Rurouni Kenshin: The Final Movie Review

Coming back with a new movie after a long hiatus in the middle of a damn pandemic would be a death sentence for any lesser franchise.  But for Rurouni Kenshin: The Final, the latest installment in the live action Rurouni Kenshin franchise, it felt more like an intermission, and it's back with a spring in its step and not a stride lost.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Final looks and feels different, despite Keishi Otomo returning to direct. Whereas Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends deals with Kenshin's bloody past, there are more personal, more emotional stakes in The Final. This comes in the form of Enishi Yukishiro (played by Arata Mackenyu), whose pretty-boy looks hide a sinister streak and an even more sinister objective: to make Kenshin suffer for killing Tomoe, Enishi's sister...and Kenshin's ex-wife!

Full disclosure: I never made it past the Rurouni Kenshin anime series, so my knowledge about the Jinchu arc doesn't go beyond knowing who Enishi is and why he hates Kenshin. I have no idea if The Final is a faithful adaptation, but maybe it's for the best. Because that means it holds more surprises for me.

Mackenyu steals the show from Takeru Satoh in The Final, which is no mean feat. Mackenyu's Enishi skulks around the edges of Kenshin's life, his hatred for ol' Battosai palpable even at the fringes. And whenever Enishi does appear, the scene is filled with so much menace and dread that you actually fear for everyone standing in his way of revenge, to the point that even Satoh's role as Kenshin feels diminished in the film in comparison.

Not to say Kenshin is a nobody in his own movie. His time in the spotlight is given to more introspection of his feelings, especially towards Kaoru (Emi Takei), whose growing affection for Kenshin is more pronounced in The Final. There's also an interesting parallel between Kaoru and Kenshin's ex-wife Tomoe that deserves more screen time that it did. Unfortunately, there's little chemistry between Takei and Satoh beyond what's supposed to happen. As a fan of the series the movie is based on, I know Kaoru and Kenshin get together, and so they do so in The Final in a very surface-level way. But that didn't stop me from giggling like a schoolgirl watching it all unfold, though.

Weirdly enough, the next movie after The Final is a prequel called The Beginning, which tells the story of Kenshin and Tomoe's relationship and why Enishi is calling for Kenshin's blood. Shouldn't that be the first movie out the door instead of The Final? Wouldn't knowing first how Enishi came to be give him some much needed relatability in The Final

While the drama falters, the fight scenes deliver with Keishi Otomo's usual flair. Satoh's Kenshin carves a path through colorful villains and armies of mooks in equal measure, with the god-like speed his character is known for. Otomo knows how to make these live-action characters look and feel superhuman, and while the final clash between Kenshin and Enishi doesn't hold much of a candle to the Shishio fight in The Legend Ends, it's still a thrill to watch Mackenyu and Satoh just tear into each other with sword swipes too fast for the camera to capture.

While it doesn't unseat The Legend Ends as the best film in the Rurouni Kenshin series for me, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final is still a great live-action adaptation regardless, filled with all the stuff fans and non-fans alike look for in movies like this: flashy fight scenes, a cool protagonist, and a happy ending. Highly recommended!

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