"It was to create a world of peace, not to win positions of power, that we raised our swords and killed. If we forget that, then we are no revolutionaries after all."
— Kenshin Himura
A manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki
, its name translates as "Kenshin the Wanderer", but it is also known as Samurai X
after Columbia Pictures
renamed it for their anime releases (which was later co-opted by ADV Films
release of the movie and OVAs). Watsuki, being a major fan of the X-Men
comics (the characters from which he based a lot of the cast's designs on), heartily endorsed this title translation.
The year is 1878, a time of peace after the turbulent Meiji Restoration and Satsuma Rebellion. Kaoru Kamiya, the spirited
young head of the Kasshin Kamiya Kendo School
, is fending off some hooligans who want to seize her dojo when she acquires the last-minute help of a mysterious vagabond named Kenshin.
It turns out that "Kenshin" is actually Kenshin Himura, a former teenage assassin who fought on the side of the revolutionary anti-shogunate forces during the Meiji Restoration. Regretting his former life as the infamous "Hitokiri Battousai
" (roughly translates into "quick-draw manslayer" after his signature technique, the quick-draw slash a.k.a. 'Battoujutsu'), Kenshin now wanders the country
as a vagrant soul
, atoning for his past sins
by using his godlike swordsmanship to right wrongs without killing anyone
The dojo later acquires two more regulars: Sanosuke Sagara, a brash youth
with spiky hair and phenomenal physical strength; and Yahiko Myoujin , a Street Urchin
who wants to become a samurai
. Rounding off the cast is Megumi Takani, a beautiful woman and healer
who acts as the Team Mom
One of the most popular series of the late 90's, Rurouni Kenshin
is notable for defying several established Shounen
conventions. It features an older hero (Kenshin is 28 at the start of the series, which is ancient by shonen protagonist standards
— not that he looks it
) who is world-weary and tired of fighting, instead of a wide-eyed young lad eager for adventure. Other themes which are rarely seen in the genre, such as politics and multi-layered romance, pop up as well. This is what contributed to the legendary Multiple Demographic Appeal
of the series, which crossed age, gender and national
boundaries with equal ease.
The series was followed by two OVA's, one a prequel (Tsuiokuhen
, a.k.a. Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal
) and the other (Seisoushen
, a.k.a. Reflections
) a sequel. The entire Sony dub of the anime is available to watch on Hulu
under Samurai X
hosts both the subtitled series and the non-Sony/Animax English dub.
Watsuki announced that he will be working on the series again, another manga series started on May 2nd, 2012. Rurouni Kenshin Cinema-ban
is a loose adaption of the Live-Action movie; it was a short monthly run at Jump Square
And as of recent years, rumors are swirling of a revival. Turns out this takes the form of a new PSP game
, and a series of Japanese-produced live-action movies. The first one, entitled simply Rurouni Kenshin
, was received with critical acclaim last 2012 and was distributed worldwide. The 2014 sequels, Kyoto Inferno
and The Legend Ends
enjoyed large critical and commercial acclaim all over Asia.There is also an OVA series
remaking the Kyoto arc and a spinoff manga
focusing on the villains.
Provides Examples Of:
- Absurdly Sharp Blade: So many.
- None more so than Kenshin's Reverse Blade Sword.
- Shishio's blade never dulls because it has tiny sawblade-like teeth which wear away like shark's teeth.
- Sanosuke's zanbatō is a notable aversion, as it has no edge at all.
- Accidental Misnaming: Yahiko hates being called "Yahiko-chan".
- Achey Scars: In the prequel, anyway.
- Accent Adaptation: The dub for the most part gave people accents.
- The Ace:
- Kamishimoemon appears to be this way. Subverted since his son Sanosuke is actually much, MUCH stronger than him.
- Hiko Seijuro, to the point where the mangaka makes a point to keep him out of most battles because he would curb stomp everyone else.
- Adaptation Expansion: Some parts of the narrative, at least:
- In the manga, Sagara Sozo and the Sekihotai chose to follow the summons of the Meiji Government after the false accusation of them being a "false army" got around, which led to their immediate execution. In the anime, they were ambushed by a Meiji Government military unit sent to exterminate them. The leader of this unit would also become the villain in the expansion of the story arc involving Sanosuke's Sekihotai comrade Katsu.
- In the manga, Raijuta is a buffoon rampaging against select kendo dojos, throwing his weight around with Yutaro's wealth. In the anime, Raijuta has a Quirky Miniboss Squad and is actually seeking to launch a coup d'etat against the Meiji Government, still using Yutaro's wealth.
- Adaptational Attractiveness:
- Adaptational Villainy: Inverted with Ujiki, the corrupt Satsuma police officer in the Tokyo Arc, in the Reflection OVA. In the OVA, he is simply doing his job of trying to apprehend Kenshin for breaking the "no swords rule" and respectively lets Yamagata handle when he arrives, showing none of his manga/anime counterpart's douchebaggery.
- Adaptational Wimp: Aoshi gets hit with this HARD in Shin Kyoto Hen, going from one of the biggest badasses in the series, to a mook who gets pimpslapped by a tired and wounded Kenshin in less than a minute, going down with one simple hit from the butt of Kenshin's sword without landing a single blow. For Shame!
- Adapted Out: In the manga, an ugly infant child was included amongst Soujirou's abusive family and was just as horrible (he can be seen laughing with delight when the family starts hunting down Soujirou). However, he is never seen in the anime. Considering that Soujirou slaughters the entire family, they probably didn't want to deal with the idea that Soujirou would kill an infant, no matter how horrible it is.
- Adult Fear:
- For a ten year old, Yahiko has a ridiculous amount of leeway that allows him to wield a sword, go on adventures, overshadow his teacher, and kick a buttload of giant mook ass in near-death battles. But when he goes off in the middle of the night with a bunch of rebels in the motion picture? Yahiko not only gets slapped by a very distressed and teary-eyed Kaoru, but even pacifist Kenshin, who wouldn't raise a hand to anybody unless it was absolutely necessary, comes out and says that if Kaoru hadn't done it, he would have slapped Yahiko upside the head himself. You ought to be ashamed of yourself for worrying your surrogate parents like that, young samurai.
- The Jinchuu arc is a horrifyingly well-done attempt by Enishi to use this on Kenshin. So Kenshin wasn't able to protect his first wife Tomoe and the mere possibility of losing his girlfriend Kaoru terrifies him? Now Tomoe's vengeful brother deliberately exploits this fear to make Kenshin believe Kaoru has been bloodily murdered by him, thus making him revive these horrible memories. And Kenshin almost crosses the Despair Event Horizon after that.
- The Psychological Horror implications of Saito going to the Kamiya dojo behind Kenshin's back brings out the Adult Fear card with incredible strength. Think about it: he could've killed everyone there easily if he wanted to, and Kenshin wouldn't have been able to do anything. When Kenshin put two and two together, he almost had a Heroic BSOD.
- Played horrifyingly straight in Anji Yukyuzan's backstory. The moment he left his old temple to meditate under a waterfall... it was the moment when he was beaten bloody by the local townspeople and said temple was burned to the ground. With Anji's adopted children inside. All because the town couldn't receive money from the government because the children were born to the losing side of the revolution. The terrible psychological consequences led to his Face-Heel Turn.
- Alas, Poor Villain:
- Sadojima Houji. A lot more honorable than his master, so much that he throws a fight rather than resort to fighting dirty. Kenshin says he feels very sorry for him when he learns about his death.
- Uonuma Usui was a bastard, but the nature of his death is both pathetic and strangely sad. It's hard not to feel at least some sympathy for him as he says his Famous Last Words (see character sheet).
- All Love Is Unrequited: For the most part averted (which is kind of surprising considering that it's a shounen anime.)
- All-Powerful Bystander: Seijuro Hiko taught the main character every sword skill he knows, except that, unlike Kenshin, Hiko's got the raw muscular power to use Hiten Mitsurugi style to its fullest, and doesn't bother with Kenshin's Thou Shalt Not Kill philosophy. The author stated outright that Hiko was far too powerful for anyone else in the series to handle. That's why he was made too apathetic and anti-social to ever go after the Big Bads himself.
- Animal Motifs: Enishi (Tiger), Kaoru (Racoon dog), Kenshin (Dragon), Megumi (Fox), Misao (Weasel), Sanosuke (Rooster), and Saitou (Wolf).
- Anime Accent Absence: Partly averted with Enishi: having spent much of his life in China at first he speaks Japanese with a "visible" accent. Later on he loses it (Watsuki probably grew tired of it) but he still roars, groans and laughs in "Chinese."
- Anime Theme Song: Some particularly famous and career-launching examples, with the greatest irony being that the ending theme changed far more often than the opening.
- The third and most famous ending theme, "Heart of Sword" (which puns off of Kenshin's name, of course) is the song that made T.M.Revolution famous. The show even went back to it after L'Arc~en~Ciel's song was infamously removed after a drug scandal.
- "It's gonna rain", which was drafted as a rather quick replacement, became the big break for Bonnie Pink.
- "1/3 of Pure Emotional Feelings" was similarly Siam Shade's first day in the limelight.
- Most infamously, though, was that the show kept "1/2" by Makoto Kawamoto as the opening theme for ages; it lasted for three whole plot arcs and the opening animation was altered twice while keeping the song the same. In an industry where songs can change every hour, this was very, very unusual.
- Anti-Hero: Saito Hajime is the unscrupulous type.
- Apathetic Citizens: The people of Shingetsu, the village that was taken over by Shishio and overseen by Senkaku. They refused to let Kenshin help free them or even let him take down the corpses of Eiji's parents, who were executed and displayed as a warning to the other villagers, out of fear that Shishio and Senkaku would retaliate. They were even prepared to expel Eiji from the village in order to keep living.
- Arc Words:
- "This new era" (i.e., Meiji) serves as a Story Words version during the majority of the manga.
- "The age decides the man" and "In this world the weak are food for the strong. If you are strong, you live. If you are weak, you die" throughout the Kyoto arc, especially during Kenshin and Shishio's duel.
- Art Evolution:
- Kenshin's art had three major shifts: the soft, shojo-esque initial design, the sharp, more shonen style used starting in the Kyoto arc, and a style that gradually became more streamlined during the Revenge arc. The new 2012 run is gearing to be just like Busou Renkin and Embalming in art style.
- There's also Music Evolution for the anime. The first "season" (roughly the first two cours or 26 episodes) featured a fairly light, jazzy soundtrack. Once the Kyoto arc kicked off, however, the show shifted to a much heavier, orchestral soundtrack and feel to match the scope and scale of the story.
- There are also the draft character redesigns that were released with the kanzenban editions yet. Drawn in Watsuki's more recent style, some of the characters are barely recognizable (also there appear to be changes to some back stories but it's not really certain since translations don't seem to exist yet).
