“Settling the Score”
I won’t pretend I’ve thought about Raijuuta a lot over the past twenty years or so. On the occasions I’ve gone back to Rurouni Kenshin (I’ve re-watched the anime and re-read the manga multiple times), and that’s about it. When Ruroken thoughts came unbidden they were usually of “Kyoto” or “Jinchuu”, the two arcs that define the series for most. But this reboot has gotten me thinking about the character, and why his reputation is as trashed as it is. Is is the hatchet job Furuhashi did on this arc, or the reservations Watsuki himself expressed about it years later? Or is there something deeper there? Because to me, the manga version always seemed quite good.
Refreshing myself on the Raijuuta arc’s ending after a very long time, I suspect part of it comes down to misunderstanding what Watsuki was trying to do with the character. Setting aside the matter of Yutaro and his allegedly untapped potential (a valid topic for debate but a separate issue), the cardinal sin of this arc for many was making Raijuuta as pathetic as he turned out to be. That seems like a betrayal of sorts in a battle shounen, but as with so many figures in Rurouni Kenshin Raijuuta is here to prove a point that relates to the protagonist, and that’s focused on the idea of the murderous sword.
Raijuuta is sort of peripheral to the conclusion of this arc, in fact. Much of it concerns Yutaro and Yahiko, and the intrinsic connection they share despite their oil-and-water personalities. Yahiko is pushing Yutaro from the beginning to the end, trying to make anger triumph over despair because it’s the only help he knows how to offer (which is more than Kaoru or Sano). He drags Yutaro along to watch Kenshin settle the score – though Sanosuke and Raijuuta almost get into it before the “headliner” shows up (and I think that would’ve been a very interesting fight).
Kenshin blames himself for his “error” that cost Yutaro the use of his right arm. While he recognizes that Tobi-izuna is a genuinely cool attack, now that he’s seen it once he’s not especially concerned about it. And Raijuuta’s gloating over every scratch he manages to impart is the proof for Kenshin that this man has never killed anybody – just bullied them. Even when Raijuuta combines his Tobi and Matoi-izuna attacks, Kenshin dodges easily enough – and takes the big man down with a dead-simple long-distance attack of his own.
The key point here is the nature of Raijuuta’s beloved “murderous sword”. There are so many things that make Kenshin exceptional, but the hard truth is that the most exceptional thing is the number of people he’s killed. He knows this all too well, and it’s what drives him to do something different with his life now. Raijuuta is a hollow man, a shell – literally beneath contempt for Kenshin, who doesn’t even bother to pay him back in kind for what he did to Yutaro. He leaves him to stew in his own weakness, and to try and get a clue that he’s actually lucky. Good luck with that, but it seems the man doesn’t have the stomach to kill, even laid as low as Kenshin has laid him.
As for Yutaro, he’s off to Germany with his father to seek medical treatment. Yutaro’s father is another Watsuki reflection on the turning of the era, a man who took a practical path forward in order to provide for his family. Yutaro may forgive him someday, but thanks to Yahiko he realizes that the spirit of the samurai still flows through his veins. The paradox of the sword runs through every aspect of Rurouni Kenshin, but no one understands the true power of that better than Kenshin himself.