When Rurouni Kenshin first hit the big screens 9 years ago, it was hard to know what to expect. Live action adaptations of anime (which’re already animated adaptations of manga) weren’t the norm by any means, and the likes of Dragonball Evolution had left a very scarring idea of what live action anime could look like.
Thankfully, the film which met the audience was one of an entirely different calibre. Capturing every bit of the atmosphere of the anime, with a cast that was nothing short of art come to life, 2012’s Rurouni Kenshin was more than what fans could have even hoped for.
And its sequel, Kyoto Inferno, while a greater departure from the source material, managed to deliver an even stronger narrative. Perhaps, it seemed, like the curse of mediocre sequels was limited to Hollywood. Until the final instalment of the trilogy, aptly named “The Legend Ends”, made it clear that the art of perfecting the trilogy was still a far off dream.
Nevertheless, in a world where pretty much every film studio is churning out needless attempts at trilogies, Rurouni Kenshin remained an achievement above the norm.
Unfortunately, that achievement seems to have been better left memorialised. Returning to the world of Kenshin, The Final attempts to spark a requiem for the character in what ends up feeling like a bloated epilogue, re-treading on themes which feel repetitive (we know the character is about redemption, we get it).
However, an extended overture is hardly the biggest problem encountered by the movie. Recurrent visitations to specific in is past feels a tad overhanded, a desperate attempt to bridge the film to a prequel that feels increasingly redundant with each re-visit to the flashback. And to compound the time spent on these unnecessary beats is the lack of proper narrative building or subtle exposition.
More baffling, is how the vast majority of the supporting cast, all on their fourth round, are shoved into being glorified scenery with leading lady Kaoru once again relegated to desperate damsel in distress. And if that wasn’t confounding enough, her time as hostage is used to offer some insight into the psyche of the chief antagonist—insight which could have been better provided by a simple flashback… like the full prequel film that was already in queue on the Netflix release schedule.
Amazingly, the film successfully pairs the string of seemingly unnecessary sequences, including an entirely fan service-motivated battle sequence possessing none of the tension of the preceding trilogy’s combats, with an utter lack of focus on any of the newly introduced characters. Tragically, for almost all these characters, recurring or new, this would be their final appearance—a reprisal following the more fitting conclusion they’d received by being recognised as heroes in the third Rurouni Kenshin movie.
Rurouni Kenshin: The Final plays out, almost too fittingly, like a very drawn out interlude episode for which anime can be infamous. But at 138 minutes, an especially painful exercise.
Rurouni Kenshin: The Final is out now on Netflix along with the other four instalments, including The Beginning.