Himura Kenshin, known as the legendary hitokiri of the Meiji Revolution, Himura Battōsai (緋村抜刀斎), is the main protagonist and titular character of the Rurouni Kenshin series. Kenshin has spent ten years traveling Japan as a rurouni in search of redemption, carrying a sakabatō with the vow to never kill again. In 1878, he arrives in Tokyo and takes up residence at the Kamiya Dōjō, where his vow is tested as he fights to keep the country's peace.
Of small, slender build and with a youthful, feminine visage, Himura Kenshin cuts quite a different figure than would be expected of the legendary Hitokiri Battōsai and his appearance belies his twenty-eight years of age, making him look roughly ten years younger, 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 a brown kimono in addition to his signature red one.
PersonalitySoft-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.
- Kamiya Kaoru - Moving gradually from dear friends to love interests to husband and wife, Kenshin and Kaoru share a relationship that serves as one of the largest focal points of the series. Though initially seeing Kaoru as merely another Japanese citizen in need of his protection, Kenshin is immediately struck by her remarkable philosophies regarding katsujinken and the unimportance of one's past self, quickly coming to see her as a particularly special person. Additionally, having been rescued from death, dishonor and loneliness by the mysterious rurouni, Kaoru greatly values Kenshin's company after he appears in her life and is rather insistent that he stay. The two grow steadily closer as time goes on, with Kaoru keeping Kenshin's darker nature in check with her kindness and Kenshin's eager support giving Kaoru the courage necessary to deal with the hardships of her life, until it becomes clear that neither can go on living happily without the other. Later on, they have a son together, Kenji, who loves his mother and hates his father. Kenji looks a lot like Kenshin.
- Sagara Sanosuke - Though initially an opponent hired by the Hiruma brothers (Gohei and Kihei), Sano becomes a member of the Kenshin-gumi in short order, serving as a sort of "strong right arm" at Kenshin's side during battle. Though Kenshin attempts to hide the dangerous aspects of his life in Tokyo from Kaoru and Yahiko, Sano is usually the first to see through the Rurouni's innocent deceptions and stubbornly tags along whenever he catches the scent of an impending fight. As such, Sano quickly becomes Kenshin's most trusted compatriot, proving himself capable of fighting his own battles without Kenshin's concern or intervention. Sano, for his part, silently reveres Kenshin's strength and character, devoting himself to making sure such a great man survives long enough to save as many people as possible.
- Myōjin Yahiko - Seeing young Yahiko's great spirit and sense of honor from their first accidental meeting, Kenshin comes to view Yahiko as an embodiment of the future, both in terms of the new Meiji society and the potential of kenjutsu. Though he is aware that Yahiko looks upon him as a hero, Kenshin insists that the boy learn Kamiya Kasshin-ryū from Kaoru rather than Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū and trusts the young shizōku to carry the ideals of "the sword that protects" into the new era. Kenshin is initially protective of Yahiko, mentoring him through example and wise speeches while he insists that the boy keep a safe distance from the dangerous goings-on in Kenshin's life, but eventually begins to see Yahiko as another of his comrades and trusts him to finish his own battles without being coddled. At the end of the series, Kenshin chooses Yahiko as his successor and gives him the Sakabatō as a Genpuku gift with the belief that the young man will carry on the will of katsujinken.
- Hiko Seijūrō XIII - Kenshin's master and the current heir to Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū, Hiko Seijūrō is a man whom he holds in great regard. From a young age, Hiko had mentored Kenshin in all the ways of the sword, life and the world, but on the other hand, Kenshin was given a rather unique vantage point from which to observe his master's vanity, selfishness and narcissism. Due to Kenshin's desire to participate in the revolution, the two parted ways under rather unpleasant circumstances before Kenshin had the chance to complete his training. However, Kenshin knows that Hiko is a stalwart, trustworthy man, even if the master insists on belittling and humiliating his former student at every possible turn.
