Tonight's episode of Rurouni Kenshin begins the core story arc of the title's long-running TV program. As it is referred to by fans of the series, the Kyoto arc is based upon the original story in the manga of the same name by creator Watsuki Nobuhiro. Running from episodes 28 to 62, the Kyoto arc pretty much sums up what the frenzy that surrounded Kenshin as it came out was all about. If the first season of Kenshin TV episodes failed to hold your attention, try to stay tuned for the Kyoto arc. If you enjoyed what the first season had to offer, prepare to be blown away this time.
The Kyoto arc explores Kenshin's past and connections to Kyoto and the ghosts that haunt him from the struggle known as the Bakumatsu that led to the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate. At this point, it is hard to write much about the Kyoto arc without spoiling the story for the uninitiated. Still, you can get a good idea of the direction the story takes from the first few episodes of the new story arc.
Pivotal to the story and marking the departure from earlier Kenshin material is the entrance of Saitoh Hajime, alias Fujita Goro. Saitoh fought in the Bakumatsu, leading the third division of the Shinsengumi, an elite guard force of the Tokugawa. Defeated at the end of the struggle, surviving members of the Shinsengumi were offered positions in the military and the police for their valuable skills by the newly-established Meiji government. Saitoh accepts the conditions and works for the police, noting that he considers as part of his responsibility as the defeated the duty to help build the new order. Known as the "Lone Wolf of Mibu", Saitoh's character is loosely based upon an actual historical character of the same name who fought as a member of the Shinsengumi. Living the code of "Aku Soku Zan", Saitoh's most effective technique is his left-handed horizontal thrust -- the Gatotsu. One sometimes wonders whether this move is stronger for its visual impact or for its actual damage, but the Gatotsu remains fearsome in the hands of a master like Saitoh who is able to employ effective variations on the basic move.
Sure, the Kyoto arc may be pretty great, but it's hardly perfect. The story suffers from inconsistent pacing, at times dragging down episodes and at other times stretching out single fights over two or three episodes. At other times, certain actions are questionable in light of the motives of the characters who appear in the story. Some utterly pointless characters make appearances, and the story can be caught up in its own pretentiousness. Nevertheless, this story resonates with the kind of moral and emotional conviction missing in many other shows of late. It may fall apart at times for this writer, but its best moments are moments of revelation -- at the same time gritty and beautiful, harsh yet full of human warmth. Such moments are enough for this viewer to forgive the show its many faults. The artwork and animation for the series improve over time, and the direction can be exemplary when it really counts. The musical score for the Kyoto arc is impressive and stands up well upon repeated viewings.
Be sure to see episode 30, which should be shown in three weeks' time; it contains one of the most intense fights ever to grace the animated screen. The stunning choreography of this number may be enough to compel you to follow the remainder of the Kyoto arc to its conclusion. Enjoy the show!