Earlier today I watched Rurouni Kenshin: The Final (2021), now out on Netflix (PH, not sure about elsewhere). I don't normally do full blog posts for movies anymore, but I'm a big Rurouni Kenshin fan, and I didn't have much commentary on record for the first three live action films, so I figured I would write some words mostly about this new film, but maybe also a bit about the first three as well. The film is based on a manga story arc from more than 20 years ago, so I'm not really going to be avoiding spoilers here.
So this film covers the Revenge / Jinchuu arc, the third and final arc of the Rurouni Kenshin manga, most of which was never adapted to anime. This kind of works in the film's favor, as I don't have any anime to compare it to.
I was a bit disappointed in the original trilogy's handling of the fight scenes, since in my head I was comparing them to the epic anime battles, which is silly since an anime series and a live-action film are fundamentally different media, and some things simply wouldn't translate well. Like, in the manga and anime, Kenshin's learning the succession art of the Hiten Mitsurugi school and later using it to overcome Shishio was a big plot point, but was completely glossed over in the films. (And in the revenge arc, it's also a plot point that Enishi is able to defeat that same succession art.) I guess I'm more forgiving these days of not strictly adhering to the source material (countless comic book movies will do that I guess), so I'm learning more to enjoy them as swashbuckling samurai adventures rather than only as anime adaptations.
The thing about the Jinchuu arc is that it was quite long, so I wasn't sure how they were going to fit it all in a single movie, even taking liberties with the plot points. I found out before that they had actually made two new films, with The Final only being the first, so I kind of assumed this one would end with a cliffhanger, assuming they follow the general plot of the manga. Well, it turns out that while the first half of the film largely follows the plot of the manga arc and the first part of Enishi's revenge plan, they scrapped the second half of the manga arc in favor of an all-out battle / assault for the film's final act, pulling in appearances from characters that never appeared in the manga arc (some of them obviously appearing as fan service!).
While this divergence from the manga is fine and understandable given the limitations of the medium, it does significantly weaken the impact of Enishi's revenge plan; early on in the film he states that death is insufficient for Kenshin to atone, but in the third arc he just ends up attempting to kill him or to get him to kill himself. The manga arc had a stronger punishment for Kenshin in the form of faking Kaoru's death, sending Kenshin into a downward spiral that takes him a while to recover from, a character arc that speaks more strongly towards the series' general message of atonement and redemption.
I'm also disappointed because cutting out the second half of the revenge arc means we never get to see Yahiko in a one-on-one battle against one of Enishi's minions. That was one of the most memorable parts of the manga arc for me because it represented a big growth in strength and capability for Yahiko to be able to hold his own using Kamiya Kasshin techniques. But again, I guess that's not a thing that would have translated well to the big screen.
There's an English rock / R&B track that plays over the end credits, it's Renegades by One OK Rock. It felt slightly jarring and out of place since I watched the film with Japanese voices and English dubs, but I'm told even the first trilogy had English tracks over the end credits.
After finishing the movie, I wondered what the fifth film would actually be about, and it turns out it's actually going to expand more on the Tomoe / Kenshin backstory that was only covered briefly in this film. While that would be a reasonable way to split up the revenge arc into two movies, it feels like it would have made more sense to release the prequel film first (and more appropriate since it's titled The Beginning), especially since this film already covers the major plot points that they would show in the prequel. Still as a big series fan (despite the author becoming controversial later on), I'm looking forward to the prequel's eventual release on Netflix; we'll see what surprises await us there.
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