- Yukishiro Tomoe - As Kenshin's first love/wife, Tomoe had an unparalleled effect on young Battōsai's demeanor; gradually easing him from a cold-blooded hitokiri into a soft-spoken, caring human being. However, their encounter was not fate, but rather an orchestration by Battōsai's enemies. Despite her orders and her own private grudge against Battōsai for revenge over her fiancee's death, Tomoe gradually fell in love with the young swordsman and betrayed her comrades in an attempt to protect him from harm. As a result of the enemy's trap, however, Tomoe's life was cut short by Kenshin's own hand and his resultant guilt became a major factor in creating his new, gentler rurouni persona and his vow to never kill again.
- Takani Megumi - Megumi often flirted with him, and he always looked a little embarrassed in those moments. Kenshin was one of the men who saved her life, taking her from the life of opium manufacturer. After that, she shows a great respect for the swordsman. She is considered "Kenshin's Fox" in Saitō's imagination.
- Saitō Hajime - Saitō and Kenshin were enemies at the time of the Bakumatsu, since Kenshin fought for the Ishin Shishi and Saitō was one of the Shinsengumi, who were a special police force for the Shogunate. In their meeting at Kamiya Dōjō they fought again, reviving the time when they were enemies fighting on opposite sides. Kenshin and Saitō became allies to defeat Shishio and Enishi, but they never became friends the way Kenshin and Sano did. Saitō likes to fight for himself, so he will join Kenshin only when it's necessary, but both respect and admire each other's power and abilities. Kenshin once even refers to Saitō (and the others with him on Enishi's island), as his 'trustworthy companion'.
- Shinomori Aoshi - Although initially enemies, Kenshin and Aoshi eventually become comrades, when Kenshin re-awakens his senses, after the latter is in a constant state of deep trauma, following the honorable sacrifices of his loyal subordinates, who perished saving his life. Aoshi aids Kenshin in his battle against both Shishio and Enishi.
- Shishio Makoto - Successor to the Hitokiri Battōsai, he plans to take over Japan, but his plans are thwarted by Kenshin and his allies, after a long, hard-fought series of battles.
- Yukishiro Enishi - He was Kenshin's brother in law when Kenshin married his sister Tomoe. Like Tomoe, Enishi sought revenge against Kenshin for Akira's death and after Kenshin mistakingly killed Tomoe, Enishi's rage increased. In the end, 15 years later, he was defeated by Kenshin and after learning Tomoe's true feelings for Kenshin through her diary, he gave up his quest for revenge.
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.
Kenshin was born into a peasant family under the given name of "Shinta". After losing both his parents to cholera by age six, he was sold into slavery. With his life turning for the worse, he was taken under the custody of three young women who were fellow slaves; Akane, Kasumi and Sakura, and grouped together to take care of him in the face of being a child slave. Later on, the slave-traders' caravan was attacked by bandits who killed all of the peasants except for Shinta, who was saved by a skilled swordsmaster named Hiko Seijūrō. Killing the bandits, Hiko suggested to Shinta that he travel to a nearby village and start rebuilding his life. Hiko traveled to the same village, but after spending an evening there and hearing no news of Shinta's arrival, he assumed the boy committed suicide. He returned to the site of the massacre with the intention of burying the bodies of everyone who died there. When he arrived, he was shocked to find that, not only had Shinta not committed suicide, but he had spent the previous night burying the bodies of everyone at the site, including the slavers and the bandits. Impressed by the boy's gentility and kindness, Hiko honored the gravestones of the young women who gave their lives to save him, and renamed the boy "Kenshin", as he felt that the name 'Ken' (sword) and 'Shin' (heart) were more fitting for a swordsman. He then informed his new ward that he would teach him everything he knew about swordsmanship.
