OP2 Sequence

OP2: 「るろうの形代」 (urou no Katashiro) by (Masaki Suda, Tokoyo Ska Paradise Orchestra)

「弥彦の戦い」 (Yahiko no Tatakai)
“Yahiko’s Battle”

A new cour, a new OP (much improved) and a new ED for RuroKen. Hopefully this is the second of many cours – that’s what a lot of people seem to be assuming but I’m certainly not taking it for granted. This was another of those watershed episodes I remember from the manga and the first series (which I actually started before I did the manga). There are some nice comic moments here (Kenshin and Sano pretending to be cicadas has always stuck out in my memory), but it’s also sneaky important on the character side, not just for Yahiko but the entire dynamic among the main cast.

Yahiko isn’t a generic kid character in a shounen about adults – not by a long shot. Watsuki’s focus on the character starts with the fact that he’s abjectly a self-insert, representing the mangaka’s frustrations at being smaller and weaker than those around him. He’s also someone who has to be resolutely brave without necessarily having the weapons to back it up. Yahiko is good, and getting better, at the basics of swordsmanship in the Kamiya Kasshin style. But he’s a small boy – there are limits. Yet it never seems to deter him from acting on his ideals, to the point where one might call it recklessness.

There’s a definite family dynamic to what develops at the Kamiya dojo. Kaoru’s feelings are obvious, but Yahiiko, Kenshin, and Sanosuke have a very interesting relationship. For Sano Kenshin is pretty clearly a role model and older brother, but for Yahiko something closer to a father I think. And Kenshin puts himself in the mindset of one whether he realizes it or not – or at the very least, a mentor. He may decline to teach Yahiko (or anyone else) Hiten Mitsurugi-ryuu, determined as he is to take it to his grave. But he’s quite serious about teaching Yahiko how to be an honorable man.

When Yahiko is ditching his lessons, Kenshin gently chides him for it without prying – just a little reminder that he disapproves. Kaoru is convinced the boy is sneaking out to eat (with her cooking, who could blame him), Sano that he’s found a girl, and Kenshin that he’s practicing his swordsmanship in secret (all quite revealing guesses about the guesser). As it turns out all of them are a little bit right. Yahiko has taken a job at the Akabeko (for reasons he’s not keen to reveal), where works a young girl named Sanjou Tsubame (Oono Yuuko) – though Tae-san says she came to work there after Yahiko did.

Here we see another example of how small-time scoundrels were the scourge of the post-revolution period in Japan. Nagaoka Mikio (Masaaki Mizunaka) is another samurai adrift in the new era, and he too has turned to crime. Tsubame, child of a lower-ranking samurai family, is roped into his scheme to rob the Akabeko and its owner’s home. Yahiko’s sense of justice has always been hyperactive, and he’s not prepared to take this lying down. And even at his size he can take Mikio’s flunkies – one on one. But when they gang up on him, he has no answers, and Tsubame has to capitulate to Mikio’s demand that she turn over the clay mold of the keys he’s ordered her to make.

I remember these details so clearly – like Yahiko wincing after making his heroic jump down from the rooftop, and the back-and-forth with Tsubame over “Yahiko-chan”. Again we see Kenshin taking a very nuanced position with regards to Yahiko. Unless the lad asks for help, this is his fight – not only important for his pride, but his growth as a swordsman. Mind you Ken is not going to let Yahiko be killed (and neither are Sanosuke or Kaoru) but he is going to let him handle things himself. He does ask Kenshin for advice on how to handle multiple opponents, and Kenshin offers a tactic from the Bakamatsu days – but one Yahiko isn’t physically ready to take on. It does, however, give the boy an idea – one he puts into practice very cleverly in his final showdown with Mikio and his hoodlums.

As for Yahiko’s reasons for wanting to earn money, Sano and Kaoru’s reaction reveal why he wasn’t anxious to admit he was saving up for a sakabatou. Kenshin is the only one who takes him seriously – because Kenshin would never do anything to demean Yahiko’s sense of self-worth, for starters. But also because he recognizes that the impulse behind Yahiko’s wish is perfectly consistent both with the example he himself is trying to set, and with the ideals of the swordsmanship Kaoru is teaching him. Yahiko has earned his respect, and Kenshin is very willing to treat him accordingly.

I’ve mentioned before that I consider Himura Kenshin possibly the perfect protagonist. His backstory is pretty much unequalled in shounen where pathos is concerned, and as a character he’s as compelling and endearing as they come. But he’s also something close to the perfect mentor – an adult who takes the feelings of “his” child seriously, and acts to guide and protect him without smothering his ability to grow on his own. Of all the relationships in Rurouni Kenshin – and there are seemingly endless fascinating ones – the bond between Kenshin and Yahiko is unsurpassed in my book.


ED2 Sequence

ED2: 「存在証明)」 (Sonzai Shoumei) by (Kid Phenomenon)

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