Rurouni Kenshin Season 2: The Legend of Kyoto Review

Theme Song by Brian Setzer and owned by Walt Disney Records


It is often said that the second act of a 3 part epic is always the best because the first act is all about establishing the plot and characters while the second act actually has our characters doing something and the third act is just a resolution. Rurouni Kenshin is no exception to this rule. Rurouni Kenshin Season 2: The Legend of Kyoto is the best and most perfect second act and story arc I’ve EVER  seen!!! I just watched it again and I still can’t find anything really wrong with it! It destroys the status quo of season 1. It completely escalates the threat to impossible odds. It pushes and develops our characters to the absolute limit. It is excellently paced. The new characters are great. The action scenes are better than ever! This story arc is just great! It is a manual on how to create a kick ass second act!


The Legend of Kyoto arc begins with episode 28 where we are treated to a very gritty and brutal flashback to Kenshin’s fighting days in the Revolution. It does an excellent job of contrasting the optimistic mood of the previous season. After the flashback/dream we have Kenshin constantly on edge despite the peaceful setting. When Kenshin and friends leave to eat lunch someone approaches the dojo. Sano was left behind and greets the visitor only to learn that it is Kenshin’s archrival from the Revolution named Hajime Saito. Saito severely wounds Sano and his broken body acts as a message to Kenshin that a “storm is coming”. While Kenshin is away Saito stops by the dojo and waits for Kenshin while accepting the hospitality of Kenshin’s friends (Saito’s new job in the Meiji Era is actually that of a police officer named Goro Fujita which is why his presence doesn’t cause suspicion). When Kenshin returns he is absolutely shocked to find Saito there and the two rivals fight. This fight clearly shows how different this arc is because Saito is Kenshin’s equal and in some instances superior in every way. The fight is long brutal and involved so much so that Kenshin reverts to his Man Slayer persona just as he fought Jin-e. When the decisive killing blow is about to be laid the Police Commissioner and Secretary of the Interior stop the fight. It is learned that Saito got carried away with the fight as he was only hired to evaluate Kenshin’s strength. The reason for this is that there is a plan of rebellion and destruction of the Meiji Government. A dangerous Man Slayer other than Kenshin who was long thought dead survived his assassination and has gathered an army of cruel and loyal fighters to take over Japan and cause massive chaos and death. The politicians want Kenshin to kill the vengeful Man Slayer named Makoto Shishio, but Kenshin needs time to think and they give him till May 14th. Kenshin is disturbed by the fact he transformed into his Man Slayer personality and has no intention of breaking his oath never to kill, but as a wanderer he can’t tolerate the threat and aggression and with a heavy heart in Episode 31 he departs for Kyoto (the location of Shishio’s army). Along the way he meets and allies himself with the Kyoto Oni Waban Group and now seeks the ultimate and strongest form of the Reverse Blade Sword as well as his Master so that he can learn the secrets of the Hiten Mitsurugi style that he didn’t learn before. Kenshin’s friends follow him to Kyoto and assist him in the extremely tough battles ahead. Saito goes to Kyoto to stop the chaos and even Aoshi Shinomori returns as a mad warrior who seeks nothing but Kenshin’s defeat! This simple premise builds and builds the tension, threat and scope of the show all the way up to a literal fever pitch that is the awesome final battle! You care about this world and characters in season 1 now you see that world crumbling around the characters and how they respond and deal with it! The new characters are also excellent with their roles in the arc as well and some of their backstories are incredibly sad and heartbreaking. It is an absolute extravaganza and is the main if not the sole reason that this anime is considered a classic!



Kenshin Himura voiced by Richard Cansino

Kenshin grows the most in this season. After the fight with Saito his confidence is broken and he is very unsure of himself regarding whether he can fight the new threat without breaking his oath not to kill. He knows that in his present state he doesn’t stand a chance. He doesn’t want to leave his loved ones behind, but he has responsibilities as a wanderer that protects and the sins of his bloodstained past are forcing him to return to lay those sins to rest. It follows the rule of the hero being far more vulnerable by having Kenshin not triumph all the time and having situations that he doesn’t immediately know the answer to. He knows that these villains can’t be reasoned with, but must stop them without killing them. Kenshin is forced to become a learner once again when he seeks out his Master whom he abandoned while training under him. Kenshin learns not just the ultimate attack of the Hiten Mitsurugi style, but also discovers the idea behind it. Something that is worth fighting for and living for! It’s this idea that triumphs over Shishio’s and has Kenshin win even against extreme odds.

Sanosuke Sagara voiced by Lex Lang

While Kaoru’s development is more about her basically revealing her feelings for Kenshin and Yahiko’s development is more him maturing as a swordsman Sano’s is the only significant one worth talking about. Sano has a great grudge against Saito and Saito said something to him that really made Sano uneasy. Saito called Sano an inconvenience and dead weight that Kenshin had to bear. Sano being a very proud person went to Kyoto to prove to Kenshin and Saito that he wasn’t a burden. Along the way he meets a monk named Anji who teaches him a technique that can turn anything you punch into powder or down to a molecular level. Sano tries his hardest and eventually is able to perform the technique with his right fist and now feels he has the necessary strength to no longer be a burden. He joins Kenshin and Saito in Kyoto and becomes part of the team that infiltrates Shishio’s headquarters. He also uses bombs given to him by a friend to destroy Shishio’s secret weapon the steel battleship “Purgatory”. He also takes a stand against Shishio and gets completely messed up. He ends up with his right hand so broken and destroyed that he can’t punch anybody with it anymore. He can hold and grab stuff, but he pretty much loses the ability to lose his right hand for the rest of the show.

