Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal – Jaded no more

I was suffering from anime burnout earlier this evening and rather than try to watch something new (and inevitably hate it with this jaded perspective), I decided I’d dip back into my ever-growing DVD collection, pull out a classic I knew I’d love and rediscover my passion for anime.
Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal is a series of dark prequel OVAs set before the events of the TV series. It’s a story concerning the bloody history of Himura Kenshin and reveals the mystery behind his iconic cross-shaped facial scar.
There are many, many reasons why I love these OVAs. Being a fan of the original Rurouni Kenshin TV series it is like a dream come true to see the series depicted in such a serious, dramatic way. Gone is the slightly uncomfortable slapstick comedy, replaced with horrific violence and a sombre mood. I always enjoyed how Rurouni Kenshin would regularly reference Japanese history and legend (I’ve learnt so much about Japan thanks to anime) and the narrative backdrop for these OVAs is based on true events; the Japanese revolution of the Edo period (around 1866 to 1869) in which the Tokugawa shogunate is eventually overthrown. We get to see legendary (real life) personalities like the Shinsengumi’s feared captain Hajime Saitō in action fighting Kenshin. Their climatic meeting in Trust & Betrayal is a great moment for both fans of the TV series and history buffs a like.
The action, which purely consists of lighting fast, utterly brutal sword and ninja fights showcases some of the finest samurai choreography ever animated. Watching Kenshin taken down warrior after warrior is an absolutely stunning and harsh spectacle, an utterly visceral, backs against the wall feeling.
Of course this would all mean nothing if Trust & Betrayal had little of real value to say but thankfully, this is far more than simply fan service for pre-existing fans of the TV series. The story is self-contained and features an absolutely gripping love story; driven by a tragic romance, set against a world-changing revolution and animated with visceral brilliance, these 4 OVAs are rightly considered landmark productions and taken as a whole, are up there amongst my favourite anime of all time.

5 replies on “Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal – Jaded no more”

I’ll even rank it S.
I was absolutely not bothered by the relatively slow pace and the "angst". That’s how good it is.
And I cried, a lot. But then again, I’m a girl and I love Tomoe.

And once again I feel alone – while I love Rurouni Kenshin (especially the manga), I never liked the first OVA and I despise the second. It’s a good story and all, superbly animated, with very beautiful music, but somehow it lacks life and the characters seem to me two-dimensional angstmachines… Kenshin, especially, is almost out-of-character. In the manga version of this story, one can see flashes of the older Kenshin in him, as he plays with children and stuff, one can see how he became the Kenshin he is in the rest of the story. In the OVA he’s just dark and angsty. Maybe I’d have appreciated this OVA more if I hadn’t read the manga before watching it.

Tomoe is a great character. I love how at the end of Betrayal, the bearded military bloke’s last words were to the effect of "I don’t understand women". He deserved this shock given the way he manipulated her.
I can understand where you are coming from, but I think you’re being harsh in calling Kenshin "two-dimensional". Although a bit more of his trademark humour could have perhaps worked as a gap between the tragedy, I don’t think it’s being too angsty; just look at the way all of his friends are slaughtered in the first 5 minutes. In a world like that, it’s hard to smile. I see enough of the lighter side of his personality when he moves out of Kyoto with Tomoe and becomes a farmer for six months; he looks so happy and at peace just digging in his garden and planting vegetables.

For me, the first OVA was like a stilted, theatrical tragedy – aesthetically beautiful, but somehow removed and stylized, played out by random tragedians. In the manga, the story, the characters are much more alive and they have much more personality (and for me, the story had a much stronger emotional punch, specially for this reason).
Someone once said that after watching the manga they took out the manga and scanned numerous pictures from the corresponding storyline that show the different emotions that Kenshin was feeling at the time, to contrast it with the anime where he just has the same melancholy expression on his face for the majority of time. I realize that it’s a dark world and all, but for me, an important part of Kenshin’s character is that despite the times and his job, he remained "alive" instead of becoming numb like he is in the OVA.

I love the Kenshin OVA, it’s a work of art. I’ve watched it at least a dozen times, and will continue to watch it well into the foreseeable future. What I love about it is just what you said – it has real value. The trend in Japan is to focus on the child stage of life, which lends itself to overly optimistic, fantastical stories (into which category most Shounen manga falls). What sets the Kenshin OVA apart is that it focuses on the transition to the adult stage of life, and just what life as an adult is about. I love the Kenshin OVA for the same reason I love Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade – neither one of them tries to hide the brutal realities of life that many people tend to forget living in their upper or middle class communities. Rather they serve as reminders and lessons to us about human nature and where it can lead us, from the light to the dark.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *