It’s tough having to separate an artist from his work.
There are some things I enjoy—comics, movies, television shows, etc—where the product is truly amazing, but the people involved in its creation may run the gamut from politically unsavory to downright repugnantly criminal. Where do you draw the line? Is it not okay to support something you think is high quality because a member of its talent says shitty things on Twitter? Is it okay up until the point that they are criminal? Do we differentiate misdemeanors from felonies in this regard? Or can you just ignore it all and say “Hey, these folks are demons, but I really like this movie”?
It’s challenging. And at some level, there’s some hypocrisy there no matter where you draw the line. Does that extend to where you shop? How you treat your loved ones that have the same flaws? It’s a really uncomfortable exercise.
TITLE: Rurouni Kenshin
Writer and Artist: Nobuhiro Watsuki
Publisher: Shonen Jump
Protagonists: Kenshin Himura, Sanosuke, Kaoru, Yahiko
Antagonists: A bunch of people!
So yeah, here’s the struggle I alluded to in my opening: I love Rurouni Kenshin. It’s likely my single favorite manga series of all time. I’ll get into the why’s of it all later, but the ultimate point is that I think it’s brilliant on just about every level.
Nobuhiro Watsuki, however, is purportedly a huge piece of shit human being who has been convicted of no less than the possession of child pornography.
It was years after my reading Kenshin that I found out about Watsuki the trash human being. So am I supposed to retroactively not love his gorgeous series? Like, we’re not dealing with a guy who has supported unsavory agendas or said derogatory things on social media. Child pornography. If I could translate it into a metaphor, I would say that it’s the CHILD PORNOGRAPHY of crime.
We’ll come back to this.
Rurouni Kenshin is the tale of a former famous warrior, Kenshin Himura, who helped the Meiji Era of Japan take hold by fighting viciously for the government. He was a killer of great renown, and even years into the Meiji Era, people still know of him by his famous identity, Hitokiri Battosai, the manslayer. In the post-war world, however, Kenshin is a peaceful warrior who has given up killing others and fights only to protect those who can’t protect themselves. To this end, he wields only a sakabato blade—a sword that is “reversed” so that the front edge is blunt.
He starts the series off by encountering Kamiya Kaoru in her village and helps her bring an imposter Hitokiri Battosai to justice. They form a friendship, meet a bunch of allies, and have adventures from there. Stuff happens.
Sorry, that was an awful story synopsis, but I’m still stuck on the Nobuhiro Watsuki stuff.
Rurouni Kenshin clocks in at 28 volumes of manga, making it a somewhat lengthy series, but not of the beastly, seemingly endless variety like Naruto or One Piece. It has a pretty definitive story arc from beginning to end, and it does not meander too much.
(There is a follow up series that started somewhat recently—over 20 years after the initial story—but I have not gotten into that and probably won’t because… well. You know by now.)
Kenshin is a layered, troubled protagonist who is easy to root for. He is light-hearted, but fierce. There is always an undercurrent of violence to him that he is fighting back, and he is striving to remain ahead of that and be a better person. Kaoru is a bit of an overemotional drag at times, but in her better moments, she is defiant and strong-willed. The two other core member of Kenshin’s “family”, Yahiko and Sanosuke both grow over the series and are lovable; they bring the wit and the foil to Himura’s character. The rest of the cast—the villains in particular—are extremely creative and vibrant. There are literally dozens of antagonists across the series, and they all have amusing gimmicks or quirks that let them stand out. A lot of thought went into these designs, and while it could feel like every idea thrown at a wall at once, oftentimes the ride is so much fun that it doesn’t bother you.
The series could essentially be broken down into three arcs: the… introductory (?) arc, the Shishio arc, and the Enishi arc. If there’s a weakness to be found, it could be that the Shishio portion of the tale is so good that the Enishi follow-up feels a bit weak by comparison, but it’s the arc that brings everything full circle and answers all the questions the reader has left. So it’s necessary. That Shishio storyline, though? That is the good stuff. The fights are so much damn fun, and Shishio is a devastatingly brutal villain. It’s one of the best stretches of manga I have ever read.
The art is also sharp, and the fight scenes are dynamic and brutal. Everything is a rush of movement, and the action lunges out at you; everything is full of impact. When there is call for a humorous moment, the art becomes light-hearted and goofy, even in the middle of a more serious battle, without feeling off-putting. Kenshin in particular can go from disarmingly goofy looking to razor-focused in the exchange of one panel.
Literally everything about this series is great. Everything except its creator. Which really stinks.
Talking Point: We’re going right back to the top of the article on this one: Where is the line for you? What are you willing to accept from an artist? Or a business? Or, hell, a family member?
It’s one of my favorite series of all time, and one of my go-to manga/anime series when I want to show folks how good this genre can be. The art, the characters, the historical aspects, the designs… it works on every single level. We’ll drop it by half a point for the climactic arc being weaker than what proceeds it, but everything works here. I just wish I felt less awful about supporting it and the man behind it all.