- As Lethal as It Needs to Be: Kenshin almost kills Seijuro with the Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki, only sparing him because some bolts on his sword gave way, lessening the blow. Kenshin never comes close to doing that kind of damage with the move again, even against enemies far physically weaker than Seijuro. Justified somewhat as it's explicitly said that Kenshin must be very careful with that attack.
- The Atoner:
- Kenshin, for his time as Hitokiri Battousai.
- Megumi is a non-combatant example, as she's trying to gain redemption for the deaths her opium caused.
- Aoshi definitely has shades of this, especially after Kenshin brings him back from the brink of pure evil.
- Attack Its Weak Point: Kenshin wins the battle against Gein by jamming up the gears of his puppet with a tiny rock, and then proceeds to Hannibal Lecture Gein about the importance of being able to feel pain.
- Avoiding The Great War: This trope is played straight after Kenshin defeats Shishio, who has a Social Darwinist ideology. Kenshin thinks to himself that hopefully he's prevented such an ideology from ever again arising or leading to problems in Japan.
- Awesome but Impractical: Many of the awesome but incredibly hard sword techniques, like Hiten Mitsurugi style, are rendered moot when they go against modern firearms. This is why Boring but Practical techniques like Kamiya Kasshin style are preferred.
- Babies Ever After: In the Distant Epilogue Kaoru and Kenshin are married and have a son, Kenji, who by Word of God grows to surpass his old man as a swordsman.
- Badass Adorable: Kenshin.
- Badass Boast:
- Battousai during the Jin-E duel
Battousai: "It doesn't matter. Use whatever technique you like. Once I've said I'll kill you, your death is assured!"
- Happens twice more during his duel with Saito:
Battousai: "Stop dreaming. I will be the one killing you."
Battousai: "The next time something flies, it will be your head."
- Badass Creed: Aku Soku Zan. It translates to "Swift Death to Evil", or a bit more creatively, "Slay Evil Immediately/Instantly". Columbia Pictures, on the other hand, dubbed it as "Evil. Right Now. Murder."
- Badass Grandpa:
- Sanosuke's father, who somehow manages to be even MORE awesome than Sano himself.
- Okina also counts. He took on Aoshi and lived to tell, though it helped that Aoshi was holding back at the time almost without realizing it on a conscious level.
- Badass Normal: Sagara Sanosuke. Despite being just a street fighter, he's able to hold his own against foes which give Kenshin a hard time.
- Bandage Wince: Sanosuke was beaten up, (and he gets beaten up pretty often,) but one episode has him wincing in pain when his wounds and being washed and cleansed.
- Barehanded Blade Block:
- Bash Brothers: Kenshin and Sanosuke at several points.
- The Be Careful Speech: Before Kenshin's final fight with Enishi turns out it's far from it, Kaoru wishes Kenshin well and personally gives him his sakabato.
- Berserk Button:
- Better to Die Than Be Killed:
- Kurogasa/Jin-E stabbed his own heart when Battousai was stopped an inch from killing him by Kaoru; he knows the Meiji authorities will kill him anyway but he thought only Battousai was worthy of killing him.
- Later, Houji commits suicide rather than stand trial, when it turns out that the Meiji Government will deny him his chance at making a public statement.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Kenshin is most decidedly Not Nice when in Battousai Mode. This is illustrated most memorably when he plays up his scary face on Takeda Kanryu:
"IF YOU'RE GOING TO BEG FOR YOUR LIFE... PRAY TO YOUR BELOVED MONEY!!"
- Big Bad: Makoto Shishio in the Kyoto Arc, Enishi Yukishiro in the Revenge Arc. The Tokyo Arc is a collection of smaller stories without a single Big Bad, though Saito is the final opponent of the arc. In the Remembrance flashback, Tatsumi arguably serves this role.
- BFS: Sano's zanbato. Deconstructed when Kenshin explains that because it's so large, it only has a limited number of ways of attacking and is thus very predictable. Kenshin eventually cuts it in half, leading Sanosuke to ditch it in favor of his fists until the Revenge arc, where it's repaired and used to play baseball with a grenade launcher.
- Blade Run: Kenshin does this to Sano's zanbato; his mentor pulls off an even more awesome version on a different opponent's even bigger weapon.
- The Blank: Shinomori Aoshi's ninja Elite Mook more or less destroyed his own face so that he can be a Master of Disguise. His unmasked visage is pure horror, which is presumably why the anime didn't show it.
- Bloody Horror:
- This is most often invoked by the villains since Kenshi is a peaceful person and is against killing. The villains tend to kill people in very bloody ways to make a point they're horrible murderers. Although quite a few characters Cough Up Blood after sustaining heavy hits causing life threatening organ damage, making the other characters fear if they'll come out alive.
- The Animated film with Kenshi's backstory is also very fear inducing with it's high amount of bloody deaths, and Blood-Splattered Innocents like Tomoe. And as is noted below some of the characters have Bloodbath Villain Origins.
- Bloodbath Villain Origin:
- Seta Soujirou
- This trope also applies to Enishi Yukishiro, especially since he covered all three bonus circumstances.
- Blood from the Mouth:
- One of the few times the implications of coughing up blood is actually addressed in Shonen anime: Kenshin gets punched in the gut by Gein's giant puppet, and when he coughs up blood, Megumi worriedly notes that this means he's sustained major organ damage.
- Any character who has the Incurable Cough of Death (see below) eventually exhibits at least one instance of this.
- Bloodless Carnage: Interestingly not due to censorship; because Kenshin's sword has a reversed blade, it's not uncommon (especially in the early episodes) for him to use it to strike down hordes of enemies without shedding a pint of blood.
- Blue with Shock: Kenshin does this (complete with floating spirit balls of depression) when he remembers the kind of training Hiko put him through.
- Boring Invincible Hero: Mostly averted. Kenshin is basically this for the first few episodes, but quickly gets enemies that can go toe to toe with him. Still, until the Kyoto Arc, most of Kenshin's fights don't actually have any threat of Kenshin losing. More important is the threat of him being forced to break his oath.
- Bouncing Battler: Kenshin leaps off walls and ceilings quite often in order to get the drop on his enemies.
- Braids of Action: Misao.
- Breakfast Club: Just about any of the various sets of True Companions, but especially the Kenshin-gumi.
- Breaking the Fellowship: First, when Kenshin sets out for Kyoto alone (necessitating everyone else to chase after him), and then when Kenshin has a Heroic BSOD over Kaoru's apparent death.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: According to Kaoru, Kenshin's handwriting is as bad as Watsuki's.
- Breaking the Bonds: Kenshin has to do this a few times, given the number of times he winds up tied to various objects over the course of the series; interestingly enough, though, he almost never actually breaks the rope in question. He slips out of it, cuts it, or—in the pirate filler arc—dislocates his wrist to get free.
(crunch) "Gngh! I can never get used to this, can I!" (he escapes)
- Break the Cutie: Happens to Kenshin as a result of being an assassin.
- Bridal Carry:
- Kenshin meets Kaoru this way. He saves her via bridal-carry against the fake Battousai, and then fakes a hip injury. (Kaoru, thinking that he's insulting her weight, is most unamused).
- When Yumi's being carried by Sano via being slung over his back as they're racing against time to fight their way up Shishio's evil fortress. When Yumi complains, Sano asks her sarcastically whether or not she'd prefer being carried bridal style (with a straw dummy taking her place).
- Broken Bird: Yumi Komagata, Shura the Pirate, Tomoe Yukishiro, to a degree Sayo Magdaria; Megumi started the series as this, but she gets better.
- Burn The Orphanage: Happens in Anji's back story, where a temple that was used to shelter kids who were orphaned by the war was burned down by the land owner more or less for the money.
- Calling Your Attacks: Interrupted on one occasion when Enishi punches Kenshin in the face before he can finish.
- Can't Catch Up:
- Kaoru starts the series unable to catch up to Kenshin, and though Watsuki points out that that Kaoru is at least a national level kendoka and thus a very strong woman both emotionally and physically, she's surrounded by absurdly strong fighters. Her choosing to stay home and out of many of the big fights in the manga doesn't help the perception of her being a Faux Action Girl either. In the anime, however, she is much more involved, helping with rescuing Yahiko and taking part in the raid on Kanryuu's mansion.
- Most of the rest of the Kenshingumi can't catch up to him either, but they have particular abilities and skills that allow them to take on Quirky Miniboss Squads.
- Averted by Saito, who is definitely on Kenshin's level.
- Capitalism Is Bad: An early incident delves into this with the conflict against Kanryu Takeda. Kanryu is an "entrepreneur" who has learned about western capitalism and seeks to spread it about in the setting of Meiji era Japan. The business he runs specializes in opium, which has had a detrimental effect on the local area, but nonetheless Kanryu has profited and thus continues to provide it to meet the demand to make himself wealthier. In addition, he treats his employees Megumi Takani (his chief Opium maker) and the Oniwaban group with no shred of dignity. He even attempts to kill all of the latter with a Gatling gun just so he could kill Himura Kenshin in the process.
- Cat Smile: Well more like fox face, Megumi does this every once in awhile when teasing Kaoru.
- Caught the Heart on His Sleeve: Kaoru does this to Kenshin several times most notably before his first fight with Saito.
- Character Exaggeration: Kenshin's Obfuscating Stupidity is played up in the anime version, to the point that in the Kyoto arc some people found it odd that he was acting like his manga self—which is much more of a Deadpan Snarker.
- Chekhov's Gun: When Sanosuke leaves for Kyoto, one of his friends from his revolutionary days gives him several tiny bombs of his own making, "just in case." Those bombs, after not being mentioned for several volumes, are used to sink Shishio's battleship and completely derail his plan.
- Christmas Cake: Tae is implied to be one, if Kaoru's crack about her age and Tae's reaction are any indication.
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: Kenshin has this as a huge part of his character. As The Atoner he feels he must protect everyone he can regardless of whether it impedes improving the bigger picture (it rarely does but it wouldn't change his decision if it did).
- Clingy Jealous Girl: Kaoru, when Megumi was nearby. She drops it after a while, though.
- Coitus Uninterruptus: In Shin Kyoto Hen, Usui attempts to attack Shishio while he's boning Yumi. Yet, as expected of Shishio, he can still defend himself while in bed and proceeds to give Usui orders as if this was all a normal day for him.
- Conscription: Kaoru's father was conscripted to help suppress the Satsuma Rebellion before the start of the story. He died during the war, leaving Kaoru as the sole master of the Kamiya Kasshin-Ryu.
- Conservation of Ninjutsu: Many fights play out like this, though it is somewhat justified for Kenshin in that the Hiten Mitsurugi style is specifically described as an exceptionally rare and deadly discipline that specializes in combat against multiple opponents.
- Contemplate Our Navels: Nearly every battle, which is one of the strikes "against" the series.
- Corrupt Politician: Several times throughout the series, we are reminded that while some people were able to find peace once the Bakumatsu ended, there are still those in high places who cause misery for everyone for their own gain.
