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Film / Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends

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"Japan's future depends on your sword!"
"If you can't see what you lack, you can't win. If you win by luck, you won't defeat your Hitokiri self. It mustn't win. You'll always feel suffering and grief and you'll kill again."
Hiko Seijuro XIII

Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (るろうに剣心 伝説の最期編, Rurouni Kenshin: Densetsu no Saigo-hen) is a 2014 Japanese live-action film based on the Kyoto arc of the Rurouni Kenshin manga series by Nobuhiro Watsuki, continuing where Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno left off. It was released in Japanese cinemas on September 13th, 2014, and serves as the third installment in the Rurouni Kenshin film series.

After seemingly losing Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei) and failing to prevent Makoto Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara) from setting sail to Tokyo, Himura Kenshin (Takeru Satoh) finds himself at his lowest point. Fortunately, there is a silver lining: the possibility of learning one last technique from his former master, Hiko Seijuro XIII (Masaharu Fukuyama). To master it, Hiko orders Kenshin to seek out the one value he doesn't possess, a task that proves to be difficult. Meanwhile, Shishio sets out to control the Japanese government, demanding that they find and execute Kenshin, or risk having their cover-ups leaked to the public. Nonetheless, the fate of the entire country depends on Kenshin, who can finally prove himself as a true pacifist if he defeats Shishio, once and for all.

This film is followed by Rurouni Kenshin: The Final.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends contains examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: The Legend Ends is, arguably, the most psychologically- and character-charged of the trilogy, and it shows with multiple fight scenes punctuated by peoples' static-yet-tense conversations about their relationships and ideals.
    • Among the most notable on this end is Kenshin and Hiko preparing for their potentially-final clash (after Hiko threatened to kill Kenshin if he doesn't snap out of his Death Seeker tendencies). Kenshin, in turmoil, tries racking his brains about what he lacks, while Hiko is tensely testing out the sword he might be about to use against the person he virtually raised as his own child.
  • Action Survivor: Hoji, truly and hammily enough, tries his damndest to slow down Kenshin and Sanosuke, albeit quite ineffectively.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Misao's conflicted (but suppressed) stance over Aoshi's betrayal of Okina takes a 180-degree swing from where it was in the source material and in contrast to Kyoto Inferno: it has sent her into a vengeful stance, calling him an enemy and outright shooting a kunai at him while he was finally duelling Kenshin. She nonetheless tries to begin reconciling with/pacifying him after he was defeated.
  • Adaptational Badass: As if Hiko Seijuro XIII was not badass enough in the source material, Masaharu Fukuyama's portrayal of him renders him capable of wiping the floor with Kenshin with either 1) stray wooden twigs or b) wooden bokuto-shaped sticks, a la Miyamoto Musashi.
    • Shishio similarly gets an upgrade: The manga version used some tricks and preparation in addition to his inhuman strength and endurance, and fought Kenshin, Sanosuke, Saitou and Aoshi one by one. The film version is just that tough and fights Kenshin, Sanosuke, Saitou and Aoshi at the same time, unprepared, with the same outcome.
    • Sanoksuke gets a bit of this as well. In the manga/anime, he lands one punch on Shishio, but his overuse of the Futae no Kiwami had weakened his hand, and it shatters from the impact, rather than Shishio's jaw. In the film, he uses a Dynamic Entry to save Saito, then proceeds to duel Shishio for a short period on his own, not only avoiding multiple sword strikes, but landing a succession of hits to Shishio's elbow joint, stomach, back, and even the back of his neck. Sanosuke also stays in the fight until the end, and rather than try to damage Shishio, he spends more time just trying to tangle the guy up so someone else can stab him, since his punches aren't doing anything.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The shocking swerve achieved by the narrative of Kyoto Inferno has rendered many plot points rearranged or entirely changed, while still rendering many of them identifiable from the source material.
