It’s time to review a manga title that I consider to easily be one of the best titles of all time. This was a series that I started all the way back in 2011 and finally finished a few months ago. It essentially has everything that I could want in an action title along with an excellent main character. The Kenshin manga was on the road to success from the start and never looked back.
The series is about a wandering swordsman known as Kenshin. He used to fight in the wars, but has now decided to retire to a quiet life after traumatic events, which are eventually told to you during a mini flashback arc. He believes that peace will always be better than violence, but knows that it is not really possible to have one without the other. He wanders across a dojo where he meets up with Kaoru. After he helps her take out a random thug, he decides to stay there a while.
Essentially, the first part of the manga deals with a lot of one shot adventures. Kenshin meets up with several of his soon to be rivals like Sanosuke, Saito, and Aoshi. He takes down several villainous groups and helps people out as often as possible. Kenshin solidifies his standings as a peaceful warrior who only fights for justice and his friends in the current days. That being said, his opponents could not accept this.
A villain by the name of Shishio has gathered a group of the most dangerous villains on the planet to aid him. He wants to purge Kyoto into madness and he gets ready to basically kick off some new wars and battles with the destruction that he is causing. Kenshin is asked to help out and he reluctantly goes, but Aoshi will stand in his way and Shishio ends up proving to be one of the strongest enemies that Kenshin has ever faced. Can Kenshin defeat him or have his skills simply been lost with how long he’s been inactive?
The final arc deals with an enemy from the past. He blames Kenshin for the death of his sister and wants him to know what it’s like to despair. Kenshin warns his allies that this man is dangerous and that things may get personal. There are a lot of fights and even some casualties as the arc goes on and Kenshin loses his will to fight. Can he regain it in time or are the heroes doomed?
Naturally, a whole lot happens during the span of the series as it is 28-29 volumes. While there are only 2 big arcs and a lot of mini ones, one could make the case that some of the mini arcs were basically real ones. It has been years since I read some of the original adventures although I did re read the first several volumes a while back. This is a series that has a very large amount of replay value.
Let’s get the technical aspects out of the way first. The art is spectacular and it is why the fights really end up popping out at you. The fight scenes can hold their own against any other manga title and they are long enough where you can really enjoy them and get a feel for how each character fights. Having good art is almost half the battle for a good manga series.
Naturally, writing is the next half and Kenshin certainly excels there as well. The characters are all pretty mature in how they handle things and most of them are very likable. Another good sign of this is how the series virtually has no fanservice. That was certainly impressive considering how long the series went on and it’s always good to see a series that doesn’t need to rely on such cheap tricks.
There are many cool/hardcore moments scattered throughout the series. I always get hyped when a scene like that is handled well, which is why I like Bleach so much and enjoy Kirito a lot in Sword Art Online. That high level of confidence and great moments before fighting an opponent can make a big difference between a good character and a great one. Whenever Kenshin, Aoshi, or Saito gets serious, you know that something cool is about to happen. Those characters don’t mess around and you’ll always be treated to a great action scene.
My favorite part of the whole series was probably the final gauntlet against Shishio. First, Saito attacked him and was crushed, then Aoshi took his turn and was also defeated before Kenshin jumped in. Sanosuke also took his chance there. I always like group scenes where a bunch of heroes run at one villain only to all be thrown back by his overwhelming power levels. This was similar to the big Aizen battle from Bleach, but to a slightly smaller extent as Shishio took out 3-4 fighters instead of the 10+ that Aizen defeated. Still ultra impressive though and a truly great scene.
Time to look at some of the characters as the cast is one of the reasons why the series excelled. Kenshin is essentially a perfect main character. He started out as a samurai who destroyed many people during the war. It was war so he just went along with it, but after it all, he decided to never slay another person again. Circumstances made this tough as many criminals continue to get in his way in the modern day, but he does his best so spare them and only destroy when necessary. He doesn’t even fight unless pushed into that situation. At one point, the weight of his past crimes start to drag him down and he enters a hopeless state, but he is eventually shown that he can move past that.
