Revisiting ‘Rurouni Kenshin’ 20 years later in 5 slices

As a teenager I fondly remember rushing home one Saturday morning to catch one of my favorite shows ‘Samurai X’ the US name for Japanese anime ‘Rurouni Kenshin’. 

The show, based on the eponymous manga from Nobuhiro Watsuki, tells the story of pacifist wanderer Himura Kenshin, a former assassin called “Hitokiri Battōsai”, during the Meiji era in Japan (1868-1912). The anime aired in Japan from 1996-1998 and was later aired in the US. With the anime turning 20 this year (yes, feel old) I just had to do a post in tribute.

So time to go back, way back, back into time. Here’s ‘Rurouni Kenshin’ in five easy to chew slices:

#1 Battosai vs Kenshin

Two sides, one coin

The protagonist Kenshin stood out visually with his bright red hair and cross shaped scar on his face. Most of the time he was carefree and even playful. But when there was trouble he was ready to draw his sword (reverse edged so it was not lethal) and go full throttle into battle.

And in battle he would often be on the edge of returning to his previous murderous self and it was the conflict between his light and dark sides that was riveting. Kenshin was also noble, righteous, just and fiercely loyal to his friends. An expert swordsman, many would engage him in battle and live to regret it.

#2 Strong support

One quirky family

Kenshin ended his wandering ways and settled down when he met Kamiya Kaoru, the instructor of a kendo school. The two had quite the strong romantic connection though in the anime it was mostly unspoken. Also providing Kenshin support was the orphan Yahiko, who idolised the samurai and was used a lot for comic relief, the physician Megumi with the dark past, perky female ninja Misao and Kenshin’s instructor Hiko Seijūrō who was quite the snappy dresser.

Before One Punch Man he was Multi Punch Man

But my favorite supporting characters were the jovial brawler Sanosuke and deadly Meiji police officer Saitō Hajime. Sanosuke’s rabble rousing ways made for some good comedy and he was always up for a fight. His punching style was also a welcome change to the weapon-based combat that dominated the action.

He was one bad mother…shut yuh mouth

But above both Sano and even Kenshin my favorite character was Saitō. He looked cool, had a relaxed, steely, mysterious demeanor and an interesting battle style. We did not see him fight often but when he did my goodness was it awesome. Saitō you rock!

#3 Memorable villains

Some men just want to watch Kyoto burn

‘Rurouni Kenshin’ has a fantastic assortment of villains for our hero and his allies to face off against, too many to mention here. The greatest of these is undoubtedly Shishio Makoto, a former assassin and would be Japan conqueror.

Shishio stood out with his bandaged look, piercing eyes and deadly tone. The “Kyoto arc” of the anime for which he was the main antagonist was the best of the show that we got.

Greetings. I am going to kill you now

Of Shishio’s colorful henchmen the one I remember the most was his teenage right hand man (or right hand teenager) Seta Sōjirō. Raised by Shishio and a firm believer in the survival of the fittest, this young murderer was downright disturbing with his perpetual smiling, even when murdering people. It was clear that something was broken upstairs. As a swordsman  Sōjirō  was extremely fast which made him both a deadly combatant and efficient assassin.

#4 Beautiful battles

It is so on

The best part of the anime, and what all viewers were waiting for, was the battle scenes. From the time Kenshin would take his sword stance you knew it was on like tinned cream corn. With his Hiten Mitsurugi style he was quick like the wind and had vicious attacks that struck like lightning. He would sometimes tell the opponent what move he was going to use on them which is always helpful.

Of the many fights Kenshin’s battle with the crazed Aoshi, Sōjirō and the climactic fight with Shishio were all epic and beautiful. Just thinking about it makes me want to go back and binge the show right now.

#5 Quality drop

This dude was fifty shades of meh

But ‘Rurouni Kenshin’ was not a perfect show. It could be slow and plodding at times and some of the comedy felt forced and annoying.

And, most disappointing of all, was that the quality severely dropped after the death of Shishio. The next main antagonist was the flambouyant Amakusa Shōgo who sought revenge for Christianity after his parents were slain for their beliefs. And he was just a bit dull. Even when he poisoned Kaoru and blinded Kenshin neither of these actions lasted long and had any great impact. The longer the story went on the more you pined for the good old days of Shishio and his crew.

But even with this decline ‘Rurouni Kenshin’ remains a beloved show in my heart. There were also some animated movies which I was not impressed by and a live action trilogy which was fantastic and I highly recommend. Do check it out.

So are you a fan of the ‘Rurouni Kenshin’ anime? What is your favorite memory? Feel free to comment below and if you enjoyed this post you can share with your peeps. Sharing is caring.

For more 90s cartoon awesomeness you can check out my Top 20 cartoons from that decade here and for some anime-inspired TV action you can check out my review of ‘Voltron Legendary Defender’ here. And for more TV nostalgia you can check back redmangoreviews for new posts Monday to Saturday and follow me on Twitter @suprememango012 for updates and other cool stuff.

Julien is outie like a navel. l8rs


  1. Julininho, this is my favoritest (yes, I made up that word) show of all, I repeat, of ALL time!!! The anime movies were just as great, Kenshin’s life before and after Samurai X. I still have to take in the live action movies though :/

  2. Loved this anime! For the summer I binge watched all the episodes actually. What separates this anime from all the others is how well they developed the psychological profile of each character whether friend or villain. My best character and fighter in this anime is Sojiro – Kenshin didn’t beat him in a fight. Sojiro was intrigued that there could be another way of life, one in which someone could be loved and accepted and worthwhile, even if they were not ‘the fittest’. He went spared Kenshin to learn more and went in search of that truth. I honestly wished they did a follow-up on him cause now I’ll never know what he found.

    1. Wow. Didn’t know you were such a huge fan. And Sōjirō was a really interesting character. In the manga, as in the anime, he left to discover his own truth and ideals. So we may never know what happened to him unless Nobuhiro does a spin off. And it is possible seeing that he ranked very high on popularity polls.

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