「御庭番強襲」 (Oniwaban Kyōshū)
“The Oniwabanshu Strike”

The first major arc (a precursor of even bigger to come, though whether in this anime is still uncertain) of Rurouni Kenshin is in full swing here. As it has straight from the beginning, this reboot has been very faithful in adapting. As Hunter X Hunter 2011 did, it’s hewing closer to the source material (though H x H did make one big early change) than Furuhashi Kazuhiro’s first adaptations. Both Furuhashi’s efforts were broadly faithful, with a lot of changes in the small details. A lot of those are being reverted here, which some anime-only folks (history repeating itself) take to mean that it’s the new version that’s being unfaithful.

I don’t have a strong preference for one version of RuroKen or the other (unlike with HxH) – both versions are fine, and most (not all) of Furuhashi’s changes were fine too. But the real test will come if and when we get to Kyoto, the apex of Rurouni Kenshin. Furuhashi pretty much nailed that in my view, and you pretty much have to if you’re going to have a good adaptation of this series. As such the Oniwabanshuu arc makes for an interesting acid test. In a sense it’s a sort of dry run for things to come, our first experience with RK in its ultimate form. Yamamoto Hideo and team getting this right would be a very good sign going forward.

So far so good for me. All that shouldn’t give the impression that “Oniwabanshuu” isn’t important in and of itself – it’s a very significant part of the story. As it stands we’re really just at the jumping off point, with the giant Hyottoko making an assault on the Kamiya estate, with Beshimi watching from the shadows. Hyottoko being a seemingly pure power fighter (he carries no weapon), Sano declares that he’s the obvious matchup and proceeds to step into the ring. The has a trick up his sleeve, however – though it’d be more accurate to say down his gullet.

Meanwhile, Megumi takes the opportunity to try and surreptitiously slip away. Kaoru (rather unselfishly, one might argue) is having none of that. She reminds Megumi that Kenshin and Sanosuke are fighting to protect her, for starters – and then makes it clear in no uncertain terms that Kenshin is far more formidable than Megumi realizes. Megumi describes Beshimi as a bottom-tier Oniwaban onmitsu, but Hyottoko as mid-rank, which she says is more than enough to take care of Kenshin and Sano. Oh she of little faith…

Sano is a bit singed after the giant unleashes his special attack on him – breathing fire through a sack of oil in his stomach and flints in his teeth. Kenshin steps in at this point, giving us the somewhat unlikely but still impressive spectacle of sword vs. flame. He’s quite dismissive of both Hyottoko’s attack and his braggadocio, and Kenshin is not the sort to say things he can’t back up. Having seen that Hyottoko is seemingly a literal one-trick pony, Sanosuke returns to finish the job, and makes short work of it. But Beshimi is hiding in the trees, and launches a poisoned projectile at Megumi – one which would have found its mark if Yahiko hadn’t imposed himself on the situation.

The onmitsu who enters the fray after his two comrades are taken down seems a step higher than they. This is Hannya (Okiayu Ryotaro). He proposes a cessation of hostilities to Kenshin, saying he’ll remove his wounded soldiers and leave without further conflict, but Kenshin is having none of that with Yahiko in trouble. Hannya manages to stymie Kenshin in a way we haven’t really seen anyone else manage to thus far (though he pays a price for it), and flees the scene to report back to the leader of the Oniwabanshuu.

One thing should be understood about Yahiko – whatever else he may or may not have in his arsenal, he’s resolutely courageous. Even as he’s becoming more aware of his own limitations (part of his maturation to be sure) and chafing at them, he still believes he can fulfill a role in the Kenshingumi through will and cleverness. None of that helps him as he lies dying of course – stricken by a poison Megumi quickly recognizes as jimsonweed (stramonium). She at least sticks around to take charge of Yahiko’s triage (having seen how strong Kenshin and Sano are, to be fair), making a list of ingredients and sending Kaoru to the local doctor, and Kenshin and Sano off to gather other supplies to save the boy.

The doctor, Oguni Gensai (Tadano Youhei), is rather impressed with Megumi’s detailed preparations and instructions. And once he hears it was done by a woman, he connects it to Megumi – full name Takani Megumi – whose later former boss Gensai-san knew. Megumi is well-versed in Western medicine, and in the courtyard (where Kenshin has stopped yet another escape attempt), she tells him the story of how she got to this point – especially the “spiderweb” opium distillate she was forced to create after her old master was killed by the Kanryuu group for failing to share the recipe. Her story is indeed a sad one, though her options to this point are not easy to reconcile with overall sympathy.

That said, it’s thanks to Megumi’s instructions that Yahiko seems likely to survive his ordeal. And as Ken-chan points out, her fleeing Tokyo isn’t some magic bullet to get away from Kanryuu – she’s far too valuable to him. For the nonce at least she and the Kenshingumi are stuck with each other. And as the epilogue makes clear, Kanryuu has some big plans – bigger, certainly, than his English skills (I’m going to charitably assume that captain was supposed to be Dutch)…

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