Rurouni Kenshin, Season 2, Disc 1 – “Shadow of the Wolf”
It seems like it’s the year of “Rurouni Kenshin”, so I finally decided I was going to rewatch the Kyoto arc and bloody well post it to the site! Grr! Get your head in the game, nichan! You can do it!
This is disc 1 of the second season: “Shadow of the Wolf”
Episode 28 – “Prelude to the Impending Fight: The Shadow of the Wolf Draws Near”
(…I think this episode ought to be subtitled, “Do we think the titles should be really long this time around: yes, we really, really, totally, absolutely, utterly do.”)
The awesome thing about the first disc of this season is… well… everything. This disc is exactly half of what “Rurouni Kenshin” is at its best: beautiful, stunning, tremendously dramatic. It has bits of the other half, which is comedy, but this disc is an arc within itself, and it’s a knock-down, drag-out, uber-melodrama fest. Wicked cool.
Things start off with Kenshin having a sudden fit of post traumatic stress. He’s dreaming of the past… The bloody, violent, not-particularly-nice past. In this case, the focus is on Kyoto, and that scene from “Betrayal” where he gets in a fight with Saito Hajime.
Anyway, this episode is mostly flashbacks to fights and scenes where modern-day Kenshin is zoning out. So… We’ll leave it at that.
Episode 29 – “The Strongest Opponent from the Past: Merciless Fangs Strike!”
Sanouske’s sitting at the dojo one day having a fit that no one is around. He has a sinking suspicion they’ve all gone out for dinner, and that means he can’t mooch any food off of them. His whining fest gets interrupted, though, by the arrival of a door-to-door medicine dealer…
But something’s not quite right about this guy, and Sanouske winds up in his usual position when meeting new people:
When the crew returns home (from having dinner, by the way), it’s to find the dojo somewhat wrecked (it must cost Kaoru an arm and a leg to house so many violent people who continually do damage to her property…) and Sano in a total mess: he’s got a broken sword blade in his shoulder, and he’s been beaten to a pulp.
Kenshin realizes immediately what’s happened: Hajime’s come looking for him. This isn’t by accident, either, because Hajime’s left obvious clues on purpose. He wants Kenshin to know he’s resurfaced after ten years of being absent; he’s that kind of fellow. …He even sends him a letter and tells him to meet him outside of town.
While Kenshin’s gone, a police man arrives and asks to wait for him. Kaoru agrees, and Yahiko chats him up. It seems pretty innocent, right? But, with a fit of awesome animation, we soon learn things are not as they seem! [*cue dramatic music!*]
(Speaking of music: the music is really cool on this disc. I don’t know what the name of the one song is that keeps repeating, but let’s nickname it “The Battousai’s Theme” for kicks, shall we?)
Kenshin and Hajime… They don’t exactly have a good history together. Hajime beating up Sano was bad enough, but add in toying with Kenshin, and then add in just inviting himself into the dojo! Well! …Kenshin immediately goes into hardcore rage mode. Not just any ordinary this-is-Kenshin-and-sometimes-he-gets-really-angry rage. Oh no, no, no…
But Karou’s pleas go unheeded: this fury runs too deep, and Kenshin can’t stop it. He starts to unravel into his former self way more than he’s ever fallen so far. He and Hajime start to do some serious battle right then and there.
Episode 30: The Devil of Vengeance: Makoto Shishio’s Plot
Now, while Kenshin’s spent the past ten years being a wanderer, and while he’s vowed never to kill again, Hajime… Hajime’s maybe not gone down that same route. He’s remained strong and stern, and while it seems like his original intention hadn’t been to kill Kenshin then and there, he’s willing to do it if he has to. And, as Sano eventually comments, the fight stops taking place in the Tokyo of the present, and instead begins to take place in the Kyoto of the past. The animation here is pretty awesome as the two swordsmen really go after each other with progressively more antagonism and pride.
Just as things are getting super serious, and Kenshin’s about to snap into full-on there’s-no-turning-back-now battousai mode, visitors arrive and break up the fight. Perfect timing!
Okubo then explains why he’s there: Makoto Shishio. When Kenshin had stopped fighting in the revolution, Shishio became his replacement. But, while Kenshin had been fighting to save Japan from itself, Shishio was only in it for the power. Feeling that they couldn’t trust him with their secrets, the Meiji government had decided in the end to kill him by pouring oil on him and lighting him on fire. …That’s the kind of thing that will make a fellow mad, and since Shishio didn’t die, well… He’s pretty friggin’ mad.
Kaoru, Megumi, Yahiko, and Sano all flip out: Okubo’s basically asking Kenshin to become an assassin once more and go after Shishio. They all flatly refuse on his behalf, but Okubo presses on and says he’ll talk to Kenshin in a few days’ time to see what he’s decided.
Episode 31 – “A Wish Unrequited: Kenshin Departs”
This episode is utter genius in the “Kenshin” universe. It’s got everything, including extra music and a big moment with fireflies and stuff. So epic.
The day for Kenshin’s decision has come. …And he hasn’t yet told anyone what he’s planning on doing.
Meanwhile, though, things aren’t going so well for Okubo…
There had been a threat of assassination against Okubo from a different group, and the few people who were aware of it realize that Shishio had taken advantage of the timing to send his own murderer. Just as the cops are inspecting the scene of the crime, Kenshin shows up and goes into utter shock.
Word immediately spreads that Okubo has been killed, and people go into a panic. Kenshin and Hajime have a meeting with Okubo’s men, and Kenshin’s pressured even more into going back to Kyoto to fight Shishio. If he doesn’t go, they argue, Shishio will destroy the government, one man at a time, until all of Japan is in chaos.
Meanwhile, back at the dojo, everyone is tensely waiting for Kenshin’s return. They’re all telling themselves that he won’t go to Kyoto to kill Shishio, and they insist upon it even more now that Okubo’s dead. But before he comes back, Megumi has to run off for an emergency, and Sano accompanies her, and Kaoru wanders off in a nervous stupor.
And then things go down. Here comes the big, big, super dramatic part with the extra music and the mood lighting and the fireflies and the slightly-different-than-normal animation. Some heavy stuff is about to go down.
Kaoru goes down by the creek where the fireflies are, and stares off into the dark, wondering where Kenshin is, and why he hasn’t returned, and if he’ll leave for Kyoto to become the battousai once again. And, out of the night, he eventually appears. He explains that Okubo was killed by Shishio, and that if someone doesn’t put an end to the man’s plans, every last stray bit of peace in Japan will come to an end.
And then… Then Kenshin goes, back into the night, to leave Tokyo. He’d told Kaoru at the beginning that he was a wanderer, and that he might someday wander off again.
So! What will the next chapter of Kenshin’s life be like? Will he get to Kyoto? Will he work with Hajime? Will he defeat Shishio?
You’ll just have to wait for Disc 2 of Season 2: “Ice Blue Eyes”!