    • Kenshin's realization that he was unable to save Kaoru from the sea (and thus thinking she died) was almost a down-scaled version of his period of despair in the Jinchu arc. Unlike this time, he has his master Hiko Seijuro XIII to snap him out of it.
    • Kenshin's meeting and subsequent training with Hiko was rendered a fortuitous coincidence, in contrast to Kenshin explicitly intending to return to him after learning he was far weaker against Soujiro (and in turn, Shishio) at the time.
      • This can be subverted, however, if the awakened Okina's reaction to hear the news of Kenshin were considered (His line implied he knew where Kenshin would be if he was alive, while in the manga he was the one who told Kenshin Hiko's location. This could be interpreted as a part of Kenshin's plan should he failed to defeat Shishio on the first attempt).
    • Related to this, Kenshin's recalling of his past life experiences and Hiko's threat of killing him was compressed in a sake drinking session, instead of Hiko hearing the details from Kaoru and during their battle sequences.
    • Kenshin and Aoshi duels en route back to Tokyo and not at Shishio's base in Mt. Hiei, allowing for other characters (Okina, Misao and the former's right-hand man) to intervene in the battle.
    • The ship Rengoku/Purgatory becomes the final stage of the battle between Shishio and the Kenshin-gumi, instead of the original Mt. Hiei base. It still goes up in flames and is disintegrated much like the original base after Shishio was defeated, caused by artillery gunfire from the Meiji armed forces.
    • The subsequent lack of contact between Kenshin and Shishio's network for the rest of the film has kept his subsequent training in the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu a well-protected secret, which allows him to spring the Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki as a genuine surprise attack on both Soujiro and Shishio (who have had ample time to prepare for it in the manga/anime).
  • Adaptational Villainy:
  • Adaptational Wimp / The Worf Effect: Between this and the Sorting Algorithm of Evil, the rest of the Juppongatana not named Shishio, Sojiro, Anji or Hoji were hit seriously hard by this. Notable examples would be Usui (who was one-shotted by Saito with a Gatotsu Ishiki in the face; not even his most powerful Zero-shiki attack) and Fuji (who, being a mere tall human being instead of being a giant, was easily hacked away at by Saito).
    • While Sano really stood no chance against Shishio in the manga, the most he can ever be in the film is a distraction, and even he fails at that half the time with Shishio casually throwing him into Kenshin.
    • Kaoru, Yahiko and Misao do not participate in the battle against the Juppongatana. Since that was the only serious battle that those three participated in during the first two arcs of the manga (and in the case of Kaoru and Misao, only one period), the absence is notable.
  • Adapted Out:
    • The idea that learning the Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki comes at the cost of killing the current master of the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu was never touched upon, as the final battle between Kenshin and Hiko was cut off prematurely. In fact, the whole concept of the succession (Hiko Seijuro being a pseudonym for the current master of the style, passing down the mantle to the successor) has been adapted out.
    • Almost all of the back-stories of the Jupppongatana were never touched upon (with only Sojiro's, Yumi's and Hoji's being spelled out by Anji to a then-uninterested Sanosuke).
    • Neither Anji nor Sanosuke ever exhibited anything similar to the Futae no Kiwami, instead opting to lunge at each other at an all-out brutal slugfest.
  • All There in the Manual: Beyond a close up of the serrated edge of Shishio's Mugenjin, the movie doesn't pause to explain the source of the sword's ability to catch fire. For new audiences, it would look like Shishio somehow just swings his sword and it sets alight.
  • The Atoner: Aoshi's path to redemption is more downplayed compared to the anime, with his mind still in shambles even as he was trying to help out his rival Kenshin defeat Shishio in the Rengoku. Misao being there to bring him to the scene, however, suggests it has begun.
  • Bittersweet Ending: On the one hand, Shishio is defeated, while Kenshin and company return to their peaceful lives. At the same time however, Ito Hirobumi goes on to secure his power and the Meiji government gradually goes down a path that would lead in time to the Imperial Japan of World War II.