- Cradle of Loneliness: At the very end of the Trust and Betrayal OVA, Kenshin can be seen cradling Tomoe's shawl as he takes shelter from the rain. In an inversion, while he does that the ghost of Tomoe begins cradling him.
- Crippling the Competition: Kenshin encounters a thug posing as Kenshin's old assassin persona and creating a lot of trouble. When he defeats the guy in the anime, Kenshin smashes his fingers with his sword so that the thug will never be able to hold a sword again. Also, early in his days of being a Technical Pacifist, Kenshin chopped off an opponent's arm instead of killing him. The opponent thought this was a deliberate Cruel Mercy (as opposed to killing him honorably), and comes back for revenge with an Arm Cannon.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Kenshin is angelically good-natured and easy going, to the point of being a bit of a doormat, emphasized by his extremely formal and humble, almost groveling, manner of speech (he uses "this one" instead of "I", for one). He is also the most feared assassin in recent history and, even though he doesn't kill anymore, has no problem demonstrating just how terrifying he can be if push comes to shove.
- Crusading Widower: Kenshin's principle of "protect the innocent without killing" was inspired by the death of his wife Tomoe.
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: Subverted; a filler arc of the anime begins with a band of Christian revolutionaries and their deranged leader Amakusa Shogo, a would-be messiah likely modeled after both real-world cult leader Asahara Shoko and Japanese historical figure Amakusa Shiro Tokisada.
- Cry Cute: Kaoru, Megumi, Misao, and (most notably) Tsubame. In essence all the main girls/women at some point.
- Cut Lex Luthor a Check: At the end of the Kyoto arc, most of the surviving Juppongatana members are pardoned and given government jobs which make use of their unique skills.
- Cut the Fuse: Kenshin cuts the fuses off of the bombs Katsu throws at him. In another instance, he swings his sword so fast the wind blows out the fuses.
- Damsel in Distress: Kaoru who is kidnapped or otherwise in danger frequently in the first half.
- Dangerous Forbidden Technique: The Succession Technique puts tremendous strain on Kenshin's body. Sano broke his hand during the Kyoto arc, subsequent uses of his ultimate technique tended to have bad results for said hand (until he figured out a workaround).
- Darker and Edgier: The first OVA, which manages to be even darker than the accompanying portion of the manga, which is... impressive. It's almost fun and sunshine compared to the second OVA.
- Pretty much all the OVAs, in general. Most of the more humorous and light-hearted moments are gone and in their place, more blood, violence, and even some nudity and adult themes.
- Dead Because Of Me: Kenshin, being a Technical Pacifist, is haunted by every person he's ever killed, but especially Tomoe.
- Deadly Delivery: Saito pulls this stunt when he visits the Kamiya dojo, by posing as a peddler selling medicines and home remedies. Sanosuke almost falls for it, until he notices the calluses on Saito's hands. At which point Saito drops the facade and attacks Sanosuke, nearly killing him. He notes the attack would have been fatal had it not been for the flimsiness of the sword he was carrying.
- Dead Guys On Display: Sanosuke's mentor, Sagara Sozo, was a historically-accurate victim of this. This is also the unfortunate fate of Eiji's parents in Shingetsu Village.
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Whenever Kenshin's not Obfuscating Stupidity, he's got a wicked sense of humor.
- When it comes to his morals. Saitou Hajime is a straight example as well, not mincing any words and possessing a tongue that's sharper than his sword and says it with a straight face. For solid proof, watch his fights against Usui and Mumyoui Yatsume.
- Death by Childbirth: Enishi and Tomoe's mother. Tomoe thus became more of a mother figure to him, which explains his obsession with big sis.
- Death Faked for You: Kaoru. Enishi wanted to leave behind her actual corpse, but couldn't bring himself to do it.
- Decapitation Presentation: After Souzou Sagara was executed, his head was put on display for betraying the government.
- The series as a whole is a deconstruction of the Jidai Geki genre.
- Also, Anji Yukyuzen is a deconstruction of Papa Wolf since his adoptive childrens' death drive him to madness and a Face-Heel Turn, and Sanosuke has to beat the shit out of him both physically and mentally to make him see reason.
- Shougo Amakusa from the anime deconstructs Religious Bruiser and Love Freak, since everyone told him that he was a "Son of God" since he was a kid and his family died horribly... but that makes him grow into an arrogant Jerk Ass with a God Complex who almost gets himself and all of his followers killed, and doesn't stop until both his sister and Morality Pet dies and Kenshin defeats him.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Happens to Sano (after one battle, though it was the power of Kenshin's Warrior Therapist tendencies that really did the job), Aoshi (it takes a second, more thorough ass-kicking), and to some extent even Saitou (by the end of the series).
- Defensive Feint Trap: Kenshin defeats a large opponent by baiting him into a running match, until the point that the opponent's knee gives out.
- Dénouement: After Kenshin defeats Enishi once and for all, the rest of Volume 28 focuses on wrapping up everything in the story.
- The Determinator:
- Kenshin himself sometimes seems to fight on nothing more than sheer willpower.
- Sanosuke displays this trait just as much as Kenshin does. It helps that he's Made of Iron.
- Yahiko, particularly during the Jinchuu Arc.
- Disney Death: Kaoru. The author even apologized for the anticlimax (although in retrospect the setup for this was really obvious). He's also somewhat torn on how it turned out—on the one hand, it's an awful anticlimax, but on the other hand, he believes steadfastly that Kenshin deserves a happy ending and life, and there was no way that could be accomplished if that had happened. So he doesn't regret it.
- Dissonant Serenity:
- Soujirou is the embodiment of this until he snaps in a Villainous Breakdown.
- Enishi also starts like this, but soon we find out that he's prone to very wild mood swings.
- Distant Finale: Two, the one in the manga and the OVA.
- Doomed Protagonist: Kenshin and Kaoru in the second OVA stated below.
- Downer Ending: The controversial ending of the second OVA series.
- The Dragon: Soujirou to Shishio and Gein to Enishi.
- The Drifter: Kenshin's way of life after the Restoration to repent for his killings and to protect people plagued by evil, until he settles down at the dojo. Kaoru also often worries about him reverting to his old habits and leaving her alone.
- Dual Wielding: Shinomori Aoshi.
- Dub Name Change: Bizzarely, a few of the main cast get this in the Sony/Columbia dub which saw lots of play in markets other than the U.S., and it's a Japanese ... to Japanese name change. Kenshin is often pronounced without the "n", Kaoru became Kaori, and most bizzarely Yahiko was changed to Yoshi. No other characters got this treatment. What makes it even weirder is that it's almost like someone was doing their homework on the changes, since Kaoru (薫) and Kaori (香) have essentially the same meaning in Japanese (but the latter sounds a bit more "feminine" to Western ears due to ending on a high vowel), and "Yoshi" could be either 義 (righteous), 吉 ("good luck", for irony points) or 良 (good, as in "decently good", referencing his okay-but-not-great swordwork), all of which fit Mr. Myoujin well. These would almost fall under the Woolseyism banner ... if anyone could figure out why in the world the changes were even deemed necessary in the first place.
- Dude Looks Like a Lady: Kenshin and Kamatari.
- Dull Eyes of Unhappiness: When Kenshin believes Enishi murdered Kaoru, he displays this trope. His recovery from the depression is marked by a return of his normal eyes.
- Early Installment Weirdness: In the chapter after Sanosuke is introduced, Kenshin is shown to have the ability to sense people's chi, and chi is later used to explain Udo Jin-e's paralysis power. After that Chi, and the ability to read it, is never mentioned again.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Watsuki repeatedly states in the tankobon that this is a major theme of the manga. The second OVA? Didn't agree so much...
- Eccentric Mentor: Oibore. He's even got a Wizard Beard, Robe and Wizard Hat! (Well, okay, the robes are natty rags and the hat is made of bamboo, but his look still evokes the archetype).
- Edutainment Show: Just might qualify, since the show provides plenty of information on the Meiji Era and the Bakumatsu that took place during the final years of the Edo period. Indeed, it is on record that popular and scholarly interest in formerly-obscure aspects of the Meiji Revolution such as the Sekihotai and the anti-Buddhist purges were sparked by the series.
- Emotionless Girl: Yukishiro Tomoe; the author admitted that he based her on Ayanami Rei from Neon Genesis Evangelion.
- End of an Age: The series takes place at the twilight of the Samurai as Japan becomes increasingly modern and westernized.
- Enfante Terrible: Soujirou, Enishi.
- Epiphany Therapy: Subverted. After his experience with Tomoe, Kenshin decides to become a Technical Pacifist but he still carries his hitokiri-related baggage until the end of the series.
- Even the Guys Want Him: Seijiro Hiko, full stop. Also, Kenshin (to an extent).
- To even lesser extents, just about every other reasonably attractive male character. As odd as it may seem, if you're a guy and a fan of this series, you will want one of the guys.
- Evil Counterpart:
- Shishio is this for Kenshin, as Shishio was Kenshin's replacement as hitokiri and both symbolize the cultural conflict in Japan at the time between the ruthless inhumanity of modern politics and technology and the idealistic hope for future social equality and peace.
- Soujirou and Shishio are specifically drawn as evil counterparts to Kenshin and Hiko Seijurou to show how the differing philosophies of their respective mentors had vastly different effects on their lives.
- Enishi Yukishiro is also an Evil Counterpart to Kenshin, given that both of them received lasting marks from Tomoe's death (Kenshin got the second half of his cross-scar while Enishi's hair turned white from the trauma), but while that event motivated Kenshin to become The Atoner, Enishi went Ax-Crazy.
- Evil Weapon
- Explosion Propulsion
- Expressive Hair: Misao's braid; the other characters just get a few strands of misplaced hair while flustered. Chou claims that his hair stands straight up while angry, but Kenshin brutally shoots him down by saying that his hair is like that all the time anyway.
- Expy: All over the place, as evidenced by Watsuki's notes:
- The Shinsengumi: (Watsuki is a huge Shinsengumi fan) get them in Aoshi (Hijikata Toshizou), Sanosuke (Harada Sanosuke), Soujirou (Okita Souji), Kanryuu (Kanryuusai Takeda), and to some extent Shishio (Serizawa Kamo). Saito Hajime is just right out there.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: Tomoe (Ayanami Rei), Kamatari (Ikari Yui)
- Fuji is the God-Soldier from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
- Marvel Comics (Watsuki is a self-admitted Otaku of Stan Lee): Jin-E (Gambit), Kujiranami Hyōgo (Apocalypse), and Yatsume Mumyōi (Venom)
- Unlike the above examples, which are mainly just visual expies, Arundo Akamatsu IS Omega Red. He has the same facial markings and method of attack.
- The name Houji is a Japanization of Forge from the X-Men, as Watsuki wanted a similar support character for the Juppongatana.
- Hyottoko is one of The Blob.
