Jeremy enjoys anime when not working as a chemist or building manager.
Kenshin vs. Shishio
Most fans, myself included, agree that Rurouni Kenshin's best arc was its second season, where the cast travels to Kyoto. Old and new foes alike challenge protagonist Kenshin as he tries to stop the nefarious Shishio from usurping Kyoto's government, culminating in a climactic sword duel between the two.
The entire arc is worth a watch, but the final fight, in particular, was masterfully done—just what made it so good? Let's explore why the Kyoto storyline's climax more than impressed viewers (spoilers ahead).
1. Great Music/Visuals
These are hard to convey through text; you'll have to watch the fight to truly experience them. The entire Kyoto arc had great music and aesthetics, and the battle with Shishio was no exception.
The battle takes several twists and turns, but looking back, you'll realize most of them were hinted at. Here are several examples:
- Yumi repeatedly looking at her pocketwatch indicates Shishio's time limit
- Sano's knuckles were earlier noted to be damaged (explaining why his punch didn't work)
- Yumi's inner monologue at the start ("even if I...") hints at her demise
- Aoshi tells Kenshin he'd "be there soon" when they departed
With clues being continuously, albeit subtly, planted, the clash's events aren't random twists created for drama so much as natural progressions.
3. Shishio Lives Up to His Reputation
At the start of the battle, we've had dozens of episodes building up Shishio as the villain, but have yet to see him battle; fortunately, he proves his power and cunning. He fights four opponents back-to-back and takes several precautionary measures, from using Yumi to gather information about his enemies' attacks to concealing gunpowder within his gauntlet. Sure, Shishio is confident and strong, but he's not overly arrogant, understanding his best chance involves weakening his foes by having them fight other warriors beforehand.
Shishio's character also excellently parallels Kenshin's, with them both having been manslayers during the revolution, wielding blades crafted by the same swordsmith, and even having the same conclusion to their first romance (stabbing their own girlfriends).
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Simply put, Shishio works as the antagonist, but at the same time, he's not completely overpowered like many anime villains, especially since...
4. All Characters (Not Just the Hero) Contribute
From Dragon Ball Z to Sword Art Online, several anime have a bad habit of making their heroes and villains ridiculously strong, to the point where supporting characters we've grown to love can no longer compete. But that's not the case here; while Kenshin handles most of the fight, his allies also play an important role. In addition to them buying time for Kenshin to recover, consider how:
- Saito scores what should have been a killing blow (Shishio's hidden head guard blocked it) and nearly impales Shishio with a surprise point-blank thrust
- Sano lands a direct punch that could have shattered Shishio's head (using his Futae no Kiwami), but his knuckles were too damaged from prior injuries
- Aoshi finally redeems himself and stalls Shishio the longest, being the only combatant to never get knocked out
5. Good Pacing, No Filler
The fight takes about 2½ episodes, enough to flesh it out without overstaying its welcome. And unlike some multi-episode fights from famous anime (remember Goku vs. Frieza?), there isn't any filler to detract from the action (unless you count the few flashbacks).
I wouldn't call this filler anyway, but the side story about Yahiko and Kaoru's team defending the Aoyia inn from Shishio's army has concluded by this point, leaving the full focus to the climactic battle.
Where to Watch Kenshin vs. Shishio
Haven't seen the battle yet, or don't know how to re-experience it? Try searching for Rurouni Kenshin episode 57 "Two Men at the End of an Era", where the duel begins, or search the condensed version from the New Kyoto series.
You can also find a different take on the fight at the end of Kyoto Inferno, the third and final of the live-action Kenshin films. The movie alters the plot to fit its limited screentime (here, everyone fights Shishio simultaneously rather than one-by-one), but provides a worthy adaptation with excellent action.
Nitpicks About the Battle
As much as I love this arc's conclusion, even I'll admit it's not quite perfect. Some flashbacks drag longer than needed, and those pesky opening episode titles can inadvertently spoil events; seeing "Not Out of Luck!" kinda reveals what's about to happen.
But those are minor complaints from a fight that, as a whole, more than succeeded, highlighting the strengths of hero, villain, and supporting cast alike. If you haven't yet seen the Kyoto climax yourself, I highly recommend it, whether through the actual anime or its film counterpart. But for now, vote for your favorite Rurouni Kenshin warrior and I'll see you at our next anime review!
© 2020 Jeremy Gill