Himura Kenshin (
Kenshin is a fair-skinned man of below-average height, slim built, with an androgynous face. Despite being twenty-eight-years old, he is deceptively younger looking, appearing to be in his mid-teen years. Because of this, Kenshin cuts quite a different figure than would be expected of the legendary Hitokiri Battōsai, but he is easily recognized by his infamous distinguishing features: mid-back length red hair tied in a thick ponytail and a cross-shaped sword scar on his left cheek.
Kenshin's hair is thick and abundant, with all of the shorter frontal hairs falling across his face as bangs rather than being in the ponytail at the nape of his neck. During the Bakumatsu, Kenshin wore his ponytail at the top-back of his head. At the end of the manga, he has cut off the ponytail entirely (presumably to prevent his son from pulling on it) and wears his hair evenly at about chin length. Kenshin's eyes, too, are unusual, being a deep violet. In the anime, when Kenshin's eyes change to reflect his psychological reversion to Hitokiri Battōsai, their color shifts from violet to gold.
The Legendary Scar
Kenshin's cross-shaped scar actually consists of two separate scars--a long one running diagonally down his face from just below the outer corner of his left eye to just above his chin and a slightly shorter scar running diagonally across it in the other direction from just to the left of the bridge of his nose to his left jawbone. According to his allies during his days in the Ishin Shishi, this scar was said to have constantly bled and never healed as the mark of a curse for having slain an innocent person. In a redesign for the kanzenban, Kenshin's scar has been altered so that the lateral scar is longer, stretching across his nose to just below the inner corner of his right eye.
Kenshin dresses simply, wearing a plain men's kimono of cheap, worn cloth with a white umanori hakama, zori and white tabi. In the anime series, Kenshin's kimono is almost always a soft red-like burgundy, but also often appears to be pink or light purple (most likely to contrast better with his red hair). In colored illustrations of the manga, his kimono alternates between red, purple and blue. His sakabatō is worn tucked under his obi at his left hip in a black, steel saya. In the anime's flashback scenes of the Bakumatsu, Kenshin wears a light blue kimono with a dark blue jacket and a brown hakama, as well as his sheathed katana and wakizashi at the side of his obi. In the OVA adaptation of Kenshin's past, he wears a navy blue kimono with a light gray hakama and brown hand guards, as well as the same two sheathed weapons at the side of his obi. In the manga, this outfit is more ragged-looking. In the live-action films, Kenshin wears multiple kimonos in addition to his signature red one.
Soft-spoken, serene and humble, Himura Kenshin's usual demeanor suits his effeminate appearance perfectly. Always willing to put others before himself, both in terms of well-being and social standing, Kenshin usually refers to others with the noble honorific of "-dono" while nearly always speaking of himself with the particularly humble pronoun "sessha" (translated by Viz Media as "this one") and ending his phrases with the formal verb "de gozaru" (translated by Media Blasters as phrases like "that it is" or "that I am"). He carries himself with an air of amicable temperance, politely conversing with the people he encounters and freely giving his meager services to those who need a hand. Kenshin doesn't hesitate to put himself in the path of harm to shield those around him and often attempts to diffuse contentious situations with soft, calming words and a somewhat clownish personality involving feigned clumsiness and his trademark interjection "oro" (a unique pronunciation of "ara"). These traits lead those unfamiliar with Kenshin to view him as ineffectual or easily exploitable, but more perceptive people become aware in short order that his gift for placatory eloquence and veiled redirection of disagreeable situations suggest a deep wisdom belied by his youthful, unassuming visage.
Despite his demeanor in Meji era, Kenshin was a very complex man during the Bakumatsu. As a teenager, Kenshin was impertinent, idealistic, and often easily embarrassed or flustered. He often tried to maintain a certain image among his colleagues in the Ishin Shishi, being quick to anger when dealing with taunts about his relationship with Tomoe during their time before going into hiding, such as when he silently threatened Izuka with his sword for making remarks about him and Tomoe. This tendency to be caught off guard or embarrassed in romantic or sexual matters of women remained with him well into his twenties. One such example was during the Jinchū Arc when Sano lied to Kaoru about what they were planning on doing, telling her that they would be checking out the Red Light district, embarrassing both Kenshin and Kaoru, and earning a blushing look of anger from the rurouni.