  • Book Ends:
    • The second-last, slow-motion scene of the first film consists of a worn-out Kenshin carrying an unconscious Kaoru in his arms, as he walks away from a dark forest to the right of the screen. Here, a similar camera shot is used for Kenshin and Kaoru. Only this time, Kaoru is walking away with a wounded Kenshin, arm-in-arm, to the left of a sunny beach.
    • With the ending, it mirrors how the first movie concluded. Kenshin and Kaoru are the last ones to speak at the Kamiya dojo, but while Kenshin's last line in the first instance was declaring that he was truly at home; here, he asks Kaoru to watch over the new era with him.
  • Breaking Old Trends: The previous two movies had their title cards appear after an Action Prologue, with the transition being a blinding light. Kenshin's red cross-shaped scar can also be seen behind the title, while orchestral music plays. Here, the title is shown in the first few seconds of the movie, which is a Flashback of Hiko Seijuro XIII meeting a young Kenshin for the first time. No music can be heard.
  • Building Swing: Sanosuke uses this as his Dynamic Entry in the climactic face-off with Shishio, inadvertently saving Saito in the process.
  • Canon Foreigner: The succeeding Home Minister to Okubo, Ito Hirobumi (later to become Japan's first Prime Minister), was never name-checked nor appeared in the original manga/anime, but is a major character driving the plot of the film.
  • Changing Clothes Is a Free Action: Saito and most of the Meiji police officers were explicitly wearing traditional kimonos (albeit with pants and boots underneath) during the staged execution of Kenshin, presumably in order to be ready to spring into action after giving up the game. This does not explain how they were able to put on their whole police uniforms (coats, belts and all) in later scenes, especially since all were in the middle of battle with Shishio's forces at the time.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Hiko does not hesitate to incorporate punches, throwing projectiles/household tools and kicks while attacking Kenshin. Considering Kenshin himself does this, one may view the movie universe's Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu as a whole is this, consistent with it being "an independent style" capable of beating most other sword styles.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: While still obviously in play with every named character against Shishio's dozens of mooks, this is also somewhat exhibited when Shishio takes on Kenshin, Saito, Sanosuke and Aoshi one-to-four. Despite their superior numbers, Shishio was able to tank and bulldoze all of them, at least until only Kenshin is left standing and they properly resume their final duel.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • It was heavily implied Okina died by succumbing to his still-unhealed wounds after trying to take on Aoshi while still heavily-bandaged. This was magnified by his disappearance from the film after that scene. However, with the announcement of the new 2 sequel films adapting the Jinchu Arc, it remains to be seen if this trope is still played straight.
    • Saito kills Fuji in their battle. In the source material, Hiko Seijuro XIII spared him and pulls a Redemption Earns Life Heel–Face Turn. Likewise, Anji presumably dies when the Rengoku exploded.
  • Death by Irony: Almost happens to Saito. After Shishio defeats his Gatotsu, the latter tries to force Saito to cut himself to death with his own sword in a matter not dissimilar from what Saito did to Kenshin in the first movie. He's only saved from this trope by the timely (and comical) intervention of Sanosuke.
  • Death Faked for You: After the final battle, Ito has the record state that Hitokiri Battousai died on the Rengoku during the battle against Shishio. He then addresses Kenshin as if they'd never met before.
  • Delayed Reaction: It literally takes Sanosuke a few seconds that he realizes that Kaoru is missing from her bed.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Kenshin all-but-states his intention to stay at the Kamiya dojo for the rest of his life, spending all his days with Kaoru. The last thing he says to Kaoru could even be interpreted as a marriage proposal.
  • Easily Forgiven: Played with regarding Aoshi: he was, by the end of the movie, back with the Oniwabanshu and Misao. However, everyone was aware that his assault on Okina eventually led to his demise, and he knows he will have to atone for it.
  • A Father to His Men: Saito's trait of being this is still visible with regards to his policemen, becoming visibly distraught after his Number Two Takano was killed in combat against Fuji. Considering he's seen a lot of his comrades dropping like flies at the course of the film series, he seems to have begun developing Survivor Guilt too.
