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Set amid the chaotic backdrop of the Japanese revolution, Trust and Betrayal is powerful, beautiful, evocative, tragic, and nearly perfect in its execution; a must see.

My third anime you must watch, Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal (also known as Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal) was originally released in 1999 as a four-part original video animation. This means it went straight to DVD and was not shown in theaters. In subsequent years, it has been re-released as a full length movie, combining the four 30 minute episodes into one 2-hour long DVD/Blu-ray. Simply put, Trust and Betrayal deserves special recognition. (Once again, viewer discretion is advised due to bloody fight scenes.)

Trust and Betrayal is the prequel to the anime series, Rurouni Kenshin. Despite this, there is no real need to view the series before watching this film. Yes, knowing the series might help the viewer to appreciate some of the small cameos of future characters, but it is not essential to enjoying the story. Because of this self-containment, it is easy to enjoy on its own.

Trust and Betrayal follows the early life of legendary swordsman Kenshin Himura during the late Bakumatsu (Japanese Revolution). As a child, Kenshin was sold to slavers after his parents died of cholera. One night, the caravan was ambushed by bandits, who slaughtered everyone but Kenshin. He was saved by Seijuro Hiko, a mountain of a man with unbelievable swordsmanship. He tells Kenshin not to hate the bandits, as everyone is dead and it won’t help bring them back. Seijuro walks away, but returns the next morning to bury the dead. To his surprise Kenshin had buried everyone, complete with burial markers. Moved by this action, Seijuro takes in Kenshin as his pupil to teach him his Hiten-Mitsurugi style swordsmanship.

Many years pass and Kenshin is a master with the sword. He sees the suffering that the people are enduring under the current Tokugawa Shogunate and wishes to use his sword to help the people Seijuro warns that the sword is only meant for killing. That to protect one with the sword is to kill another. Kenshin leaves his teacher to join up with the rebelling Chosu clan. His swordsmanship is unmatched and Kenshin is quickly employed as the top assassin. His work becomes legendary and he garners the name Hitokiri, literally manslayer. He is thought to be untouchable. But one night, during an assassination, Kenshin runs into a stubborn body guard fighting for his life because he is due to be married soon. The man grazes Kenshin’s cheek before dying in the street, gifting a scar that continues to bleed when Kenshin’s heart is in chaos.

Kenshin becomes the target of assassinations, as his identity was leaked by a spy. During one such attempt, after dispatching his attacker, Kenshin meets Tomoe. A girl walking in the street, under a rain of blood. Kenshin takes Tomoe in and gets her a job and room at a local in. The leader of the Chosu clan, Kogoro, asks Tomoe to become Kenshin’s “sheath” so he doesn’t lose himself in his work. She agrees.

Not long after, the spy informs the Shinsengumi, the SWAT team of the Shogunate if you will, of a meeting of the Chosu clan. The Shinsengumi raid the meeting, and as a result cause many members of the Chosu clan’s Ishin Shishi members to flee and hide. Kenshin and Tomoe go out into the country to live undercover as a married couple on a small farm. While there the two fall in love and marry for real. However, the ghosts of both their pasts come back to haunt them and lead them on a course with deadly repercussions.

If Trust and Betrayal were to be categorized, it would be more of a period piece than anything else. It has its action, and it is bloody action. I would not consider it an action film though. And there is a heart wrenching and beautiful love story. But the whole of the piece is to present what it was like during this upheaval during the Bakumatsu, and specifically the Boshin War. During this time, Japan was in a bloody civil war between the Tokugawa Shogunate who ruled for the previous 300 years, and the Ishin Shishi, pro-imperial nationalists. Specifically, Trust and Betrayal takes place in Kyoto, the capital at the time. It is meant to be a realistic retelling of the events. And while Kenshin is a fictional character, though based on one of the four real life Hitokiri, Kawakami Gensai, all other major characters are real life people who participated in the Bakumatsu on either side. Beyond that, the history and timeline are all historically accurate.

Even though the history is very interesting, it is more than a retelling of history. Trust and Betrayal is nigh on flawless in execution of story, animation, music score, and ambient sound.