Tormented by his past as a hitokiri, Kenshin has developed an acute appreciation for life and has taken a vow in his heart to never again kill another person and to do everything within his power to protect people from being killed. This vow is the defining characteristic of Kenshin's personality and the primary motivation for his transition into a rurouni. Despite this, however, he holds his own existence cheap and carries in his heart a grievous guilt that prevents him from becoming emotionally close to the people around him and compels him to a life of humble service and selfless personal sacrifice. Even with his prodigious skill as a prolific swordsman, Kenshin refrains from wielding his great combat strength for his own sake, drawing his sword only for the well-being of others when words fail to appease. Though unwilling to simply be killed by unrelated attackers, Kenshin freely accepts that any grudges against his past self are well-deserved; he remembers the face of every person he has wronged as the Hitokiri Battōsai and will face their hatred or judgment without complaint, believing that he does not deserve the same happiness as others. Spending much of his alone time in quiet contemplation of his past misdeeds and future retribution, Kenshin often ponders what the right path toward redemption is and laments each life lost due to his weakness. As such, he has a tendency toward trying to solve problems all by himself and alienating his would-be allies with secrecy so as to keep them from becoming involved in his risky endeavors. Having lived his own life carrying heavy regrets, Kenshin is reluctant to judge others for their personal actions, beliefs or mistakes and always offers hopeful encouragement so that those who have stumbled onto the wrong path might redeem themselves in the future. However, when forced to draw his sword against those who abuse their power and undervalue the lives of others, Kenshin's calm temperament gives way to a marked intensity capable of intimidating even other skilled swordsmen and can go so far as to become a powerful fury, despite his compulsion toward diplomacy.
But when his strength as a rurouni is insufficient to defend against a particularly threatening foe, or when the most depraved and horrendous acts of evil push him to his patience and limits of his moral indignation, Kenshin's restraint falters and his personality reverts to that of his days as the Hitokiri Battōsai. Born from countless acts of manslaughter and to steel himself from the weight and guilt of felling other human beings like him, such a personality was born in the face of becoming the tool of death without say in the matter and the ignorant folly of denying the truth of reality of the act of murder, embellishing such awful acts as an exceptional and undeniably justified need despite its ultimately grim and miserably cruel nature. In turn, while this allows him the ease to take life without hesitation, so does throwing himself into this darker half of himself, this selfishly justified wickedness and holding the lives of his foes as worthless leads into the tainted and corruptible ground of thought that nears the idea that life too is nihilistic and meaningless, and for Kenshin, the idea that his own life is worthless as well.
He immediately abandons his serene humility, reverting from sessha to the more abrasive pronoun "ore" while dropping de gozaru and oro from his speech. Kenshin's normally warm nature becomes cold and distant, allowing him to contemplate taking the life of his opponent and even make vicious, bloodthirsty threats. Into battle, Kenshin's combat prowess and capabilities are greatly increased as his inhibitions are loosened from his moral considerations, but this in turn also spurs him to access more pragmatic, ruthless, and even vicious tactics, including unrestrained and maiming blows at his greatest might without discrimination, and the possibility he will use the reversed bladed end of his sword at any moment, the very things that dare to risk to break his vow to preserve the lives of all, good or bad, and to never take the life of other men ever again. This side of his personality is one that Kenshin struggles to suppress despite the fact that it keeps emerging when he is under great stress and in need of extra strength. His greatest fear is that, one day, he will return to his former self and become a hitokiri once more.
As time passes, however, Kenshin learns to trust the people around him with the truth about himself as well as with some of the burden he bears, understanding that his life, too, is a human one and that his friends and allies would suffer greatly if he were to die.
Despite Kenshin's very unimposing appearance in all regards, he easily ranks among the most powerful warriors in the series, surpassed only by his master Hiko Seijūrō XIII. His skill in during the revolution was key to bringing about the end to the war and starting the Meji era. He is a living legend well known throughout Japan for his surreal mastery of swordsmanship, able to effortlessly cut through steel, and one of the few last master swordsmen into the Meiji able to perform the act of modoshigiri, in where an accomplished wielder of the sword wielding the best of blades are able to cut so neatly, the target can be reattached as if it was never cut. Having inherited the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū sword style, Kenshin's skills at age 14 allowed him to become an elite assassin for the government. The focus-point of his style is enabling him to move at "godspeed" to its fullest, striking and running about at speeds so immense and suddenly that he routinely outpaces the human eye and even dodges gatling gun fire. His signature skill in battle is the Battōjutsu, where his mastery of this skill and reputation for defeating his foes in a single blow earned him the moniker, the Battōsai. In the unlikely event his first strike misses his enemies, Kenshin is equally adapt in dual-sword combat, using his sheath as a secondary weapon, able to use his ambidextrous swordplay to instantly unleash a secondary strike from his sheath, making it almost impossible to beat him once he takes the battojutsu stance.