Life as the Battōsai
After a few years under Seijūrō's guidance, Kenshin learned of a revolution that was occurring all over Japan, one whose members professed to the ideals of removing the oppressive shogunate from power and ushering in a new era of peace for the common people. Inflamed by this news, Kenshin desired to join these revolutionaries in order to put his swordsmanship to use in ushering in this new era. Hiko however, was unmoved by both the news of the revolution and his student's passionate desire to play a role in it. He attempted to explain to Kenshin that war was not so simple as his student believed it to be, and that Kenshin, for his own sake, should not get involved. Furthermore, he informed Kenshin that the tenants of Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū were at odds with becoming involved in a political war, as the killing involved in such an undertaking would often be of people who did not necessarily deserve to die, and the decision to kill them would not be Kenshin's to make. However, Kenshin was adamant in his desire to aid what he saw as an honorable and noble cause, and he abandoned both his training and his master, leaving his knowledge of Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū incomplete (though still highly skilled for his age). His sword skills soon attracted the attention of Katsura Kogorō, a leader of the Chōshū Ishin Shishi. Seeing the phenomenal power of Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū, he recruited Kenshin and brought him to Kyoto, where he was assigned the role of an assassin. Within the first six months of his career, he killed over 100 people, and eventually became known as the Hitokiri Battōsai.
As time passed however, Kenshin began to grow disillusioned with his role in the revolution. Instead of ushering in a new era of peace, he eventually came to realize that he had simply become an extremely skilled murderer, and that the killing that he was engaged in didn't seem to be doing the good, or any significant difference, that he had hoped it would. Nevertheless, he continued his role as an assassin. One night in 1864 (a year into his career), he was ordered to kill Shigekura Jūbei, a high ranking samurai and bakufu official. He engaged Jūbei and quickly killed both him and his first bodyguard, Ishiji. Having killed both men with virtually no fuss, he turned to eliminate the remaining bodyguard, Kiyosato Akira. Kenshin and Akira engaged in a brief, one-sided duel until Kenshin mortally wounded his completely outmatched foe. However, to Kenshin's astonishment, his opponent managed to cut the left side of his face as he received his mortal injury. Kenshin quickly recovered from his shock and dispatched his dying opponent, before honoring the man's incredible will to live.
Later in his downtime, while drinking at a pub, he recalled a lesson from his master, noticing that the sake that he was drinking tasted like blood, to which it shouldn't. As a pair of men loudly boasted upon barging into in the pub for free favors, claiming themselves of the Ishin Shishi (and ignorantly, of the opposing Aizu), before harassing a young woman, Kenshin angrily confronted them and told the two to get lost even though they weren't talking to him. Afterwards, Kenshin departed the pub, inwardly concerned about the fact that the two men had managed to bother him to the point of anger. He came to the conclusion that all the killing that he had been doing had started him down the road to madness, and reflected upon Hiko's warning not to get involved. However, he was unable to discern the reason for Hiko's warning. As he walked, the two men from the pub who Kenshin had humiliated attempted to ambush him, but before they had an opportunity to attack, they were slain by a bakufu assassin. The assassin, introducing himself by killing off the last of the escaping men who begged for help, was there to eliminate Kenshin, and engaged the Battōsai, but was quickly cut down. In the midst of this grisly scene, the woman whom Kenshin had seen earlier at the pub appeared just as Kenshin cut the bakufu assassin apart. Shocked to see her, Kenshin momentarily toyed with the idea of killing her; having seen him, the woman was now in a possession to potentially compromise his identity. Before Kenshin could make a decision, the woman fainted, and Kenshin found that he was unable to bring himself to kill her. Instead, he took her back to the inn that he and his fellow members of the Chōshū clan were operating out of. Once she awakened the next day, Kenshin learned that her name was Yukishiro Tomoe. Having seen Kenshin, the revolutionaries informed her that, in order for her to continue living, she would need to stay where they could keep an eye on her. Despite Kenshin's desire to have her leave, she agreed to stay on as domestic help around the Chōshū clan's headquarters. While there, she eventually began to form a relationship with Kenshin, befriending him and helping him maintain a grip on his sanity. Much to his own surprise, Kenshin would soon fall in love with Tomoe. After the crisis suffered by the Chōshū clan in the Ikedaya Jiken, Kenshin married Tomoe and fled with her to a remote village in order for them to lie low together until the revolution was renewed.
