Kanryu and his deadly henchmen. In a staggering action sequence for the ages, longtime fans will find out if Kenshin can survive his promise to face his own blade before spilling the blood of his enemies!

The Review:
The audio presentation for the film brings us the original Japanese language track and the English language dub in 5.1 form, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The mix is definitely very solid throughout with what it does in the action sequences as there’s some very good impact from the more physical elements but also just the sound of metal against metal with the swords. The music complements it well without drowning it out and it operates the same with the dialogue. That area is well handled as well with a clean sounds that provides for placement and depth as needed. Everything for both mixes is done in a problem free way that makes it an engaging and enjoyable mix.

Originally released in 2012, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The film sticks to a pretty washed out design for it owing to the period and the roughness of it all which gives it the grit it needs without the grime. When we do get some pops of color into it, such as Kenshin’s outfit that Kaoru gives him, it’s nowhere near like the anime in vibrancy but it’s adapting for the different medium as it should. The encoding is pretty much without a problem here as the details are held together well, colors look great with all the earth tones that it uses, and the high motion areas are problem free.

The packaging design for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the two formats inside against the interior walls. The o-card that it comes with replicates the cover artwork but it goes a step further than usual by embossing the character imagery itself, which gives it a little extra pop while the silver is given its own shiny foil design to stand out even more. It’s a solid cover that lets you identify the main cast easily enough but it’s not one that really sells it beyond the core audience. The back cover goes for a largely black background while reusing some of the character headshots from the front along the top, which just feels weird. The shots from the show through the middle are decent and the summary covers everything clearly without giving away too much. Naturally, a decent chunk of space is given over to the terrible Ultra Violet details but the remainder works the format information for both discs clearly and accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for this release goes almost painfully simple as you almost wish it had gone for a static image instead. We get some minor clips that ease us into the mood but are a bit too mellow overall to really get it going well, though they do choose some decent sequences. The navigation strip along the bottom is a simple but large red bar that has a cutout of Kenshin in pose form along the left while to the right of him we get the navigation, what little there is, with white text. It’s easy to use and works well as the pop-up menu as well, but it’s just simple and not all the inspiring to get you ready for the adventure to come.

The extras for this release are quite good overall, though it makes me wish for a commentary track from either language to be included. The release comes with a bunch of cast interview pieces that run for a combined twenty minutes or so but thankfully has a play all feature attached to it. We also get a solid making of piece that digs into how some of the production design and action was handled. The deleted scenes are interesting enough for what they are but you can see why they were cut from an already too long movie. And it’s all rounded out with some of the trailers and promos for the project.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With a very popular manga run in the 90’s and a very popular anime adaptation both in Japan and in the US, Rurouni Kenshin is one of those touchstone kind of properties from the time it existed in. So when news hit of a new live-action film trilogy being put into production earlier this decade there was a question as to whether there was really an audience for it. The first film did pretty well with a $61 million take on its $20 million budget, though it’s taken forever and a day it feels like to be brought out here outside of limited theatrical screenings. While I’ve read the manga and was a big fan of the anime when it first hit, it’s a property that has certainly waned for me over the years for a lot of reasons, making it something that I don’t exactly go back to rewatch.

With the theatrical work here, in its opening film of the trilogy, there’s definitely an intent on pulling from the good parts, downplaying some of the more problematic aspects for this medium, and charting its own course to some degree. The problem that comes from this particular installment for me is that the villains are just not all that interesting and at 135 minutes it feels more drawn out than it needs to be. It’s a project that feels like they should have reworked the manga concept more of who is introduced when and expanding from there instead of trying to hit the bullet points to get to the bigger events. A film focusing largely on Kenshin and his past as we know it at this point would have worked well as he connects with Kaoru upon wandering into the town where she resides. Bringing Saito into it works well to establish the murder mystery going on that Kenshin, the former Battosai, is being blamed for as it provides an antagonist of sorts.

Bringing in Sanosuke and the whole Kanryu bit where he’s trying to take over Kaoru’s dojo and working to expand his influence to be bigger and more powerful than the government is just overreach. Kanryu, in fact, is the main drag I have with this film because it’s just overdone with the scenery chewing, the dialogue, and simply the visuals of it. I’d have rather seen more time spent with Jin-e, a killer from Kenshin’s past life that is doing his best to get Kenshin to abandon his peaceful ways as those that kill cannot deny what they are. There’s the making of a really good action and philosophical piece in this project but it’s lost amid all the Kanryu foolishness. Even Kaoru suffers under this as the humanizing element is kept distant and often little more than a woman in distress for Kenshin to save. Admittedly true for the time but there’s so much more she could have done and been to establish herself.

While the story of the film isn’t one that overly excited, particularly since I’ve seen it from the original manga to a couple of different anime interpretations at this point, the film does excel when it comes to the production itself. The cast are largely spot on here in what they have to do, though Kenshin’s actor thankfully gets to avoid the too-comical elements from the anime series and plays it more like the OVA work. The sets look fantastic and they spent the money well on locations as well as bringing in lots of extras to fill out places, like the marketplace, so that it feels as busy and rough as it should. The sword fights are also really well done as those involved put in a strong effort to bring it to life so that it doesn’t look campy for the most part or too comically done, especially when we get certain moves playing out with someone’s overly large sword. The crew that worked on this and the cast definitely come together well to bring this incarnation to life.

In Summary:
While the original manga and anime properties for Rurouni Kenshin have not aged well (where’s the reboot, already?), the live-action interpretation brings it from those mediums over to this one very well. There is a lot to like here in how this film is put together for the most part and those that are not enmeshed in the original works may enjoy them more since you’re not dealing with comparisons, nostalgia, and the different ways to bring it to life. Funimation’s release has a lot going for it with some great extras, a strong visual presentation and audio design, and the Ultra Violet release for those that partake of that digital form. I’m curious to see how the two follow-up features will play out to be sure since there’s so much more ahead to compress into.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Rurouni Kenshin Cast Interview Collection, Deleted Scenes, Making Of, Original Trailer, News Flash, Super News Flash

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

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: November 1st, 2016
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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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