- Misao is a partial Expy of Kaoru as Watsuki felt he needed a Genki Girl to lighten the Darker and Edgier Kyoto Arc.
- In the past before he got burned, Shishio was an Expy of Genjuro Kibagami from Samurai Shodown. You could tell was quite handsome and even had a dressing style similar to him.
- Watsuki is a big Samurai Shodown fan, frequently writing about it in his manga notes. Kenshin himself even resembles Shizumaru from the same series as well.
- Enishi is an expy of Natsu from Kamijou Atsushi's SEX, plus glasses (though Natsu is actually blond).
- Mr. Fanservice: Between Kenshin, Yahiko, Sano, Aoshi, Hiko, and Enishi, there's something there for every female.
- Fastball Special:
- Sanosuke's tossed Yahiko on a few occasions so that the latter could lend a hand before Kenshin finished off all of the Mooks. Yahiko, for his part, is not happy about being used as a projectile.
- Kenshin and Sano also pull off a pretty damn awesome variant in the Revenge Arc, with Kenshin executing a flying leap from Sano's fist to land the first blow.
- Fatal Family Photo: No photo involved, but Kiyosato Akira (Tomoe's fiance) talks about his engagement right before Battousai shows up to assassinate his party.
- Faux Action Girl: Kaoru is supposedly an excellent swordswoman but is usually just a Distressed Damsel or a sideline observer. Sometimes she defeats a few mooks and once beat Elite Mook Kamatari. Justified in that she's Overshadowed by Awesome, but when even Kid Samurai Yahiko has a better combat record....
- The Fellowship Has Ended: At the end of the series, most of the characters leave Tokyo to go on with their lives. Misao and Aoshi return to Kyoto. Sanosuke is forced to flee from Japan and becomes The Drifter. Megumi leaves to search for her family and only characters remaining are Kenshin, Kaoru and Yahiko.
- Filler: Sadly, the overuse of filler episodes in the later seasons led to its eventual cancellation.
- Final Battle: The Kenshin Gumi along with Aoshi, Misao and Saitou go to Enishi's island to rescue Kaoru. Once there, it's Aoshi, Yahiko, Sanosuke and Saitou vs. Enishi's four henchmen and, of course, Kenshin vs. Enishi.
- Finger Poke of Doom: Sano introduces himself with one of these. Anji has a fingerpoke version of the Futae no Kawami, an ability that can shatter rocks to fine dust, and teaches it to Sano.
- Fingore: Houji has one fingernail torn out and tears out six more himself. Also, Sanosuke's hand is seen with the fingers... not quite... sticking out correctly after using the Futae no Kiwami too much.
- Forced to Watch: Averted in the Jinchuu Arc since Enishi was unable to kill any young woman who resembled his sister in age and appearance, so he couldn't kill Kaoru in front of Kenshin as he originally planned. So instead he left the dummy doll for Kenshin to stare at, but Aoshi figured it out.
- Foreign Exchange Student: According to Cho, the "sword hunter", this what Kamatari becomes after the Juppongatana disbands. Though truthfully it was because Cho lied to Kamatari, by saying Shishio had wanted the remaining Juppongatana to spread word of his deeds in case his plans failed. In reality, it was Cho's way of keeping Kamatari from killing him/herself. It's also implied that he/she was aware of it.
- Foreshadowing: In one early story, Yahiko explains that he's started work at the Akabeko because he wants to buy a reverse blade sword like Kenshin has. After the Time Skip at the end of the series, Kenshin gives Yahiko his own sword.
- Fragile Speedster: Played with. On the one hand, Kenshin's Determinater qualities allow him to tank massive amounts of damage despite his slim build and his sword style's emphasis on speed and two-strike moves. Unfortunately played devastatingly straight at the end of the series where learning the Succession Technique effectively destroys his body through the accumulation of muscle damage in conjunction with the natural strain of someone with Kenshin's build using Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu style. This forces him to abandon the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu style (though his son is supposed to be even better than he is once he grows up, being a natural prodigy and all).
- Interestingly played with Senkaku, one of Shishiou's lower minions. He's a Lightning Bruiser who is approximately as fast as Kenshin, despite his massive build. However Kenshin fights him in a match of speed, turning Senkaku's own body against him as he (Senkaku) keeps pushing himself until his joints collapse underneath him from the repeated strain.
- Funbag Airbag: Variant: Yahiko once walked face-first into Sano's... waist.
- Gainaxing: After being entirely absent for the first couple seasons of the anime, there's an incredibly blatant example from Misanagi during the "Black Knights" filler arc.
- Gatling Good: Kanryu shows off his shiny new toy, a prototype gatling gun. He still loses, but it takes the Heroic Sacrifice of all of Aoshi's Elite Mooks.
- Gecko Ending: The anime series.
- Genius Bruiser: The Gohei brothers once they were merged in the anime.
- Genki Girl: Misao is very perky for a ninja. Kaoru starts like one and mellows out (somewhat) as the series progresses. The two still have moments together where they create Typhoons of Genki, however, to the general dismay of Kenshin, Sano and any other male within fifty yards.
- Genre Deconstruction: Of Jidai Geki. Being a samurai isn't just a thing of honor and swordfighting for either your master, your beliefs, or other causes, and it leaves huge mental and social scars on those who survive it.
- Genre Shift:
- From Shonen to Seinen, particularly in the OVAs, which were free of both the slapstick comic relief and the more unrealistic Rule of Cool elements of the original.
- The final arc of the series shifts from a historical fiction with Rule of Cool physics to straight up fantasy.
- Gentle Giant: Fuji of the Juppongatana; Anji is not nearly as humongous, but he fits the trope as well until his horrible Freak Out. He gets better after being defeated by Sano, though.
- Get a Hold of Yourself Man:
- Sano talks Megumi out of killing herself by grabbing her knife just as she was about to use it (ouch!) and reminding her that 1.) the rest of the cast had almost died trying to rescue her and 2.) her dead family would want her to keep on living.
- Megumi delivers both a physical and verbal Bright Slap to Kaoru to talk her out of her deep blue funk.
- It's more of a "how dare you leave me behind" punch, but Kenshin gets one from Sano in the Kyoto arc after they meet up again. Sano tries again after Kenshin's Heroic BSOD, but this time, it doesn't work. Tsubame is more successful, by reminding Kenshin that people still needed saving, like Yahiko. Oibore is the one who makes one last push.
- Sano's motivation to fight Anji is this.
- The time Kenshin punched himself in the face to get out of Battousai mode after a duel with Saitou also counts.
- "Get out of Jail Free" Card: Justified when the Meiji Government offers the surviving members of the Juppongatana jobs in exchange for their freedom. All but two accept: one chooses to stay in jail, the other commits suicide.
- Giant Waist Ribbon: Worn by Aoshi and Misao in the Revenge arc, affectionately dubbed "Butt-Bows"
- Girls' Night Out Episode: A filler episode was constructed in this manner when the women of the Kyoto branch of the Onibanwashu, but including Aoshi, came to Tokyo to fetch Misao. They all decided to go out on a day trip before they departed, with Kenshin and Aoshi staying behind at the doji and Yahiko and Sano trailing the girls to confirm that they were getting food without them.
- Go and Sin No More: This is basically the offer that Kenshin makes to a great deal of his foes (aside from having them sent to the slammer) after he resolved not to kill anymore. However, this has been deconstructed when the strawman argument has been introduced to some of the nastier villains...
- Goldfish Poop Gang: Those Two Bad Guys, a pair of brothers Kenshin defeats in his debut chapter, brought back as recurring minor minions in the anime; the manga also lets them show up again during Sano's side-story where he meets up with his family and dealt with offscreen just as quickly.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Kenshin has an X-shaped scar on his cheek with a tragic backstory, some villains like Makoto Shishio are
just disfigured one big scar.
- Groin Attack:
- Yahiko, having been raised in a rough neighborhood, isn't averse to some very cheap shots. One filler episode had Yahiko attack half of the Goldfish Poop Gang in this manner, using a Discretion Shot of something else and the appropriate sound effects to imply what happened and then repeating it again, three times and in slow motion, each time with a different visual metaphor.
- Yahiko invented a technique in the Jinchu arc called "Kamiya Kasshin Ryuu: Curse on the Descendants" which is essentially a flying sidekick to the groin.
- Yahiko bit a guy in the groin in the manga. In the same chapter in which he was introduced.
- Episode 17 of the anime series had the Girl of the Week Marimo kicking the episode villain's henchman in the groin from behind as she and Yahiko were confronted by them while making their way back to the circus show. It's no surprise that the henchman was hopping up and down in excruciating pain while holding his crotch after Marimo's surprising kick and that both Yahiko and the villain were quite surprised to see such an event transpire.
- At one point in the manga, Yahiko isn't watching where he is going... and walks headfirst into Sanosuke's groin. It Makes Sense in Context: Yahiko is really short, and by contrast Sanosuke is the tallest of the group.
- Ground Punch: Sanosuke performs a variant in the Kyoto arc; instead of punching the ground, he punches the water (since he's in the ocean), making a massive column which allows him to defend against gunfire from a Gatling gun.
- His mentor Anji uses Futae no Kawami to punch the ground as a means of area denial.
- Guilt Complex: Kenshin, Kenshin, Kenshin. Tomoe's death, Enishi's insanity and everything he does as a result of that, his psycho enemies putting his True Companions in danger, Survivors Guilt after the attack when he was a little kid... these are just a few of the things he blames himself for.
- Hannibal Lecture: Shishio explains his plans to Kenshin in great detail and can't help but make derogatory remarks about Kenshin's pacifism. Kenshin refuses to cave.
- Have We Met?: At the end of the Jinchuu arc, Enishi and Oibore ( his father) run into each other in a hobo camp near Tokyo. It's implied that they both realize who the other is, but neither seem to want to discuss it, so it's purposefully left ambiguous.
- Heir to the Dojo: Kaoru.
- Heroes Fight Barehanded: Inverted: The Hero Kenshin is a swordsman, though he uses a blunt blade, while The Lancer Sanosuke focuses on barehanded fighting after discarding his zanbato.
- Heroic BSOD: Kaoru falls apart after Kenshin leaves Tokyo to fight Shishio; later, Kenshin has an absolutely epic one after Enishi's attack on the dojo.
- Heroic RROD:
- Sano breaks all of the bones in his hand executing his ultimate technique.
- Villainous example: Shishio burns himself out, literally, at the end of the Kyoto arc.
- Hiten Mitsurugi wasn't meant to be practiced by wielders of Kenshin's body type, so it was plenty stressful on Kenshin's body. Then when he mastered the final technique, the clock just began ticking right then and there until it was revealed in the last volume that Kenshin would no longer be able to use Hiten Mitsurugi style.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Aoshi's men sacrifice themselves against Kanryuu's machine gun to keep Kanryuu from firing on Aoshi, after which Kanryuu runs out of ammunition. In the anime, the gun jams due to a projectile from the hidden weapons specialist.