Kenshin’s story is one of redemption and I’m glad that it has a happy ending. He went through a lot, but he ultimately accepts what he’s done and that he can still make sure that he lives a good future. He’s certainly a main character that you can look up too and he stands up there with Goku and the others as a very noble hero. He’s also very skilled and while he is a human, there are very few mortals who can swing a blade quite as efficiently. With a sword in his hand, Kenshin can be a threat to anyone.
Kaoru is the main heroine. While she gets a decently large role, she isn’t quite as integral to the plot as some of the other characters. By and large, she’s a good character even if she doesn’t have as much personality as other heroines. She can fight to an extent and she is always there to reassure Kenshin and give him some confidence. Kaoru’s certainly a decent character and beats Yahiko. I can’t say that I ever became a fan of the kid. He looks up to Kenshin and wants to be a hero like him someday, but he will just need to get a little older first. He gets his big moments as he fights serious opponents more than once, but it’s typically just cheesy in the end.
Sanosuke is the friendly rival of the series. Kenshin has several in this series, but Sanosuke’s the closest to a friend. I would say that they are friends and rivals. Unlike the other characters, Sanosuke doesn’t use a sword and just fights with his fists. He’s not quite as strong as any of the heavyweights in the series, but he’s much better than most of the average fighters so he’s essentially in the middle. I like Sanosuke and he always fights with honor. In another series, he could have been the best character, but he got trapped in this manga so he has to settle for 4th place. That’s just how good the cast is and Sanosuke could easily hold his own series.
Saito is another one of the rivals for Kenshin and he’s easily the most antagonistic of the bunch. He works with the cops and respects Kenshin as a fighter although he believes that the hero’s senses have dulled. Saito fights for the side of justice even if his methods make you wonder a little. He may be a little over the top at times, but he’s certainly a very likable character. Easily one of the best in the series and I’d put him as number 3 for me. In case you were wondering, I’d say that Kenshin is number 1.
As for my second favorite character in the series, that would certainly be Aoshi. He was my favorite rival of the group. While he started out as a bit of a villain, he quickly turned into the rival who fights on the side of justice. He unfortunately did not get a huge role in the series and would be gone for large amounts of time, but when he did show up things would typically get very epic! His fighting style was a lot of fun to see.
Misao is a kunoichi who works with Aoshi at times. Like Yahiko, she wants to be a pretty good fighter. She’s decent at the moment, but far too young to go up against any of the big bads. She’s more charismatic than Yahiko, but still not quite on the level of the other characters who I just mentioned. Megumi is a supporting character as well, but she really doesn’t do anything in the series. She heals their injuries when necessary, but for the most part her path just doesn’t cross with the others.
Jin-E was the first real villain of the series and I actually liked him. As a villain he’s certainly imposing. He’s not incredibly powerful or anything as he’s taken down in an instant, but the design was neat and we needed a villain to go down quickly to show off how powerful Kenshin was. To that extent, I’d say that it worked out quite well.
Shishio was one of the true threats in the series and his fighting abilities were second to none. You could even make the case that he is stronger than Kenshin since Kenshin has grown a little weaker over the years. While his goals would have likely been impossible since the army would have eventually blown him away, he did do a good job of forcing Kenshin to make a move. He was certainly an imposing figure and if not for the fire illness that plagued him, he certainly could have won. I can see why this guy was a fan favorite.
Yumi is always at Shishio’s side. I can’t say that she was very good or had a whole lot of character here, but most of her character development was in the spinoff/prequel that came out a while back. At least she is loyal and Shishio knows that she would never betray him…unlike some of the other members. Seta is very ambitious and is actually a lot tougher than you would have guessed upon seeing him for the first time. While he is one of Shishio’s generals, he’s at Shishio’s level when it comes to a fight. He actually had the upper hand against Kenshin for a while due to his insane speed. While not as cool as Shishio, I can definitely respect this guy as a villain. He’s always very smug though so you couldn’t wait to see Kenshin take him down.
Usui was a pretty decent villain. I liked his gimmick since he was a defensive fighter in a series where everyone relied on offense. Naturally, he didn’t last too long against Saito, but I still liked the change of pace there and I remembered him, which is always a good sign. Anji was the power hitter of the group who used hand to hand combat in his fights so you can imagine who he fought. Anji was an impressive villain and he put up quite the fight. He had some honor, which is always good and made for another solid member of Shishio’s team.
