You may know him as Samurai X, but he’ll always be Himura Kenshin to me. Adorable, red-haired, charming, committed pacifist, the quintessential wielder of the reverse-blade, and my absolute favorite anime hero, ever.
You may be asking yourself, why am I, an (apparent) grown-up, talking about my favorite cartoon character, in a post that promised to be about my collection of injurious slicey thingies?
Don’t worry, I’ll get there. After a wee bit of background.
The Art of Anime
First, the whole “grown-up” thing is a complete rumor, and I have no idea where or how it started. I promised my dad a very long time ago that I wouldn’t dabble in such dangerous affairs, and I’m a person of my word.
Also, I am absolutely a cartoon girl. A couple of Pixar films sit decidedly high on my list of “favorite movie experiences ever”. I’ve watched almost every old-school, sticking-the-finger-to-the-Brothers-Grimm Disney movie with varying levels of enjoyment (which also vary every time I see them). I’ve recently written at some length about the wonders of Japanese animated films by Hayao Miyazaki. So, yeah, cartoons rock.
Meanwhile, anime is where a large portion of Japanese visual artists are choosing to tell their stories. Much like a canvas or a book, it’s fertile ground for graphic artists to do, quite frankly, whatever they want to do. And how: there’s a bunch of anime I wouldn’t touch with a three-meter pole, because those artists did exactly what they wanted to do, and I don’t think I’ll ever want to do that. Fortunately, the field is vast, and there are some truly compelling and moving stories that have been told through this art.
My philosophy with this, as with so many other things, is that there’s a lot of good in the anime world (however you define “good”). You just need to know where to look.
The Wandering Samurai
The next aspect of this that deserves explaining (I promise I’ll get to the bodacious blade bit shortly) is this one particular anime called Rurouni Kenshin, which was the first anime I ever watched in Japan, as well as my first manga (Japanese for comic books) which told roughly the same story. The anime focuses on Himura Kenshin (once known as Hitokiri Battosai, which essentially means “people killer”, because anime is subtle like that) a wandering man of peace, who used to be a cold-hearted killer but now has vowed to use his skills to protect people (with a non-lethal, reverse-blade katana) to atone for his previous assassin life. (I told you it was subtle.)
Lots of people have crushes on fictional characters, but here I am, crushing on a drawing. And I’m not the only one. Kenshin fandom runs far and wide. It’s not just a shonen (although Watsuki initially intended the manga to be just that), on the contrary, this peace-loving killing machine has wide appeal regardless of gender, the occasional bickering about the length of his hair notwithstanding. And I have to wonder if it’s more than a coincidence that he shares a name with a Japanese warrior who may not have been all that they appeared — rumors which make Kenshin that much more enticing.
The stories highlight such poetic themes as peace, love, romance, atonement, and redemption — all beautiful, wonderful things — but admittedly, what I love the most about this show is the main character. He’s been written with the same personality magic as the reboot of Doctor Who, where one moment he is goofy and silly (his catch phrase is “Oro?!”, always spoken wide-eyed, with stars and squiggles drawn around him), and easily put off balance by his friends and love interests, then the instant he perceives a threat, he shifts to cold and dark (complete with darkened animation, of course) and you’re on the edge of your seat wondering if anyone in his immediate vicinity is going to survive. Then a nanosecond later, threat having passed (because of his critical intimidation roll), back to adorable again. Couple all that with his sakobatou (reverse-blade sword – see, I haven’t forgotten the theme), and you have the super-sexy blend of awesome blade and Sun-Tzu-meets-Ghandi battle strategies. Kenshin is so dreamy.
I love this character so much, I named my favorite katana after him.
The Birthday Present
My first encounter with Kenshin the Katana was when I received it as a present on my 20th birthday.
Celebrating my birthday is always an important time in my year, and the ones that are multiples of five are particularly exciting. Not only is it the mark of a half decade, but I was born in the summer of a “five” year and always enjoyed my ability to calculate my age vs. the year vs. what grade I was in with ease. I presume other “five” summer birthday people out there will understand what I’m talking about.
My 20th celebration was made twenty times as exciting because my boyfriend at the time totally “got” this about me, and made the bold choice of acting accordingly. Not content to simply get me an amazing gift (which he did), he made the whole afternoon an adventure, a quest even. He set up a multiple-phased treasure hunt all across town, with clues in the form of riddles written on tiny pieces of paper taped on the underside of various objects throughout Lansing and East Lansing. In an additional stroke of genius, he convinced his roommate (our mutual friend) to dress up in a cheap tux and be my “chauffeur”, as well as my clue-giver when I got stuck on a riddle. I made my way from one significant (to us) location to the next, each stop a part of our story, from our meet-cute to our first date to our favorite Blockbuster and so on until I finally got the final clue to join him for dinner at a fancy Japanese restaurant, where on the table lay “the gift”: the katana, the future Kenshin. A lovely steel practice blade with an ornate hilt, all black and gold and beautiful, complete with a kogatana (small ornate knife) in a hidden pocket. So. Freaking. Cool.
