The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Rurouni Kenshin: New Kyoto Arc

Title: Rurouni Kenshin: New Kyoto Arc aka Rurouni Kenshin: Shin Kyoto Hen
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: Studio DEEN
Format: 2 OVA
Date: 17 Dec 2011

Synopsis: In 19th century Japan, a dark force lurks underneath the newly reformed country and threatens to overthrow the incumbent Meiji government. It is spearheaded by Shishio Makoto, a former government assassin who took over Kenshin’s position after the latter retired and swore never to kill anyone again. Due to the unprecedented situation at hand, Kenshin leaves Edo and heads to Kyoto to put an end on Shishio’s plans and save the country.

The Highlights
New plot: Far less compelling, and far more ill-written.
Narrative: Haphazard and incoherent; completely devoid of any buildup to everything.
Characters: A faded version of their former selves.
Visuals: Cleaner and more fluid, but lacks intensity and grit.
Final verdict: This alternate retelling is a travesty.

There was a lot of hype surrounding New Kyoto Arc, since it features a storyline completely different from the one that viewers have seen in the manga and main series. As one who considers the arc as the best in the entire series and arguably one of the best arcs in anime history, I had doubts on what to make out of the alternate retelling. I never expected it to even come close to what the original arc achieved; in my mind, as long as it offered something novel and decent, then I wouldn’t complain. Unfortunately, even “disappointing” doesn’t come close to describing the OVA; it’s downright terrible. In fact, I would go as far as labeling it the worst production in the entire Rurouni Kenshin series.

From the onset, I strongly believe that the original Kyoto Arc should be left untouched because, putting aside Tsuiokuhen (1,2), it is a defining moment in the whole storyline. Not only does New Kyoto Arc change the plot, it also makes the plot much more inferior. The storyline is far too condensed, several climatic settings and face-offs are removed, and even the larger-than-life, brutal battles are reduced to tame fights with premature conclusions. The plot is narrated in hasty fashion and there is no coherent flow from one event to another. There is also no tension and none of the grandiosity that made the original arc unforgettable.

If New Kyoto Arc‘s ham-fisted story execution isn’t enough, the new take on the characters doesn’t do the show any favors, either. The whole cast is a shadow of their former selves in the original arc: Kenshin is no longer the outstanding hero who fights for his dear life, Soujirou is no longer the formidable sociopath who gives Kenshin’s fighting skills a run for their money, and Shishio’s faction is no longer a force of nature to be reckoned with. Most of all, Shishio, one of the most iconic villains of all time in my view, is no longer the cutthroat and cerebral anarchist who drives Kenshin to the brink of death. Even Usui, an iconic villain in the series, is reduced to a side character with no significant role in the plot. Devoid of dimension in characterization, they are empty shells that are missing the elements that made them unforgettable in the original arc.

If I can even praise just one aspect of New Kyoto Arc, it’s only the aesthetics. It’s much cleaner and more buffed than its 90’s counterpart, and the animation is noticeably more fluid for some parts. However, the more polished aesthetics came at a loss: the visuals have lost grit and depth, which render a lot of fight scenes and intense moments less compelling. Also, the visuals seem more sterile than before: the characters seem to have no facial expressions at all even during moments when emotions run high. Although the original 1996 series is more visually dated, by comparison it captures more emotion and depth than its newer but much shallower counterpart.

To be frank, New Kyoto Arc is a new but blunt sword: it looks nice but cuts no better than a butter knife. By comparison, the original Kyoto Arc is an aged but razor-sharp sword that impresses even if it’s more than fifteen years old. I wondered why an arc so phenomenal needed a new retelling, and was hoping if there would be something I could take away from it. In the end, what I received is just a sentiment of how the series should be laid to rest ― or perhaps sheathed ― for good.

The Rating: 3

Reviewed by: AC

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