The writing for Trust and Betrayal was a product of passion and love for the subject matter. The story is compelling, following an assassin who finds his love on the bloody streets of Kyoto. Kenshin and Tomoe were lovingly crafted to complement each other. Kenshin helps heal Tomoe’s soul of her past, while Tomoe helps Kenshin remain in touch with his human side. In fact, that is one of the major themes, understanding the repercussions of his life as an assassin without losing who he is. Their relationship feels organic, even though circumstances forced them to be together. In other words, they are more than devices to revolve around the plot move it along. Instead the plot revolves around them. Beyond the story, the pacing of this plot keeps the viewer engaged the entire time. The flow of action, down time, exposition, and character building is spot on. The story, while focused on Kenshin, also makes room for other characters such as Seijuro, Tomoe, and Kogoro. This is important because knowing their backgrounds and side stories enriches Kenshin’s story. Each one helps mold Kenshin as he grows throughout the film. Truth be told, the overall plot and story, like the rest of the movie is top notch.

The animation is lifelike, foregoing the more exaggerated stylings of the series. The colors are subdued with lifelike hues and natural saturation. For instance, in the series Kenshin’s hair is a bright orange-red, but in the movie it is a more realistic hue of red. The people are drawn with proper proportions and, as silly as it may sound, with eyes that are natural in size, shape, and coloring. The characters’ movements are fluid and lifelike. The jaws move when the characters speak instead of being stationary and the mouth moving. Faces are expressive. The best scene demonstrating this is the last fight between Kenshin and members of the Shinsengumi; specifically, Soji Okita and Hajime Saito, real Shinsengumi members of renown. The movements and facial expressions are perfect leading to a thrilling fight scene. The backgrounds are absolutely stunningly painted. And in some scenes they take an unusual approach in taking real life video of hard to animate effects, like rippling water and a campfire, and use it with the animated background. It sounds weird but it works. The backgrounds accurately capture the natural beauty of the Japanese country side, the wooden structures of Kyoto, the chaos of war. Speaking of war, there is plenty of blood, stabbings, and dismemberments. As crazy as it sounds, it is not gratuitous. While there may be some embellishment, the overall effect is very lifelike. What you would expect from a sword contacting flesh.

The music is beautiful. The Japanese flutes and strings added to traditional western instruments bring the viewer into the time period. It paces the action. When a soft touch is needed, a light airy wind accompaniment plays. When a scene calls for drama, the music obliges. In all cases, the music is Japanese through and through. That is a very good thing. Not only is the music sublime, the attention to detail in the ambiance is great. In one scene, Kenshin is walking through a mountain forest in winter. Every step in the snow is accompanied by a lifelike crunch. The snow falling of a tree gives a realistic swooshing sound. His breath even sounds icy. It’s hard to imagine, but those who have lived through winter north of the 42nd parallel know what that sound is. The wind rustles and a small stream can be heard in the distance. You are in a Japanese mountain forest.

The voice acting from the Japanese cast is, like everything else, exquisite. Every person perfectly captures the essence of the character on screen. Inflections mirror the animated facial expressions and other non-verbal communications. When calm is needed, the character sounds calm. And when anxiety is called for, it is conveyed even in a whisper. The only mar comes with the English dub. While some may find it acceptable, it is not up to the standard of the Japanese. A small quibble, and one that is avoidable with viewing the subtitled Japanese track.

The care with which Trust and Betrayal was created shows. The story perfectly marries the real life history of Japan with a fictional character. There are very few embellishments and places the viewer squarely in the midst of the Bakumatsu. The animation is also nigh flawless. The characters are lifelike in appearance and movement. The backgrounds are simply stunning. The music and attention to ambient sounds put the viewer in the scene. A must view, Trust and Betrayal is, in all areas, simply a masterpiece.

 

Directed By: Kazuhiro Furuhashi

Produced By: Yoshinori Naruke, Kazuki Noguchi

Written By: Masashi Sogo, adapted from Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki

Voice Actors: Kenshin Himura- Mayo Suzukaze, J. Shannon Weaver

Tomoe Yukishiro- Junko Iwao, Rebecca Davis

Kogoro Katsura- Tomokazu Seki, Corey M. Gagne

Hajime Saito- Hirotaka Suzuoki, Ken Webster

Soji Okita- Yoko Ogai, J. Shannon Weaver

Distributed By: Aniplex of America

Release Date: August 24, 2011 (Blu-ray), February-November 1999 (Original 4 part release)

Run Time: 124 minutes

Rating: 17+

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