I have to say, I had high standards going into that birthday, and he completely blew them away. I treasured that katana like I treasured that relationship — which is to say, like nothing else I’d ever known. This is what love looks like, I thought. I was completely overwhelmed, giddy, and smitten. It didn’t get better than this.
No, really. It didn’t get better than that. We broke up two weeks later, and all I got was that lousy katana.
I spent my remaining two years of college feeling anchorless and broken-hearted. This guy was “that guy”. I’d heard enough of other people’s stories to recognize my own tropes when I saw them. This was the one where you like the other person, but sense that maybe they don’t like you as much as you think, and then they do something that makes you think you were wrong and they really DO like you, and you convince yourself that you were just being stupid, and decide you won’t keep your guard up anymore, and that’s when they stick the knife in.
Or the katana, in this case.
There were other people I dated after him. It all felt grey. It all felt, meaningless. The attention was nice, but that’s pretty much all it was bringing me, and after a couple of dates I felt gross about continuing, because my heart and mind were too distracted by finding ways to casually run into the ex. Oh hey, oh sure we can be friends, let’s meet for coffee … and all that atrociousness. I wasn’t done grieving, and I certainly wasn’t finding anyone worth ending the grief for. I went full-on emotional masochism, almost all the way up to graduation.
Once my degree was in sight, though, something shifted. I don’t remember the moment, but one day I got a really good look at the formulaic drama script that I was following, and I didn’t like it. In fact, it all seemed pretty dumb. I stopped pouting in the corner, got myself a teaching job in Japan through the JET Programme, and decided, I. Am. Done.
Not just done with pining for the ex. I was done with the entire game.
I vowed that I would swear off all dating for the year, and cut all immature boys out of the picture completely (I wasn’t bitter). I left the katana behind, safely stored, a relic from my troubled past. Time for a new chapter in my life. Time to build up Hezaasan Land. Population: Hezaasan.
Which, of course, is when I met my future husband (so much for population Hezaasan).
The Wedding Cake
Suffice to say, I didn’t keep my vow to myself. I did wind up dating this certain kind, charismatic, brilliant man, and by the end of the following year, we were engaged. On the one hand, hey, look at me being all cute tropey again (but in a happy way), and on the other, hey, look at me being all cute tropey again (grumble, grumble).
But that’s not today’s story. Today is about the katana, and this chapter is about our reunion.
When we re-patriated back to the states, my then-fiancé started graduate school in California, and I eventually made my way there as well. Despite the fact that we were planning a Michigan wedding. In retrospect, maybe not the most ideal choice on my part? Yet totally in line with my propensity for doing things the hardest way possible. (Great fodder for stories, or something.)
Enter future mother-in-law. We were tying the knot in her hometown, and since we were on the other side of the country, she graciously stepped up. To her credit, she always asked us what we wanted, and never pushed back. No “interfering mother in law” trope here (I can’t do all the tropes, people).
Unfortunately (fortunately?) for her, when she asked us for direction, our answer was that a) we didn’t have a lot of funds, and b) we wanted it to be “Japanesey”. That was about it. Armed with that oh-so-detailed bit of direction, she teamed up with my mother, and they worked their magic:
She recruited elementary school students to make paper cranes, which adorned every table.
My flowers were attached to a Japanese paper fan.
They found a sushi boat and kimono-adorned dolls for the wedding cake.
And when it came time to cut the wedding cake, we cut it with my katana.
The katana, which had made it from storage to our reception site under the watchful eye of our families. Beautiful, bold, and oh-so-impressive to behold, especially as we used it to slice through multiple layers of cheesecake in front of hundreds of guests. And I should probably also mention, my ex-boyfriend was standing in the front row.
Another trope? If it is, it’s my favorite trope ever. Seriously, people who were at my wedding reception still talk about how badass that was (yes, I’m one of those people).
How could I name this creature anything but Kenshin? Peace-loving killing machine, indeed.
Many chapters have passed, and my life as a married woman has come and gone, but Kenshin has been displayed proudly and prominently ever since that wedding day. Because I have a minor obsession with katana, but also because it represents meaningful memories in my life, times that have “marked” me and will stay with me forever. I don’t require the sword to remember, but it serves as a reminder.
A distinction without a difference? Perhaps.
From time to time, I think about getting the reverse side of the blade sharpened, for a realzies replica. Of course, in my mind, that’s already been done. It’s just gotten dull from ages of lack of use.
The fantastical thoughts of a silly girl? Again, perhaps.
And I wasn’t in the habit of giving my swords names, or any other inanimate objects for that matter, but this one? This one earned it. This one is my symbol, of peace, love, romance, atonement, and redemption.
No “perhaps” – this one is, without a doubt, my Kenshin.