Thursday, October 12, 2006

Episodes that Stand Out - Samurai X

So...more great episodes (well, one this time, at least). I have another entry that I'm dying to write (about the whole loli fetish thing) but for now this will do.

First, why am I devoting a whole post to just a single episode? Well, it comes down to a comment that J. Valdez posted on my last entry, saying that he was just waiting for the Samurai X episode to appear. And here it is. However, I'm doing this one a bit different, because I want to clear up something that I mistakenly wrote in a long-ago post I made about The Five Most Memorable Scenes in Anime. As first, I put a very good scene, the scene in which Tomoe first witnesses Kenshin's ability to kill. It's a great scene, but my description didn't do it justice, and in fact butchers the level of emotional depth contained therein. Having just rewatched the OVA for what is probably around the twentieth time, I want to rectify both my mistake and my insult to what is undoubtedly my favorite Japanese Animation work, ever.

To this end I've compiled a small list of scenes that I feel deserve title of "best scene," with the intent of weighing the pros and cons of each in order to come up with the deserved moniker of "best episode," not to mention recitifying my "best scene" flop many months ago. we go.

First, the scenes. I've provided a snapshot of each that I feel accurately captures the mood of the scene, as well as a brief description to get everyone reacquainted with what happened (following the basic layout of the last post).

Episode 1 / "The Bloody Rain"
It's a scene straight from a chambara film. Kenshin, a Choshu assassin, finds himself the object of an assassination attempt by a ninja hired by the Shogunate. Bound by the ninja's chain, Kenshin uses the ninja's own sword to slice him in half. The blood released by this act showers Tomoe, who happens to be walking by at this particular moment. "You caused the rain to bleed," she says, before drunkenness and shock catch up to her - and she collapses.

The scene's poignancy is due to the buildup we've experienced over the course of the episode. References to Kenshin's ability to kill without feeling have been thrust at us from Iizuka, Katsura, even Kenshin himself. However, the most important quote relating to this scene actually comes some time before it. Katsura, in speaking of Kenshin's inability to experience regret or guilt over his killings, says that "it [the guilt] will devour him." In fact, this moment is the first time that Kenshin shows emotion during the entire first episode. Add a rousing musical piece (which starts up whenever there's a grand finale moment in the OVA), and you have one solid scene overall.

But, it isn't the best one. Tomoe's lines are a bit overdramatic, and of course, the characters, while they have already been developed quite well, still need time to connect with the audience.

Episode 2 / "I am your sheath"
Another Tomoe line. This is actually the same scene as the one that I listed in my "Five most memorable scenes" post. However, there's a big difference between why I'm listing it here, this time, as opposed to in that entry. Up until now, I have always watched Samurai X dubbed. Practically treason, right? And I'm not the sort of otaku who watches things dubbed - the only series that I think the dub outdoes the sub is Cowboy Bebop - but for some reason (maybe an emotional attachment to the dub?) I've never watched it subbed until just a few days ago. The subbed version does shed light on some things, and brings more meaning to much of the series. This scene in particular benefits from the more true-to-the-original translation.

It all comes from what Tomoe is actually intending when she says, "I am your sheath." When she and Kenshin run into the first group of Shinsen-gumi, Kenshin (in the sub) orders her to move away so she will not have to watch him kill them. However, she says her aforementioned line, and then follows it up with: "I want to see you work." This is the key to the scene's drama, not the "You're all dead!" that I so sophomorically alluded to in my older post.

Even more compelling is the expression on Tomoe's face after she has watched Kenshin dispatch the Shinsen-gumi soldiers. I think it's the closest thing to hate we ever see appear on her face, as if she suddenly can see what Kenshin did to Kiyosato (Tomoe's former fiance, who Kenshin killed). In the end though, this episode also does not warrant the award of "best scene." It's very good, very solid, and serves as a great lead-in to the second half of the OVA. However, as we'll see, there is a scene with even greater power still to come.

I skipped over Episode 3, mainly for the sake of space (this is getting to be one of the longest posts I've written).

Episode 4 / "What is your name?"
That's it. The very last scene in the OVA. The similarities between the beginning, when Kenshin was first asked his name, and the end are striking. In the beginning Kenshin couldn't protect anyone, because he lacked the physical ability, and because of that three women sacrificed themselves for him. In the end, Kenshin couldn't protect his love, because he lacked the maturity to understand how to use his abilities, and because of that his love sacrificed herself for him.

Changing his name was his first step into the adult world, where people have the power to make their own decisions. But his adolescence was too much, and he was too inexperienced. At the end of the OVA, Kenshin is finally a man - and befitting of the name that his master gave him.

The Best Scene - and - The Best Episode.

I've never had a taste for the Rurouni Kenshin anime series, or the manga, because I saw Samurai X first. The level of feeling I experienced watching this has gone unmatched by any other anime film, OVA, TV series or otherwise that I've seen before or since. It's the greatest work I know, and I hope that you all, even if you don't hold it on the pedestal that I do, have had the opportunity to share it.


At 9:58 PM, Blogger J.Valdez said...

Truly, one of the best anime I’ve ever watched. Oddly, I’ve never watched it subbed. I guess I’ll have to try it. It’s the shows like this that keep me watching anime, if only to see if they can be outdone.

No that I think about it I don't believe I have a favorite scene.

At 8:56 PM, Blogger Michael said...

J. Valdez: Yes, I love Samurai X. It remains as brilliant as ever.

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