Rurouni Kenshin is a historical fiction Shounen series based on the manga by Watsuki Nobuhiro that is set in the year 1878. Japan has been one of the fastest countries to adopt the technologies developed by other developed countries. There is no longer any place for swordsmen in society, and the samurai caste (and the caste system more generally) has been abolished. But there are those who are unhappy with the nation’s course and who, despite the risks to innocent lives, continue to carry weaponry as a form of protest.
Himura Kenshin, a former government assassin who has forsaken his old methods and reversed his blade to honour his pledge to never kill, protects the innocent. Kenshin comes across a wide range of characters, both allies and adversaries, each with their own distinct yet comprehensible vision for Japan’s and their own destinies.
1. Himura Kenshin
Kenshin, the protagonist, is a former assassin who has now become a wanderer. Upon arriving in Tokyo, he and a girl named Kaoru are falsely accused of a series of crimes, with the former utilising his old alias, Battousai. He gets to the bottom of things, telling Kaoru that he is, in fact, Battousai, though he has long since changed his ways. Kenshin, although being mild-mannered and slight in stature, believes he has much to make amends for and that the only way to do so is to protect the innocent by refusing to kill.
How then can he win without resorting to violence? He employs a sword with a reversed blade, called a Sakabato so that the dull side faces the opponent. There are times when the killer in him emerges, ready to fight without compassion because he has been pushed to his limits by certain battles. But now, with Kaoru by his side, he can win without resorting to murder.
He looks like a teenager, but he’s actually 28 years old, and there are ideas that say those who practise Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryu age more slowly than typical. He is not one to back down from a fight, but when he loses, he is often taken aback by the experience. But he can get back on track and make a comeback if he gets the appropriate encouragement. His peculiar speech patterns, in which he always concludes sentences with (de) gozaru (an extremely archaic form of desu) are another intriguing aspect of his character, which even non-Japanese speakers understand. It was so old-fashioned that it didn’t even pass muster during the Meiji period! Finally, the real-life hitokiri Kawakami Gensai served as an inspiration for Kenshin. He, like Kenshin, had a little stature but more than made up for it with his skill and agility.
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2. Hiko Seijuro XIII
Kenshin’s master is Hiko, the current (and 13th) master of the Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryu. To show that he is the current master of the Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryu and to maintain himself in combat shape, he wears a 200-pound cape (Watsuki-sensei said the cape was influenced by Spawn, the face of Image Comics). Losing to Seta Sojiro motivates Kenshin to train under his master to master the Amakakeru Ryuu no Hirameki, the highest level of the Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryu.
In his battle with Fuji, Hiko demonstrates the full extent of his greatness. He entreats Fuji to consider him a human being and a worthy opponent in battle. Hiko just gave Fuji the humanity he’s been searching for his entire life by telling him he just wants to fight him as an equal for the sake of pride and glory, despite how awful Fuji is. Despite his language barrier, Fuji was able to demonstrate his understanding and appreciation. Hiko defeats the colossal Fuji with ease using his ultimate technique in this Japanese retelling of the David vs. Goliath story. Finally, in Watsuki-first sensei’s manga, Crescent Moon in the Warring States, Hiko is a descendant of the original Hiko Seijuro.
3. Shishio Makoto
The Kyoto-primary arc’s antagonist is Shishio. Similar to Kenshin, he served as a hitokiri (assassin) for the Ishin Shishi during the Boshin War. Shishio’s more cruel and violent traits made Ishin Shishi worry that he might become a liability once his usefulness had expired. At that point, the Ishin Shishi sought to burn him in an ambush. Shishio made it through the attack unscathed and has spent the subsequent decade planning his vengeance.
In addition to his prowess with the sword, he is also a deadly opponent without any weapons, easily dispatching Sano. His touch can cause severe pain or perhaps death to the person he touches. His weapon allows him to create sparks that ignite the ground when grinding. Even though he’s insane, viewers can empathise with his desire for vengeance. He’s a sympathetic bad guy, I suppose. He demonstrates his capacity for genuine affection toward Yumi during his closing hours. The fact that he still has ambitions even after his death and arrival in Hell demonstrates how far-reaching his plans for conquest were in life.
4. Saito Hajime
Saito Hajime stands out above all other historical figures as the show’s main protagonist. Like the historical Saito Hajime, he served as the Shinsengumi’s third unit captain and then became a police officer using the alias Fujita Goro. Saito and Kenshin have a long history together in the anime, dating back to when they fought on opposite sides of the Boshin war nearly 15 years before the series begins. Their competition, however, has less to do with who has the righteous side and more to do with who is the superior swordsman. Saito joins forces with Kenshin to preserve their country from threats greater than both of them. Saito’s trademark move is a left-handed thrust, just like the actual thing, but in line with the Shounen gimmick, it’s called Gatotsu.
In terms of swordsmanship, he is on par with Kenshin, and he is exceedingly dangerous even without weapons, as evidenced by his easy defeat of Sano. Saito is a man of honour who, unlike Kenshin, is willing to put his country’s needs ahead of his own samurai pride. The series’ inclusion of Saito has piqued viewers’ curiosity in the Shinsengumi, the military organisation that backed the first Shogun regime. The character’s presence has boosted the show’s and anime’s popularity, but it has also sparked debate among historians over whether or not they should be portrayed as heroes in popular media.
