Manga in Minutes: Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration, Vols. 1 + 2

Welcome to another installment of Manga in Minutes! We’ve got an unexpected license announcement, some live action adaption items, and news from abroad, plus the usual weekly review. So let’s get down to business.

With that out of the way, it’s time for a look at Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration, Vols. 1 + 2!

Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration, Vols. 1 + 2by Nobuhiro WatsukiVizRating: Teen (13+)

Former assassin, Kenshin Himura, has been living the life of a wanderer since the bloody Meiji Revolution, but when he finds himself drawn into a situation involving a corrupt merchant and enemies from his past, his wandering comes to an end. Created to take advantage of the live action movie adaption, the two volume Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration sees Nobuhiro Watsuki return to his most famous creation as he reimagines the opening arc of his classic series, Rurouni Kenshin!

Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration seems like a bit of an oddity among the manga released in the US. Instead of being a sequel, prequel or side story, Watsuki instead returns to his most famous creation and essentially reboots/reimagines the franchise. This is something that American comic fans are used to, but outside of Pluto I’d be hard pressed to think of a manga released in the US that follows this pattern. The series mixes and matches elements from throughout the original run in what’s essentially the opening arc from the original series. It provides an interesting introduction for those unfamiliar or intimidated with the longer, original Rurouni Kenshin series, but due to it’s short length it lacks a lot of the oomph that made the original so enjoyable and endearing. The bulk of the story is spent developing Kenshin and, oddly enough, Yahiko - a son of samurai - while other members of Kenshin’s cast take a back seat. Sanosuke suffers greatly, what was originally an interesting and complex character is reduced to second string comedic relief, merely brushing over his intriguing backstory which was a high point of the original series. Karou suffers a similar fate, being reduced to comedy relief and a damsel in distress. Unlike the original series there’s not even a hint of the chemistry that existed between her and Kenshin in the original series.

While the main story in both these volumes is a reboot, it’s worth mentioning that the first volume of Restoration also contains a prequel for the original Rurouni Kenshin series. The tale’s set a few days before the beginning of the original series, and features Kenshin stumbling across a small feud between a Western doctor and his Japanese rival. It’s a short inoffensive “Chapter 0” tale that adds little to the original, though it does help to explain Kenshin’s ultimate decision to cease his wandering.

Watsuki’s art has certainly changed over time. It’s far cleaner and a bit more polished than it was in the original series. It’s much more angular, with a lot of straight lines and sharp angles on the bodies and poses. The action scenes are still intense, with Watsuki allowing the sharpness to breakdown into slightly sketchier or inkier moments. The characters designs will be instantly recognizable to older fans, but have been slightly modified for the times. This usually is obvious in some of the minor changes, like Kenshin’s hair or the addition of a scarf to his outfit. In some cases they’re glaring and are such bizarre changes that you’re forced to wonder what Watsuki was thinking. This is the case with the main villain of the series, Udo Jin-e. In the original series he bore more than a passing resemblance to the X-Men character Gambit, that’s been downplayed here and Watsuki’s added some rather bizarre twists to him pushing him into almost parody territory.

Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration is ultimately a letdown. Watsuki attempts to cram as many of the popular characters into a two volume series, and as a result all the characters and events end up feeling incredibly shallow, almost like stripped down versions of their original selves. Admittedly this is probably due to the limited nature of the series, but it’s still a little disappointing given how amazing the original series was from the get go. Watsuki’s artwork has certainly changed over time, it’s far cleaner, slick and more angular than it was during the original Rurouni Kenshin. The action scenes retain their intensity, but several of the new character designs are just bafflingly bad. It presented an interesting read, and hopefully it’ll lead new readers to explore the original series.

Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration, Vols. 1 + 2 are available now from Viz.

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