- He's Back: Kenshin revival from his Heroic BSOD after he found a reason to live again after Enishi's Jinchuu.
- Hidden Depths: Many characters, but most notably Yumi, who is introduced at the beginning of the Kyoto arc as literally nothing more than an accessory for Shishio, and by the end is a well-rounded Anti-Villain complete with backstory.
- Hidden Elf Village: Shingetsu Village. Not so much hidden as it was erased from official maps due to it being taken over by Shishio.
- Highly-Visible Ninja: A conscious decision made by Misao's grandfather Okina, thus building for himself quite the support system out of his friends and neighbors in Kyoto.
- Historical-Domain Character:
- Saito Hajime (1844-1915) was the captain of the Shinsengumi's third unit and later a police officer in Tokyo where he adopted the alias Fujita Goro (a name he uses frequently in the series) and married one Takagi Tokio.
- Also Okita Souji and other Shinsengumi members, Oukubo Toshimichi, etc.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Saito again, for certain values of hero. While the man was indeed Bad Ass, we know very little about him otherwise. In the manga, he claims to have given up on drinking, while in actual history he died of a stomach tumor from said drinking.
- Historical In-Joke: Lots, though one of the most famous is the appearance of Okubo Toshimichi, a man considered one of the founders of modern Japan. In real life, he was murdered by a group of extremists called the Ichiro clan. In Kenshin, he travels to Tokyo to ask for Kenshin's help against Shishio, and is killed by one of Shishio's men on the way to get Kenshin's answer. The Ichiro clan then ambush the carriage to find Okubo already dead. Sensing an easy way to become feared and respected, they tell everyone they killed him.
- Honor Before Reason: The warriors of the Kenshin Gumi and even Shishio of all people follow this trope to a tee.
- Hot-Blooded: Yahiko, Sanosuke, his father Kamishimoemon Higashidane and Shishio who dies of literal Hot Blood
- Horse Jump: Happens in a Filler episode when Kenshin catches up to a train being taken over by robbers by riding a horse over several docked boats and then making a spectacular leap onto the train. The horse earned the Fan Nickname "Super Horse".
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Most obviously Misao and Aoshi, as she barely comes up to his chest.
- Iaijutsu Practitioner: Kenshin is probably The Most Triumphant Example. Although an all-around Master Swordsman, he earned the nickname "Battousai" by being just that damn good at battoujutsu. Not only does he go out of his way to resheath his weapon against (nearly) all of his substantial adversaries, the ultimate technique of his swordsfighting style is a battoujutsu which is so powerful that, if blocked, it creates a small vacuum in the air.
- I Know You Are In There Somewhere Fight: Subverted. Saitou uses it this to bring out Kenshin's Superpowered Evil Side, Kaoru tries to play it straight to bring Kenshin back and fails. However its played straight when Kaoru brings back Kenshin's gentler side when he's about to kill Jin-e, Kenshin indirectly stops Aoshi from fighting to the death by mentioning how Misao cried when he (Kenshin) promised to bring Aoshi back and how he (Aoshi) was turning his four fallen comrades into demons by obsessively fighting like this.
- Ill Girl: In the anime, both Sayo aka Magdaria and her mother have consumption, which translates into Incurable Cough of Death and, in Magdaria's case, Blood from the Mouth. Neither of them dies of illness: Mrs. Mutou sacrifices herself so her kids and her brother can escape and is shot by soldiers, Sayo takes a bullet for a friend of Kenshin who can save Shougo and their group and dies in Sano's arms.
- Imagine Spot:
- When Kenshin is late to return home after being dragged off to a gambling session with Sano, Yahiko suggests that he's either won big or lost big, then suggests that Kaoru shouldn't be surprised about him coming home in nothing but his underwear. In the manga, this is accompanied by a small visual of just that.
- Kaoru gets very blushy when Yahiko (jokingly) suggests that she should put Kenshin (who has a habit of disappearing) on a leash because she imagines this. This comes back as a Brick Joke: as an attempt to keep Kenshin in Kyoto, Megumi puts a collar and leash on him.
- Saitou, master of mental associations, makes the "if Kaoru -> Tanuki and Megumi -> Fox, then Misao -> Weasel" connection in one; later, when Chou and Sanosuke are arguing, he imagines a broom shooing away an angry rooster.
- Misao and Kenshin also get one when the hear that Saitou is married. "She must be some kind of Goddess!" Cue (in the anime) a visual sting of Saitou◊ reclining on the statue of a Bodhisattva.
- When Hiko finishes teaching Kenshin the Succession Technique, he declares Kenshin worthy of the Hiko name and cape. Both of them then imagine how Kenshin might look in it, and Kenshin decides that he'd rather not accept the passing of the torch after all.
- A surprisingly naughty one happens in the anime when Kaoru imagines Kenshin proposing to her and then, um, well... the two of them are suddenly hidden by the bushes and then a flower falls off a nearby branch, complete with Kaoru crying out Kenshin's name passionately. Cut to Kaoru who has passed out on the street from the sheer hotness of the mental image.
- One episode had Kaoru training a sumo wrestler. Sano wondered if she'd wear one of the sumo-wrestler loincloths. Kenshin, Yahiko, and Sano, all in a row, became very thoughtful as they shared a mental image of Kaoru in a loincloth and nothing else. Kaoru disabused them of the notion.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy:
- Anyone with a gun graduated. A particularly egregious incident involves at least a dozen soldiers firing rifles at one villain and the shots being in a pattern that perfectly outlined him.
- Subverted in one important case: Kanryu Takeda uses a Gatling gun to mow down all of the Oniwabanshuu but Aoshi. This scene is probably the most important instance in the series.
- Implacable Man: Shishio.
- Implausible Fencing Powers
- Incurable Cough of Death: Okita, Takasugi, Magdaria, and Kenshin and Kaoru in the OVAs.
- Informed Attractiveness: Megumi isn't ugly by any means, but she's certainly not as pretty as the show makes her out to be.
- Informed Attribute: Misao is 16. She looks like she's maybe a year or so older than Yahiko!! Made particularly egregious after the time-skip where not only does she STILL not look her age (at this point in her twenties for Christ's sake!) Yahiko is 16 and looks older than she is!
- Inspector Javert: Inverted with Saitou. He doesn't doubt that Kenshin has changed... he is simply appalled by how "weak" the famous Battousai has become and wants him to revert to his old self. By the end of the series, he acknowledges that Kenshin's gone down a different path, and calls off the blood feud between them.
- Instant Waking Skills:
- It's unclear if Kenshin's this trope or just a very light sleeper, but when he's on watch he rests sitting up, with his sword in his lap and his forehead resting on the hilt. Once, he heard someone sneaking up on him and started a draw with his thumb. When it turned out to be Kaoru, he dropped the sword back down in relief and cuts said thumb.
- In the flashback arc, Kenshin almost decapitates Tomoe when she approaches him while asleep to put a blanket on him. This actually subverts Instant Waking Skills by having Kenshin being so out of it that he almost could not identify his "attacker" in time to push her away—a moment more and he would've killed her. This causes him to truly realize the psychological toll of being an assassin.
- Intertwined Fingers: In Reflection, Kenshin and Kaoru do this during their love scene.
- Ironic Echo:
- "A sword is a weapon. Kenjutsu the art of murder." Kenshin says this at the beginning of the series, but then immediately rejects it in favor of Kaoru's more idealistic vision; it's revealed that this is his mentor's philosophy, and he quotes it back to Kenshin to remind him that real life is a Crapsack World.
- Later, Saitou remarks to himself: "A Shinsegumi is a Shinsengumi. A wolf is a wolf. A hitokiri is a hitokiri. Isn't that right... Battousai?" but revises this statement at the end of the series when he realizes that Kenshin is serious about that whole Thou Shalt Not Kill thing, to the point of stopping Saitou, and then Enishi, from killing a downed opponent.
- It's Not You, It's My Enemies: This is the reason Kenshin sets off alone at the beginning of the Kyoto Arc.
- It's Probably Nothing: Kenshin has a dream about fighting someone from the revolution, which causes him to be distracted all day. In order to try and quit being detracted he tries to dismiss it as nothing, right before finding Sanosuke who was attacked by the same fighter from his dream.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Tomoe and Megumi for Kenshin.
- Jidai Geki:
- Kid Samurai: Yahiko.
- Knife-Throwing Act: A filler episode had Kaoru attempt this, only to hit Sanosuke in the arm on her first try.
- The Lady's Favour: Kaoru gives Kenshin her favorite ribbon before he leaves to fight Jin-E. When he comes back and returns it to her, she goes ballistic on him because he stained it with his blood.
- Last Chance to Quit: Done in the Kyoto arc by Yumi, who gave Kenshin and Sanosuke a chance to back off of Shishio's plans and she could just say that they ran off. Kenshin declines, noting that Yumi offered this because she was worried about Shishio's health during the fight.
- Lethal Chef: Kaoru, by her own admission. Though she still doesn't like when someone else points it out.
- Lightning Bruiser: At least several characters
- Limited Wardrobe: Kenshin always wears a faded red (almost pink) kimono and a white hakama, Kaoru only dresses in kendo uniform or one of two or three kimonos (the yellow one, the blue one, and a red one), Megumi is always dressed up in her doctor attire, Misao has only two outfits, and so on. Lampshaded when Misao tried to rob Kenshin. She's stopped short as she gets a good look at Kenshin's kimono, which is absolutely covered in seam lines where all the cuts it's taken throughout the series have sewn up. Misao then asks if Kenshin's wife left him.
- The Load: Kaoru and Yahiko at times, especially in the early episodes; however, both are good fighters and hold their own far more often than they get kidnapped. It doesn't help that Kenshin's godlike swordsmanship makes them look weaker. Interestingly, Yahiko's character development in the later arcs of the manga center around his own perception of this applying to himself, and he pushes himself to almost dangerous extremes to prove he really can hold his own... against people twice his age or greater.
- Load-Bearing Boss: Invoked Trope. Houji triggers a Self-Destruct Mechanism after Shishio self-immolates.
- Locked into Strangeness: 12-years-old Enishi's black hair turned white after Tomoe's death.
- Loved Ones Montage: Kenshin has a flash of his experiences (friends and enemies alike) just before learning his ultimate technique; Yahiko has a similar one later to reflect how much he'd unconsciously picked up just by witnessing the same set of events.
- Love Epiphany: The others are aware that Kaoru has more than platonic feelings for Kenshin by the Jin-E arc, but it doesn't hit Kaoru herself big time until the beginning of the Kyoto Arc. This, combined with Kenshin leaving for Kyoto without a backwards glance is enough to give her a Heroic BSOD.
- Love Redeems: Tomoe's influence changes Kenshin drastically, and leads him to renounce killing after the war.
- Lyrical Dissonance: The first opening, "Sobakasu" (lit. Freckles), a bouncy, upbeat tune with lyrics about a bitter breakup.
