“Kasshin-Ryu – Reborn””

I confess, I got a little emotional there in the last couple moments of this episode. That will undoubtedly sound odd to anyone not familiar with Rurouni Kenshin before now, and I get that – it should. If I had no history with this series (or even a different history) I can’t imagine I’d have felt this way. But I can’t watch this reboot divorced from that history, and it’s one that runs very deep with me as a fan. It’s the knowledge that I’m going to come to love these characters so much that set me off – I see their future when I watch their present, and it’s kind of a powerful experience.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure this is the first anime I’ve ever deeply loved to get this sort of reboot (though the list of ones I love as much as RuroKen is very short). At the time Hunter X Hunter 2011 and FMA: Brotherhood came around I had basically no exposure to the manga, and with HxH an incomplete experience even with the first anime. I often found myself in the position of defending HxH 2011 from what seemed like knee-jerk complaints from partisans of the ’99 show (which largely dried up by the end). Here, the shoe is on the other foot in that I do love the Gallup-Furuhashi version (ironically, he directed HxH 1999 too). But I admit its flaws – I did even then – and so far, I think Lidenfilms and Yamamoto Hideo are holding up their end of the bargain.

Implicit in that history is the knowledge that the best with Rurouni Kenshin is still very much yet to come (assuming this anime gets to it). What we’re seeing in these early episodes are basically the narrative equivalent of establishing shots. Watsuki is world-building and laying the groundwork for where these characters are going to go. If disillusionment was the overriding theme last week, this time around it’s pride. Kenshin’s arc is often driven by that disillusionment theme, but Yahiko is the poster boy for pride – both the positive and negative sides of it. It’s not a coincidence that it’s one of the seven deadly sins (FMA got that), but there are two faces on that coin.

Yahiko is a foul-mouthed, tactless brat – but he’s undeniably courageous and true to his ideals. It’s no coincidence that he only gets really mad when his yakuza tormentors go after his parents, not him. It’s pride that makes Yahiko stand up to them even when he has no chance of winning, and no question many would call that a dumb move given the likely end result. But that’s Yahiko. And he was probably overdue for a shot of good luck (not as if that helped most people in his situation) like having Himura come into his life. And Kaoru too – she’s the one that spotted him being beaten, and called Kenshin in to help.

Kenshin checks out every yakuza den in town looking for Yahiko, because that’s the sort of guy he is. The truth of the matter is, thugs like this are not any sort of opponent for Kenshin. There are many contradictions to his existence (as I noted last week), and among them is the impact his reputation has. It precedes him, and any zaku like the yakuza boss will know that standing against him is both pointless and painful. Kenshin can avoid a lot of fights because once he’s shown what he can do, others will happily avoid them. But that reputation also draws men who aren’t so weak as to be cowed – ones who want to test themselves against him (for pride or otherwise). If you read Vagabond or indeed just study the life of Miyamoto Musashi, you’ll get a sense for the existential suffering that can cause a man.

Kenshin understands pride. He understands how being savedneeding to be saved – aggrieves Yahiko. He does his best to frame this situation in a way where Yahiko can accept the help he needs and keep his pride intact, because Kenshin knows that’s what he has to do. He’s already chased off a bunch of wannabe battousai who show up at the Kamiya dojo expecting the guy who trashed the sword-wielding police to teach them Hiten Mitsurugi-ryuu (was this the first time we’ve heard it named?) – he intends to take that school to the grave. That sucks for Kaoru but he’s right, she can’t save her dojo that way. Better to start small – with one small student – who can actually commit to the process.

In fact, two of her former students bring a whole heap of trouble down on the dojo shortly thereafter. They’ve gotten drunk and gotten into a fracas with the Hachisuka Guren gang, and fled to Kaoru to shield them. She’s a pushover, but Yahiko has learned street smarts – he spots (and smells) their deception immediately. Still, Kaoru takes responsibility as their former teacher – even when Hachisuka (Hiyama Nobuyuki) himself shows up with a wooden cannon (yes, that was a thing in post-Boshin Japan). Is this too pride at work, Kaoru taking the fall for a couple of punks who ditched her as soon as things got uncomfortable? She is who she is – just like Yahiko (and Himura).

Once again we see Kenshin’s reputation assert itself here – Hachisuka too knows enough to know he’s not someone who can mess with the likes of Kenshin. But Yahiko has seen something he respects in Kaoru – namely, doing something he probably would have done himself in her place – and that’s enough to convince him not to look this gift horse in the mouth any longer. Meanwhile, another prideful fellow has shown up in town, and Hachisuka finds himself on the wrong end of the stick with him, too (and once more enthusiastically capitulates). This new player is no zaku however, that’s for sure…

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