Several months later, Tomoe met with the leader of the Yaminobu, a pro-Shogunate covert network of ninjas that had formulated a plan to assassinate Kenshin. She realized that all along they had actually used her to create Kenshin's weakness. Meanwhile, Kenshin ran off to find his wife, but was ambushed by Yaminobu ninjas and severely wounded. He managed to defeat them and eventually found Tomoe with the leader of the Yaminobu. In a desperate attempt to defeat the leader, Kenshin blindly swung his sword, striking down both his assailant and Tomoe, who jumped in at the last minute to save Kenshin from a fatal attack. Tomoe's dagger slashed Kenshin's already-scarred face as she fell into his arms; creating the famous cross-shaped scar across his left cheek. As Kenshin helplessly held his dying wife, she affirmed her love for him with her last words. Devastated by his wife's death at his own hands, Kenshin would later learn even more tragic news when he discovered through Tomoe's private diary that she was previously engaged to the bodyguard he killed who had given him the first half of his scar.
Following the death of Tomoe, Katsura, feeling heavily responsible for Kenshin's loss and his manipulation under the miserly traitor Iizuka, recruited Shishio Makoto to replace the Battōsai as an assassin, and reassigned Kenshin as a guerrilla swordsman protecting the Imperialists. After the end of the Bakumatsu in the late 1860s, Kenshin abandoned his sword and left the Ishin Shishi's ranks; his experiences resolving him to protect others without the need for death and bloodshed, in honor of his late wife's memory. Arai Shakkū, a famed swordsmith of the Ishin Shishi and acquaintance of the Battōsai, realizing the change that the turbulent era brought on to his friend, the virgin perspective that he now resolved to keep, and concerned how his friend would carry his journey without the need for self-defense and necessary force to carry out his ideals against the wayward, issued Kenshin the challenge to uphold his new-found path and tossed him the first of his signature weapon into the future; the kageuchi of the Sakabatō, which fully marked the end of Kenshin's career as a hitokiri.
After finishing his job as the murderer Hitokiri Battōsai in the Ishin Shishi, Kenshin assumes the life of a wanderer, keeping his promise to protect every individual from danger without harming others through pacifist means, and through the use of Hiten Mitsurgi's powerful techniques and true principles of the art.
In early 1878, ten years after the end of the Meiji Revolution, he arrives in Tokyo (formerly Tomoe's hometown, Edo), where he meets Kamiya Kaoru. She invites him to stay in her dojo even after she discovers that Kenshin was the Battōsai. During his residence in the dojo, Kenshin establishes lifelong relationships with many people, and changes the lives of many who he has met; even if his reputation of a notorious assassin in the day of the Bakumatsu and the animosity of those begrudged who have survived its bloody days come to haunt him, his change as a person has even lead ex-enemies, such as the former Shinsengumi member Saitō Hajime, to come to peaceful terms with him. With the many friends he has come to make, many of their experiences come to take them on adventures in the changing world of the historical Meiji era and the events they come to impact on both them, and the world to come.
Although he has kept his promise and fulfills his duty as a swordsman of peace, many of his inner scars still come to haunt him, from his repressed hitokiri personality coming out in times of heavy conflict, to the heavy trauma and unremedied pain that keeps him distant from even his closest friends, and fearful of the consequences his past reemerges should they be dragged into them. New enemies such as Shinomori Aoshi of an Oniwabanshū turned mercenary thug criminal group, comes to bear a near vendetta rivalry to claim his life in order to mark their pride in history as the strongest of the Bakumatsu's days, and Udō Jin-e nearly comes to make Kenshin break his vows and spill blood after holding Kaoru hostage in threat of her life, before leaving behind a dark memento and reminder that the past of a warrior will always come to haunt him and leave no other path open to him than one of destruction.
