Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen Manga/Anime comparison (term paper by Johnny Nguyen)

Balls to the wall academic chinese cartoons

Was­sup every­one. As I’ve stat­ed here, I’ve been tak­ing a Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion class this quar­ter at my com­mu­ni­ty col­lege, and as the quar­ter is com­ing to a close, there’s so many final assis­gn­ments that I have to do. For Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion class, I have to write a term paper regard­ing one of the ani­mat­ed fea­tures we’ve watched in class. The top­ic I chose was a lit­er­ary com­par­i­son between an adap­ta­tion and its source mate­r­i­al, and since I’m a lazy man, I chose some­thing I’ve seen/read a dozen of times and know by heart to save me the trou­ble: Rurouni Ken­shin. To be spe­cif­ic, the first OVA.

And I’ve decid­ed to post it here as well, because it seemed like it would make a good ani­me review for the blog. Note that since it’s sup­posed to be five pages long and I tend to be total poop when I’m writ­ing under aca­d­e­m­ic con­di­tions (c’mon, every­one pro­cras­ti­nates on their home­work!), it may seem a bit rushed in places.

John­ny Nguyen
Instruc­tor Mar­tin Mcna­ma­ra
Film/Television 75K
6 June 2014

Lit­er­ary Adap­ta­tion – Rurouni Ken­shin: Tsuiokuhen

Rurouni Ken­shin: Tsuiokuhen (“Remem­brance arc”), reti­tled Rurouni Ken­shin: Trust & Betray­al or Samu­rai X: Trust & Betray­al for Eng­lish lan­guage releas­es, was a four-episode orig­i­nal video ani­ma­tion ani­mat­ed by Stu­dio Deen that was released through­out the year of 1999, based on par­tial parts of the pop­u­lar Rurouni Ken­shin: Mei­ji Swords­man Roman­tic Sto­ry man­ga series by Nobuhi­ro Wata­su­ki and served as a pre­quel to the tele­vi­sion series of the same name, which is also a tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tion of the man­ga series. With that being said, I will be going over the dif­fer­ences between the source mate­r­i­al and the OVA adap­ta­tion, and how those dif­fer­ences affect the sto­ry in the over­all pre­sen­ta­tion (struc­ture, art, char­ac­ters, mood, etc.).

One of the first aspects of the adap­ta­tion that should come to atten­tion is the pre­cise ele­ments that are bor­rowed direct­ly from the man­ga. Rurouni Ken­shin: Tsuiokuhen, as the title sug­gests, is based on the Tsuiokuhen chap­ters of the man­ga (165–179) where Ken­shin Himu­ra recounts his days as an Ishin Shishi assas­sin dur­ing the Baku­mat­su, the final years of Japan’s Edo peri­od. This rec­ol­lec­tion of events are meant to shed light on the events of the final sto­ry arc of the man­ga in which these chap­ters appear, as well as final­ly pro­vid­ing the read­ers with a clear look into the trag­ic events that gave birth to Kenshin’s cur­rent char­ac­ter and com­plex­es in com­par­i­son to the infa­mous Ishin Shishi assas­sin he alleged­ly used to be with­in the sto­ry. Now, because this ani­ma­tion was meant to be a sup­ple­ment to the tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tion (both works were direct­ed by Kazuhi­ro Furuhashi and ani­mat­ed by the same stu­dio), which nev­er got around to adapt­ing all of this mate­r­i­al (the ani­mat­ed series caught up to the man­ga series right before the final sto­ry arc, which forced them to pro­duce orig­i­nal episodes as padding, and was can­celled due to fans being dis­in­ter­est­ed in these episodes), the sense that this OVA is all a flash­back is nev­er made appar­ent with­in the ani­mat­ed por­tion of the fran­chise, espe­cial­ly on the Eng­lish releas­es where the OVA had been reti­tled from “Remem­brance” (a prop­er Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the Japan­ese title) to “Trust & Betray­al”, because the big­ger sto­ry­line that takes place in the “present” is not shown in this OVA nor its par­ent tele­vi­sion series.

