Sunday, April 17, 2022

REVIEW: Rurouni Kenshin "Three in One" Omnibus (manga, vol. 1) by Nobuhiro Watsuki, translated by Kenichiro Yagi

Rurouni Kenshin is a historical action series. I bought this volume used.


Kaoru is on the hunt for Hitokiri Battousai, the infamous assassin who opposed the Tokugawa shogunate and killed countless men before vanishing after the start of the Meiji era, when she meets a humble rurouni named Himura Kenshin. She tells Kenshin that she's trying to clear the name of her family dojo - Hitokiri Battousai claims to use her family's sword-fighting style when he commits murder, and this lie is ruining the dojo's reputation. Kenshin happens to know that "Hitokiri Battousai" is lying about more than just that...because he's the real Hitokiri Battousai, determined to live out the rest of his days without killing anyone else.

This omnibus volume includes volumes 1-3 of the series, introducing Kaoru, Yahiko, Sanosuke, and Megumi. It ends with Kenshin, Sanosuke, and Yahiko beginning a mission to rescue Megumi from Takeda Kanryu, which will involve going up against Shinomori Aoshi and his followers, the Oniwabanshu.

I found this in a used bookstore years ago and was thrilled. It's a great edition, with large pages and therefore large artwork, solid binding, and, if I counted right, 26 pages of full-color artwork. And now I can't look at it without remembering that Nobuhiro Watsuki was charged with possession of child pornography in 2017. I think one of the reasons this news upset me so much is because I recalled thinking that Watsuki sounded like a nice guy whenever I read his author's notes: he read like the gentler side of Kenshin. Maybe it would be easier to mentally separate the creator and the work/character if it weren't for those author's notes? Are the anime and live action movies also tainted now? I don't know - I haven't tried to watch any of them since I read that news.

At any rate, I read this, now I'm writing about it, and then I'm offloading it. 

This collection of the first three volumes held up reasonably well on a reread - the art is clean and crisp, with refreshingly distinct character designs, and although many of the villains should be ridiculous (there's a guy who literally stores a bag of oil in his belly, which he ignites with false teeth made of flint so that he can blow fire at people), they somehow work in context. Or maybe that's just nostalgia talking.

The best and most appealing aspect of this series, though, is Kenshin, the experienced warrior who deliberately comes across as a little goofy and clumsy as he tries to stay out of fights. His sense of justice won't let him stand by as others are harmed, however, so he fights when necessary, but does his best to ensure he won't kill anyone by wielding a sakabato, a sword with the cutting edge on the wrong side. The best design aspect of this series is the way Kenshin's eyes shift - wide and friendly when he's the humble rurouni, and fierce and narrow when he's Hitokiri Battousai.

Rurouni Kenshin is filled with characters whose transition to the Meiji era has been uneasy at best. In the first three volumes, we meet just a few of them: Jin-e, a killer; Sanosuke, the man who becomes one of Kenshin's allies; the Oniwabanshu. Almost everyone has a heavy past, which makes for some dramatic encounters with Kenshin, depending on how they approach him and anyone he's protecting. 

This is only the start of the series - there are better moments later on - but it reminded me why I enjoyed it, and why it makes me so sad that it's tainted for me now. 


Quite a few author's notes and behind-the-scenes/character creation tidbits throughout. The volume also ends with two chapters that could be considered extras: one published a year before the series began, which reads a bit like a side story, and one published half a year before that. The second one features several recognizable characters/names, although their roles and personalities were occasionally very different. There's also a 2-page "Glossary of the Restoration" section.

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