The third and final chapter of the Rurouni Kenshin trilogy is aptly dubbed as The Legend Ends, picking up right where the cliffhanger finale of Kyoto Inferno left off. A fair spoiler warning to those who are about to read on, there will be references to the previous films so tread carefully.
Kyoto Inferno ended with the frightening unveiling of Shishio Makoto’s ultimate weapon: a battleship equipped with modern warfare. Something that is completely alien to Japan. Shishio Makoto uses this powerful weapon to showcase the true extent of his terror, giving him the ultimate trump card against the crumbling Japanese government. What’s interesting is that this war machine was also introduced in the original anime series, except that Shishio never even got to use it because Sanouske somehow managed to sink the damn thing. Now in this movie adaptation the ship is put to great use as a compelling plot device. This is where The Legend Ends demonstrates a rare instance where taking liberties with the source material, and even executing ideas differently, can lead to good if not better things. These liberties ultimately allow The Legend Ends to ground more convincingly in reality, and make tension feel far more believable than weird anime logic.
That said, The Legend Ends still retains much of what made the gripping manga/anime saga such a timeless classic. All the major battles and character development has been effortlessly worked into the confines of the film, leaving nothing to be desired. The same cast that made the respective characters shine in the prior two films deliver exceptionally once more in this trilogy finale. The cinematography, visuals, and the use of scenery, all of it coming together to deliver an experience that does the namesake justice and more.
The most compelling aspect of the film is Kenshin’s soul searching quest to find a resolve to fight, and more importantly to find closure for his unending guilt and existential crisis. Kenshin’s portrayal in the movie is so gray that you could very easily make a case for him being just as bad as Shishio, and this is something that is incredibly rare in shonen stories. Before he can even come close to ending the evil of Shishio Makoto, Kenshin must first figure out who he his, and why he has the right to exist despite all the wrongs he has done. This personal internalized journey is delivered powerfully, and ends up teaching an eye-opening lesson on the grayness of humanity.
The action present here is the best out of all the three films, with every major battle from the arc represented aptly and realistically. From Kenshin’s encounter with Aoshi to his insanely rapid blow-for-blow duel with Sojiro, almost every classic bout has been delivered. They even managed to throw in Sanouske’s brawl with Anji the Destroyer. Now this is where one could nitpick, as the comedic slapstick fight shown here is a huge far cry from the emotionally charged battle in the original anime/manga. That said, perhaps it was right to be consistent with Sanouske’s goofy movie portrayal, and not turn any of his moments too grave or serious.
The final battle involving Shishio exhibits perhaps the best choreography and storytelling out of any other duel in the trilogy. They managed to convincingly implement all the main signature moves as realistically as they could have, and their inclusion is much appreciated in helping the intense and long build-up to the final encounter really pay off. Shishio pulls out all the stops with his secret swords; from the Burning Soul (his sword getting engulfed in flames) to the gunpowder assisted Crimson Lotus Arm, it’s great to see all these moves intact and executed with sharp realism. Our hero Himura Kenshin doesn’t pull any punches either, for he brings his ultimate secret technique to the table: Flash of the Heavenly Flying Dragon. The maneuver is not only executed with beautiful finesse in this film, but it also ties in strongly with Himuara’s character development, all accumulating to a single unforgettable moment.
Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends is an epic finale to a great trilogy that simply could not have been done any better. The storytelling, battles, sword techniques, and character portrayals, all of it done exceptionally well. The prodding and methodological build up starting all the way from Kyoto Inferno pays off big time in the spectacle of a battle presented in The Legend Ends. When it’s all said and done, Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends delivers a movie experience that is quite simply, a dream come true for fans.