Hajime Saito voiced by Kirk Thornton

Saito is basically Kenshin if Kenshin didn’t give a damn! He is Kenshin minus the oath never to kill. He was once the leader of the 3rd Shinsengumi Squad (foot soldiers of the Shogunate and Kenshin’s archrivals during the Revolution) and is committed to the ideals of justice like Kenshin, but on different sides. He believes in the simple Aku Soku Zan which means Slay Evil Immediately. He believes that no matter how much things change that ideal is the constant that there is always evil and as long as there is evil there must be one to kill it wherever it may show up. He uses a powerful technique called the Gatotsu where he thrusts the sword forward at extreme speed. There are various forms of the attack and it’s extremely powerful.

Aoshi Shinomori voiced by Terrence Stone

Aoshi returns, but this time he is much stronger and he uses two kodachis instead of one. He has turned into a warrior that is obsessed with fighting and Kenshin’s death. Aoshi is so blinded that he actually joins Shishio and hopes that he will run into Kenshin and confront him. He gets his chance and Kenshin does his best to get through to Aoshi and he eventually does and Aoshi and Kenshin finish their battle in true honorable fashion and Kenshin wins. Aoshi has no regrets and urges Kenshin onward. After everyone is seemingly defeated by Shishio Aoshi steps up to the plate and fights Shishio to buy time for Kenshin to regain consciousness. He has something to live for now and is going to help his comrades to the end.

Aoshi vs. Shishio


Seijuro Hiko XIII: voiced by Richard Epcar

Seijuro Hiko is the name that is given to the person that has mastered the Hiten Mitsurugi style. Hiko is extremely strong and powerful, wise and arrogant. Kenshin comes to him to seek the final techniques of the Hiten Mitsurugi style that Kenshin didn’t learn. He gives great knowledge to Kenshin on why his skills are ineffective and how he brought his tragic fate and guilt upon himself. After hearing from Kenshin’s friends on how he has used the Hiten Mitsurugi style as a wanderer he agrees to teach Kenshin the final attacks of the Hiten Mitsurugi style. It is in the episodes with Hiko that we learn Kenshin’s basic origin story. Kenshin was born into a slave family and his parents died of cholera and he was being moved. Bandits attacked the slave traders and killed everyone. A group of women who were slave traders shielded him with their bodies begging for mercy, but the bandits slaughtered them. Just as Kenshin was about to die Hiko showed up and killed the bandits. He offered basic condolences to Kenshin and told him that he was lucky Hiko was passing by and that there’s an inn just down the road that would show sympathy to the boy. When Hiko returned the next day he found that Kenshin had dug graves for everyone including the bandits. Hiko sees a passionate swordsman in the boy and decides to take him as his apprentice and asks his name. The boy replies “Shinta” and Hiko scoffs at the name saying “It’s way too soft for a swordsman. From now on your name is Kenshin!” It’s a really good origin story that would only get better in the OVA that was released. Hiko’s ego is actually well deserved because he is so badass. In fact the show actually refers to him as Superman at one point. He is an excellent addition to the list of the most awesome mentors. I think I would prefer him over Yoda.


The villains this time around are much more diabolical and cruel. However these villains are far from being 1 dimensional. They are actual characters with thoughts and feelings and ideas and worldviews. Two out of the three I’m going to discuss have really tragic backstories and shows the cruelty of the world.

Makoto Shishio: voiced by Steve Blum

Makoto Shishio was the Man Slayer that handled assassinations when Kenshin revealed himself and became a front line soldier. That is why Shishio is considered to be Kenshin’s successor as a Man Slayer. However, the Meji Government found out that he was a sociopath bent on death, destruction and domination so at the end of the Boshin Wars they tried to get rid of him by shooting him multiple times and setting him on fire, but Shishio survived and now looks like a mummy and planned his vengeance by guess what, TAKING OVER JAPAN!!

