May 15th, 2015

Firechick's Anime Reviews: Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal

265th completed anime! Yes!

I give this prequel to one of the most well loved manga/anime series ever...a 90/100!

I have a confession to make: I've never seen Rurouni Kenshin. I've known of its existence for a long time, but I haven't seen the 90 episode anime. I did see one episode of it dubbed, but that was because my college anime club showed it for historical fiction week, along with three other shows. It never interested me, and in a way it still doesn't interest me now. I don't think I can commit myself to a 90 episode anime, especially if its full of pointless filler. But one of my favorite bloggers was praising this up the wazoo and said that I didn't need to know about the show or manga in order to enjoy it, and I kinda wanted to watch something dark and mature since I hadn't seen any dark and mature shows for a while. I can't believe I'm saying this...but I absolutely adore Trust and Betrayal despite not knowing anything about Rurouni Kenshin at all, neither anime nor manga (I might read the manga when I can. I'll probably just rent it at the library).

On a cold night, a band of warriors kill slave traders, leaving a young boy as the only survivor. A swordsman named Seijuro Hiko takes the boy in, renaming him Kenshin, and teaching him the ways of the sword. Kenshin grows into a killer who kills people in order to defend the innocent in a world infected by corruption, disease, poverty, malice, and greed. One would think that his humanity is as good as gone, but when circumstances force him to pair up with a woman named Yukishiro Tomoe, Kenshin gradually realizes that life without the sword can actually be good for him, and that the world isn't all evil. But the awful truths still remain, and not everyone can be trusted.

I have to admit, the animation, for its time, was absolutely sumptuous, especially in the fight scenes. They are all well choreographed, there are so scenes where characters just fly faster than the speed of light to hit their enemies, the blood and gore (yes, it is very bloody and not for the faint of heart) actually serves a purpose instead of just being there for the sake of being dark and edgy, the gore itself is realistic, and the characters move believably. The anime also takes a lot of care in showing both the good and the bad of feudal Japan, especially in regards to dress, customs, food, etc. I love an anime that does its research. But if there's one thing that bothers me, its the fact that sometimes for no real reason, the scenes switch from 2D animation to live action scenery, such as candle flames flickering, snow falling, sunbeams through the trees, etc. It really doesn't fit well here. I don't get why they didn't just draw those scenes out, as putting in live action scenery just really takes you out of the atmosphere. Also, I have a very hard time believing that someone is actually capable of slicing a person's entire head in half, right through the skull and all, let alone slicing an entire person in half with just a katana. For the most part, the fight scenes are realistic and well animated, but I do think some of the feats Kenshin pulls off, such as the ones I mentioned above, kinda push my suspension of disbelief VERY much.

The music really does its job well. There's no opening theme song, and the ending theme song is mostly an instrumental piece, but I don't really have much to say about the music except that it's plain awesome and the assigned pieces fit their assigned atmosphere well. When it wants to be creepy, the music is creepy. When there's battles and sword fights going on, the music is epic and bombastic. Quiet moments have quiet music. Every single piece of background music is used very well, and they all fit their assigned scenes. It knows when to be subtle and when to really go all out.

The main characters are the ones who steal the show, and since the story is centered completely around them in a span of just four episodes, they develop wonderfully. Even the romance between them is beautifully and subtly executed, and nothing is forced or artificial between them. The side characters, on the other hand, don't have much to go on. Some of them I even hate because of their actions. Kenshin and Tomoe are the stars of this OVA, and the OVA knows it, and it fleshes them all out in great detail. They pretty much make the OVA what it is, a tale of two lovers learning from each other and learning about new sides of life and each other, even in the face of tragedy. I don't think this OVA would be good if they weren't in it.

I have to admit though, I saw the English dub first, and while normally I don't like to be negative about English dubs, as I prefer to be someone who gives things a fair chance as I've seen many good dubs that people hate for no real reason, but...Trust and Betrayal's English dub isn't very good. Granted, the scripting is faithful to the sub, the dialogue fits with the setting and the time period, and the lip flaps match the lines just fine. It's just...the voice acting. Either the characters' voices don't fit or the actors clearly CANNOT emote for the life of them, the worst offenders being Kenshin and Enishi. I may not have seen the TV series in its entirety, but I know that in the show, Kenshin was voiced by Richard Cansino, but in the OVAs, he's voiced by someone named J. Shannon Weaver, who...makes Kenshin sound like an emotionless emo kid who smoked too much crack. And that's not his only problem! During emotional and epic scenes, Weaver absolutely cannot emote or raise his voice enough to make his performance convincing in any way whatsoever, which really kill the moments for me. Everyone else is the exact same way. The actors don't seem to care about their work here, and don't seem to want to give their all in their performances. Say what you want about the Attack on Titan dub and its scripting problems, but at least the actors could emote and put their heart and soul into their performances. Also, Enishi. GOOD GOD, Enishi's voice is the worst in the entire dub! He's supposed to be a preteen kid or something, but he sounds like a 40 year old man who's trying way too hard to sound like Carl from the Jimmy Neutron cartoons, it's THAT bad! I've heard bad voices, but Enishi' pretty much the worst voice I've ever heard. You want to know what the sad thing is? Even though ADV licensed this in their early days, they picked Monster Island studios to do the voice casting, and Monster Island is usually known for producing very good dubs for anime such as Nadia and Petite Princess Yucie, among other titles. Clearly, Trust and Betrayal was not one of their better dubbing efforts. And who was the casting director responsible for giving Kenshin and Enishi terrible voices?!

But yeah, if you want a genuinely good story with great build up, intense scenes, and a well executed romance, definitely put this on your list, especially if you're into period-anime. Just don't watch it in English.