Rurouni Kenshin: The Final (2021)

Directed by
The legend returns
Reviewed by Simon on 2021-06-19

First things first, you should probably watch Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning before you watch RUROUNI KENSHIN: THE FINAL, even though they were released the other way around

It's been a couple of years since Kenshin and friends stopped Shisho's assault on Tokyo and restored peace to the land. The gang are feeling pretty good about life, but then things start exploding as someone from Kenshin's past turns up hell bent on revenge, and bringing along some friends to help.

Seven years after Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends it was something of a surprise to learn that the legend was in fact just resting (or possibly pining for the fjords), but we are assured by the title that this is definitely the final film... apart from the one they released a month later, obviously. Some premium gaslighting there from Keishi Ohtomo.

The new antagonist turns out to be the brother of the woman who gave Kenshin half of his signature scar when he was still Battousai the killer, which was the impetus for him to renounce violence and seek atonement for his deeds. He has spent the past 14 years in Shanghai where he has risen to the top ranks of the mafia and developed formidable martial skills. Not content for Kenshin to pay for his sister's death with his own life, he also wants to destroy the new era Kenshin fought to build.

Enishi is a great new villain, his personal connection to Kenshin makes their conflict more meaningful since he cannot deny that there is a debt to be paid, but the destructive power of Enishi's hatred that traps him in the past shows exactly why Kenshin's path is the wiser choice.

Rurouni Kenshin - The Final Enishi

The film generally delivers what we expect from the franchise - lush visuals, cool characters and fast, fluid action choreography. To some extent it's just more of the same, but I assume that's what we were all hoping for.

Things kick off with a great fight on and around a train that introduces Enishi's skill quite convincingly, then a large scale battle that introduces the rest of the villains. Around the mid point the bad guys make their move and our heroes are roundly defeated, but then some old friends reappear to rally the troops and start fighting back in a battle that consumes most of the last 40 minutes. Many of our favourite characters get a chance to strut their stuff - it was particularly good to see Tao Tsuchiya kicking ass again after being criminally sidelined in The Legend Ends.

I think there are some issues with pacing, the film starts with a bang but then meanders for a while as it fills in the backstory, until a second half that feels quite rushed in its charge towards the final showdown. It might have worked better if they'd split the backstory off into a separate film to give it time to develop at its own pace, then started this film with us already understanding the history and the stakes. They could have called it RUROUNI KENSHIN: THE BEGINNING or something... hey, wait a minute!

Rurouni Kenshin - The Beginning Crop

Not sure why they decided to release The Final before The Beginning, perhaps it will all make sense next month but on the surface it seems like it would have worked better in the more obvious order.

RUROUNI KENSHIN: THE FINAL isn't quite as good as the first film or Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno, but it is still better than most of what passes for blockbuster action these days, and is a step up from The Legend Ends - even if it's quite a small step. The action is still amongst the most impressive work of the past decade, we're still kind of waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with it.