Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (Fangirl Review)

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno
{ hello, happy } review

Disclaimer #1: Fangirling might slip between the cracks of this article. Fair warning.
Disclaimer #2: Tried my best not to spoil anything. :)

My love and respect for Nobuhiro Watsukisensei‘s brainchild is an open secret.

In 1996, Rurouni Kenshin (the anime series) was born. The story of an infamous assassin-turned-wanderer has morphed into something so popular that the Western world soon adopted and renamed it “Samurai X”. Next thing you know, Filipino channels started airing the series in ABS-CBN, Studio 23, and AXN.

“Samurai X” was how I was introduced to this series at a very impressionable age of 10. At first, I dismissed the series because I didn’t like the general aesthetics of the artwork. Thankfully, I grew older (and when you grow older, you learn to look beyond the physical).

Some time passed, and I was given a second chance.

This time, I understood. My affections deepened. Characters started getting under my skin, I became conscious of their backgrounds and motives, and was so involved with their growth both as individuals and as an oddball family.

I wrote fluffy unpublished fanfiction. I assigned love songs to particular couples (ask me, I dare ya!). I started drawing the characters. I started printing the lyrics of the opening and ending theme songs. I bought official merchandise. People started giving me official merchandise. Friends tag me on Facebook when they see news about Rurouni Kenshin because they know I’m a genuine fan. People from grade school, high school, and college know that this series pretty much formed me as a person: my values, loyalties, and aspects of my thinking.

“Dying is easy. It takes courage to live.”

I thought my RK fangirl self has taken a permanent vacation. But lo, the first live-action movie came out, and this was my thought bubble: “Oh, they’re going to ruin it. Live Action RK? It’ll be ridiculous. But, hey, I’ll watch it. Because it’s RK. Of course I’ll watch it. Take my money, Warner Bros.”

Imagine my surprise when I ended up loving the film to pieces.

This is why I joined every contest I possibly could in order to get myself into the red carpet screening for the second installment of the movie. Long story short – small miracle after small miracle after small miracle – I watched Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno on its Asian Premier on August 6, 2014.

Thank you, anonymous person I already love to death for my Red Carpet Procession Event Passes, and Christin Alvarez for bagging those Screening Passes.

Because of those screening passes, I now present to you my (fangirl’s) review of Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno.

SET:

That opening in Tokyo was one of the warmest, friendliest, most festive settings I’ve seen. It set the tone of the story so well, Japan being in the cusp of change, opening to Western influences and ushering in a time of booming trade and consequent economic peace. The costumes looked beautiful, and I actually felt like we were in Japan. Kaoru opens with, “You’re an old legend now” and immediately the audience sees that Kenshin‘s past – though constantly present in his mind – is rendered irrelevant in this era of peace.

MUSIC:

Who doesn’t have the carrier single on loop in their heads yet?

Don’t go! It’s a mighty long fall!

Haven’t heard the rest of the OST, so if you could send the music my way, it’d be much appreciated! :)

CASTING:

You know what I love about Takeru Satoh? He’s so much like his character. At first, he seems two-dimensional, but then you see that there is so much more depth and so much more nuances to him as a person. During the first movie, I thought he was a forgettable actor (unpopular opinion, I know) but I let it pass because he was playing the character that the movie was named after. It’s a pretty heavy responsibility.

In Kyoto Inferno, he smiles a lot more (and frowns a lot more too) so it’s really easy to be drawn to him this time around because there’s so much more personality shining through. I love how he’s able to utilize his eyes, voice, and stance to portray our friendly and harmless rurouni to the deathly frightening killer. I honestly believe that he’s gotten to know Kenshin a little bit more intimately as a character this time, too. In this film, Satoh portrays Kenshin‘s conflicted emotions to a very believable degree: an ex-bloodthirsty assassin that is suspicious of his own reformed philosophy of peace. I love it. Mr. Satoh, well done!

