I'm opting not to include any read-alikes or watch-alikes for this one.
This was one of my used bookstore finds. Although you wouldn't guess it from the description on the back of the book, this is actually a collection of two stories. The first is “Voyage to the Moon World,” the one that gave the book its title. The second is “Sanosuke and Nishiki-e.”
“Voyage to the Moon World”
Sekihara Tae, one of the daughters of the owner of Akabeko, a beef-pot restaurant, visits the Kamiya Kasshin-ryu dojo with a request: help one of the restaurant's regular customers find a book that was stolen from him.
Okuma Daigoro had arrived at the restaurant with a copy of Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon. After his meal, he decided to help out at the restaurant for a bit, and that's when the book was stolen. Daigoro doesn't know why someone took it – maybe they planned to translate it into Japanese and sell it, or maybe someone thought its ideas about traveling to the moon had merit – but he does know that his sensei will kick him out if he doesn't get it back. Kenshin and the others agree to help him.
Despite Daigoro's obvious passion for From the Earth to the Moon and the science that might one day allow human beings to travel to the moon, Verne's book turned out to not be all that important. Kenshin sometimes acts like a fool, but he definitely isn't, and Kaoru Shizuka stayed true to his personality. While everyone else looked for the book, Kenshin dug a bit deeper and learned that Daigoro's sensei had some dangerous secrets.
Part of my problem with this story was that the historical context didn't entirely make sense to me, which made it hard for me to truly understand what the stakes were. Daigoro's portion of the story was much easier to follow, but his portion didn't matter much. It also didn't help that he wasn't all that interesting of a character.
Those who'd happily gobble up Rurouni Kenshin fanfic might like this, although, even when looked at through a fanfic lens, it's not all that great. All the characters were exactly as you'd expect them to be. Kaoru and Kenshin had slight romantic tension. Kenshin was humble, intelligent, and capable, and Shizuka briefly hinted at some of the baggage his past gave him. Yahiko was blunt and bad-mannered, but also good-hearted. Unfortunately, the characters didn't really do many interesting things. The best scene was probably the one where Kaoru fought a character trained in Western fencing techniques – I liked that Kenshin stood back and let Kaoru show what she could do, but also gave her the benefit of his experience by shouting advice at crucial moments.
Mostly, though, this story was bland, and the battles made me wish I were reading it in manga form or watching it in the anime. Shizuka's attempts to explain Kenshin's tactics and thought processes were nice, but nowhere near as good as seeing all the action happen.
“Sanosuke and Nishiki-e”
Tae and Tsubame ask Sanosuke to buy nishiki-e prints for them, specifically Swordsman Iba Hachiro by Tsukioka Tsunan. He grudgingly agrees and is shocked when he sees one particular print of Tsunan's and realizes that they used to be in the Sekiho Army together. He visits Tsunan in order to reconnect with him, and finds himself drawn into Tsunan's crazy plan to overthrow the Meiji government.
“Voyage to the Moon World” rang no bells for me, but I knew that I'd heard this particular story before. According to the Rurouni Kenshin wiki, it started in Act 45 in the manga and episode 23 in the anime. I have no idea which came first, the manga version or Shizuka's story version, but it was definitely better than “Voyage to the Moon World" and had more of an emotional impact. I was able to understand the historical context a little better this time around, too.
Unlike the first story, this one was more focused on character histories and inner struggles. Sanosuke was forced to think about his past loyalties, current friendships, and how far he was willing to go in order to support a former friend and comrade. The things Tsunan intended to do weren't great, but his anger at the government was justified.
The book as a whole
Kenshin is one of my manga/anime character crushes. I have a thing for characters that are both humble and incredibly capable, and reading his dialogue in this book gave me a nice feeling of nostalgia.
Although I can't say that this book was great, and I'd probably never recommend it to someone who wasn't already a Rurouni Kenshin fan, it could have been worse. The pacing was sometimes strange – the first story spent a full page detailing the history of beef-pots (not terribly important to the story as a whole), and the second story devoted more than a page to the history of Iba Hachiro (again, not terribly important). However, the characters acted the way they should, the stories were mildly interesting, and it was nice to get a brief peek into Kenshin and Sanosuke's heads.
- A folded color illustration of Kenshin, Shinomori Aoshi, and Saito Hajime. Which is weird, because neither Saito nor Aoshi appear in this book at all.
- A brief postscript written by Watsuki, in which he apologizes for not being able to draw as many illustrations as he would have liked.
- Character guides for both stories, plus a more general illustrated character guide for some of the series regulars.
- Fourteen black and white illustrations.
- An 8-page glossary. It includes lots of relevant historical and cultural information.