Should Battōjutsu fail, Kenshin is shown able to engage in prolonged battles, using a variety of techniques, enabling him to fight practically assault. With his slim and light frame, he is noticeably agile, able to use his environment to his advantage, flipping about and jumping off the terrain to confuse his foe and find an opening, even running across walls. He is also well known for his remarkable battle instinct, able to instinctively adapt to his opponent's style, letting him seeing through their true nature and read their attack patterns. This thereby lets him effectively counter an enemy's attack after seeing it once if not neutralize the threat completely. While specializing in swordsmanship, Kenshin also shows noticeable hand-to-hand combat prowess, able to calmly fend off a large group of foes with jujitsu and aikido maneuvers (though not to the extent of Sanosuke's hand-to-hand skills). Since allying himself with the Kamiya Dōjō, Kenshin has gradually learned of its Kamiya Kasshin-ryū, employing many of its techniques into his style. Eventually, he mastered the style himself, aiding his second wife in the teachings of it to students.
Outside of Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū, Kenshin has displayed independent sword techniques which are indicative of his own acquired skills: Kenshin, in keeping with his soft nature, is quite skilled at domestic work as many of the Kamiya dojo residents comment favorably on his cooking (especially compared to Kaoru's) and he is frequently seen performing such tasks as grocery cleaning of the dojo. Kenshin is also an unparalleled orator, capable of spinning eloquence or humor into an offhand comment and prone to making grand, moving speeches off the top of his head. While maintaining his cool, he is rather adept at philosophical arguments, swiftly seeing the cracks in any opponent's logic without missing a beat in conversation.
Development and reception
He is the main protagonist for the series that has developed into a media franchise; consisting of a series of manga, anime, original video animations (OVAs), movies, soundtracks, video games and other collectibles. When creating Kenshin, Nobuhiro Watsuki designed him to be the physical opposite of Hiko Seijūrō, a character that appears in Watsuki's first one-shot manga, Crescent Moon in the Warring States, and later in Rurouni Kenshin as his swordsmanship teacher.
Kenshin's character was well received by fans, with his holding the top spot in all reader popularity polls for the series. Critics of the series praised his personality, though some complained about his development during the anime OVA series, which differs from the manga. A variety of collectibles based around Kenshin have been created, including figurines, key chains, plushies, and replicas of his sakabatō sword. Watsuki discovered and used the story of Kawakami Gensai, a hitokiri executed by the Meiji Government. According to Watsuki, when he found that Kawakami maintained a duty to his dead comrades, he decided to create the title character. Since Watsuki's debut work contained a tall, black-haired man in "showy" armor, the creator wanted to make a character "completely opposite" to the debut character and the new character ended up "coming out like a girl." According to Watsuki, he used "no real motif" when creating Kenshin and placed a cross-shaped scar when "not knowing what else to do." At the end of the series, Kenshin appears with short hair. Initially, Watsuki had planned to make his hair shorter before the end, however, he found this to be similar to the character Multi from To Heart. Watsuki based most of Kenshin's abilities on a real swordsman of the Tokugawa period named Matsubayashi Henyasai, who was skilled in acrobatic techniques. During the Kyoto arc, Kenshin is given a new sword with a sheath made of wood. Watsuki decided to redesign the sword to make it look as the first one Kenshin had in the series, though it is more difficult to draw. During the development of Rurouni, Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story, Watsuki and his editor argued over Kenshin's speech patterns; they settled for a "slangy" pattern. For the final version of the first Romantic Story, Watsuki adjusted the dialogue; in his view, he made Kenshin sound "more as I prefer him now." Watsuki added Kenshin's trademark "oro" as a placeholder to be an expression of the English speech disfluency "huh." Watsuki notes that he was surprised at how much it caught on, and how much he ended up having Kenshin use the sound during the series. Watsuki also planned to make Kenshin older than 30 years old; his editor commented that it was strange that the main character of a manga for teenagers was so old, so he made Kenshin 28 years old. In the first Rurouni Kenshin kanzenban, published in Japan in July 2006, Watsuki included a draft page featuring a redesign of Kenshin's character. To make his cross-shaped scar more notable, Watsuki made it long enough to cross his nose. Kenshin's hair is tied in two tails, which are flowing to make him look younger, but shorter, to be less androgynous. Watsuki also added a habaki to Kenshin's sword to make it easier to draw by simplifying its structure, while also emphasizing strength. Kenshin's hitokiri look was also redesigned slightly, by making his clothes more damaged and giving him his first wife Tomoe's neck scarf. In the anime adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin, Watsuki's designs were combined with the voice talents of Mayo Suzukaze, a female seiyū. In producing the English dub version of the series, Media Blasters considered following suit, with Mona Marshall considered as a finalist for voicing Kenshin. Richard Cansino was eventually selected for the role, giving Kenshin's character a more masculine voice in the English adaptation. Marshall was instead selected to voice the younger Kenshin during flashback scenes. Cansino had previously voiced Kenshin in Sony's dub of the series, which was aired outside of North America under the title Samurai X (the same title ADV Films would use for their dubs of the OVAs and anime movie). Clark Cheng, writer of Media Blasters' dub script, noted that localizing Kenshin's unusual speech was a difficult process. His use of "de gozaru" and "oro" were not only character trademarks that indicated Kenshin's state of mind, but important elements to the story. However, neither is directly translatable to English, and in the end the company chose to replace "de gozaru" with "that I did" and "that I am." Kenshin's signature "oro" was replaced with "huah" to simulate it being a "funny sound" that had no real meaning.