Trivia: This guy is just 25 years old! AH! GOSH. :)

Emi Takei, oh where do I start? I still think you’re too pretty to be Kamiya Kaoru, who’s supposed to be a little bit of a big-boned, awkward tomboy with very bad cooking skills. You are physically porcelain-like, with beautiful soft features. I’ve always imagined Kaoru‘s features to reflect her: a little brash, a little defiant, a little cowboy. You portrayed all of these characteristics so well, though, but your appearance makes me take you for granted. This is my fault, and not yours. I hate the fact that I’m so quick to invalidate your hard work as an actress just because I think you’re “too pretty”. It’s my loss, really.

On the plus side, here’s where the live action movie surprised me: I was unbelievably distressed by the fact that the filmmakers decided to cut the fireflies in the well-loved sayonara scene (arguable one of the most beautiful scenes in anime history, bar none), but they so unexpectedly made up for it right after. It was a breath of fresh air. More of this in STORY.

Trivia: Emi is just 20! One of the youngest main characters :)

Munetaka Aoki is Sano-perfection personified. He’s always been my bet for ‘best contribution’ to the Rurouni Kenshin franchise. Munetaka was probably a fan of Sanosuke Sagara – that, or he’s just an excellent actor. Sano takes the mantle as the film’s resident comic relief fist fighter (which doesn’t do justice to the depth of his character), but he looks like he’s having so much fun, I can’t help but laugh and be okay.

People will see Sano as this one-dimensional, dim-witted character who only wants to fight and who doesn’t have a tight rein on his emotions, but I see Sano as the most generous, most protective character in Rurouni Kenshin. So yeah he’s a little rude sometimes and a little predictable, but I think that’s why he’s my favorite. The thing about RK is that most – if not all – the characters have a dark, painful past. Sano, I think, has one of the most heart-wrenching stories.

Sano seems to be the most detached from his past because of his happy-go-lucky demeanor, but he’s not. He’s just focused on being there for his new friends and family, and that’s what makes him appear like a one-dimensional character.

But I see you, Sano. You and your big, big heart.

Happy surprise: Munetaka Aoki is just like Sanosuke Sagara. Takeru Satoh might’ve gotten the loudest screams during the Red Carpet Procession, but Munetaka was the darling of the crowd. :) He would raise his hands, looked genuinely like a kid in a candy store when people started chanting “Sano! Sano! Sano!”, and was so accommodating to his fans. He also seemed to be the most articulate in English, and the most eager to connect with the crowd. MAN, SO IN CHARACTER. I LOVE YOU; IT’S SO EMBARRASSING.

Trivia #1: Munetaka is 34. :) He’s so adorable — and his sense of fashion is so experimental!
Trivia #2: During the red carpet procession, I knew I was going to be a long-time fan of Munetaka because when Takeru Satoh was finally called up to be on stage where he was, he looked super happy, and just pointing at him and grinning at the crowd (as if showing Takeru Satoh off) and was just all-out supportive. ARGH HOW DOES ANYONE RESIST THAT, HE’S SO GENEROUS!

Houji was a surprise presence in this film for me. I mean, he barely had enough air time but I could absolutely feel his character’s fanaticism to Shishio‘s ideology.

Misao Makimachi had the best wide-eyed expression, however flat her character was in the film.

Soujiro Seta was impressive, as well. Another great addition to the franchise.

Aoshi Shinomori left me a little underwhelmed, which was a pity, because in the anime he’s got such a magnetic pull. In the movie, I feel like they could’ve taken him out, and it still would’ve been as excellent. (Okina had more presence than he did. ._.)

Saitou Hajime is still top notch cool guy: calculating and demanding and always, always right.

CHO WAS GREAT. He’s my favorite new addition. His actor gave such a good interpretation. I felt like he stole much of the scenes.

There’s a surprise character by the end of the film, so look out for that!

Seeing all these characters come to life on the big screen makes my heart swell like a red balloon. I love the cast of Rurouni Kenshin so much, I think I’d treat Nobuhiro Watsukisensei to free food every single day. (Because I owe him all these beautiful characters! <3)

STORY:

I have a mouthful to say about the story.

