Here at AnimeIowa, or at anime conventions in general, you can usually check out some really cool things in the video rooms. In my case, I missed out of Golgo 13 and Evangelion 3.0, but I settled for that Rurouni Kenshin live action film from back in 2012.
I didn't expect much of this from what I'd heard--I saw the trailer and thought it looked pretty cool, but you can't garner much from a trailer. What I mostly got out of it was a pretty exciting film with good visuals for what it was trying to do.
Kenshin fit in every major character from the anime in some way (except Misao), and it's a good thing the film didn't try to do too much with them. Characters like Yahiko and Sanosuke are merely there as nods to fans and don't serve much of a purpose beyond that.
Fans of the original manga and anime will recognize one of the main villains as the antagonist for the first arc in Kenshin (the one with the "Battosai" claiming to be part of the Kamiya dojo). Parts of this story are taken out, such as why he's trying to taint the Kamiya dojo's name, but it doesn't take away from the film as a whole. Fans know why and those coming in new will enjoy him for what he needs to be: a challenge for Kenshin in terms of swordplay.
The other main antagonist is an opium dealer that I vaguely recognize from the series, but I don't remember his name After looking it up, it's Takeda Kanryu. But anyway, his character works as well. He's the money-grubbing dealer that takes advantage of the drug's most sellable quality, its addictiveness.
See a trend so far? The minor characterizations are pretty much fine, and often downright entertaining, but no one's really growing or being more than a one-dimensional and sometimes two-dimensional characters. It's the same for Kaoru, arguably the second most important character after Kenshin. Her role is largely the voice of reason for Kenshin.
But the film does revolve around Kenshin and, despite how subtle and sometimes frustrating his arc is in the film, he does have an arc. His internal conflict between himself has always been keeping to his now-semi-pacific philosophy and reverting to his Battosai persona. Throughout most of the film, he maintains his aloof and cool personality. Each and every event challenges Kenshin to maintain that persona and each and every event pushes him further over the edge until he compels himself with a mantra. "I will kill you to save Kaoru." He's not saying that to Jin'e, the man who was sullying the Kamiya dojo, he's saying that to himself. He's justifying his actions to kill this man to save Kaoru's.
It really felt like this movie was one of those where you go ask yourself, "What is this movie doing?" throughout the entire film and you finally get that "A-HA!" moment near the end when you see Kenshin's transformation in full (a change in voice and demeanor like in the anime).
The best parts of the film are in what it doesn't do. The comedy isn't over the top, like the anime sometimes was, and the battles are kept mostly realistic. I really appreciated the lack of Power Rangers-esque wire pully systems just to maintain that anime feel. Of course, they were still in there, but it was only during the climactic battle, so I give it a pass.
What I wanted out of the film was a reminder of why I liked the original anime back when I watched it in the early 2000s, and I got that in full force. It's not great for someone new to Kenshin, but it's really fun for someone at least vaguely familiar with its source material.