[SPOILERS FOR RUROUNII KENSHIN TSUIOKUHEN AND SEISOUHEN]
A new Rurouni Kenshin project has been announced to debut next year—which makes this a great time to reflect on the life and death of the Hitokiri Battousai.
Rurouni Kenshin was a wildly popular TV series in the 90s and early to mid 00s, with its prequel OVA, Tsuiokuhen, being a critically-acclaimed masterpiece. However, the final installment of the series, the Seisouhen OVA in which Himaru Kenshin dies of disease in his forties, has been widely panned and is even disliked by series creator Watsuki Nobuhiro. It is not the intent of this post to make a case for liking Seisouhen; this post is interested in looking at this widely dismissed OVA with a new intrigue.
The Life of Himura Kenshin (and how it was saved)
The earliest point of Kenshin’s story, presented both in the TV series and Tsuiokuhen OVA, comes when he’s about eight years old and travelling along with a group of slaves, of which he’s been a member for just a few days. In a gruesome scene, a gang of bandits slaughters the entire group, and would have killed Kenshin as well, were it not for three women among the group that sacrificed themselves to protect him. Because of them, Kenshin survived long enough for Seijuro Hiko to happen upon the scene and slay all of the bandits.
When Hiko returns to the scene later and finds that Kenshin has buried all those who died at the scene, Kenshin states a goal that would define his character until death: he doesn’t want to see any more people die—he wants to protect those around him.
One could say that Kenshin’s road to failure in this ambition begins during his training with Seijuro Hiko. Kenshin is determined to fight in the revolution and bring about change in the world, in spite of Hiko’s warnings that he isn’t ready and doesn’t know what he’s doing. Kenshin rushes off to fight, and the drama that would unfold in Tsuiokuhen begins.
Kenshin eventually falls in love with Tomoe and decides that he doesn’t need the sword anymore. His vow to protect loses weight to his love of Tomoe, and he’s ready to retire to a farmer’s life. But his past betrays him, as he has killed many men while his vow to protect has yet gone unfulfilled. In a display of Kenshin’s failure and even betrayal of his own ideals, Tomoe is not only killed, but killed in saving Kenshin, just as the three women had been before—and just as he’d buried them, he buried Tomoe as well. Kenshin still did not have the strength to protect her, which is what made him into the man that he was during the series.
The Death of Himura Kenshin (and how it completes him)
Throughout the TV series, Kenshin stands by his vow not to kill and to prevent as much killing before his eyes as possible. He still suffers some failures and witnesses some deaths, but all along his conviction only strengthens, and he finds the ever-increasing will to protect the rest of the people surrounding him. He makes it his purpose in life, as he vowed in his childhood, to protect everyone he meets so that he doesn’t have to bury any more dead.
This brings us to the death of Kenshin in the Seishouhen OVA. Kenshin dies of an illness in his mid-forties, which is more or less quite young. He is survived by his wife, Kaoru, his son, and all of his friends from the show. Kenshin is the only character that dies in the Seishouhen OVA.
In the end, Kenshin was able to protect the people around him until his deathbed. His death is the completion of his goal and the proof of his success. Kenshin never had to bury any of his friends because he was the first to die.
Rather than the tragedy of Kenshin’s death, what should be taken away from Seishouhen is the success and validation of his life.