[Manga] Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration (VIZ Media)


Rurouni Kenshin Restoration

Late to the game with this review... For anyone who knows me semi-well, they will likely know that I'm a fairly avid fan of Rurouni Kenshin, so naturally I was pretty excited last year when they announced Rurouni Kenshin: Tokuhitsu-ban/Kinema-ban (aka Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration).

Leaving aside the other new 'Rurouni Kenshin' releases from then for now, such as the Rurouni Kenshin movie (which was awesome, by the way) as well as the anime, Rurouni Kenshin: Shin Kyoto Hen (aka New Kyoto Arc), I was particularly interested in this manga reboot because it would be drawn by Nobuhiro Watsuki himself. These other two adaptations would naturally deviate from the source material due to their, well, nature as an adaptation.

A bit of history

To my shame, I haven't followed Watsuki-sensei much in recent years since he started his Embalming work. While I personally rather like the series, I'm not sure it has really taken off much in the English-speaking world which is why I haven't seen any English translated volumes for sale, although naturally you can purchase the Japanese tankobon... if you can read Japanese. I managed to acquire a copy of Volume 3 at the Japanese second-hand books store Hondarake.

Watsuki's art has certainly matured and changed somewhat during his time working with both successful series and series that never really took off, like Gun Blaze West, Busou Renkin and of course Embalming, but still it is recognisable and unique and in some ways hasn't changed at all, though one can certainly agree it's come far since the early days of Rurouni Kenshin.

Crossover picture

Restoration

Last year, I bought the June 2012 edition of Shounen Jump Square the week it came out which featured the first chapter of Rurouni Kenshin, but I wasn't able to fully understand the Japanese and due to the delay in any English version of the manga appearing, I slowly began to lose some of my interest in the new reboot of both the manga and the new anime and neglected to keep up with it anymore.

A couple of weeks ago, my good friend Seb gifted me two of volumes of manga as a late birthday present and one of them was the first volume of the English release of Restoration by VIZ Media! In many ways it looks just like my other 28 volumes of the original series I have stored away, but it was also very different - understandably more modern in style since more than 20 years set some of them apart. The approach was different, the colouring was different, and the art also was subtly different.

Comparison!

The verdict

There was nothing to it - it was simply different from the original series. That's how it was always marketed, as a remake and a parallel to the original series. Yet as a fan of the original, understandably we cannot help but compare it to the original because of that element of nostalgia. Seeing that classic logo for the series, the red ribbon twining around the katana - it really takes me back. Still, even as we see that a lot has changed, it's still reassuring to see that some things can remain unchanged all the same.

What else has changed? The volume is a lot thinner than the average size of manga volumes and you can definitely feel it because to me it seems like the story is rushed, as if too much is trying to be squeezed into too few pages. Fitting elements of the old storyline to the new... while you expect scenes to be present because of knowledge of the original series, this does not mean they necessarily have a place in the new series. The rush of events leaves the story lacking somewhat, when you step away from the initial adrenalin and excitement over a new series.

Kaoru and Kenshin interaction

One thing I like about this new series, Kaoru certainly seems a lot stronger in the beginning. While it certainly appealed to the romantic side that at the start of the older series she was saved by Kenshin from certain death and saved again, this Kaoru is in a sticky situation but certainly can hold her own and has plenty of spunk. Kenshin, however, seems a lot more dangerous and intense as well as more impulsive: a lot more of his hitokiri side leaks out into the open than it does in the original series.

Kanryuu reminds me of Chouno from Busou Renkin though, and certainly rather more brutal than his previous incarnation that definitely seems a testament to both Busou Renkin and Embalming. Well, man likes his violence.

Kanryuu

I am disappointed, however, that VIZ Media haven't changed their formula much. As usual, they strip out the Japanese sound effects and add their own in English. It's certainly a scanlator's practice to keep a large percentage of the sound effects in as the original Japanese and simply explain what they mean. I have to say that I prefer this practice over stripping them out entirely, but of course one has to be able to have some degree of understanding of Japanese to really be able to appreciate that sound effect. This creates some dissonance though, since VIZ strip some but then leave a couple in.

Finally, as usual I love the oneshots which Watsuki-sensei writes which are always well-paced and exploratory as well as heartwarming. In this case, 'Act Zero: The Prologue'.

What ultimately improved the experience?

The author's notes. What he says on why he began this new series and how he views adaptions of his work, whether they are anime or live action movies is quite significant, as well as the insight into his thought process as to how he came up with this new series and how he came up with this one shot was fascinating and certainly inspires admiration of the creativity and thought which was lavished on this work.

I noticed a typo though, VIZ. Your translations with their strange grammar and tenses don't do the volume justice, and made it harder to read than it should have been. It made something that should have been a joy eventually just a struggle, and that is simply disappointing.

First image from Tumblr.
Second image from Minitokyo.net.
Chouno image from Outskirts Battle Dome.
Rurouni Kenshin is owned by Nobuhiro Watsuki.