The four-episode Samurai X: Trust original animation video captures the mixture of swordplay and poetry that makes Japanese warrior culture so intriguing to viewers on both sides of the Pacific. The OAV series serves as a prequel to both Samurai X: The Movie and the more lighthearted TV series. The action unfolds in 1864, when a few clans began the revolt that would overthrow the military dictatorship of the Tokugawa Shogunate and return power to the Emperor in the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Shinta, a lonely orphan, is transformed by master swordsman Hiko into Kenshin Himura, an assassin in the service of Katsura, one of the revolutionary leaders. Kenshin kills whomever Katsura orders with consummate skill and unshatterable calm. He believes he is using his sword to bring about a better world, even as the intrigues and counter-intrigues escalate. But he becomes aware of unspoken doubts when he meets Tomoe, a mysterious girl whose beauty, like the iris, is seen to best advantage in cloudy weather. Director Kazuhiro Furuhashi choreographs the sword fights with a grace that infuses even scenes of extreme violence with an elegant sensuality: in one striking image, he focuses on the rain washing a spatter of blood from Tomoe's cheek. The dialogue in the English translation often sounds stilted, but the words are usually superfluous.
The peace that reigns over the remote mountain village of Otsu contrasts sharply with the rapid-fire violence of the previous episodes set in Kyoto. Working as a farmer, growing crops and savoring the passage of the seasons, Kenshin comes to terms with the discontent festering in his soul. He regrets the death and suffering he has caused, and hopes to find a better life--with the mysterious Tomoe. A conventional story would end on this note of self-discovery and moral growth. But Samurai X unfolds like a Kabuki tragedy: the desire for revenge remains strong, especially among the agents of the last Tokugawa Shogun, who are anxious to crush the nascent rebellion led by the Choshu clan. Kenshin was an important agent for the Choshu; Tomoe is just a pawn, but the outcome of a game may hinge on a strategically positioned pawn. Kenshin finally grasps the lessons his master, Hiko, attempted to teach him: the need for inner peace and the possibility of defending the weak without resorting to violence. The exquisitely detailed artwork evokes 19th century Japan, and director Kazuhiro Furuhashi depicts these understated inner conflicts as skillfully as the epic sword fights in the first episodes. Samurai X demonstrates the power of animation to present stories of great emotional depth, earning it a rightful place among the top anime series.
The final OAV brings the long-running saga of master swordsman and assassin Kenshin Himura to its conclusion. The story is set in 1893, long after the bloody conflicts of the Meiji Restoration--and the events in the previous OAVs that culminated in the death of Kenshin's wife, Tomoe. With his devoted second wife, Kaoru, Kenshin seeks peace in trying to aid the helpless. But he cannot escape the karmic burden of the many deaths he caused: there is no peace for Kenshin in this world. The Japanese concept of the transitory nature of beauty permeates the two-part adventure. Director Kazuhiro Furuhashi ushers the narrative along at a deliberate pace, deftly inserting the many flashback sequences. The result is a properly elegiac farewell to one of most popular anime characters on both sides of the Pacific. (Rated 17 and older: violence, alcohol use, mature themes) --Charles Solomon