Though peace and resolute resolve guided Kenshin's days, a surprise meeting between his rival adversary Saitō and old ally Ōkubo Toshimichi gave news of the advent of Shishio Makoto, the brutal former successor to Kenshin's position as the Chōshū clan's assassin. Masterminding a movement seeking to overthrow the Meiji Government and establish his own tyrannical Social Darwinist reign for the sake of Japan's future in the face of foreign powers, Kenshin remains conflicted to his former ally's requests and the strained past between them, with the support of his friends to protect him from any treachery that the current Ishin-led Meiji Government may bring. However, upon Shishio's planned assassination of Okubo, and witnessing the devastating waves of the Kiyoizaka Incident bringing about turmoil and despair amongst the people, Kenshin comes to leave Tokyo, realizing now of how his past has come full circle at its most menacing incarnation, and that his destiny as a wandering swordsman to save as many lives as possible to escape the shadow of his former self must meet his brutal successor, as it is on his shoulders, that the future of the country lies in the fact that he is the only man capable of stopping Shishio and his plans. On the eve of May 14, 1878, before the darkness of the night, Kenshin departs to only the eyes and heart of Kaoru, and begins wandering again.
To defeat such a foe, Kenshin is forced to return to Kyoto, the city of both his pain and the stronghold of Shishio. Along his journey to the Imperial Millennium Castle City, he gains the accompaniment of Makimachi Misao, a traveling ninja of Kyoto's Oniwabanshu in search of a missing Aoshi. Upon the discovery of a battered and bloodied Mishima Ei'ichirō, and the arrival of Saitō during the subduing of Shishio's residing forces, they witness both the atrocities Shishio's accomplishments have brought about, and the possible future that would come about under his iron fisted rule, in the hamlet of Shingetsu Village. Having broken his sakabato clashing swords with Sojiro the Tenken of Shishio's upper ranks, and realizing his strength is inefficient enough to stop Shishio without returning to the hitokiri within, Kenshin resumes his quest with a few new friends, a newfound resolve, and new tasks to stop his enemy.
Upon arrival to Kyoto, his first errand would to fulfill the promise of reuniting with his old friend Arai Shakkū, to receive a new sakabatou; second, to complete the final stages of correspondence of the Hiten Mitsurugi school, and mend his severed relationship with his teacher Seijūrō. With a newfound allegiance and introduction to the Aoiya's staff, the now current Kyoto branch Oniwabanshu, Okina of their ranks helped the rurouni scout out and find both persons of importance.
The first person to find, Arai Shakku, was unfortunate, as he passed on years prior to his arrival in Kyoto; however, he was succeeded by his son, Arai Seikū. Although reluctant at first, and still in shame over the shady reputation his father brought upon himself and the craft he was renowned for, Kenshin, Okina, and Misao came at the call to save Seiku's son Arai Iori from the hands of Sawagejō Chō "The Swordhunter", and revealed to him, not just of his father's own philosophy of how it was up to the men who wield weapons that build the new era, but that Kenshin was also one of those men who fought for the future safety and peace of Japan. From proving to him that he only meant benevolence and noble deeds, the Arai Family happily gave him the final work of Arai Shakku, the shinuchi of the hallowed sakabatou.
After obtaining the shinuchi of the sakabatou, Kenshin was now able to undergo his second errand. Under the pseudonym Ni'tsu Kakunoshin, the current master of the Hiten Mitsurugi school made his current living as a skilled potter. Attacking him to make an entrance, Hiko Seijuro the XIIIth was surprised to see his student return after 14 years. Explaining to him of the situation at hand, Hiko nonetheless analyzed and scrutinized his student with impeccable accuracy; not only did his reckless idealism come to fail to understand that the ideals of the Hiten Mitsurugi school teach that those who wield the school's techniques fight for their fellow man, not for the illusions of sides or allegiances of any sort, and how the tragedies he had inflicted and suffered had now left deep scars on his psyche, while he still held the mind of an immatured 14-year-old boy, his actions altogether while in the ranks of the Ishin Shishi indirectly came to bring about Shishio's maniacal agenda and current existence. Infuriated, annoyed, and agitated at the ignorance of Kenshin, Hiko was about to dishonorably dismiss his apprentice, although not before the arrival of Misao, Myōjin Yahiko, and to great surprise, Kamiya, at his master's doorstep.
