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The Rurouni Kenshin anime always had a split personality: the deadly serious OAVs about the Boshin War were the dark shadows hanging over the relatively light hearted TV series.

Many of the best moments of the TV series arose from facing those shadows.

The best thing about the 2012 live-action Rurouni Kenshin is that it perfectly captures this aspect of the anime. The combat choreography seamlessly transitions between brutal slice-and-dice and the Three Stooges, and the style chosen always makes sense in context.

The casting of the core characters of Kenshin Himura, Kamiya Kaoru, Yahiko, and Megumi was well handled. Takeru Satoh delivers a note perfect Kenshin, with the dual personality and the odd vocal tics that fans of the anime were expecting.

Emi Takei is likewise well cast as Kaoru but, as with the anime, tends to spend a lot of time being the damsel in distress rather than the sensei of the dojo. This Kaoru does have some critical emotional victories that will go a long way towards saving Kenshin’s soul so I’ll call that a wash.

Munetaka Aoki delivers a boisterously rowdy, and physically funny, Sanosuke that is just what the film needed for those lighter moments.

In a sense though, it is Yu Aoi’s Takani Megumi that has the strongest character arc in terms of growth. Megumi does spend her own time as a distressed damsel, but probably has more agency than Kaoru.

The action scenes are spectacular, the character work is solid and yet I didn’t like this film as much as I really wanted to. It is possible that there is too much of the Rurouni Kenshin anime in my head for me to really give this movie a fair chance.

That said, I can easily see why this was enough of a hit to justify at least two sequels. It is an extremely well made film, and one that captures the spirit of the stories I saw originally.

I probably won’t be in a hurry to re-watch this, but I’m glad I picked it up. Definitely recommended as at least a “watch once”.