- Mad Artist: Gein. He considers Kaoru's "corpse" to be a work of art, and is killed in the process of attempting to retrieve it.
- Made of Iron:
- While the series appears to have high standards for what counts as a "crippling blow", this is one of Sanosuke's distinguishing traits. As early as his introduction mini-arc, a man hits him in the face with a hidden knife-ring: not only Sanosuke doesn't even flinch, the man breaks his finger in the attempt.
- Shishio manages to survive an assassination attempt, getting his "corpse" lit on fire (though not without massive scarring), a ridiculous amount of punishment from Kenshin (being smacked around with a supposedly nonlethal weapon still hurts), AND a punch to the face by the aforementioned Sanosuke, which shatters all the bones in Sanosuke's hand.
- Malevolent Masked Man: Hannya (though he's not so much malevolent as fiercely loyal to Aoshi) and Gein.
- Marionette Master: Gein, who uses his puppets like a Steam Punk Humongous Mecha.
- Market-Based Title: Known as "Samurai X" in parts of the English-speaking world. The "X" is presumably Kenshin's scar, but he is not a samurai.
- Martial Pacifist: Kenshin.
- Martyr Without a Cause: Kenshin will always run off to save the day even if it means he will most likely get killed no matter what sacrifice he is forced to make or forces others to make (i.e. their relationship with him). Getting over this (partially) is a major plot point midway through the series.
- Master Poisoner: Megumi Takani could arguably be considered this in her Dark and Troubled Past. She was supposed to be training in medicine, and though she gained medical knowledge, she ended up being used to produce opium. She knows all about different poisons, but now cures them (among other roles befitting The Medic).
- Mauve Shirt: Cho initially appears to be a throwaway villain, but ends up becoming a supporting character for the remainder of the series.
- May-December Romance:
- Kenshin and Kaoru (he's 28 and she's 17). Some time passes before things get serious between them.
- Aoshi and Misao (he's 26 and she's 16). To Aoshi's credit, in the manga he finds the implications a little unsettling and makes it clear to Misao that he won't consider it until some time passes. In the anime though, Kenshin convinces him to start looking at Misao as a woman by the end of the Kyoto arc.
- Meet the New Boss: The reason Kenshin joined the Meiji rebellion in the first place was that he thought the world would be genuinely changed for the better by the loss of the Tokugawa Shogunate. But once the war was won, the ultimate result was the trading of one sort of oppression for another and nothing was ultimately changed, as Hiko warned would be the case. It's one of the major reasons Kenshin embraces his idealism so fiercely.
- Mentor Occupational Hazard: The training in Kenshin and Hiko's sword-style ends with the apprentice killing the master in order to learn the final technique. This trope is actually an intentional part of the job. Oddly, Hiko manages to survive anyway, though his own master wasn't so lucky.
- Mighty Glacier: Anji, Fuji, Gein (when using his puppets), all of whom rely primarily on their skill/abilities to make up for their obvious lack of speed.
- An interesting subversion is Senkaku who is a Lightning Bruiser. Despite this, Kenshin claims victory over him by forcing Senkaku to overexert himself and destroy his joints simply by moving to fast with his body weight.
- Mirror Match: Aoshi runs into a guy who can observe and instantly copy moves. He proves that the original is superior via a standing kick to the Mook's face.
- The Mole: Iwanbou in the manga, who turns out to be Gein, spying on Kenshin for Enishi.
- In the Remembrance arc, Iizuka turns out to the be the traitor for the Choshu clan.
- Mood Whiplash: The manga very often swings between deadly serious battles to slapstick humor; the anime also manages this pretty well. At times it's used as a brilliant source of dramatic tension.
- Money Is Not Power: Opium kingpin Takeda Kanryuu tries to bribe Kenshin out of attacking his mansion. This works about as well as you'd expect. Discussed by his Dragon-in-Chief Shinomori Aoshi:
Aoshi: You don't get it. Your money's of no use here. Himura Battousai does not live for gain—I told you."
- Motive Decay:
- Raijuuta is a bad enough case of this that Watsuki himself complains about it in an after word.
- The Band of Six are initially introduced as a group of men with a legitimate bone to pick with Kenshin, though we gradually discover that they either had no real grudge against Kenshin, or had a pitiful one that was undermined by their actions. Only Enishi and Kujirinami have any motive that doesn't qualify as Evil Is Petty, and both of them ultimately realize that they were in the wrong anyway. Watsuki himself admits that it was probably a bad idea to include the group at all and it would've been better to send Enishi alone on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
- Multiple Demographic Appeal: While it is, strictly speaking, a shonen adventure series, the hugely varied cast, fascinating villains, interesting politics and backstories (many of which were at least historically based and some of which were startlingly accurate), and beautiful guys AND girls gave it appeal across nearly every single age and gender group in Japan, making it far and away one of the banner manga/anime series of the 90's. It was even exported to dozens of other countries with great success, particularly in Asia, Western Europe, Oceania, and America (for example, Australia & New Zealand ran the full Sony dub several times over, nearly every Asian country ran the show in various forms at least once, and the series gained considerable success on Toonami in America).
- Also, the subtitle, "Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story", applies in both the classical (as in a a fictitious narrative which turns upon marvellous and uncommon incidents) and common (involving romance) senses.
- Mundane Utility:
- In an anime filler episode, the protagonist at one point finds himself attending a fancy dinner party, so he picks up a knife and performs the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu (Steak style) to cut up a steak.
- This trope is also subverted when he goes looking for the heir of a famous swordmaker: he uses one of the man's kitchen knives to slice up a daikon in the most awesome way possible, and then reveals that he was testing the blade.
- Murderers Are Rapists: Though the notion of rape is largely averted in the series altogether (since mooks just get to the killing part that their bosses order), only one threat of rape is made in the anime, when Gohei makes implications that he and his men would rape Kaoru before killing her. But Kenshin's there to save her.
- Muscles Are Meaningless: While Kenshin's enemies tend to be bigger and bulkier than him (to their detriment), his mentor Hiko dramatically removes his (hideously heavy) cape to reveal a set of well-built chest and abdominal muscles; Kenshin himself feels intimidated, as he begins to realize for the first time this is the kind of physique it takes to master the school of swordsmanship Hiko teaches. Fully subverted in the final chapters of the manga, where it's revealed that the repeated use of the Hiten Mitsurugi techniques put so much strain on Kenshin's small and lithe body that in a few years he would be too weak to even use his sword style.
- My Name Is Inigo Montoya: Quite a few times.
- Mythology Gag: At the very end of the Reflection OVA, Kenji ends up with a girl named Chizuru. Originally, she appeared in one of Watsuki's Rurouni pilots as a Damsel in Distress that Kenshin saves.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: Shishio's ideology is very similar to that of World War 2 era Japan. He believes in driving Westerners out of East Asia by brutally uniting East Asia under Japanese rule.
- Neutral Female: Several of the women in the series just stand around and talk about the fight.
- Ninja: The Oniwabanshuu, especially Hanya, Shinomori Aoshi, and Makimachi Misao.
- No Periods, Period: Averted in the third episode of the 1999 OVA, where Tomoe quite clearly gets her period.
- No Sense of Direction: Sanosuke is INFAMOUS for this. He even manages to get himself lost while running around with a compass.
- "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: When Saitou very casually drops the fact that he's married (and Kenshin and Misao react with appropriate shock), a sidebar notes: "This is historical truth."
- Now Which One Was That Voice?: The English actors are credited, but the roles they play aren't given with them.
- Obfuscating Stupidity:
- Kenshin in spades.
- Saitou in his introduction arc.
- Gein in his Iwanbou disguise.
- Odd Couple:
- Sanosuke teaming up with either Megumi and/or Saitou; Kenshin also remarks how unlikely it was that he, a former Imperialist, and Sano, an warrior for the Shogunate, can be trusted teammates.
- Off with His Head!: There are quite a few scenes in the manga that show characters literally losing their heads. Many of these scenes are either Adapted Out (Aoshi taking the heads of the fallen Oniwabanshu after Kanryuu's defeat) or edited (Soujirou decapitating his adopted family is covered by a Shadow Discretion Shot).
- Old-School Chivalry: A female ninja is escorting a Dutch visitor about and is disconcerted when he wants her to walk through a door ahead of him. When he explains chivalry dictates it as a way of showing respect for women, she just laughs it off.
- Older Than They Look:
- Kenshin is 28 years old, while his master Hiko is a whopping (by manga standards) 43—but you'd never guess it. Lampshaded by Yahiko and Misao, who wonder if the Hiten Mitsurugi style is the fountain of youth. Also pointed out in the End-of-Volume specials in Volumes 1 and 4 of the manga, where characters thinking on Kenshin after he left come to the conclusion that if he really was a hero of the Meiji Restoration, he'd have to be at least 30...
- Misao is a minor example; most characters assume she's around 12, but she's 16.
- Overshadowed by Awesome: Kaoru.
- Overtook the Manga: A really grating example, as it meant that ratings declined post-Shishio and the show didn't remain on the air long enough to ever get to the Jinchuu/Enishi arc, which drives a lot of fans mad since that's the real culmination of Kenshin's entire plot arc. The only material ever animated from this part has been the flashback to Kenshin's time with Tomoe, and that was in an OVA produced years after the show was canceled.
- Papa Wolf: Kenshin, Anji.
- Parental Substitute:
- Kenshin and Kaoru all but adopt Yahiko. This is best emphasized by their reaction, when Yahiko runs away to join the rebels. In the Distant Finale he inherits Kaoru's fighting style and Kenshin's reverse blade.
- Hiko saves young Shinta, takes him in and teaches him everything he knows (or at least tries to; Kenshin is too naive and headstrong to listen sometimes).
- Tae pretty much adopts Tsubame after she's free from her abusive caretaker.
- Pay Evil unto Evil: A possible translation of Saito's philosophy—Aku Soku Zan. Evildoers tend not to live long in his presence.
- Personal Effects Reveal: After Tomoe's death Kenshin goes through her diary and figures out that the man he killed months earlier was Tomoe's fiance. Bummer.
- Even worse in the anime OVA, when Kenshin is first told that Tomoe is the traitor and then is prompted to look in her diary, where he finds out that he killed her fiance. On his way to find her, that's the only thing he can think about.
- Physical Scars, Psychological Scars: Kenshin is identified by his cross-scar, and the backstory behind it is what forms the kind of person he is today.
- Pintsized Powerhouse: Kenshin; Yahiko to an extent.
- Pirate Girl: The filler character Shura.
- Plot Tailored to the Party: The battle against Enishi's second-in-command's bodyguards; subverted in that it's the bodyguards who pick their opponents based on each of their specialties.
- Promoted to Love Interest: Though it's clear the two would end up with each other, the anime was far more clear about Yahiko and Tsubame's blossoming relationship than the manga. In the manga, Tsubame's debut chapter was about the mystery surrounding Yahiko suddenly working at the Akabeko (though the rest of the Kenshingumi do muse at the idea of him trying to be with Tsubame). In the anime, Tsubame's debut episode was about Yahiko experiencing Love at First Sight.
