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The subject of live action films, a long running television series, and multiple video releases, Himura Kenshin is one of anime’s most recognizable and enduring characters. The wandering samurai we know from the Rurouni Kenshin anime series is a kind pacifist, though we also know that he was once the brutal battousai (manslayer). Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen (known as Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal in North America) is a two-part release that pulls no punches in revealing his history; while beautifully animated and instilled at once with both cold and romantic tones, it’s also a very bloody work, a vast departure from the more light-hearted series, which makes it all the more striking.
Himura Kenshin, a great swordsman with high ideals, is at the center of all the violence in Trust and Betrayal, usually inflicting it upon others. It’s a surprising path for a young man who grew up single-mindedly set on saving others by the strength of his sword. But in his eagerness to aid the common person during the revolution which would eventually lead to Japan’s Meiji Era, Kenshin easily falls for the pretext set forth by Katsura, the leader of a faction opposing the shogunate. Katsura takes the swordsman’s immeasurable abilities and uses him even though he knows that doing so will destroy Kenshin’s humanity.
To keep Kenshin in line so that he may continue to carry out assassinations, Katsura asks Tomoe, a woman Kenshin has affections for, to act as a calming “sheath” for the young swordsman. Tomoe, however, has a secret as well: her fiance was assassinated by Kenshin, and she is acting as a spy to deliver him to his death. What she didn’t expect, though, was to see the kind heart behind Kenshin’s bloody actions, and to fall in love with him. When Tomoe returns to the shogunate agent who hired her, she’s torn, and becomes enraged when the agent admits that he was using her the entire time.
Both Kenshin and Tomoe were deceived by individuals who exposed their weaknesses. Katsura turned Kenshin into a killing machine by preying on his innocence while the Tokugawa agent ensnared him by exploiting Tomoe’s grief and anger. These masterful deceivers found vulnerable spots and pounced.
Far apart as we are from times of samurai and the Bakumatsu, I still find myself able to relate to Kenshin and Tomoe’s situations. Bad can become worse when we’re vulnerable. How quickly can an argument with a spouse turn into a night on the town when we might do the unthinkable? How easily can a bad grade lead to despondence and a lack of studying, rather than further diligence? How often does a regrettable word or action lead to distant and broken relationships?
In Tsuiokuhen, a bad ending seems unavoidable. Kenshin approaches the final boss, the imposing shogunate agent, physically and emotionally wounded. Tomoe, on the other hand, lies in wait to see the “second love” of her life die, only mere months after the death of her first love.
But then, something fantastic and heartbreaking occurs. In the midst of his battle, one that he is losing, Kenshin recalls why he is fighting in the first place. He remembers the sacrifice made by women who barely knew him, who gave up their lives to save Kenshin when he was an enslaved child about to be slaughtered by vagabonds. He also thinks upon Tomoe, who helped him remember his humanity and taught him to love. And Kenshin gains the strength to fight back.
Tomoe, too, finds her strength. She intervenes in the conflict, throwing herself between the fighters and sacrificing her life to save Kenshin’s in one of anime’s most heartbreaking deaths.
Kenshin and Tomoe’s minds were clouded by lies and deception. When the falsehoods they clung to withered away, they were left with nothing but pain and uncertainty, until they each turned to the truth. And in truth, they found something solid to stand upon, something strong and just, something worth fighting for.
And as it so often is, the truth Kenshin and Tomoe found was love–love that saved them and that transformed them.
Honesty and love—words that might be toted about too frequently by Hallmark—are the most important values in my life. Lies bother me, and if TV dramas have taught me anything, they never end well anyway. I believe that if you love someone, you should be honest with them, even when the truth is hurtful. The bond of love grows out of honesty, and honesty begets love. Kenshin and Tomoe learned that. Truth set them free, and love made them strong.
He can also be found, however, feeding his other nerd habits, including A Song of Ice and Fire. Charles also remains hopelessly stuck in the 90's, maybe best demonstrated by his unexplainable passion for The Phantom Menace.
A historian and director at a government agency by day, Charles joins in the work of college and digital ministry is his off-time, while growing each day in the round-the-clock charge of being a husband and father.
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