A SPOILER HEAVY Rurouni Kenshin Film Reaction: The Legend Could Have Ended Better

“We live by different standards.” - Shishio Makoto (paraphrased a bit from his line in the movie)

I’ll try to be not overly dramatic. Here are some facts straight up for those who have yet to see Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (TLE):
- If you have little to no Rurouni Kenshin (RK) background save for the first two films in this franchise, you will probably really like this film, and it will probably make you want to watch the anime and read the manga (which is a great thing).
- If you are a casual RK fan, then you will probably like this film as it generally maintains the spirit of the series, and you probably won’t mind certain nuances I’ll be pointing out here.
- If you are an RK fanboy/girl, you will delight in the fan service moments, but might feel a little on-the-fence about the whole thing. You will probably feel squeamish about some sweeping changes (and omissions), but still convince yourself it’s a good film because you can’t bear to say anything bad about anything RK.
- If you are as intense, as snobbish, and as geeky as me when it comes to RK, however, then several things will throw you off. Heck, you might not even like it at all. There’s a strong chance it will be your least liked entry in the trilogy. Don’t worry, though, because it surely isn’t as bad (read: debilitatingly sad) as the Seisouhen (Samurai X: Reflections) OVA.

Kenshin looking fierce as his legend ends.
(image from Warner Bros.)

Likes and dislikes. Let’s keep it simple.

Look, feel, and setting
- Like in the first two entries, the film crew did a swell job with the costumes, the set-pieces, and basically the feel of the film. I loved how menacing the Rengoku looked (though it should have been destroyed by now — more on that later), and I just felt everything was pretty much accurate as far as that particular era in Japanese history was concerned. 

Flashback scene to the first meeting of Hiko Seijuro and Shinta (Kenshin)
- This was the perfect way to begin the film. We get a glimpse of Kenshin’s past, and it sets things up really well for the student-master scenes that dominate the first hour of the movie. Would have loved to see Hiko pour some sake over the gravestones of Akane, Kasumi, and Sakura, though. 

This was the perfect way to start the movie.
(image from Warner Bros.)

Fight scenes
- Jaw-dropping is all I can say. Many fights happened in the wrong places and a couple ended too quickly (How does that Gatotsu taste, Usui?), but, by and large, the fight scenes were downright spectacular. It was a true feast of blades and slashes. I loved seeing Aoshi throw one of his kodachis (should have been two). I loved how Soujiro’s tenken kept up with Himura’s god-like speed. I loved the duel between Hiko and Kenshin. And, of course, the 4-on-1 pitting Shishio against the Kenshingumi was a fitting final fight. The Mugenjin catching fire was a sight to behold, but my favorite, purely based on swordplay, was the match between Kenshin and Soujiro. It’s a pity it didn’t last very long, and even more of a pity that Soujiro was little more than a glorified pawn in this film.

The Mugenjin catching fire was pure awesomeness.
(image from HeckYeahRuroken.tumblr.com)

There were a few fan service moments I just have to commend: 
- The different nods to Kenshin’s past were nice. Hiko’s asking about the scar was good, but what really got me giggling (I was the only one in TriNoma’s Cinema 7 who did this) was when Hoji recited the list of those killed by Battousai. The last two names were Jubei Shigekura and Kiyosato Akira!!! For the uninitiated, Kiyosato was the fiance of Kenshin’s ex-love, Tomoe Yukishiro, and Jubei was Kiyosato’s senior officer. Kenshin killed both during his hitokiri days, with the murder of Kiyosato triggering a chain of events that led to Kenshin’s scar.
- I liked how Keishi Otomo kept the Kyoto Oniwaban members to just four this time around. It’s nothing major, but in the previous film, there were many other people in the Aoiya. This time, however, we saw just the four main ninja aside from Okina and Misao — Shirojo, Kurojo, Omasu, and Okon. I just wish they were utilized more (again, more on this later).
- Oh, but this I absolutely loved — Kenshin hitting Aoshi with the Kuzu Ryu Sen (Nine-Headed Dragon Flash)! It was executed with surprising grace and accuracy, considering how Kenshin had to use all nine basic slashes in a single move. He doesn’t yell out, “Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, Kuzu Ryu Sen!,” though, so you’ll really have to watch for it.
- The scene at the end where Kenshin offers a maple leaf to Kaoru is also great fan service. In the source material, during his battle with Shishio, Kenshin's aura is manifested in the swirling of leaves around him (as opposed to flames for Shishio). This gesture was a nice nod to that part of Kenshin's characterization.