- Promotion to Parent:
- Also, as refered to above, Anji to the orphans he looked after.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: Shishio Makoto is this trope taken to its darkest logical conclusion; a warrior whose respect for strength is so absolute that he wishes to create a Japan where everyone has to be a warrior just to survive.
- Psycho for Hire: Gein, who only wants to perfect his techniques.
- Punny Name: Kamatari, the Great Scythe (O-Kama) of the Ten Swords, who also happens to be a homosexual transvestite (okama). (Although technically, his weapon is more of a dai-kusarigama).
- Puppy Love: In-Universe, Yahiko and Tsubame—until the series epilogue, when they are all grown up and officially dating.
- Quirky Miniboss Squad: The Juppongatana, Aoshi's Oniwabanshuu.
- Rapunzel Hair: Most of the adult women, given that the fashion of the time considered long hair to be attractive (and more socially acceptable); Misao's is probably the longest, given that her braid alone goes all the way down her back. Kenshin and his mentor Hiko also have very long hair.
- Razor Wind: Raijuuta's specialty attack; Hiko also is capable of doing this with his incredibly heavy cape removed.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- Every time Kenshin fights an opponent, the opponent gives him this, mainly for being on the Imperialists' side or being a pacifist. Kenshin always manages to prove them wrong, or at least prove that he may not agree with them but doesn't suck like they say he does.
- Saito delivers a particularly incisive and crushing one of these to Usui during their fight.
- Rebus Bubble: Courtesy of Saito and his nicknaming deductions.
If Megumi = fox and Kaoru = racoon dog, then Misao = weasel.
- Reckless Pacifist: Kenshin, when he's not in a flashback of his Battosai-years or going into Battosai mode.
- Recognition Failure: As a Running Gag, whenever a politician (often a Historical-Domain Character) appears, Yahiko has no idea who they are.
- Recruiting the Criminal: Most of Shishio's surviving minions are offered jobs with the Japanese government in exchange for clemency.
- Redemption Quest
- Redemption Earns Life: One of the most prominent themes of the series.
- Redemption Equals Affliction: While on an assassination mission, Kenshin received a cut to his face from his target's bodyguard (whom he immediately dispatched as well). Because the cut refused to heal it was theorized by Kenshin's peers that he had been struck by an innocent man and his wound was penance. The wound only finally stopped bleeding some months later when the famous cross-shaped-scar was completed by his dying wife, who he had accidentally struck during a battle (and who turned had been the fiancee of the man he murdered before). Kenshin holds the belief that the cross-shaped-scar will vanish when he has fully atoned for his sins. He also doesn't believe that is possible though by the end of the manga it has indeed begun to heal.
- Redemption Equals Death: Subverted again and again and again.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: Makoto Shishio has narrow red eyes. His intro episode is appropriately titled "Devil of Vengeance". Earlier on, though, protagonist Kenshin Himura himself was exhibiting the trope as Hitokiri Battousai until his battle with Saitou Hajime gave him gold eyes, probably to match the prescribed manga coloring. His eyes also looked red then turned gold very early in the series when Jin-E kidnapped Kaoru. Possibly justified in that the more enraged he is, the more his eyes change from their normal blue-ish purple.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Except to Sano (who takes the Red Oni role all the time, causing Kenshin to be Blue in contrast), Kenshin plays Red Oni to most of his rivals.
- Reliable Traitor: Gein.
- Revenge: Enishi Yukishiro; almost all his Mooks all have grudges against Kenshin in one form or another.
- Revenge by Proxy: Yukishiro, again. Subverted when he can't bring himself to kill Kaoru, because she reminds him of his dead older sister.
- Running Gag: Sano who keeps breaking his hand from half story until the very end and Megumi hitting him for it.
- Samurai: Myojin Yahiko, apparently a Tokyo samurai, and Saitou Hajime.
- Samus is a Girl: Shura the leader of the pirates in Episode 25.
- The Scapegoat: Sano's mentor Shouzo Sagara was executed by the Meiji Government when it became clear that part of their original platform (equality for all classes) was, for the time being, unattainable.
- Scars Are Forever: Kenshin's scar, which only starts fading in the post-series epilogue.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Kanryu believes this absolutely. As a result, he totally fails to comprehend Kenshin's motivations, even after Aoshi points out that if Kenshin was motivated by personal gain, he'd be a member of the Army General Staff rather than being the odd-job guy for a minor kenjutsu dojo. In the end, Kenshin counters Kanryu's claims that money is all powerful with a truly epic Shut Up, Hannibal!.
- Second Love: Kenshin ending up with Kaoru, and then Kenshin himself being Tomoe's second love.
- Self-Disposing Villain: Frequently. If Kenshin can't redeem them, something will kill them.
- Self-Made Orphan: Soujirou killed his abusive stepsiblings in self-defense. Enishi killed his adoptive family For the Evulz.
- Senseless Sacrifice: Yumi's death doesn't actually help Shishio at all, since he starts burning up almost immediately after that.
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Kenshin and Sano
- Serrated Blade of Pain: Shishio Makoto wields a finely serrated sword that never dulls. Also doubles as Flaming Sword.
- Sexy Mentor: Hiko Seijuro. Forty-three, my ass...
- Shed Armor, Gain Speed: During the battle with the Juppongatana, Hiko Seijuurou tells the giant Fuji to lose the armor because, though it protects him, it restricts his movements. Hiko curbstomps him anyway.
- The Shinsengumi: All of them make cameo appearances, and Saitou Hajime is further raised to Memetic Badass levels.
- Han'nya has Wolverine Claws.
- Until the Jinchuu Arc, Aoshi has Gambit's trenchcoat.
- Jumping over to Image Comics, Hiko got Spawn's cape.
- When Misao is trying to make Aoshi smile, she hot-bloodedly declares she will use the work of Japanese comedy troupe Yoshimoto Kogyo as a guide. This naturally confuses Okina, as Yoshimoto Kogyo didn't come into existence until the 20th century.
- Yahiko and Tsubame are named after rail lines on the Tokyo subway.
- When Sano, Saitou, and Kenshin race to the docks to prevent Shishio's plot to destroy the government, Sano shouts the title of an old Jidai Geki television series.
- Kaoru has rained (harmless, of course) blows on Kenshin to the sound effects of ATATATATATA and ORAORAORAORA.
- Gein once left a bomb decorated with the Straw Hat Logo. (One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda served as Watsuki's assistant before breaking out on his own).
- In one of the filler episodes, Kaoru gives Sano and Yahiko a Megaton Punch. As they're flailing through the air, the input for a fighting game move appears in the corner. Specifically, it looks like the input of a King of Fighters Desperation Move. Her arm also becomes rather more muscular and gains an anchor-shaped tattoo like a certain spinach-eating sailor.
- Episode 45 of the anime was entitled "As If in Flight" (翔ぶが如く, Tobu ga Gotoku), which was also the title of the 1990 NHK Taiga Drama detailing the life of Saigo Takamori (an Ishin Shishi leader from Satsuma who was among the proponents of the Meiji Restoration, later to be dismissed and rebelling in the fatal 1877 Satsuma Rebellion). The long-running series theme of the agents of the Restoration being dismissed/eliminated by the Meiji government (and how Shishio is going to rub in the government's face all their crimes and actions against the Shogunate) was discussed in detail.
- Shown Their Work: Watsuki was very meticulous about historical accuracy in this series at any point where outright insanity wasn't just cooler. Many characters are based on historical figures, including Kenshin himself, and there are even plenty of references to actual events. Perhaps this is why some of his later work more or less runs on the aforementioned outright insanity.
- Shrine to the Fallen:
- Sano finds out about what happened to his mother at one of these. He prays to it under the guise of wanting to eat dinner faster.
- Hiko meets Kenshin after rescuing him from bandits to find that Kenshin has buried not only the bandits, but the slavers who were travelling with him, and especially raised three memorial stones for a trio of women who died trying to protect him.
- Shrinking Violet: Tsubame. She grows out of it a little by the end of the series.
- Shrouded in Myth: Battousai's identity is so secret, it became easy for hoodlums to pretend they were he.
- Sign of the Apocalypse: Kaoru... cooking.
- Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Saitou's stance on Kenshin's views: namely, that not killing the bad guys immediately allows them to escape and perform greater evil, and that trying to teach them a better way is a risk not worth taking.
- Sink-or-Swim Mentor: Kenshin's old master Hiko Seijuuro, whose training techniques seem to center around "beat Kenshin silly with the Technique of the Day, then have Kenshin attempt the same".
- Sitting on the Roof
- Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: Level 4. Most of the girls in the series are supposedly competent action girls, but its been shown that the guys take the limelight while the girls fall in action.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The series itself is on the Idealistic side, but most of Kenshin's opponents (and Kenshin himself to some extent) are on the Cynical side.
- In his debut, Kenshin acknowledges that Kaoru's wide-eyed idealism doesn't mesh with reality, but he prefers her version (as he had been much more idealistic in his youth).
- Slipknot Ponytail: Kenshin in the pilot chapter and during the fight with Saitou; Yumi, during her death scene.
- Smug Snake: Raijuuta starts off as a hulking, manipulative serial dojo smasher who permanently cripples his own student For the Evulz to a broken shell of a man crying and begging for mercy as soon as Kenshin defeats his supposedly invincible technique.
- SNK Boss: Kanryu Takeda fights swordsmen using a Gatling Gun, and declares them weak when they die from his bullets.
- Snow Means Death: In the Tsuiokuhen OVA, Tomoe dies in the snow.
- Variant in Seishouhen: Kenshin dies among a shower of snowflake-like cherry blossoms.
- The So-Called Coward: Plenty of people throughout the manga attribute Kenshin's pacifism to this. And usually they learn that this is not at all the case.
- Social Darwinist: Shishio and Soujirou.
- Sorting Algorithm of Evil: Played straight in the first arcs, but subverted in the final one. While Enishi is no pushover, he's explicitly stated to be weaker than Shishio. Similarly, Sano's foe, Inui Banjin, would be no match for Anji. Enishi makes up for this by attacking when the team is still recovering from the battle against Shishio, faking Kaoru's death so that Kenshin will be as emotionally distraught as possible, and designing his style of swordsmanship specifically to counter Kenshin's. In short, Shishio would beat Enishi, but Enishi is in a better position to defeat Kenshin. Banjin, in the meantime, is facing an injured Sano, who can no longer use the special technique that let him take on Anji.
- Split Second Blade Spam: The Kuzuryusen technique, which utilizes Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu's signature God-Speed to launch 8 slashes and one stab with such speed that they all appear to be simultaneous for the human eye, making the attack unblockable and undodgeable unless you counter it with the same technique, and you possess equal or greater muscular strength and body weight than your opponent (the strength of each strike depends on both factors). The only defense is striking the user before they attack. Realizing this is how you are forced to learn the true Ultimate Attack of the Hiten Mitsurugi Style. The only other sole exception is being a Shukuchi-user, like Seta Soujirou (see below under the Juppongatana).