Fur­ther­more, because this direct-to-video adap­ta­tion isn’t a flash­back in the sense that it is set off by a char­ac­ter begin­ning to rec­ol­lect the past in a pre­vi­ous “episode”, and is pre­sent­ed as a side-sto­ry to the tele­vi­sion series instead, it starts off dif­fer­ent­ly than it does in the man­ga. Where­as the man­ga starts the sto­ry of Tsuiokuhen imme­di­ate­ly after Ken­shin choos­es to share the truth of his past with the oth­er char­ac­ters, the OVA choos­es to pri­or­i­tize intro­duc­ing the audi­ence to the Ken­shin char­ac­ter first and fore­most by using chap­ter 95 of the man­ga as the pow­er­ful open­ing scene. This is the scene where Ken­shin, orig­i­nal­ly a slave boy named Shin­ta, wit­ness­es the mur­der of his “sur­ro­gate fam­i­ly” by ban­dits and saved by Hiko Sei­ju­urou XIII, a mas­ter of the pow­er­ful “Hiten Mit­su­ru­gi” sword style, who takes him and renames him as a swords­man appren­tice of the Hiten Mit­su­ru­gi. While this scene was already shown in the tele­vi­sion series in its ren­di­tion of the cor­re­spond­ing chap­ter (it is essen­tial­ly the exact same scene as shown in this fea­ture, but rean­i­mat­ed with dif­fer­ent back­ground music to fit the art and music direc­tion of the rest of the OVA), I felt that it was the most appro­pri­ate mate­r­i­al to use as an open­ing scene with­in this adap­ta­tion, as it is a pow­er­ful intro­duc­tion to Kenshin’s psy­cho­log­i­cal devel­op­ment and state that is pre­sent­ed through­out the rest of Rurouni Ken­shin: Tsuiokuhen’s sto­ry, such as his loss of inno­cence or his inher­ent gen­tle nature that clash­es with his desires to help the inno­cent and weak that leads him on the path of becom­ing a killer for the rev­o­lu­tion to upend the Toku­gawa shogu­nate. Whether or not the view­ers are watch­ing this as their first or only expo­sure to the series, this ensures that there is some feel­ing of cohe­sive devel­op­ment in the main protagonist’s char­ac­ter from begin­ning to the end of the OVA. Dif­fer­ent con­text calls for dif­fer­ence in exe­cu­tion, and in this case, I feel that the direc­tor and screen­writer made the right choice on an alter­nate lead-in to the “flash­back” (the main sto­ry of the fea­ture), and I com­mend them for man­ag­ing to stick with the source mate­r­i­al at the same time.

For­tu­nate­ly enough, rather than being a con­densed ver­sion of an entire series of plot threads and char­ac­ter devel­op­ment (like, for exam­ple, the live-action Rurouni Ken­shin movie or oth­er film adap­ta­tions of any­thing for that mat­ter), this OVA is only based on a minis­cule por­tion of the series. This basi­cal­ly means that most of it is direct­ly and faith­ful­ly adapt­ed from the source mate­r­i­al, word-for-word. How­ev­er, that isn’t to say it lacked omis­sion or that plot ele­ments weren’t giv­en some artis­tic license. Ten chap­ters of a Japan­ese man­ga series is a rea­son­able amount of mate­r­i­al to adapt into four episodes. How­ev­er, there were still ele­ments from the source mate­r­i­al that have ulti­mate­ly been lost in the tran­si­tion.- sev­er­al scenes depict­ing the clash between Kenshin’s inher­ent kind nature and his cur­rent role as Kat­sura Kogorou’s cold-blood­ed assas­sin “the Hitokiri Bat­tou­sai” are miss­ing. For exam­ple, when Ken­shin kills Tomoe’s first love Kiyosato Aki­ra, the scene is large­ly sim­i­lar to the man­ga except for the fact that it omits one very cru­cial moment: where Ken­shin, after appear­ing to “leave” the scene and treat­ing it as “usu­al busi­ness”, actu­al­ly turns back and mourn­ful­ly says, “May you find hap­pi­ness… in your next life…” There are also sev­er­al scenes in the man­ga where, dur­ing his time as Tomoe’s “hus­band” and after her death, he inter­acts with the vil­lage chil­dren in a very ten­der and car­ing man­ner and feels tran­quil in his short-term “home”, which fur­ther indi­cates that becom­ing a killer for the sake of a new era is not the right place for his char­ac­ter. These omis­sions, along with the OVA’s deci­sion at eras­ing a lot of Ken­shin inner mono­logue, seem to make the OVA’s ver­sion of Ken­shin come across as a com­plete­ly cold and unpleas­ant per­son.

If viewed as a pre­quel to the tele­vi­sion series, the tran­si­tion from this to his cur­rent per­son­al­i­ty seems a lot more unnat­ur­al. And if, for what­ev­er rea­son, viewed as a stand­alone; it makes you sym­pa­thize with his char­ac­ter a lot less because you see less of the pos­i­tives under­neath, and thus Ken­shin doesn’t real­ly get “close” enough to the view­er as a char­ac­ter. Mind you, he’s still very human in the OVA, just a lot more bro­ken due to the omis­sions of his more emo­tive scenes and omit­ting a lot of his inner mono­logue, so it’s still easy to “empathize” with what he goes through in this film… it’s just hard­er to “sym­pa­thize.” It makes the OVA’s atmos­phere a lot dark­er, yes, but the source mate­r­i­al was already dark enough, and the omis­sion of the few moments of com­pas­sion and hap­pi­ness of the orig­i­nal sto­ry feels rather unnec­es­sary and takes away from the main pro­tag­o­nist’s depth. There was, how­ev­er, one change in a char­ac­ter detail that I feel holds a lot more weight than it did in the source mate­r­i­al, and this is how Ken­shin receives the “Tomoe” por­tion of his cross-shaped scar. In the man­ga, as Tomoe dies, she falls over with her knife which acci­den­tal­ly cuts Kenshin’s cheek. Here, she inten­tion­al­ly gives him the scar, which I always inter­pret­ed as her “can­cel­ing” out her fiance’s curse on Ken­shin (his first scar, which con­stant­ly bled at cer­tain points in the sto­ry) by “reunit­ing” with Kiyosato in death — sym­bol­ized by her scar cross­ing over with his — and also to inten­tion­al­ly leave behind a per­ma­nent reminder for Ken­shin to look at every day, as to stick to his vow of nev­er killing again after the Baku­mat­su. Oth­er sto­ry­line changes involve small details being left out. In the man­ga, Watat­su­ki goes through a lot more effort to inform the read­er of the iden­ti­ty of Kenshin’s suc­ces­sor (who kills the spy in the epi­logue) as Mako­to Shishio in both the dia­logue and the visu­als, where­as the OVA leaves it up to fan knowl­edge and obscures Mako­to Shish­io’s face from view.

