Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
And so, after 255 Chapters, 28 standard volumes, 9 Viz Big volumes, Nobushiro Watsuki’s Rurouni Kenshin comes to an end. The showdown between Enishi and Kenshin is at hand, but can even Kenshin stand against such a driven and insane foe? And if he can, will the climax deliver?
In some of the afterwards and chapter breaks, Watsuki shares his opinions and thoughts on this final arc, talking about how the final product is a result of a clash between two internal creative desires within himself. He also talks at length about the various villains, including the Jinchu group and more. These text pieces make it clear that he himself was unsure about the portrayal of certain characters and that he was aware of how weak and unthreatening several of them came off, and to be honest, I’m inclined to agree with a great deal of Watsuki’s own opinions. The antagonists throughout this arc, and in this volume in particular, with the exception of Enishi himself, are pretty forgettable beyond the fact that half of them look like Marvel characters. When the time comes for the final confrontations in this volume, there’s absolutely no tension, no sense of build up, momentum or excitement at all. Kenshin’s allies never feel like they’re in danger or threatened in any way. That’s not the feeling and sense you want when you’re heading into the climax of the entire series. Sadly this isn’t something that’s unique to the finale, even in the previous volume the fights between Kenshin’s allies and Enishi’s Jinchu companions were lacking in tension and danger until Enishi himself got involved. That’s still the case here, and while the final fight between Enishi and Kenshin is insane and over the top, it also feels a little hollow, due in large part to lack of build up before hand. As a result the entire Jinchu arc ends up feeling a bit anticlimactic. Thankfully it doesn’t end there and we get quite a bit of an epilogue, showing the departure and future of most of Kenshin’s allies, including a small one off story depicting Yahiko as an older teen and a swordsman in his own right. The epilogue’s and Yahiko’s side story are nice codas to the rest of the series, but the damage was done and what should have been an emotionally intense and dramatic climax just fell flat.
While Watsuki’s writing may have been a little lacking, his visuals continued to deliver until the very end. Enishi and Kenshin’s final duel is intense and at times it feels like they action is straining against the constraints of the printed page. The bright white paper of the Viz Big edition makes the heavy black lines really pop, something that’s especially useful when Watsuki depicts intense impacts in what appear to be sprays of black ink. The way the characters often breakdown into motion lines like thatching does a solid job at conveying impact or motion and also looks amazing against the bright white paper. As mentioned above there are a few issues with the characters, including some last minute antagonists. While they may not have been much character wise, there’s something memorable about the simplicity and uniformity of their designs. Throughout the series most of Kenshin’s adversaries have looked unique, so the introduction of a group of characters sharing similar design with only minor modifications stands out and gives them more visual impact. Watsuki’s visual story telling here felt fantastic and he did an amazing job at showing the emotional beats and states of Kenshin and Enishi throughout the duel. His slight redesigns of the Rurouni Kenshin cast for one of the epilogues isn’t terribly extreme or exciting, though Yahiko’s outfit is fantastic and integrates features and nods to the various people who’ve influenced and helped him along the way. It almost made me wish that Watsuki had continued with Rurouni Kenshin or did a longer spin off series focusing on Yahiko himself.
It’s sad to see the series go, especially on an anticlimactic note such as this. While the Enishi/Kenshin rivalry itself was fairly well done even if the ending didn’t quite click for me. Meanwhile, the supporting cast on Enishi’s side just felt flat and hollow throughout the entire arc, sapping any drama and tension surrounding the possible fates of Kenshin’s friends from the story, while at the same time giving them nothing to do other than spout their ideals in stereotypical shonen fashion. In the end it looks like the emotional and dramatic high point of the series was definitely the Kyoto arc, though the Jinchu stuff is worth reading for the insight into Kenshin’s past alone.
Rurouni Kenshin, Vol. 9 (Viz Big Edition) is available now from Viz.
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