Kenshin and Shishio were well-portrayed
- It’s clear that Otomo wanted the story to focus squarely on the dichotomy represented by Kenshin and Shishio. Both characters are at the center of this film, and rightfully so. They are, after all, the two main rivals here. Despite both being hitokiri and both working for the Ishin Shishi in the past, their post-Bakufu paths and mindsets couldn’t be any more different. This conflict comes to the fore in the film, which almost seems like it’s to the source material’s detriment because so much was sacrificed to put ONLY Kenshin and Shishio on centerstage. Nevertheless, Shishio is as deplorable as ever while Kenshin seflessness radiates. Shishio’s drive for revenge and his desire to be the strongest are as palpable as his flames, while Kenshin’s vow to use the sword to bring life and his unparalleled will to live prove to be adequate counterpoints. Save some tears for Yumi Komagata, though, as she is perfect in being Shishio’s final sacrifice/victim.

Kamiya Kaoru
- Man, oh man. How can one not be enamored with Emi Takei as Kamiya Kaoru? It’s just impossible, I tell you. She is flawless after waking up and looking out on the beach, and she gives adequate emotion in her all-too-few scenes. Severely underused, but when she is onscreen, she just captivates.

(image from Warner Bros.)

The Tone
The first film, for me, was the entry that nailed a perfect balance of drama and comedy, which is a hallmark of the RK series. I mean, even the Kyoto Arc is rife with comedic moments (mostly due to Sanosuke, naturally). There were moments when I felt TLE was taking itself a little too seriously. The tone needed to be more grave, sure, but it didn’t have to be almost exclusively serious. 

Drawn out “Tutorial Scene”
- Of course Kensin’s being reunited with Hiko is a crucial element, but I don’t think it had to be this drawn out and overly dialogue-driven. I would have wanted a flashback showing WHY Kenshin left Hiko (to try out for Takasugi Shinsaku’s Choshu Kiheitai) and the subsequent argument. I appreciate the fact Hiko asks about Kenshin’s scar, but I didn’t like how the response was half-baked. Kenshin talks about the first scar (from Kiyosato), but skips to another topic afterwards (could this mean that a prequel is in the offing?). The inconsistency here is that Hiko should already know about Kenshin’s past (He mentions in the manga, “So this is Tomoe’s grave.”). Still, it was a helluva treat seeing Hiko in his white robe/cape right before he has his final test for Kenshin.  

This is where Hiko says, “So this is Tomoe’s grave.”
(image from the original manga)

I wasn’t particularly fond of the following deus ex machina moments:
- The girl messenger suddenly appearing in the Aoiya to inform the Oniwaban of Kaoru’s whereabouts felt like a copout for me. I mean, Keishi Otomo went through all the trouble to change the story by having Kaoru dumped in the ocean, so I expected a more elaborate sequence of events for her to be found. But a girl appearing out of nowhere? Kaoru being found by fishermen? Really?
- Aoshi suddenly appearing on the Rengoku was just head-shakingly perplexing. Yes, Aoshi should be part of that fight, but he shouldn’t appear, quite literally, out of nowhere and just help Kenshin beat Shishio by yelling, “Battousai is mine!” I swear, Aoshi’s characterization has just been butchered in the live action rendition. It’s not terrible enough to make me want to barf, but it makes me more than a little irritated. I wish Otomo had just put Aoshi and his Oniwabanshu in the first film as Kanryu Takeda’s body guards. That would have done the characterization of Aoshi, Misao, and Okina justice. Not running after Kenshin with no well-established motive and then suddenly turning over a new leaf with nary a satisfying explanation.

As feared, Aoshi Shinomori's presence still felt forced.
(image from Warner Bros.)

Adding Hirobumi Ito and that Kenshin-is-Wanted arc
- Why add a new character and mini-story-arc when the time used for that could have been used, instead, for better development of guys like Soujiro and Anji? I think this was a vital misstep for Keishi Otomo. Both Ito and this new mini-arc were unnecessary. IMO, they didn’t really do anything for the story (it was really more of a distraction) and served to just cripple character development. Of course, this is probably something only RK geeks will mind. Having said that, I did like the twist about Saito being the faux-executioner. That, admittedly, was a clever little schtick. 

I had no need for this addition at all.
(image from HeckYeahRuroken.tumblr.com)