- Story-Breaker Power: Hiko Seijuro. Word of God states that he is essentially invincible in battle, which is why he doesn't show up often. When he does fight, it's pretty much a Curb-Stomp Battle.
- Street Urchin: Yahiko starts out as this.
- Stuffed into the Fridge: Almost Played straight and everything. The "note" that is left behind by Enishi is the scent of plum blossoms that his sister loved so much, that would lead Kenshin to the brutally murdered corpse of Kaoru that is pinned to the wall in a pool of her own blood, with an x-shaped scar carved into her cheek. The thing is, of course, she's not actually dead and that's just an incredibly elaborate doll. Kaoru is still effectively treated like this in a meta way, though, since she barely impacts the plot at all after this.
- Superpowered Evil Side: At certain points in the series, Kenshin's murderous "Battousai" side, which he tries very hard to suppress, comes to the surface—usually when a villain does something unforgivable, resulting in Kenshin getting Supernatural Gold Eyes and going completely berserk. Less frequent as the series progresses, and completely gone after Kenshin learns his ultimate technique.
- The Sweat Drop
- Sword Lines
- Kenshin's scar is a very blatant, and very literal, reference to the English idiom of "his cross to bear", complete with religious symbolism.
- Shishio insists he is "chosen by the age" to lead, and is only defeated by time itself, when he insists on fighting Kenshin too long, and his damaged body, unable to sweat, literally catches on fire.
- Take That Me: Just like Watsuki, Kenshin has terrible handwriting. Yahiko even points this out.
- Take Our Word for It: Since nobody knew what Kenshin's succession technique actually looked like until the battle against Kyoto Arc Big Bad Shishio, previous uses of it in the anime were dealt with via a Discretion Shot of an iris-out combined with a lens flare.
- Tall, Dark and Snarky: Saitou, Aoshi, and Hiko Seijirou are literal versions; Kenshin is a short, red-headed version, but just as snarky (at least in Battousai mode).
- Talking Is a Free Action:
- Squeezing out speeches mid-fight means that you don't necessarily need the Hiten Mitsurugi style to achieve god-like speed.
- During Saitou's fight with Usui, they jump and meet each other in midair. Saitou tries to use a stab, but Usui deflects it with his shield. In between deflection and counterattack, while still in midair, Usui gets off a couple lines about how round his shield is.
- Talk to the Fist: During his second battle with Enishi, Kenshin attempts a second Kuzu Ryu Sen. He's only able to get the "Kuzu" before taking a palm to the face.
- Team Mom: Megumi cooks, works as a doctor, keeps the peace and calm among Kenshin's group, and even deals more than one Get a Hold of Yourself Man.
- Technical Pacifist: Kenshin, because he has made a vow as part of his self-induced atonement.
- 10-Minute Retirement: When Kenshin comes out of the worst of his Heroic BSOD he falls into this. He drifts into a village of wanderers and simply stares at the ground with Dull Eyes of Unhappiness. He even chains his sword so that he can no longer draw it.
- That's What I Would Do: Shishio wonders out loud if this is the reason Kenshin figured out his nefarious plot so quickly.
- They're Called Personal Issues For A Reason: Kaoru is okay with Kenshin not talking about himself, and it takes the Revenge Arc for him to open up.
- This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: All the time, for different characters/opponents.
- Tiger Versus Dragon: Kenshin and his master are repeatedly given dragon motifs. Most of their fighting style's moves have the word Dragon in the name. Later on, the final Big Bad Enishi shows up... and is given tiger motifs.
- Time to Unlock More True Potential: It's a Shonen series, of course it's going to happen once per arc.
- Tone Shift: The shift in tone between the first and second seasons of the anime is noticeable; the shift in tone between the anime and the OVAs is massive, quite possibly crossing over into Audience Shift.
- Took a Level in Badass:
- Yahiko in the Distant Finale and Sano in Reflections, if his longer hair and nice proto-beard are any indication.
- Sano took an in-series level during the Kyoto arc; Anji, who trained him, notes this to himself when watching Sano leave.
- Toonami: The anime was long a staple of the programming block, and helped introduce an entire generation of American children to anime.
- Tragic Hero: Kenshin's backstory involving his first wife Tomoe.
- Training from Hell:
- Kenshin underwent one of these to learn his ultimate technique, and it's implied that his training before he left to fight in the Meiji Revolution was also hellish. If one could even call it "training", as it only consisted of Hiko Seijuro pounding Kenshin repeatedly with ALL the techniques of the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu (Kenshin was surprised those attacks weren't fatal, and Hiko brags that it's because he has perfect control).
- Yahiko's training is less hellish, but still fairly brutal (thousands of repetitions of the moves necessary for the succession technique so that he could operate purely on muscle memory).
- Sano, on the other hand, used up all the rocks in the area he was training to learn the Futae no Kawami, and Anji threatened to kill him (as per Sanosuke's own suggestion, albeit) if he hasn't figured it out by the end of the week.
- The Triads and the Tongs: Enishi is leader of a massive Chinese crime syndicate.
- True Companions: As early as Megumi's introduction, she was already noticing the family dynamic among Kenshin and his friends; Yahiko gives the group their In-Universe nickname: "The Kenshin-gumi". Later in the series Aoshi and Misao join the group.
- Tsundere: Kaoru, who is largely tsun around Kenshin and Yahiko especially, but fairly sweet otherwise. Lampshaded in her Image Song called "It's not that I like you!".
- Twinkle Toes Samurai: Kenshin and Soujirou. Often, they move too fast to see, but their tiny little footsteps advancing at a slow pace are the only indication something is approaching.
- Unsettling Gender Reveal: Kamatari proves himself to be a crossdressing man and not a scythe-wielding woman by flipping up his kimono and flashing her, complete with pixellated naughty bits, causing Misao to scream in horror.
- Verbal Tic: Kenshin speaks using very archaic humble verbiage, referring to himself as "sessha" (This Lowly One), more or less, using the exclamation "oro" to express surprise, and ending his sentences with "de gozaru".
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Fictional characters and events get inserted into the early Meiji years.
- Villainous Breakdown: Soujirou during the Kyoto arc, when Kenshin's words start to get to him and clash with what Shishio Makoto taught him as well as reliving the horrible events from his past. Shishio after being hit with the Amakakeru Ryuu no Hirameki and going over his time limt of 15 minutes in battle. Also Enishi in the Jinchuu arc, in his second fight against Kenshin. When the image of his dead sister doesn't smile for him anymore, he all but loses the will to fight and can only resort to pounding the ground and screaming at Kenshin.
- Villain over for Dinner: Saitou visits the Kamiya household in his civilian identity of a police officer while he sent an assassin after Kenshin, just to demonstrate to Kenshin how his non-killing vow could have bit him in the ass.
- Villainous Crossdresser: Honjo Kamatari, Otowa Hyoko.
- Walking Shirtless Scene: Sano, who wears an open jacket and sports bandages around his torso.
- Walking the Earth:
- Kenshin before the beginning of the series.
- Soujirou at the end of the Kyoto arc.
- At the end of the series, Sanosuke leaves Japan after attacking an Ishin Shishi who attacked his family.
- Warrior Therapist: Kenshin and many others.
- Weak, but Skilled: Kenshin.
- Wham Episode: Enishi gets to defeat Kenshin and (apparently) brutally murders Kaoru.
- What If?:
- The series serves as sort of a historical one: what if, instead of going to prison and getting executed, Himura Kenshinnote began to wander Japan after the Bakumatsu to try and atone for all the death he caused? And what if he eventually had to face down his past, personified in Udo Jin-Enote , Saito Hajime, Shishio Makotonote and the brother of his wife?
- Alternately, what if Okubo Toshimichi's assassination was actually the responsibility of an anarchist conspiracy group, and the band of disgruntled ex-samurai merely took credit for it?
- With This Ring: One episode of the anime featured a man who bought a ring to propose to his loved one but then he saw her with another man, misunderstood and threw it away. When he learned the other man was just na old friend, he tried to kill himself and that's when Sanosuke saw him. Fortunately, Sasuke recognized the ring as the one Kenshin found inside a fish he caught. Unfortunately, Megumi saw Kenshin with the ring and thought he intended to propose to Kaoru and then pushed him into giving it to her (it was the proper Japanese Holiday for this kind of thing). Until being told the story, Kenshin thought Kaoru took it as a birthday gift. When he learned the truth, he was too scared to resemble the legendary man-slayer.
- The Worf Effect: Sanosuke often suffers from this to show how tough the bad guys are.
- World of Badass
- "World of Cardboard" Speech: Lots of these, especially from Kenshin.
- Worthy Opponent: Saitou Hajime, Shinomori Aoshi, and even Shishio fits this trope to some extent.
- Wrestler in All of Us: In the live action movie, Sano busts out a dropkick and a couple of German Suplexes.
- Written by the Winners: A major theme deals with what it's like to be on the wrong side of history. Saitou fought on the losing side of the revolution and has been forced to watch his country be taken over by the people who killed his comrades. Kenshin fought on the winning side but now questions if he did the right thing.
- X Marks the Hero: Kenshin's basically the poster child of this. The cross-shaped scar is associated with him so utterly that other characters with this scar are regularly accused to ripping the idea from him, even if they predate him by years. Unlike many examples, though, Kenshin's scar is from two separate incidents.
- Yamato Nadeshiko:
- Tsubame will likely be one when she grows up; she's still a flower bud in the main narrative. Tomoe is described as 'elegant and educated' and at the time was arranging flowers. Adult Kaoru in both the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue and the second OVA could also count.
- Tomoe is a deconstruction, since her reserved and soft-spoken behavior caused her a huge problem: not being able to show her love for her boyfriend Kiyosato, who then went off to Tokyo to make a name for himself and make her happier once he was famous. As we know, he ended up dead under Kenshin's blade.
- You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Lampshaded. While a couple main characters' main hair is mildly spiky it never becomes noticeably unrealistic, and Kenshin's unusual hair color is implied to be because he is possibly of Ainu (or perhaps Dutch) descent. This is averted in the live action movie, in which Kenshin has more realistic looking dark reddish-brown hair of the sort that an ethnic Japanese would actually have.
- You Make Me Sic: No matter how serious the time is, Kenshin's friends always take note of his poor handwriting skills before actually reading whatever important message they receive from him.
- You Taste Delicious: Shishio bites a chunk of flesh out of Kenshin to demonstrate that he's dead serious about his philosophy: The weak are food for the strong. He claims that Kenshin tastes terrible, though.
- Zen Survivor: Oibore. Kenshin transitions from Shell-Shocked Veteran to this, eventually. He developed his own philosophy about fighting and struggle and such.