  • Freudian Excuse: Despite claiming to have moved on from the Meiji revolutionaries' failed rub-out against him in Kyoto Inferno, Shishio exhibits he hasn't exactly forgiven them as well, bringing them up in his Aggressive Negotiations with Ito Hirobumi.
  • Hermit Guru: Hiko Seijuro XIII, of course, with his being publicly a humble potter and not-actually-the-master-of-a-very-powerful-kenjutsu-school.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Ito Hirobumi was implied by Shishio himself to be the man behind the unsuccessful attempt to silence him, and was supposedly the mastermind behind many assassinations/"liquidations" during the Bakumatsu, and even during the Meiji period. As is shown by other examples in this page, it is suggested that he himself is a nasty piece of work when push comes to shove (things which were never explicitly documented in Japanese or even less-sympathetic historical records).
  • Hollywood Healing: Given the bruises he acquired in his duel with Kenshin, Aoshi should have been laid up for weeks before he could use a sword in a serious fight, and yet he participates in the fight against Shishio with no evidence that he can't move without severe pain only a few days later.
  • Karma Houdini: The movie ends with Shishio defeated and dead, his forces in disarray and subdued... which means victory for the Meiji government and Ito Hirobumi's position as supreme oligarch secure (the same Ito who apparently had Shishio silenced, endangered the Kenshin-gumi by ordering the shelling of the Rengoku, and caused the entire mess in the first place). If you know your Japanese history, though, he will eventually be assassinated in Korea after annexing the country via conquest.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Masaharu Fukuyama being cast as Hiko Seijuro XIII was an industry-wide secret at the time of production, not to be revealed up until the final scene of Kyoto Inferno (he was even credited as "Mystery Man" in the credits to avoid giving it away). The Legend Ends opens exactly with him finding a young Shinta/Kenshin amidst a sea of dead slave traders and bandits.
  • Magic Countdown: Averted. Shishio's anhidrosis gives him fifteen minutes to fight until overheating kills him. The final battle lasts almost exactly that long.
  • Martyr Without a Cause: Hiko correctly deduces Kenshin is still suffering from this after a decade, which makes him treat his own life as worthless (and becomes a channel for the Battosai to emerge). After Kenshin successfully gets over this, he is now able to snark and protest against Ito's plan to "sacrifice" him to pacify Shishio's demands against the government.
  • Mauve Shirt: Saito's Number Two in the Kyoto police force, Takano (first introduced in Kyoto Inferno), spends a notable scene hacking away at Shishio's mooks just like Saito before being impaled at the stomach by Fuji's naginata. He still even manages to throw words at Fuji in a Dying Moment of Awesome:
  • Messianic Archetype: Kenshin's staged execution pretty much has him riding a horse which moves more like a donkey, surrounded by heavily-armed soldiers, jeered at by the crowds while his friends frantically follow him, and someone is even carrying a plaque detailing his supposed crimes. At least he wasn't beaten bloody for it... that comes later.
  • Mythology Gag: Some plot elements which were not explicitly spelled out within the film narrative were still nonetheless acknowledged in the production set.
    • In the opening scene where Hiko finds the young Shinta/Kenshin burying dead bodies, the corpses of three young women were conspicuously visible beside them during the aerial shot, which may be the same three (Akane, Kasumi and Sakura) who were trying to protect Shinta from the bandits at the costs of their lives.
    • Among the list of names Hoji reads out (supposedly referring to people Kenshin assassinated as Battosai during the Bakumatsu), the last two names include "Shigekura Jubei" and "Kiyosato Akira", which were the only named characters Kenshin assassinated in the Remembrance Arc and its adaptation, the Tsuiokuhen/Trust and Betrayal OVA.
    • Sanosuke points out he has fought Christians before, but not Buddhist monks. This may well be a reference to the Shimabara filler arc side character Shozo Lorenzo, who developed a sort of rivalry with Sano.