Little to no characterization for the Juppongatana 
- I truly pity how most of the Ten Swords were underutilized, underdeveloped, and plainly unloved. Let’s go through each one, shall we?
- Cho - did not appear in TLE (imprisoned after losing to Kenshin in Kyoto Inferno).
- Fuji - killed by Saito after some bit lines. 
- Saizuchi - fought in the faux-execution melee and then surrendered after the Rengoku exploded.
- Iwanbo - stood around and was never to be seen again (could be part of a platform for the Jinchu arc?!?!).
- Henya - fought in the faux-execution melee and then surrendered after the Rengoku exploded. His fight with Yahiko in the source material moved Yahiko’s development and maturity significantly, so not having even a quick skirmish in TLE was a bummer.
- Kamatari - stood around and was never to be seen again. Really would have loved to see her (him) battle Kaoru and Misao outside the Aoiya. Her character was a great foil to Yumi in the source material. Again, it’s a pity this element was omitted in TLE.
- Usui - killed via one-thrust Gatotsu. His motive for joining the Juppongatana was maybe the most unique of the bunch, but this was completely absent from the film. I mean, there’s not much characterization that can happen when he gets killed on Saito’s first move, right?
- Anji - fought with Sanosuke on the Rengoku and lost after getting WWE-slammed. No mention of his past or the Futae No Kiwami anywhere. I already smelled trouble when Sano’s journey to Kyoto wasn’t tackled in the second film. One of my worst fears was confirmed when Anji was merely a paper-thin, if hefty, henchman here.
- Soujiro - had a rematch with Kenshin, and he lost after seemingly losing his mind with barely any justification. Hardly a mention of his past and, sadly, no duel of twin battoujutsu techniques.
- Hoji - the most exposed member in this film. He’s reminiscent of Kanryu Takeda from the first film (he even has a gattling gun), but he was no longer shown after getting slapped by Sanosuke on the Rengoku. Would have loved a few lines from him depicting his initial doubt, then unwavering fealty to Shishio.

Hoji as fanatical and maniacal as ever.
(image from Warner Bros.)
Anji: from deep and disturbed Buddhist monk in the source material to
flat, talking pawn in the film.
(image from Warner Bros.)

The whole Battle of the Aoiya was omitted
- This battle was supposed to be one of the major set-pieces in the story arc, but it was completely absent in the film. Of course, they had all the time to add that ridiculous Kenshin-is-Wanted arc, but couldn’t squeeze the Battle of the Aoiya in. I would rather have had Kenshin get fetched by Misao from Hiko’s shack, rejoin with the Oniwaban and Kenshingumi in the Aoiya, set-up a battle plan, and go off to the Rengoku to fight Shishio with Sano and Saito. Man, what I would give to see Yahiko fly to beat Henya, Kaoru and Misao pair up to upend Kamatari, and Okina bark orders from the balcony (instead, he… dies and never sees Aoshi’s redemption?!). This did wonders for characterization in the source material, and would have been a better fit compared to the frivolous Kenshin-is-Wanted thing.

Okina... dies?! Wait, what?!
(image from HeckYeahRuroken.tumblr.com)

Sadly, this doesn't happen in the film.
(image from TVRage.com)

No Mt. Hiei 
- Another nitpick is that the Rengoku was preserved, and Mt. Hiei (the true site of Kenshin’s final battle with Shishio) was nowhere. Having the Rengoku destroyed was a major setback in the source material that opened Shishio’s eyes regarding just how serious his adversaries were. He was left on the backheel after losing the Rengoku and proceeded to invite Kenshin, Sano, and Saito to Mt. Hiei for the final showdown. Losing the Rengoku was the catalyst for Shishio descending into desperation and even deeper into madness. Instead, the Rengoku is made a central piece of the plot and the “final boss stage” in TLE. The effect is Shishio’s threat remains imminent (which is good for movie tension), but, again, it contributed in diminishing characterization. Because the Rengoku was still afloat, Shishio was able attack a small fishing village and proceed to influence Ito, Kawaji, and basically the entire Japanese government. All of a sudden, the conflict was bloated to epic proportions when it should have been kept on a personal level. Instead of intimate one-on-one fights where each breath could be heard and even the slightest changes in emotion felt, we were shown Kenshin, Sano, and Saito battling amidst armies of foot soldiers, their thoughts and backstories drowning in the din of screams and gunfire. It was a backdrop composed of a myriad of flat characters when fewer round characters would’ve sufficed. It’s war, sure, but the Kyoto Arc was never meant to be a war. It was supposed to be two men, not two armies, deciding the fate of Japan.
- And how’s this for another minor gripe — after defeating Shishio, Saito leaves with Kenshin to safety. This doesn’t happen in the source material, and this is just not Saito’s style. Originally, Saito chose to stay behind on Mt. Hiei just to make sure Shishio was dead and no other Juppongatana was left. In the film, however, it’s quite clear Shishio “burns himself to death,” so Saito, I guess, has no reason to stay on the about-to-explode ship. I think Otomo might have deemed this necessary just so the Wolf of Mibu could be part of the hero shots near the end of the film. 

