「理想の男」 (Risou no Otoko)
“The Ideal Man”
I knew the Raijuuta arc was better than its reputation. That, unfortunately, is based mostly on the 1996 anime’s treatment of it – which left a lot to be desired. That reflected director Furuhashi Kazuhiro’s reported disinterest in the arc, perhaps due to its reliance on the “decline of kenjutsu” theme Furuhashi played down generally speaking. It also probably doesn’t help that its sandwiched roughly in-between the two flashiest arcs of the Tokyo saga, featuring its two most-beloved guest characters.
Even I’ve been a bit surprised by just how good these last two episodes have been, though. And this one really flew by – there wasn’t so much as a wasted moment here. The focus here is actually more on Yutaro, Raijuuta’s apprentice (in name only). Raijuuta declaration of Kenshin as an enemy closed out last week’s episode, and he wastes no time in acting on it. This duel is a one-way street – Raijuuta relentlessly attacks, and Ken dodges seemingly without too much trouble. Just as Raijuuta is mocking him for running away, Kenshin takes a battoujutsu stance and shows the attacker in no uncertain terms what God-like speed is all about (and how he got his nickname).
That settles things for the moment, though clearly only for the moment. Yahiko and Yutaro pick up where they left off, and Yahiko challenges the lad to stop following Raijuuta around like a dog and come to challenge him on his own. Which he does, in the middle of the night. But it soon becomes clear that any notion of Raijuuta “training” the boy is a farce – Yutaro doesn’t even know how to grip a shinai properly. Kaoru having a natural sympathy for lost little boys (and a desperate need for students) offers to give Yutaro some training, and he and Yahiko have a chance to continue their developing rivalry.
That in itself is an interesting topic. There was some talk that Watsuki intended to make Yutaro into a full-on rival for Yahiko, in true battle shounen fashion. I won’t spoil for those of you who don’t know the series even now, but circumstances took things in some different directions, and we’ll never know for sure. What’s clear is that there are many parallels between the two boys’ stories. Like Yahiko Yutaro is a the son of a samurai and fiercely proud of it. But rather than destitute, Yutaro’s father became rich by abandoning the samurai life and becoming a sword merchant (specializing in the overseas trade). His shame over that is what’s driving Yutaro to learn swordsmanship – as Kenshin notes, so similar to Yahiko and yet so different.
What’s also clear is that the whole “bandit attack” which delivered Yutaro and his father into Raijuuta’s hands is as much of a lie as calling himself Yutaro’s master. Raijuuta is a very principled man, in a way – it’s only one principle but he does believe the hell out of it. The problem is no other principles will stand in his way in trying to achieve his goal. That would including ambushing Kenshin as he walks the estate with the others – hardly an honorable way for one swordsman to challenge another.
Kenshin dealt with Raijuuta with seeming ease the first time they clashed, but the latter was holding back his ultimate attack – Tobi-Izuna, a slashing technique which relies on creating a vacuum and sending it flying outward like a blade. Kenshin is surprised enough by this to have to dodge it – but in doing so, he allows it to cut Yutaro. The truth is out there now and Kenshin is already pissed, but when Raijuuta shows no concern whatsoever for having injured his own student, he’s clearly had enough. He promises Raijuuta a true duel once he’s taken Yutaro for treatment, and it’s clear from his demeanor that he means business.
Awakening this sleeping tiger is a pretty terrible idea, but Raijuuta has no idea what he’s let himself in for. Unfortunately for Yutaro, though his life is not in danger the attack has severed the nerves and tendons in his right arm, rendering it useless for swordsmanship. That may not mean anything to Raijuuta, but for Kenshin it’s a betrayal of everything a swordsman and master of a style should stand for. All the more proof, then, that it swordsmanship’s only path forward to the one Raijuuta aspires to, it’s not worth saving.