Trust, Betrayal, Reflection … Samurai X

I’ve just finished watching the Samurai X OVA’s, individually entitled “Trust”, “Betrayal” and “Reflection”. Each of the three volumes contains two episodes and I can understand why many acknowledge this series to be one of anime’s crowning achievements.

It’s not often that I find myself emotionally moved by any anime – yet this one really did. Don’t get me wrong I do watch a lot but unlike Ghost in the Shell, Akira, Vampire Hunter D, Cyber City OEDO etc., this isn’t a series that appeals to the geek in me. Samurai X is one of the most tragic and incredibly moving stories I’ve ever experienced.

The story itself is heavily rooted in historical fact and I guess that’s the first thing that appealed to me  because I was an avid student of Japanese history and it’s still a subject I’m passionate about 🙂 It’s set during the early Meiji Period, and particularly revolves around some of the events that formed the Meiji Restoration which was a chain of events that ended the 256 year old rule of the feudalistic Tokugawa Shogunate, and ushered in the modernisation of Japan.

The series follows the life, and eventual death of it’s main protagonist, Himura Kenshin. It’s an engrossing, fascinating and emotional character study. Kenshin goes from an idealistic youth to a cold-hearted killer, only to be redeemed through love lost and the realization that swinging his sword is destroying his own life as well as the lives of the people on the receiving end. His journey is at once tragic, uplifting, and totally convincing

The story follow’s Kenshin as he is rescued as a child by the enigmatic Hiko Seijuro who teaches him the art of Hiten Mitsurugi. At the age of 14 Kenshin decides to join a revolutionary movement to restore power to the Emperor and bring down the vicious and corrupt shogunate that was responsible for murdering his family. Although his teacher warns him that his idealism will exploited by others Kenshin rushes off to attempt to make a difference, to help the plight of the people he feels are being subjugated.

It’s interesting to watch the idealistic Kenshin transform into a cold blooded killer known as the Hitokiri Battosai (“Man Killer – Master of the Sword). The adolescent Kenish is corrupted by the world faster than he can redeem it something we see each time he kills. It’s a transformation that is chilling to watch. Whilst the sword fights are visually stunning, especially for an anime, and extremely bloody, they don’t glamorise violence they actually portray the horror of warfare and murder for what it is.

That’s essentially what the story is about, Kenshin’s realisation that he is a murderer, and upon realising this his oath to never kill again, and spend his life attempting to atone for the many lives he has taken.

Tragically the story makes the point that no matter how much we seek to atone for terrible things we do, we perhaps need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that we will never find the forgiveness we seek. It’s a depressing thought, but captured so vividly, and in a way that really does both captivate and wrench at your heart.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the series I really do recommend it. It’s story telling at it’s very best.