“My body . . . so heavy. Could it be this easy? There is rest in death.
Rest. . . .” — Kenshin contemplates the end of his life.
As Samurai X: Reflection opens, seventeen years have passed since the
start of the Rurouni Kenshin TV series. Ex-assassin Kenshin and longtime
friend Kaoru are now married and have a son named Kenji. Kenshin’s other friends
from the series are still around: Former pickpocket Yahiko is 27 now and and
has virtually taken over Kaoru’s fencing school. Tormented physician Megumi
is the village doctor, and brawling Sanosuke is off fighting in the Japanese-Chinese
war over Korea.
Despite having found love and settling down with a family, Kenshin still has
not come to terms with his past as a brutal assassin. In his desire to somehow
make amends for what he‘s done, he leaves home for extended periods to wander
Japan as a sort of itinerant do-gooder, attempting to help people however he
can. Angered at his long absences, his son Kenji has run away from home to study
swordsmanship with Kenshin’s own former master. Kaoru, for her part, simply
waits patiently at home for her husband, which is the only thing she feels she
can do for him.
On his latest, and last, trip, though, Kenshin did not return home. Kaoru falls
ill while waiting for him, and most of Reflection is her fevered memory-dreams
about her relationship with Kenshin. Using a number of reanimated scenes from
the TV series, it retells the story of how she and Kenshin first met, how they
gradually fell in love after beginning to understand the depth of pain that
burdened each of them, and on through their wedding, the birth of their child,
and the numerous times Kenshin has had to fight duel kidnappers trying to abduct
The rest of Reflection wraps up the Rurouni Kenshin storyline
as a whole, bringing everything to a touching, if sad, conclusion. Kenshin finally
accepts the pain of his past, and shares it with Kaoru, the woman he loves,
to achieve his final redemption. Kaoru helps her beloved husband one final time
by giving him a home to return to and a reason to return, something the eternally-wandering
Kenshin has never had. And Kenji finally understands what drove his often-absent
father, accepting the burden his father passes to him: to be a wandering warrior
who fights for justice yet has vowed never to take a human life. Life may be
fleeting, Reflection says, but there are some things that transcend pain,
loss, and even death.
Samurai X: Reflection is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a stand-alone
anime. If you haven’t seen Samurai X: Trust and Samurai X: Betrayal,
you’re going to be a little confused. If you haven’t seen the TV series, you’re
going to be really confused. And if you haven’t seen either, then you
will be utterly and irrevocably lost. Reflection is really for fans of
the Rurouni Kenshin series only. While newcomers will probably be intrigued
enough by the atmosphere and animation to want to pick up the rest of the saga,
it’s probably not a good idea to start your Rurouni Kenshin experience
with Reflection if you can avoid it.
That caveat aside, Reflection is a brilliant example of melodramatic,
emotional storytelling, suffused with a tragic yet ultimately hopeful aura.
The story is immensely powerful, especially in the way it explores Kenshin’s
guilt, Kaoru’s devotion, and the way that both seem to be two halves of the
same soul. It also takes the time to develop (or, rather, to reveal the development
of) Kenshin and Kaoru’s relationship; unlike the TV series, there’s not much
in the way of flashy action scenes or comic-relief antics. It’s a romance, not
about kisses and flowers but about a deep connection between two people who
love each other so much that they‘re willing to die for each other.
The animation style enhances that tragic-romantic atmosphere. It uses the more
realistic character designs and darker color palette of the Trust and
Betrayal and eschews the extreme “anime-style” antics that characterized
the goofier moments of the TV series. These more realistic designs also allow
for more subtle expressions in the characters’ faces and in their body language,
which is a very good thing since so much of this anime is about quiet emotional
moments and introspective reflection.
The fight scenes, while not nearly as numerous or as bloody as those in Trust
and Betrayal, are also brilliantly handled. They’re choreographed and
animated in a sort of cinema verité style that really heightens the tension.
In other words, while there may be fewer fights in Reflection than Rurouni
Kenshin fans are used to, they’re vastly more important to the story and
The audio also enhances the darker, more introspective tone of Reflection.
While the original Japanese actors from the TV series returns for this wrapup
OAV, they’re very subdued here, with none of the usual “Kaoru beating on Kenshin”
or “Kenshin saying ‘oro!’” antics of the TV series.
The dub actors also match the more sober performances of their Japanese counterparts,
and while they’re not the same cast from the TV series, they are the same actors
from ADV’s other Samurai X releases, including Trust and Betrayal.
And frankly, they do a pretty good job, especially the actor for Kenshin, who
brings a lot of depth to his portrayal of the character. The dub cast sounds
enough like the TV series dub cast that I had to double check the DVD credits,
so fans of the series currently running on Cartoon Network aren’t going to get
too much of a mental jolt from the voices they hear when they watch Reflection.
The voice actors also provide almost all of the extras on this DVD. There are
a series of short interviews with the original Japanese actors, focusing on
their feelings about bringing the Rurouni Kenshin saga to an end and
how they adapted their performances to suit the older, wearier versions of their
The dub cast also gets a feature to themselves: an amusing full-length commentary
track that has the actors for Kenshin, Sanosuke, and Kaoru sitting down to watch
this extended director’s cut for the first time and talking about the anime
and their roles in it. While the actress for Kaoru doesn’t actually say much
during the commentary, the actor for Kenshin more than makes up for that. He
shows that not only is he a massively funny guy, but that he’s also a Rurouni
Kenshin fan himself. His commentary is a mix of amusing Mystery Science
Theater 3000-style, lovingly mocking comments about the show (like saying
“Well, they had no Neosporin in the Meiji era“ when asked about Kenshin‘s famous
scar), and explorations of how the characters and scenes in this OAV relate
to the rest of the saga. While his commentary won’t really tell a fan of the
series anything they don’t already know, it’s certainly entertaining to listen
That brings us to the entire raison d’etre of this DVD: the extended
director’s cut version of Reflection. There is indeed a nice big chunk
of footage here that wasn’t in the original ADV release of Reflection,
and it nicely fleshes out the “lost years” in Kenshin and Kaoru’s relationship
(finally showing their wedding and the birth of their child, for instance).
But all the extra footage is concentrated in a single section of the anime instead
of being spread out to enhance the rest of the story. It’s not really an “extended
director’s cut” so much as it is “the same anime but now with about 5 minutes
straight of stuff that we should have included the first time around.”
At least they edited the two OAV “episodes” that split up Reflection
for the original DVD into a single continuous movie, so things feel a bit more
coherent. I do vastly prefer this version with the extra footage, though I’m
not sure that it’s really enough to make this disc worth picking up if you’ve
already purchased the original release. If you haven’t bought Reflection
already, though, definitely go with this version.
Samurai X: Reflection is beautiful, touching, depressing, and reassuring,
and it tells a mature story about mature people in a very mature way, which
even in anime is an unfortunate rarity. However, only longtime fans of the Rurouni
Kenshin saga will get the true emotional and dramatic impact of this anime.
While that may be the only flaw in this otherwise excellent production, it is
a pretty major one. And that’s a shame, since there’s definitely a lot worth
seeing in Reflection.
You should absolutely check out Reflection . . . just make sure you watch
the rest of the series before you do.