'Rurouni Kenshin’ Sequence: Best Way To Watch The Film Series | CoolJapan

The Rurouni Kenshin films have been dubbed one of the best Japanese anime/manga live-action adaptations since the first instalment premiered in 2012. And good news — all five films are now ready for binging on Netflix (within the region and in other select territories). The series wrapped up with a prequel (more on this later), so what’s the best viewing order to watch it in?

But first: what’s the hype around Rurouni Kenshin?

Before we get to it, here’s a quick primer about the Rurouni Kenshin films: the original manga source material was published in Japan from 1994 to 1999, with newer volumes released up to the present.  The anime, on the other hand, aired in 1996 to 1998, with one film and a couple of original videos (OVAs) released in 1999, 2001, and 2011.

Set in the beginning of the Meiji era (1868 to 1912), it focuses on the story of Kenshin Himura, a rurouni (wanderer) who was formerly known as a legendary assassin called Hitokiri Battousai (sword-wielding manslayer). His most recognisable feature is the cross-shaped scar on his cheek, which earned the series its alternate title outside Japan, Samurai X. Trying to get over his past, he vows never to kill again by only carrying a sword with a reverse-blade edge.

The films in the series were released as follows: Rurouni Kenshin Origins (2012), Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (2014), Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014), Rurouni Kenshin: The Final (2021), and Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning (2021).

The titles can get a little confusing if you omit the release dates. That’s because the franchise was meant to be a trilogy, with The Legend Ends providing the ultimate conclusion to Kenshin Himura’s story as the titular rurouni. However, because the films were such huge hits, they extended the series to include the last two films, The Final and The Beginning. These shed more light on Kenshin’s dark past as the manslayer, something that the first three films showed only in passing.

But that’s enough spoilers. Let’s start mixing and matching your viewing experience.

The Rurouni Kenshin films are similar to the Star Wars movies whose film order can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, each one providing a different viewing experience.

Viewing order suggestion #1: based on release date

1. Rurouni Kenshin Origins (2012)
2. Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (2014)
3. Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014)
4. Rurouni Kenshin: The Final (2021)
5. Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning (2021)

Starting with the most basic, there’s the original release date sequence. By following this order, you get introduced to Kenshin Himura as a mysterious stranger with an obscure past. With his gentle nature and kind expressions, it’s hard to identify him as the manslayer the legend poses him to be. However, through this viewing order, we see how the consequences of Kenshin’s past unravels tragically yet beautifully onscreen. We see him put to the edge over and over, with enemies from both his past and present forcing him to unleash his full potential as the former Battousai.

This sequence reinforces Kenshin’s changed nature and strong will to protect his vow to never kill again. Ending the series with The Beginning, which serves as the series’ prequel, makes the franchise come full circle.

The only downside of this viewing order is how weak it makes The Final feel. Without spoiling anything, The Final is a revenge story that takes root from The Beginning’s events. Watching The Final before The Beginning may feel less emotionally gripping.

Viewing order suggestion #2: chronologically based on the film’s events

1. Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning (2021)
2. Rurouni Kenshin Origins (2012)
3. Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (2014)
4. Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014)
5. Rurouni Kenshin: The Final (2021)

If you want to know how much of his abilities Kenshin was holding back in Origins, Kyoto Inferno, and The Legend Ends, this viewing order will give you more than enough context. The Beginning is the only film in the series that explores Kenshin’s full manslayer capabilities, which truly shows how committed he was in his new vow.

This sequence gives the audience a view of his transformation and shows why he was able to turn into a new leaf despite his supposedly unredeemable reputation.

Watching in this order, however, immediately spoils one of the biggest turning points in the films which is the origin of Kenshin’s cross-shaped scar. His scar’s backstory is one of the most haunting moments in Kenshin’s past, which makes the revelation in The Beginning poetic and heart-wrenching. Finding out about this first in this order doesn’t exactly ruin the entire experience, but it may lessen the impact of this storyline depending on the viewer.

Viewing order suggestion #3: Swapping the order of The Final and The Beginning

1. Rurouni Kenshin Origins (2012)
2. Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (2014)
3. Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014)
4. Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning (2021)
5. Rurouni Kenshin: The Final (2021)

Again, the only downside to watching the films in their original sequence is the lessened impact of seeing the events in The Final before The Beginning. By swapping the two, it changes this experience a bit but not significantly.

Through this viewing order, we’ll get a better understanding of why The Final’s villain, Enishi Yukishiro, hates Kenshin so much. While The Final itself explains the reason for this conflict, The Beginning contextualises Enishi’s motives better despite the significant differences in the films’ timeframes. It makes him seem a better villain and adds a stronger emotional background to the narrative. Ending the series with The Final provides a more cohesive and satisfying ending to the series.

Our top Rurouni Kenshin sequence pick is…

The last one. It weaves the story together the best, in our opinion. It highlights why the film franchise is so well-loved.

However, we still suggest you try the other mixes as well. There are a variety of positives and negatives in each viewing order, but overall, each of them provides a different perspective and experience.