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Annals of Anime: Rurouni Kenshin Comes to Hollywood

posted Nov 15, 2012, 10:26 PM by Douglas Sun

The monthly email newsletter from the Japanese Consulate in Los Angeles came in over the transom today, and the news that the recent Rurouni Kenshin live-action movie will receive its North American premiere in Hollywood next month figures quite prominently. As a Kenshin fan ever since the anime aired on Cartoon Network years ago, there is a part of me that is determined to go.

But there is also a part of me that just doesn't get live-action adaptations of anime. With settings that are relatively mundane and realistic, like Maison Ikkoku and Detective Conan (and let it be noted that the Conan live-action movie is a prequel, when Shinichi Kudo still has his teenage body). I can see it working. But it seems to me that it can just as easily fall apart under the limitations of live action. I tried watching some of the live-action Negima! TV series on YouTube once, and let's just say that something withered and died inside of me.

The problem is that cartoons tend to draw their power from the fact that they aren't live-action. They can exceed the limits of the real and achieve degrees of exaggeration and absurdity that just aren't possible with realistic depiction (unless you incorporate digital effects so thoroughly that you might as well be doing a cartoon). These anti-realistic elements in turn appeal to us because they serve as highly-charged metaphors for states of mind and being; they capture essential human truths in outlandish ways. When you translate that material back into live-action — out of the limitless realm of the unreal and straddle it with the limitations of the real — you run the risk of draining out of it what makes it interesting in the first place.

All of the adult male characters in Kenshin are, to some degree, visual absurdities. I recall Nobuhiro Watsuki saying that he was influenced somewhat by American superhero comics when he was working on the manga, and it shows in his grotesque villains. Kenshin Himura himself is something of a visual eccentric, with his diminutive stature and long, flowing hair. You can try to impose these character designs onto real actors, but doing so in a satisfying way is quite another thing.

From what I can see on the LA EigaFest website, I have to admit, it looks more polished than I would have thought. Maybe the cast and crew put enough care into it to pull it off. I hope so. But for the moment, I'm still divided on whether or not I really want to see this movie.