      • This is more likely a Call-Back to the first live action movie, where Inui Banjin was shown to be a Christian by dressing as a priest and wearing a cross.
    • Among Hiko's possessions in his hut is a full set of samurai armor/yoroi. Nobuhiro Watsuki penned a one-shot entitled Sengoku no Mikazuki (Crescent Moon of the Warring States), which featured the (presumably) first Hiko Seijuro XIII, who himself wears a full set of armor (and whose possessions were likely handed down to subsequent users of the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu).
    • Kenshin's staged execution was pretty much a largely-writ reconstruction of Okada Izo's execution in the NHK Taiga Drama Ryomaden, where Takeru Sato also portrayed the hapless Izo. This also serves as a Shout-Out to Nobuhiro Watsuki's original statement that Kenshin was based off the historical assassin Kawakami Gensai, who was himself executed by the Meiji government.
    • Shishio's banners feature a sunburst graphic which has elongated rays, not unlike the design on the Japanese warlord and Regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi's iconic helmet/kabuto. Being a samurai from less-affluent origins with designs towards conquest and hegemony (with a touch of megalomania), the design was probably intentional.
    • While the Futae no Kiwami technique was Adapted Out in the film, it was alluded on Sanosuke's battles numerous times. After defeating Anji, the Meiji military Forces fired canons at the Rengoku and then the scene switches back to where Sano and Anji fought showing the impact creating gray debris and the sound being audibly similar to the technique's sound effects in the anime. During the climatic battle, Shishio punches Sano to a crater, greatly destroying it.
    • Ito's final scene references Saitou's final scene in the manga, where he turned down a chance for a final duel with Kenshin, because he didn't want to duel Kenshin, he wanted to duel Battousai.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: Shishio treats the Meiji government's negotiation panel led by Ito into a Western-style luncheon. Tension leads to a government minister getting the knife-in-the-back treatment from Usui, their police security detail butchered like cattle and Ito forced at (flaming) swordpoint by Shishio to hunt Kenshin as a fugitive.
  • One-Man Army: When Shishio finally cuts loose in the climax, he cuts loose. Kenshi, Saito, Sanosuke and Aoshi all attack him at the same time, and Shishio still wins handily until his body gives out.
  • Parental Substitute: Hiko's all-but-stated role in Kenshin's life becomes more apparent in the adaptation, with his final, under-his-breath saying "Don't die" to Kenshin sounds like pretty much an old father sending his son off to war... which is basically what Kenshin is doing.
  • Pet the Dog: Ito pulled a lot of shady underhanded crap in the movie, but in the final scene he makes it clear that he does value Kenshin and the contributions he made. He honors Kenshin's wish to leave the Battousai and his past of bloodshed behind him and he and the police salute Kenshin and the others for their service to the country.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Applied to Hiko's outfit, which gets the clothing equivalent of the Decomposite Character treatment. It's divided between the blue gi Hiko wears in the anime (albeit with long sleeves, to hide the fact that Masaharu Fukuyama isn't quite as muscular as his manga/anime counterpart, a white cape that seems to be here only to protect him from the cold, and a red gi with a small cape, which seems to play the role of the mantle passed down with the title of Hiko Seijuro.
    • Shishio's execution of his Guren Kaina trick does not involve him igniting gunpowder-soaked gloves. He instead swipes hand-sized dynamites and ignites them at close-range against his opponents.
  • Propaganda Machine: Among Ito Hirobumi's notable skill-set is his ability to spin almost any negative situation in favor of the Meiji government (even covering up the blatant murder of a government official while at table with Shishio). This makes him nigh-intolerable to Saito and Kawaji, and makes him the target of Shishio's outburst.
    Shishio: That's your best trick... burying stains on the government.
    Ito: That's politics.
    Shishio: So burning me was politics?
    Ito: There's nothing to discuss.
    Shishio: I see... Due to politics, my sweat glands were destroyed.
    [Later, after his henchmen slaughter the Meiji police force...]