Appearances in other media
Kenshin first appears in two chapters of Rurouni, Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story, in which he arrives in Tokyo and defeats several groups of villains attacking families. In these stories, Kenshin is given a similar personality to the one he has in the series, but his name is unmentioned.
In the anime movie Rurouni Kenshin: Requiem for the Ishin Patriots, Kenshin meets a samurai named Takimi Shigure, the head of an underground resistance whose ranks comprise of samurai loyal to the Tokugawa Bafuku, notably the dissatisfied remnant factions and descendants of Aizu and the Shōgitai, who tries to overthrow the Meiji Government and avenge the deaths of his family during the Bakumatsu. As his dark past as the Hitokiri Battōsai also ties into Shigure's days of the Bakumatsu, Kenshin is needed to stop Shigure before his actions throw Japan into turmoil once more.
In the OVAs, Kenshin is given a more humanized design and a different personality. Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal is a highly acclaimed prequel to the series and an adaptation of chapters 165 to 179 of the manga, which covers the story of Kenshin's past as the Battōsai during the Meiji Revolution and his relationship with Tomoe.
Rurouni Kenshin: Reflection is a more controversial "epilogue" to the series that was not featured in the manga. Set long after the series' end, the OVA expands upon a series' summary from Kaoru's perspective of the events, and on the future of a battle-weary Kenshin ravaged by a life-threatening disease. Many consider this OVA's depiction of Kenshin's future to be uncanon, including Nobuhiro Watsuki himself, mainly due to lack of creative input from Watsuki and his objections to how Kenshin was treated overall throughout it.
Rurouni Kenshin: New Kyoto Arc is a compressed re-telling of the Kyoto Arc, and is Kenshin's most recent animated media appearance. For the English dubs of each of the aforementioned OVAs, as well as the anime movie, Kenshin was voiced by J. Shannon Weaver.
Kenshin is a playable character in all of the Rurouni Kenshin video games, as well as Jump Super Stars and its follow-ups (Jump Ultimate Stars, J-Stars Victory Vs and Jump Force) in which Kenshin co-stars with other popular manga/anime characters that include Goku from the Dragon Ball franchise, Luffy from One Piece, Yugi from Yu-Gi-Oh!, Yusuke from Yu Yu Hakusho, and the titular character of Naruto. Tokiko Tsumura, one of the main characters of Buso Renkin, another series created by Watsuki, is based on the design of Kenshin as a hitokiri. Watsuki commented that Tokiko is the female version of the Hitokiri Battōsai when he drew her face.
Kenshin has been highly popular with the Rurouni Kenshin reader base, having ranked first in every Shōnen Jump popularity poll of the series, always with more than double the votes of second place. Watsuki received letters from fans describing Megumi Ogata's audio theatre voice as a "good fit" for Kenshin. Watsuki said that he imagined Kenshin's voice to be "more neutral." A plethora of merchandise have been released in Kenshin's likeness including keychains, action figures, and plush dolls. Since the manga was published, non-functional and functional sakabatō have been produced for purchase by collectors and fans.
Several publications for manga, anime, video games, and other media have provided praise and criticism on the character. AnimeOnDVD.com remarks that Kenshin has a "smartass" attitude in a review of volume 8; while they noted that is a common attitude in the anime that makes him look out-of-character. Anime News Network praises Kenshin for being a character that all people enjoy to watch due to his comedy scenes. SciFi.com remarked "Kenshin's schizoid personal conflict between his ruthless-killer side and his country- bumpkin" as a perfect way to develop good stories. The development of Kenshin in the OVA series has had negative reviews by many publications. Anime News Network also adds that in Reflection he continues to be his old mopey self and criticizes that he never says "oro," while IGN cited that some moments of the relationship between Kenshin and Kaoru were depressing. However, some reviewers noted Kenshin's personality in the OVAs to be one of the most complex to ever be animated remarking the fact that he can not forget his bloody past, although having a peaceful life. A large number of video game characters were based on the character of Kenshin such as Keiichiro Washizuka from The Last Blade and Shizumaru Hisame from the Samurai Shodown series. Kenshin's personality was also planned to be used in the character Kakashi Hatake from Naruto, but the idea was deemed as a failure. In an interview with Mayo Suzukaze, who is the seiyū for the character, she says that she started feeling similar to Kenshin after years of work as his voice, and comments that providing the voice for the character was one of her best experiences.