Moved by the stories, exploits, and experiences his friends told, Hiko reconsidered and came to continue his apprentice's mastery. Through the harsh regiments, teaching him not only powerful techniques, Hiko also was instrumental in consoling Kenshin and the scars the plagued him; from reminding him that, although he sees himself as selfless and one who would be glad to help those in need, to the point of self sacrifice, he is also only a human being, and that if he were to die, no doubt that those close to him would be utterly devastated. This key truth was the very thing for Kenshin to overcome both his fatalistic hitokiri alter ego, and his master's fatal trial of the Kuzuryūsen, becoming the wellspring of power needed to execute the Hiten Mitsurugi school's ultimate and pinnacle technique, the Amakakeru Ryū no Hirameki.
Upon the completion of his training and the nursing of his master back to health, Kenshin left to Kyoto, and with newfound strengths, ready to take on Shishio. Much to his surprise, several of his friends tracked him down to Kyoto to help him defeat Shishio and the Juppongatana. Foiling his first diabolical plan of the Kyoto Grand Fire and the invasion of Tokyo with the blackship Purgatory with his allies, the Kenshingumi had made it known that they were a force to be reckoned with.
Realizing his new foe wasn't just an ordinary enemy, and a formidable threat to his conquests, Shishio and the Juppongatana agreed on the arrangement of a series of duels at their hideout, the Shrine of the Six Tori on Mt. Hiei. Accompanied with Saitō and Sagara Sanosuke, the three made their way to the compound early morning next day; while Sanosuke took on the vengeful fallen monk and former mentor "Bright King" Yukyuzan Anji, Saitō taking on the murderous "Blind Sword" Usui Uonuma, and learning of the underhanded assault on the Aoiya, Kenshin took the brunt of the series of duels on Mt. Hiei, facing off two formidable opponents in a series of rematches; first against the wildcard traitor Aoshi Shinamori, to return him to his senses for the sake of both the Kyoto Oniwabanshu and Misao, his admirer and student, as well as the youth swordsman prodigy Seta Sojiro, responsible for destroying his kageuchi of the sakabatou and the assassination of Okubo Toshimichi, before facing off against his terrible successor, Shishio Makoto himself. Kenshin used Amakakeru Ryū no Hirameki to defeat both Aoshi and Sojiro.
The battle against Shishio for Kenshin was no eased matter. Weakened and wounded earlier by prior duels, and pushing damage even further on to him, not even the combined efforts of Saitō, Sanosuke, and even a reformed Aoshi would come to see Shishio fall. But as Kenshin fell during battle, the duration of his ally's attempts would buy him enough time to recover from Shishio's brutal onslaught eariler, from the grisly bite marked on his left shoulder to even the explosion of the Guren Kaina. Fueled with an intense will to live brought on by his training and his promise to Kaoru, and his swordsman spirit surging with the winds and flora of the valley arena, his undying spirit, even pushing his body near the brink of death and to its limits, unleashed furious blows and his most powerful technique Amakakeru Ryū no Hirameki. Shishio countered the first strike of Amakakeru but not the second strike. Shishio was greatly damaged by the move and ran his sword through Yumi in an attempt to hit Kenshin. Kenshin was critically wounded on the floor by the stab. Kenshin thinks that it was the end, but upon remembering his master Seijuro's words that the girl who came all the way from Tokyo (Kaoru) would be devastated if he were to die, his will to survive strengthened. At the end of the battle, even as he was grievously wounded with little to spare, his will to survive overcame and outlasted Shishio's bodily limits, who ignites into a flame (spontaneous combustion) due to overheating.
Making a full recovery after a month unconscious and with the help of Takani Megumi, Kenshin's quest was fulfilled, and the country of Japan saved, but not without doubts, knowing that if battle and who was the strongest means that victory also means one is in the right, then Shishio was right all along; still, he thought, such a world and where its people would agree on such a brutal ideal, would be wrong no matter what. Even if victory was hollow, this would not mean that his actions were in vain- The ones close and who cherished him, who he changed their lives, and who came to also have done the same for him; Sanosuke, Misao, Megumi, Yahiko, the Oniwabanshu, Hiko Seijuro, Arai Seiku and his family, those who he left behind in Tokyo, and Kaoru, would always be happy and welcome to have him in their family, and proud of his deeds to ensure a world where peace and freedom would come about. Kenshin would return to Tokyo, ending his wandering again, back to a welcome home at the Kamiya Dojo.
