Set in Japan’s tumultuous Meiji Era, Rurouni Kenshin is the story of a wandering samurai who tries to atone for his bloody past. And although it came out over a decade ago (in Japan), it’s still one of the most unique manga out there, and one hell of a read.
The manga was a break-out hit for VIZ Media, coming out right when the industry was heating up. Much of its success was tied to the fact that it had already gained a large audience as an anime on Cartoon Network’s popular Toonami block. To this day, it still holds a special place in many fans’ hearts, as it was their introduction to the world of anime.
One of the Rurouni Kenshin manga’s greatest strengths is the period in which it takes place. It’s set in the Meiji Era, which signified the end of the samurai. Swords are outlawed and Japan was becoming modernized and westernized. Naturally, when an era ends, there are those reluctant to give up the old ways, and that’s where a lot of the drama in the series comes from. It’s chock full of bitter swordsmen who can’t survive in the new world and prefer to die fighting then to acclimate. In other words, real men!
Another great feature of this manga is the intense amount historical research Watsuki Sensei put into it. It’s full of fascinating footnotes about Japanese history and the historical figures the characters are based on. Not only do you learn a lot about Japanese history, it adds context to the story, and is really fun to read. Yes, learning can be fun!
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Watsuki Sensei also explains in detail his thought process behind his characters, and feelings about the manga in general. American comics (especially X-Men and Spawn) have a huge influence on his character designs, as well as SNK fighting games like Samurai Showdown (Samurai Spirits in Japan). Part of the fun of reading the manga is seeing new characters and trying to guess the influences, then seeing if you’re right or wrong in the “Secret Life of Characters” pages. And on top of all this, you also get an inside look at Watsuki Sensei’s personal otaku habits and the toys he collects. Very few manga give you this much insight into the creative process and creator's life.
Watsuki Sensei’s art style is also very unique. His thick clean lines, angular style and heavy use of contrast give his work a woodblock-print look at times. His character designs are so angular at times; it almost looks like he mathematically calculated their angles. His art is instantly recognizable and still looks fresh all these years later.
But when it comes down to it, a manga is only as good as it’s main character, and Himura Kenshin is one of the best. His calm polite demeanor makes him instantly likeable. And his habit of referring to himself as “this one” instead of the proper pronouns is a wonderful touch. But inside the polite exterior lies a tortured man haunted by a very bloody past. And that’s where the bulk of the plot lines of the series come from. Despite his desire for a life of peace, Kenshin’s past draws him back into a world of violence again and again.
The supporting cast adds a lot to the manga, as well. Kenshin’s got some of the best rivals in any manga, hands down. And Watsuki Sensei does an excellent job showing Kenshin’s friends’ growth right along with his. Also, many of them get their own side stories as the series progresses, giving you insight into their character.
It’s easy to see how this series took the world by storm. It has all the elements of a great manga. A tortured hero trying to make amends, caught in a world that wont let him rest. A colorful cast of supporting characters, some vicious enemies, an interesting setting, and great art and storytelling. This is a manga that has and will continue to stand the test of time.
The VIZBIGs come loaded with extras. Lots of color pages, nice paper quality, original author notes, and extra historical notes. Considering the amount of manga you get and the quality, the price of $17.99 is a great deal. The only niggling complaint I have is...these VIZBIGs really are BIG! And heavy! It’s quite a workout!
And now this classic series is reborn as Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration and will join the SJ Alpha line-up this Monday, 5/21/12!
Don't miss out! To enjoy the new Rurouni Kenshin manga, become a SJ Alpha Member!
You’ll not only get the best manga line-up, but also access for Members-Only Content, digital gifts, free Yu-Gi-Oh! Promo cards and more!
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For a free digital preview of the original Rurouni Kenshin manga, CLICK HERE!
Rurouni Kenshin Original-Series Manga
Editor-in-Chief Andy Nakatani Interview about New Rurouni Kenshin series
Official Movie Website (Japanese)
Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha
by Urian Brown