Samurai X (review)
Winter to summer 1999 (4 OVAs) (alternate title – Samurai X: Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal)
After being saved by Seijuro, a wise hermit swordsman, he takes the young boy Shinta as his student and gives him a new name—Kenshin. As the years pass, the boy’s resolve for justice and righteousness focuses him into a powerful warrior; a testament to his teacher’s skill. But he’s not satisfied with simply being strong. He wants to use the skills he’s learned to put an end to the wars that bring pain and suffering. Against his teacher’s advice, he comes out of seclusion and dedicates his sword to Katsura, a man whose motives seem to coincide with his own. But when a woman named Tomoe witnesses his skills, Kenshin’s life will soon become swept into confusion.
Samurai X is one of the greatest anime of all time? Gimme a break. Just from a technical standpoint, this anime was made in 1999 and the animation quality doesn’t hold a candle to pretty much any other anime of the late 90s or early 2000s you could name. The third episode of the OVA is a particularly obtuse example of laziness because there are several scenes where they just overlaid the animation with live video. Perhaps this was a vain attempt to make some kind of artistic expression, but all it did was stick out like a sore thumb and take me out of the experience just when I was starting to get emotionally attached.
It’s also full of weird little, unexplained niggles that roughen an otherwise sharp piece of work. One of the things that constantly irked me is Kenshin’s red hair. Why should he be the only unique character in an anime that does a very good job of depicting a truer version of Japan than most? The origin of Kenshin’s x-shaped scar was also a big letdown. I was left with the anticlimactic feeling of, “that’s it?”
The only really redeeming feature of this show is its writing that balances a lot of different themes ranging from historical fiction and bloody action to a little slice of life and tragic romance. But even that isn’t really up to par. The first episode starts out a little broken and does a poor job handling all the flashbacks. Once that’s over, it flows nicely from a story about a self-righteous young man who wants to make the world a better place to a point where he finds that life is not as simple as he thought. However, this philosophical revelation is spat back into our faces when Kenshin just goes right back to the war he now knows full well to be futile and contrary to his goal of ending pain and suffering. I can’t think of a worse conclusion to an otherwise heart-felt series.
I want to make something clear. Unlike other popular anime that I despise, I don’t think Samurai X is bad—simply highly overrated. It’s certainly better than its main series Rurouni Kenshin—if for no other reasons than it has much better pacing, tone and voice acting. But in a lot of ways the OVAs completely devalue Rurouni Kenshin now that I understand his past. I feel somewhat insulted on his part that he could be depicted as such a quirky, typically carefree person in the main series after all he’s experienced. It seems like a rather undignified treatment of Kenshin’s character.
When I go to sites like AnimeNfo, Anime News Network and My Anime List and I look at their list of the best anime, out of all the possible titles the anime community could have latched onto, I can’t see how Samurai X could be anywhere within the top 1000. There’s just nothing to it that warrants such acclaim.