Think of it this way: Perhaps one of the largest challenges in translating an anime series into a full-length movie is staying true to the essence of the series (usually 30-minute shows) while staying true the narrative of film-making (approximately an hour and a half). What do you cut? What do you include? What can you possibly contribute to such a rich series, and how will you be able to respect the characters and the fans that feel very protective of them?

The first movie of Rurouni Kenshin revolved around Episode #1.

On the other hand, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno made a mosaic of different episodes and tied it all into one beautiful, singular film. Yes, they changed some crucial details – I’m still resentful about the lack of fireflies because IT WAS SO ICONIC HOW YOU COULD CUT IT – but then afterwards, I GET IT, I GET IT, I GET IT.

The movie takes on its own unique life, while maintaining the integrity of the characters and the narrative of the Kyoto Arc. I am so pleased and so impressed. Keishi Otomo, well done. Screenwriters, I want to shake all your hands vigorously.

This is the word that best described the story: SEAMLESS. Each scene was crafted in such a way that it all connected, one after the other (which is why it’s SO hard to admit to yourself that you need a bathroom break)!

Even though the movie ran for 139 minutes, I only felt like it was 30 minutes. And even though there’s an obvious cliffhanger – don’t worry, part 2 (The Legend Ends) hits the big screen in Manila on September 24 – I still feel like it was such a solid film.

I cannot even begin to describe to you how beautiful the narrative is. There were some moments when I said, “Oh, that’s a little too dramatic, a little too drawn out.” But then there were moments like, “How perfect was that? How do you even think of those minor details that add so much to the undertones of the film? How beautiful was it that you give that line to so-and-so character?”

I’m overflowing with gratitude. I don’t have to wait YEARS for the next installment to come along. Just a month. Just a month and we’ll see the completion of the Kyoto Arc. I am so happy. You’re going to love the ending. What a treat.

They gave me enough to be content with what I saw, and enough to keep me incredibly excited for the next installment.

Congratulations.

There are only three criticisms that I can think of:

    1. There was a scene that was too drawn out and a little over the top. I remember shaking my head and saying, “We get it. That’s too much time spent on something you’ve already shown.”
    2. They sacrificed airtime for some actors. Like I told some of my friends, I was most disappointed with Aoshi Shinomori + Misao Makimachi‘s characters, because I know they deserved so much more than what they were given in this film.
    3. This is my bias talking, but I wish they gave Sano + Cho more airtime too. THEY WERE THE BEST. THE BEST.

(Shameless fangirling: SANO + MEGUMI is my favorite ship in RK, hands down. And here, film makers give them a small, small moment and I am just absolutely content and covering my mouth because I can’t stop smiling.)

FIGHT SCENES:

I’ll come out and say it: even if you’ve never heard of Rurouni Kenshin, you’re going to be a fan of the action sequences. I’m willing to bet that if you’re not a fan of the series, you’re at least going to be a fan of the movie just because these high-energy scenes were done so flawlessly.

How did they make one red-headed guy taking down fifty men NOT look ridiculous? Well, for some reason, it looked totally believable and totally kickass. You see swords make contact, there’s blood, and the sound of metal-on-metal and metal-on-skin made me physically flinch. But even then, the combat scenese were some of the best I’ve seen, ever.

Here were my favorite fight scenes:

1. Kenshin Himura + Soujirou Seta

2. Kenshin Himura + Cho Sawagejo

3. Aoshi Shinomori + Okina

I don’t know how they did it, but your 200+ pesos will be worth it just for these scenes. (And there are more fight scenes than just that!)

Sword fights are always poetic, but even more so in Kyoto Inferno.
I know you’re going to love it. :)

Hearts: ♥♥♥♥ [out of 4]
Verdict: Cinematic masterpiece

Abiding in joy (and a lot of fangirling),

Najee ♥

PS. I’m curious! If RK was the defining series of my life (aside from Disney HAHA), what’s the defining series of yours? :)

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I like being on the floor and crushing ice with my teeth. John 3:30 is a significant verse in my life.

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