As far as the art direc­tion goes, that’s where it devi­at­ed the most from the orig­i­nal man­ga and even its par­ent ani­me series. While it is done by the same stu­dio that did the tele­vi­sion series, it dif­fers heav­i­ly from that and the source mate­r­i­al in terms of char­ac­ter design. In the orig­i­nal man­ga, Watatsuki’s char­ac­ter designs and pro­por­tions are heav­i­ly influ­enced by a mix­ture of shou­jo (girl demo­graph­ic) man­ga char­ac­ters and Amer­i­can com­ic book char­ac­ter, giv­ing it a unique feel for a series pub­lished in mag­a­zine tra­di­tion­al­ly aimed a young boys. The design­er in charge of adapt­ing these char­ac­ter designs for the OVA was Madahide Yanag­i­sawa, who large­ly kept the basic traits seen on each char­ac­ter from the man­ga, but opt­ed to give these same char­ac­ters a more “human­ized” style, most­ly in terms of their facial pro­por­tions. You can eas­i­ly tell that they’re the same char­ac­ters upon first glance; how­ev­er, they were mod­i­fied to fit the more real­is­tic and depress­ing tone they were going for in this adap­ta­tion. While adapt­ing arguably the grimmest chap­ters of the orig­i­nal man­ga, they also opt­ed to take away the “call­ing of attacks” (ex. Ken­shin yelling out “Hiten Mit­su­ru­gi Ryuu — Sou Ryuu Sen!” when he does the cor­re­spond­ing tech­nique) that was present in the manga’s ren­di­tion of this sto­ry in order to keep with the lit­er­ary real­ism. Which, in my opin­ion, falls flat on its face in terms of con­cept, because despite the good chore­og­ra­phy of the sword­play and engag­ing action scenes, they’re still rather inac­cu­rate to how real Japan­ese sword­play works any­way (as is many oth­er Japan­ese ani­ma­tions and cin­e­mas that fit with­in the Chan­bara genre – here, just wit­ness the begin­ning parts of the OVA where Hiko Sei­ju­urou slices apart some of those ban­dits with Hiten Mit­su­ru­gi as if he was slic­ing through soft cake; note that Japan­ese swords do not do that), so this “real­is­tic” direc­tion feels rather redun­dant to me. Nev­er­the­less, the char­ac­ter designs specif­i­cal­ly aren’t a detri­ment to this ani­mat­ed adap­ta­tion; in fact, they’re real­ly nice to look at in this ani­mat­ed ver­sion. It’s just that it didn’t real­ly change any­thing for me either way.

No mat­ter how many times I’ve seen Rurouni Ken­shin: Tsuiokuhen, it still remains one of the most pow­er­ful, sad­den­ing, and visu­al­ly stun­ning ani­me OVAs I’ve seen, and remains one of my favorites. The direc­tor did a fan­tas­tic job trans­lat­ing the source mate­r­i­al into some­thing a lot more cin­e­mat­ic. How­ev­er, sto­ry-wise, the script is essen­tial­ly the same as its source mate­r­i­al with some details miss­ing or changed, for bet­ter or for worse. I think both inter­pre­ta­tions are worth a look into, at least once, since they both have their own indi­vid­ual pros and cons that are eas­i­ly bal­anced out if you expe­ri­ence both. How­ev­er, with both viewed as part of an entire media fran­chise and over­ar­ch­ing sto­ry, the OVA seems much more eas­i­ly assess­able as a stand­alone with min­i­mum knowl­edge of the series premise — the ani­mat­ed series is incom­plete and unfaith­ful at many points and lacks the cor­re­spond­ing sto­ry arc where the Tsuiokuhen OVA shows the most of its rel­e­van­cy- where­as you have access to the entire­ty of author’s orig­i­nal intent with the orig­i­nal man­ga ver­sion. In terms of the entire orig­i­nal sto­ry­line by Nobuhi­ro Watat­su­ki, the Rurouni Ken­shin man­ga is indeed supe­ri­or to the ani­mat­ed con­ti­nu­ity, but in terms of just Tsuiokuhen alone, both the man­ga and the ani­me hold up about the same in terms of sto­ry val­ue.

Mikoto

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