He has created an army of loyal followers that are so loyal it’s more like a religious cult or in the same way Joker’s goons are attracted to the idea of anarchy and chaos. His main fighting force is called the Juppongatana (Ten Swords) consisting of 10 deadly warriors that serve as lieutenants for his army. His worldview is a mixture of anarchy and Social Darwinism that the weak should die and that the strong are deserving of life. He sees this as an excuse to slaughter people weaker than he is. When he explains his political aspirations once he controls Japan he talks about getting involved with the global imperialism that Europe and America are practicing in. This in some ways makes Shishio symbolic of the political agendas and attitudes that the Japanese militaristic regime would practice in the 1930s and World War 2. He has absolutely no morals and sees people only as victims waiting to be slaughtered so he can become stronger he even kills his lover to get a cheap shot at Kenshin. Yet the show reveals various aspects that make Shishio more human and not much different from our heroes showing the grey areas despite the fact he needed to be stopped. His attacks are fire based and can set his sword on fire with one little spark from friction. The reason why he is able to sustain the blade being on fire is because the blade of his sword is very finely serrated to resemble a saw so each time he kills someone their essence is seeped into the blade so the substance that is actually burning is quite gross, but it’s HUMAN FAT! He uses the spark to ignite the fat. He also has gun powder inside his gloves so he can grab someone by the collar and create a spark with the sword and kill his opponents with a point blank explosion. He uses these attacks to just mess everyone up! Everyone is completely messed up in the final battle especially Kenshin. Despite the fact that he has all these great attacks Shishio’s hubris is what ends up killing him. He has a very basic weakness. When he was burned alive his sweat glands were destroyed so he can’t regulate his body temperature. So he is cursed with a body temperature that is about 200 degrees Fahrenheit maybe even a little bit more. If he fights for too long his body temperature will go way too high and the extreme body heat will kill him. Shishio pushes himself so much that his blood actually starts evaporating and then the heat actually ignites the fats and oils in his body and he begins to combust. It’s a great irony that he said he was the strongest when he can’t even fight for an extended period of time without combusting and that it was mainly his own hubris that killed him.

Sojiro Seta The Tenken: voiced by Tara Jayn and Melissa Fahn

Sojiro is a character that has probably the saddest and most disturbing backstory out of all the characters. He comes from an abusive family that treats him like crap. They treat him like absolute crap and tell him that his existence is worth nothing. They destroy his self esteem and beat him to a pulp for no reason. It’s basically Cinderella’s situation if she grew up at a crack house. Unfortunately for Sojiro his Fairy Godmother turns out to be Shishio who is on the run. It’s very difficult to describe all this deep emotional and psychological stuff going on and I don’t think I’m intelligent enough to put it into words so I think it’s best to show you by having this episode and getting your own response. Be warned this episode is not for the squeamish or for the people that traumatize easily. It’s pretty heavy stuff and shows the genius of the anime medium and shows how far anime can go in terms of the types of stories they tell.

Sojiro’s Backstory

The shtick with Sojiro is that he shows no emotions making him very unpredictable because you can’t read him to predict attacks or movements. When Kenshin defeats him he decides to learn the answers of the meaning of life for himself.


Anji the Destroyer: voiced by Michael McConnohie

Anji is another character with a tragic backstory. He was once a very kind Buddhist monk and cared for the children of an orphanage and at one point there was an anti Buddhist purge and while Anji was away his temple was burnt to the ground with the children still inside. Anji swore vengeance and he became Anji the Destroyer and started exacting his form of “salvation” by killing officials in the Meiji Government who allowed the slaughter to happen. He joined Shishio because he wanted the Meiji Government overthrown. He is the 3rd strongest Juppongatana member and he is the most merciful and honorable member of the Juppongatana. He even saved innocent allies of Kenshin’s. He also openly admits he’s not loyal to Shishio if Shishio doesn’t deliver on promises of a better world. While training in the forest he met Sano and he taught him the basic form of his special attack with neither realizing that they are on different sides. When Sano fights Anji at Shishio’s headquarters he sees that Anji is just like Sano and how he acted as a fighter for hire. Sano makes him realize that he has dishonored the lives of the children he lost and Anji surrenders and gives valuable information to the group and in the end turns himself into the police and they take his merciful nature and backstory into account and they sentence him to only 25 years in prison in Hokkaido.



The action sequences are much better. They are faster, more intense and much more bloody and brutal. When a character gets punched, sliced, or cut you in some ways feel that cut. There may be times where you’ll wince because of how insanely injured our characters get in the final battle. Even though the action scenes are more physical the battle of wills and ideas and worldviews still hasn’t diminished. Far from it in fact it’s actually much stronger and meaningful than ever.


The music by Noriyuki Asakura really comes into its own here. The music in this arc is phenomenal!!! The opening music represents that a storm is coming and that things are going to take a darker turn and I love it! The next is Aoshi’s theme that captures the tragic and lone warrior and when Aoshi is fighting Shishio it shows his courage and heroism and his regained honor! The next is my favorite called Departure. It is the theme of the entire arc. It captures the epic scope, the changing situation and the choices that our characters make for better or worse. It has a grand scale of emotion and is one of the best themes I’ve ever heard!


Aoshi’s Theme

Departure Main Theme of Season 2



I LOVE this arc! It’s my favorite and as I said before this is the arc that makes this an anime classic! If it feels like my attention to detail was slipping or if some of my points aren’t as coherent as they were it’s because this arc is so good it’s very hard to describe with words it must be experienced by you. The epic story, the excellent fights, the philosophical themes, the development of our characters, the beautiful music all of it is just so freakin’ good!!! Unfortunately this show takes a nosedive when we take a look at …sigh…. Tales of the Meiji Season 3!

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