Wrong Amakakeru Ryu No Hirameki
- Kenshin’s final attack in the film looked good on the big screen. It was smoothly executed. It looked every bit like an ultimate technique. But it wasn’t the Amakakeru Ryu No Hirameki. I’m treading on technicality here, so bear with me. The basic principle of the Amakakeru is that the swordsman’s will to live is so strong, his belief in his own abilities so deep, and his positive outlook so absolute, that he can deliver a battoujutsu slash using the “wrong foot” as his lead foot. A right-handed battoujutsu swordsman (like Kenshin) conventionally leads with his right foot and leg to avoid slashing himself when he draws his sword (which is sheathed on his left side), but the Amakakeru entails that the swordsman leads with his left foot and leg. This gives the move an “added step” that, at once, increases slashing power and enables the swordsman to, when done correctly, draw his sword faster than his opponent. The trade off is that, because he’s leading with his left foot/leg and drawing the blade from his left side, wounding himself is almost a certainty. It’s a classic high-risk-high-reward maneuver. In the film, Kenshin executes this by pivoting with his left foot (the camera has a close-up shot of his left foot being planted firmly on the deck), BUT then he leads with his right leg (see GIF below). Again, it’s smooth and powerful, but it’s not the Amakakeru.

It's close, but it's not the Amakakeru.
(image from HeckYeahRuroken.tumblr.com)
The true Amakakeru Ryu No Hirameki.
(image from espiritomarcial.wordpress.com)

Ultimate verdict — Like I insinuated in this post's introduction, your degrees of enjoyment, appreciation, and satisfaction after watching TLE depend strongly on your “fan level,” what your expectations are, and how much leeway you’re willing to give in terms of faithfulness to the source material. If you’re a “check your brain at the door” kind of person, and/or you just want to judge it as a stand-alone product, then, fine, you’ll get a kick (or slash) out of TLE. If you’re a bit more scrutinizing and unforgiving, though, then some elements will make you shake your head. 

I guess it’s all about our own individually unique standards (see Shishio’s quote at the top). I honestly know more people who liked it than those who didn’t. I’m sure it’ll rake in a lot of dough for Warner Bros. I’m sure it’ll make a lot of people want to watch/read or revisit the original.

I, however, expected better.

Heck, if “Breaking Dawn” and “Deathly Hallows” were stretched to two films each and “The Hobbit” was split into three full-length films, then a story as rich as RK’s should have been given AT LEAST four installments, right?

And that leads me to this unanswered mystery — will we have more Rurouni Kenshin movies? As of now, the answer is no, and nothing in TLE seems to strongly suggest that Warner Bros. is interested to invest in the Jinchu Arc or a prequel. Still, we can hold on to hope, right? Kenshin never completely answered Hiko’s question about his scar, and, to be frank, the Jinchu Arc is the best in the series, so adapting that should make sense. 

And with that, a final word — despite all my misgivings, I still think YOU should go and watch The Legend Ends. The story has been changed, but the Kenshin Himura we all know and love remains intact. Now if I could only hear him say, “Oro!” one last time.

Despite everyting, this is still the Kenshin Himura we know and love.
(image from HeckYeahRuroken.tumblr.com)

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15 Comment

so all you from what i've read is a near perfect reproduction/copy/mirror of the manga/anime.


A reproduction of the anime/manga wouldn't have been fitting especially for new audiences.
Better stick to writing biased articles about basketball instead.


I'd settle for better characterization in place of Ito and the Kenshin-is-Wanted arc.


I disagree. New audiences will probably like better characterization for the most of the other characters.


Wow Anonymous 1, you really took time to read the entire article just to be able to bash. Pathetic.


That was bashing already well aint that funny. All this dude wants to say in his article is " I want this", "I should be like this" " This is wrong" etc.


If you want characterization then clearly this movie aint for you. Wait for the live action drama series then. Im sure it will be able to show the characterization you want.


Characterization was one of the most significant reasons RK resonated with so many people. This live action trilogy was generally good, but nobody can deny that characterization suffered. In the same way, I'm pretty sure RK fans would've appreciated better character dev't for major characters like Yahiko or even Kaoru. In hindsight, perhaps even Otomo himself would've changed some things in the first film (especially to accommodate Aoshi and the Tokyo Oniwabanshu) had he known he would be making a trilogy (it was supposed to be just a one-and-done film).


I hope you also took the time to read the portion under the heading, "Likes."


Oh you're here again Anonymous 1 Are you reading the review all over again?


Tama naman yung writer. Maganda nga yung movie pero dami kasing tinanggal tapos may dinagdag pa. Sana mas naging faithful na lang. Pero maganda pa rin. 4/5 stars


Marami ngang sinabi si writer na maganda about the movie e, di lang puro weakness


It's really tough to stay 100% faithful to the anime/manga. They crammed 30+ eps in just 4 hours of film, but he has a point. I would also have liked it more if they focused on the original rather changing it by adding that the govt wanted kenshin..


I'd rate this movie 1/5. The story in the live action series is not what I am expecting for me who have watched the anime series several times. It is very disappointing.