5. Sagara Sanosuke
Sano may appear to be a knucklehead, but his upbringing has given him strong convictions of his own. He was taken in as a child by Sagara Sozo (a real person) and the Sekihoutai (a real group), a militia of peasants and farmers serving the Ishin Shishi. Sozo was falsely accused of spreading lies and murdered by the Ishin Shishi despite carrying out their orders to disseminate the news of the tax reduction. This was based on a true event in which the government promised to cut taxes in half but ultimately was unable to do so because of the expenditures of the war. These occurrences have given Sano reason to mistrust the government.
He battles with Kenshin out of respect for the latter’s incredible power and his resolve to atone for his own faults, despite knowing that he can’t undo the past and still being of service to his fellow man. Though Sano lacks perfect intelligence, his heart makes up for it in spades. When he fights, he goes straight for the knockout because he wants to get to the meat of the matter quickly.
When fighting Kenshin, he loses his Zanbato or horse cutter, but he knows his fists are more than enough to get the job done, and he builds on this knowledge by learning the Future no Kiwami, or ultimate punch. Sano was inspired by the real-life Shinsengumi captain Harada Sanosuke, despite the fact that he had previously served with the Sekihoutai.
6. Seta Sojiro
One of Kenshin’s most formidable adversaries is Shishio’s top lieutenant Sojiro (loosely based on Okita Soji, a captain of the Shinsengumi). In the anime, he is shown to be the one who ordered the murder of Okubo Toshimichi, a real-life Meiji official who had asked Kenshin and Saito to eliminate Shishio. Sojiro made it seem as if bandits had slain him, even though he had been killed by bandits in actual history. In their first encounter, not only did he defeat Kenshin, but he also broke the latter’s sword.
After Shishio was badly burned as a child, he found him and nursed him back to health. Sojiro’s abusive family, and Shishio’s encouragement to exact revenge on them. As soon as he did, Shishio saw his promise and made him a student. Sojiro’s always-present grin in battle, in combination with his quick reflexes, makes him a one-of-a-kind foe for Kenshin (due to his childhood trauma).
For Kenshin, who relies on facial expressions to anticipate an opponent’s moves, Sojiro presents a formidable challenge. Kenshin wears down Sojiro’s resolve and kills him in the end. After realising from Kenshin’s advice that he must find redemption for his soul, Sojiro embarks on a quest of his own.
7. Shinomori Aoshi
Aoshi wants to build a reputation for himself and the Oniwabanshu (based on a real-life ninja clan with the same name). Since he is a ninja, most of his skills demand stealth and speed, and his enemies will fall by the most gruesome means possible. Aoshi is not a villain since he is impacted emotionally by the deaths of his friends, which were caused by the cowardice and dishonest methods of Takeda, his former employer. He thinks defeating Kenshin is the only way to restore his reputation. He is so dedicated to defeating Kenshin that he momentarily joins forces with Shishio, despite the latter’s perverted tactics. In addition, in his search for Kenshin, he almost kills his own master.
Thankfully, Aoshi realises that his obsession will ruin him and that his friends would not want this for him after suffering yet another defeat at Kenshin’s hands. After he has accepted his guilt, he is able to live in peace with his family again. For those unaware, Aoshi’s reclusive nature is a result of being influenced by Hijitaka Tokizo, the deputy head of the Shinsengumi who was rumoured to have eliminated all of his feelings.
8. Myojin Yahiko
The son of a samurai who was killed in battle, Yahiko is introduced as a petty thief to pay off the debts his family owes to the local mafia. After Kenshin bails him out of debt, he becomes Kaoru’s student and forms a close, sibling-like bond with her as they train together to become master swordsmen (they were actually brothers and sisters in the pilot).
One of the things that keeps Yahiko going is the need to validate his manhood. Kenshin showed him the fundamentals of fighting numerous opponents when he needed to help him defend a female from some thugs. At least he’s able to put the rudimentary stuff to use. Although Yahiko never actually studies Kenshin’s fighting style, he has used several of Kenshin’s techniques in his battle with Henya. resulting in his greatest triumph to date.
9. Makimachi Misao
Misao must be Oniwabanshu’s beating heart if Okina is its leader and Aoshi is its muscle. Through Misao, the spectator learns that the Oniwabanshu aren’t malevolent, despite their first introduction as antagonists working for a dishonourable drug lord. In being honest about her love for Aoshi, she gives the audience a chance to believe that even a jaded character like Aoshi can be won over.
Misao, an adolescent ninja trainee, contributes significantly to Kaoru and Yahiko’s success against the Juppongatana. Throughout the Kyoto arc, she consistently shows initiative, which paves the road for her to assume a leadership position within the Oniwabanshu. Misao was inspired by two different characters: Nakoruru from the Samurai Spirits and Shiranui Mai from King of Fighters/Fatal Fury by SNK.
10. Kamiya Kaoru
Kaoru is the current sensei at a kendo dojo that emphasises nonviolence and the cultivation of virtues like fair play and sportsmanship rather than violence. Despite the fact that swords are illegal in Meiji Japan, Kaoru is able to pass on the art of Japanese fencing using Shinai, or bamboo swords. Kaoru insists that her official pupil, Yahiko, and always fight with Shinais since it is the only way they can live up to their ideals.
Kaoru has demonstrated exceptional skill in battle while spending a significant deal of her time playing the stereotypical damsel in distress. She may not be as skilled as Kenshin or Saito, but she has defeated Honjo Katamari of the Juppongatana, and she is very good at analysing her opponents’ strengths and weaknesses in order to counter them.
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