    Shishio: You hid your evil deeds! You lied Japan is a beautiful country. Don't justify your actions!
    [Shishio swings his Mugenjin and ignites it.]
  • Redshirt Army: The police take a lot of casualties against Shishio's army. Best shown by the attack on the Rengoku. At least two (since Saito and Aoshi do not come in the same boat as Kenshin) boats go out with eight-man rowing teams. One boat comes back in, with a four man rowing team.
  • Shown Their Work: The execution of the signature moves of the main characters (Saito's Gatotsu, Aoshi's Kodachi Nito-ryu attacks, and the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu's Kuzu-ryu Sen and Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki) were shot-by-shot similar as to how they were done in the manga/anime. Freeze-Frame Bonus allows you to see how each strike of the Kuzu-ryu Sen by both Hiko and Kenshin were consistent with the order of strikes shown in the source material.
  • So Last Season: Hoji tries to stop Kenshin from fighting Shishio by emptying the entire payload of a Gatling gun at him. If you saw Kanryu's attempt to do the same in the first film, you know this was futile.
  • Stock Footage: Many scenes from the first film and Kyoto Inferno were reused in key scenes, such as:
    • Kenshin riding a boat, en route to Tokyo (1st film)
    • Kenshin walking through Odawara, en route to Shingetsu (Kyoto Inferno)
    • Kenshin's assassination of Kiyosato's retinue (1st film)
    • Aoshi wounding Okina at the Aoiya (Kyoto Inferno)
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Considering the source material and since Conservation of Ninjutsu has been at play for most protagonists, the fate of the Juppongatana battling the Meiji police forces is a remarkable example. It does not matter if most of you are supposedly-skilled warriors or samurai acting individually as a One-Man Army: you will lose against a well-organized and well-equipped peacekeeping force.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: The young Shinta was, understandably, portrayed by a child actor who was made up to look pretty much like a miniature Takeru Satoh.
  • Truth in Television: Japanese historical material and documented social mores was visibly spliced into the narrative, making it a more interesting portrait. The Meiji government in its infancy was indeed quite a frenetic project, with some sections of the population still smarting from the chaos of the Bakumatsu (the memory of Admiral Matthew Perry's "gunboat diplomacy" against the Tokugawa Shogunate still fresh in their minds). As such, Shishio's assault on Tokyo with the Rengoku pretty much raised unwelcome memories from the still-paranoid civilian population.
  • Title Drop: Done by Hoji during Kenshin's public execution.
    Hoji: Densetsu no... saigo da!Translation 
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Ito Hirobumi, after explicitly giving the go-signal to Kenshin and Saito to defeat Shishio at his home-base in the Rengoku, commands the Meiji armed forces to shell the Rengoku into scrap metal, while both of them were still fighting Shishio. Even his second-in command, Police Chief Kawaji, realized how stupid an idea it was.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Considering how compressed their fight eventually turned out, Sojiro's defeat by Kenshin leaves him wailing uncontrollably and psychologically shattered.
    • For his part, Aoshi's defeat against Kenshin's Kuzu-ryu Sen rendered him wrecked and unable to move beyond incoherent screaming. His eventual breakdown, however, was more subdued, when Misao stiffly commanded him to live again with the Oniwabanshu, eventually realizing his role in Okina's death.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The only people who explicitly died in the Rengoku were Shishio and Yumi, as faithful to the end of the Kyoto Arc. As such, the fates of Sojiro, Hoji and Anji remained ambiguous after the Rengoku sinks down in flames.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Saito righteously chews out Kawaji in the government's seeming-capitulation to Shishio's demands of capturing and publicly-executing Kenshin.
    Saito: Is Battosai a mere pawn now?
    Kawaji: Watch your words, Fujita!
    Saito: Those politicians have forgotten the honour of a warrior/samurai.
    • Megumi herself also got into this after a squad of Meiji government policemen barged into the Kamiya dojo, intending to apprehend Kenshin by force.