A few weeks after returning home to Tokyo a man known as Yukishiro Enishi visits the same grave that we saw Kenshin visit at the end of the Kyoto arc. Upset at the fact that Kenshin left flowers at this grave, Enishi asks Iwambo if Kenshin still has his scar, which he does to the pleasure of Enishi. Iwambo then reveals himself to be not just a brainless fighter, but a man known as Gein, the puppet master. Enishi finds several comrades who all have grievances with Kenshin and form a group known as the six comrades. Together they devise a plan to kill Kenshin no matter what the cost, however, Enishi and Gein have different plans, as the true meaning of Jinchu is much more than just attacking Kenshin himself. Kenshin notices a man who only has one arm at the Akabeko, and immediately remembers that he was the one who cut off his arm. This man, known as "Whale Mouth" is next seen with Enishi and blows up the Akabeko with an Armstrong Canon later that same night. The two leave behind a note with the word Jinchu (earthly justice) on it, and Kenshin, as perceptive as ever, begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Eventually, Kenshin has a direct confrontation with Enishi, in which Enishi declares war on Kenshin, and that in 10 days the Kamiya Dojo will be attacked because of the death of Enishi's sister, Tomoe. Kenshin has no idea how to atone for his sin of killing Tomoe and returns to the Kamiya Dojo, stressed out and exhausted. Kenshin has a nightmare where he finds Kaoru dead in Hell along with Tomoe, and realizes that he must come clean with his friends and family about his bloody past completely. He then spends the entire next night explaining the tragic story of his late wife to Kaoru and the others.
When Enishi finds out about Kenshin's blossoming feelings towards Kaoru, he comes up with a sinister trick to destroy Kenshin emotionally and spiritually. The day before Enishi is set to fight Kenshin, Kaoru and Kenshin more or less get engaged. Enishi knows that by "killing" Kaoru, it will sent Kenshin into the same living Hell that Enishi went through when Tomoe died. He succeeds and leaves behind a professionally-made decoy of Kaoru with a sword in her heart, making everyone believe that she had been murdered. Upon seeing her corpse, Kenshin has a complete emotional breakdown claiming that he is worthless for being unable to protect the dearest person to his heart. He runs off to the slums of Tokyo where he remains there until discovered by Sanosuke's friends two weeks after the incident happened at the Kamiya Dojo. With his soul completely shattered, he wanders in and out of consciousness, and frequently sees himself in Hell, where he begs Shishio to take his life. His friends words cannot reach him, and the Kenshingumi splits up. Eventually Tomoe's father meets Kenshin, and after a week of talking to him, Kenshin leaves the slums when he learns that Yahiko is in danger.
After saving Yahiko, Kenshin goes to sleep and has a dream. He sees Tomoe in his dream and she tells him that all she really wants is to see Kenshin and Enishi happy. At the end of his dream, Tomoe tells Kenshin that he needs to go to Kaoru and be happy with her. Kenshin wakes up mentally revitalized and proclaims to the group that it was time to save Kaoru. The Kenshingumi goes to rescue her on Enishi's island. A battle between Kenshin and Enishi follows and after an exhausting duel that lasts for several chapters, Kenshin wins by exploiting Enishi, as he has no defense when using his nerves of insanity. Kenshin and Kaoru return home to live together for the rest of their lives.
Five years later, Kenshin is married to Kaoru and has a son named Himura Kenji. After an encounter with Yahiko, who he has taught his own sword style to during the past few years, they have a spar which Kenshin wins but barely. As a sign of Yahiko's coming of age, Kenshin gives him his own reverse-blade sword.
In the live-action filmsHe was played by Takeru Satō in the 2012 Rurouni Kenshin live-action film, with Micah Solusod in the optional English voice-over in Funimation's release of the films. The film begins when Kenshin and Saitō are on opposing ends during the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. Saitō pursues his rival, but the battle is already lost before he can find him. Kenshin abandons his old ways, becoming a rurouni and vowing never to kill again. Ten years later, he finds himself in Tokyo.
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 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; including 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.