If you’re just joining us, Briefs by Blake is a special series that spotlights a handful of manga that only ran for a short while (chapter lengths in the teens to twenties). We hope you enjoy the final installation of this series.
As a kid, I became aware of anime through the rising popularity of things like Dragon Ball Z on Cartoon Network. A few other shows, like Sailor Moon, Yu Yu Hakusho, and (oddly) Hamtaro filled the after school block and ignited interest in burgeoning fans of the medium. It would be years before I realized that other shows I’d watched and loved as a kid – Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon, Mon Colle Knights, Medabots – were also anime. And unfortunately I didn’t have access to Cartoon Network at home until years later, leaving me only periodic access to these shows that thrilled my peers and filled my imagination.
One such show that caught my eye was Rurouni Kenshin, a comparatively stripped-down story about a retired samurai. I saw very little of it until just a few years ago, when I watched a handful of episodes from the start of the series. I enjoyed them, and hope to give the series proper attention someday.
Rurouni Kenshin was a big hit, and in 2012 had a live action film on the way. As a result, the original manga creator, Nobuhiro Watsuki, decided to return to the series with Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration. This is a two-volume, 11 chapter story that retells some of the pieces of the original Rurouni Kenshin. Some changes and updates were made, with minor adjustments to how characters act, but overall this was an attempt at a faithful remake to please fans and entice new ones.
As a longtime aspiring fan with limited knowledge of the actual series, I quite enjoyed Restoration. The original Rurouni Kenshin feels like a slower, older-style, episodic story (at least in the early going), as opposed to faster-paced and more serialized modern fare like My Hero Academia and One Punch Man. I found Restoration to be a nice intersection of my understanding and limited experience of the original, with a more streamlined modern experience. Because the series was intentionally written to be short, things happen quickly and don’t linger overlong.
It could be argued that this accelerated pace is a bit of a drawback occasionally, as things blitz into being only to be dispensed with by the end of the chapter. One character’s entire focal story is introduced and resolved in two chapters, and he plays a major role in the original series. I generally wasn’t upset by these quick turnarounds, because I understood that this was a short miniseries by design. It does a good job of having its episode-of-the-week cake baked into the DNA of the original, while still sticking the landing on a satisfying arc well enough.
I say “well enough” because the fast, episodic nature did make the finale feel awfully quick. A hitherto unintroduced character appears, and in the span of two or three chapters, is defeated, taking the series with him. The character, set up to be a particularly powerful and sadistic villain, does not quite have the time to establish his bona fides, either as a talented and dangerous swordsman or as an amoral bastard. While these quick intros work well with lighter conflicts throughout the series, they cause something of a stumble here in the finale.
Despite this, Restoration is a good time. Another bite-sized manga, this could easily be devoured in the course of a snowy afternoon. Anyone familiar with the original Rurouni Kenshin will likely be delighted by this quick highlight reel down memory lane, while those unfamiliar will likely find this a welcoming and enticing tease. I suspect that many, like me, will find interest in the original series spiked by this speedy retelling. If you’re in the market for more grounded shonen fare, and/or a fun samurai romp, this is a must-read.