Manga in Minutes: Rurouni Kenshin, Vol. 7 (Viz Big Edition)
The seventh volume of the Viz Big Edition of Nobuhiro Watsuki’s stellar series, Rurouni Kenshin sees Enishi and his comrades continue to harry and attack Kenshin and his allies, before launching into their all or nothing assault against the Kamiya dojo itself! Before this massive three-in-one volume is over, some of the most asked questions about the series will be answered as the curtain is finally lifted on Kenshin’s blood soaked past.
For those just joining us, Rurouni Kenshin tells the story of Himura Kenshin, a swordsman who fought for the reformers during the troubled Bakumatsu period, the era immediately before the Meiji Restoration which saw supporters of the Shogun and Emperor clashing. Kenshin sided with the Emperor’s supporters during the time, acting as an assassin and bodyguard. Since the end of that turbulent he’s wandered Japan, seeking a way to atone for the blood he spilled. After meeting up with a young girl named Kaoru, he settled down at her dojo and has been living there since, dealing with the various issues and antagonists who have risen up. In the past he’s clashed with an arms dealer, former swordsman who wished to return Japan to feudal era like state, and a fellow assassin hellbent on destroying Japan for his own twisted reasons. Now, however, Kenshin and his allies face a figure intimately linked to his past and his decision to never kill again.
The highlight of this new story arc, aside from the fact that we finally get a look into Kenshin’s past, is its deep connections with Japanese history. Now, that might be a turn off for some people, but for me it’s just the opposite. My favorite arcs within Rurouni Kenshin have all dealt with the events of that tumultuous era in Japanese history. While the recently concluded Kyoto arc certainly had it’s roots in historical events, it didn’t deal with the events of the revolution as directly as this volume does. A large chunk of this book is a flash back to Kenshin’s past which is knee deep in the happenings of 19th century Japan. Historical figures and groups such as the Shinsengumi, a famous group of swordsmen supporting the Shogunate, pop in and out of the story, lending Kenshin’s past a certain weight that it might not carry otherwise. Beyond the glimpses into both Japan’s past and Kenshin’s own, there’s some other interesting character bits strewn throughout the book as well. Yahiko, the youngest member of Kenshin’s entourage has longed to be useful and not just a bystander in the fights that occupy much of the series. While he took a large step forward in that regard during the Kyoto arc, it’s here that we finally see him beginning to realize just how far he’s come and progressed.
Nobuhiro Watsuki’s artwork continues to shine. He has a fantastic eye for action sequences and this volume features several strong ones, including a nice hand to hand sequence between Kenshin’s brawler ally, Sanosuke, and one of the new antagonists. The artwork looks incredibly crisp and sharp, with the heavy black lines Watsuki often favors in action sequences, standing out beautifully against the thicker, white paper stock used for this Viz Big Editions. If there’s a weak spot in the books visuals, it’s quite possibly in some of the newer character designs. Now, Watsuki’s character designs have generally been pretty solid, with a few characters really standing out as incredibly memorable. That said, he’s an admitted American comics fan and on occasion has drawn inspiration from American comics. In the past this wasn’t much of a problem. For example, when he decided to riff off Gambit’s visual appearance he modified it enough that it fit into the time period pretty seamlessly. Sadly that’s not quite the case here. He draws inspirations from several notable Marvel villains, but doesn’t do nearly enough to distance them from their American roots. As a result we end up with some rather jarring moments when suddenly Apocalypse and Venom turn up in feudal Japan.
Despite some of my qualms about the questionable character design decisions, I’m still really enjoying Rurouni Kenshin. It’s one of the few shonen series I genuinely enjoy reading and find myself rereading as the years go by.
Ruouni Kenshin, Vol. 7 (Viz Big Edition) is available now from Viz.?