Cho was another member who was interesting. He certainly wasn’t much of a threat next to the other members, but he had fun with his fights and was still talented. Fuji also deserves a mention as his size was quite impressive, but he had the unfortunate luck of fighting Kenshin’s master. Kenshin’s teacher was actually really cool and it’s a shame that he did not get to appear any more. Finally, a sensei who was actually serious, cool, and could fight. It’s a true shame that his screen time was so severely limited.
Enishi was the big boss of the final arc. He was certainly a great fighter and he gave Kenshin a run for his money, but I think it’s safe to say that he was not quite as good as Shishio. If Kenshin had been at the top of his game, he probably would have won with less difficulty. Enishi’s on a mission of revenge, but he does like to ignore several facts to make Kenshin out to be the bad guy. While you can sort of understand what he’s saying, he’s not a very sympathetic villain in the end even if it’s possible that he won’t go all the way through with his demands at times. Still, he made for a decent final boss.
Gein was a puppet master who had a pretty big role in the Shishio arc when you think about it as his puppet did a lot of damage. His true form is pretty anticlimactic and won’t be gaining him any fans, but his puppets were certainly lethal. If only his puppet had been real, that may have helped him. Hyogo was a pretty neat fighter as he actually gave Kenshin a decent fight, which was unexpected. His attacks are a lot quicker than you would expect based on his large size and I actually liked him as a villain to an extent. Not the greatest villain out there, but more enjoyable than I would have thought.
Banjin is a skilled hand to hand fighter so he was Sanosuke’s final big opponent. I can’t say that he had a whole lot of character other than being a bit of a hot head, but that was good enough for me as he meant business and gave Saonosuke a decently good fight. He was a little generic, but served his purpose. Yatsume was interesting because his appearance was definitely based off of Venom’s. That was amusing and it’s the main reason why I remember him. Otherwise, he’s not the most impressive fighter, although his long limbs can certainly come in handy when in a sword fight. The heroes have a hard time getting him to stick to one place.
There are naturally many more characters to be found in the manga. I’ve also read another one of this author’s series named Busou Renkin. I thoroughly enjoyed that one and would give it a solid 8/10, but this was definitely the definitive series by the author. Everything that Busou Renkin did, Kenshin basically improved on, although I think it came out first anyway, but I may be mistaken on that.
Aside from all of the non stop action, Kenshin was just a very deep manga series that dealt with serious topics while keeping that fun Shonen feel. Even the throwaway fights tended to be fairly interesting since the art would ensure that the fights would still be a lot of fun. I’m sure that the TV show adaption would also be a lot of fun, but the fights would likely not be quite as good since it’s tough to match up to the art style here.
It’s tough to say whether Kenshin even had any slow moments or parts of the series where it grew boring for a while. Naturally, I did marathon through some sections, but it was always interesting. I know that the series got a remake/AU thing called Restoration, which should be interesting to check out. There’s almost literally no way that it can beat the original, but just putting up a good fight would be most impressive. Kenshin shows that even if a Shonen Jump manga stays down to earth with low power levels during a 20+ volume run, it can still be an elite fighting manga!
Kenshin was one of the final “Big” manga series that I had not read. Now that it is gone, the only one that I can think of is Saint Seiya. I don’t believe that there are any of the super legendary, hype manga left, which is neat. I’m essentially at the end of an era and we’ll see if the modern titles are able to reach these levels of epicness. Toriko and Bleach are doing a good job of helping the modern era while One Piece is pretty solid, but we need more! What I’m waiting for is a new ongoing DBZ title or a full fledged Kenshin title to help the ranks. That would be awesome!
Overall, Kenshin is easily one of the best manga titles out there. I haven’t really made a top 10 for that yet, which I should probably get around too. I’ve basically got most of my top 10 for anime, but aside from knowing that Megaman NT Warrior is my favorite manga, the rest of them are all just shuffled in there somewhere. Nevertheless, Kenshin basically has all of my pros while avoiding the typical negatives. While I’m sure that there are some to be found in the series if you look hard enough (Like some origin stories being a little iffy or possible animal violence although I can’t recall any) they end up getting lost in the flood of positives.