Based on the hit manga by Watsuki Nobuhiro, Rurouni Kenshin is a historical fiction Shounen series that takes place in the year 1878. During this time period, Japan has been quickly adapting to the advancements of other first world nations. Swords are now banned and the samurai class (or the caste system as a whole) is officially done away with. However, there are some that disagree with the current direction of the nation and still carry arms in attempts to protest the government, but at the expense of the innocent.
Protecting the innocent is Himura Kenshin, a former assassin for the government who has renounced his old ways, and has reversed his blade in order to uphold his vows to never kill. Kenshin meets various friends and foes that have their own unique and understandable goals in regards to the future of Japan, or their own personal futures. For today’s list, we will explore the Top 10 Rurouni Kenshin Characters.
For some of you hardcore fans of the original manga, we want to disclaim to you due to Honey being an anime-centric website, this list is going to exclusively cover those who have been featured in the anime.
10. Kamiya Kaoru
Kaoru is the present master of a kendo dojo whose goal is to instill principles and morals (such as fair play and sportsmanship) as opposed killing. As swords are now officially outlawed in Meiji Japan, Kaoru manages to teach Japanese fencing through bamboo swords called Shinai. In order to maintain her principles, Kaoru and her official disciple, Yahiko, will always use a Shinai in battle.
Despite a good portion of her role is being the typical damsel-in-distress, Kaoru has shown great aptitude in combat. Though her skills are not up to par with the likes of Kenshin and Saito, she manages to defeat Honjo Katamari of the Juppongatana, and she has a keen sense of how other opponent’s techniques work and exploiting their weaknesses.
9. Makimachi Misao
If Okina is the head of the Oniwabanshu with Aoshi as its muscle, Misao has to be the heart. Though the Oniwabanshu are initially introduced as antagonists working for a dishonorable drug lord, through Misao, the audience learns that the group isn't evil. Through her open feelings for Aoshi, fans get opportunities to see that there is hope for someone as cold as Aoshi.
Despite being a teenager and still in training, Misao has considerable ninja skills that help Kaoru and Yahiko in their battle against the Juppongatana. During the Kyoto arc, she always takes the initiative and it assists her in assuming a role of leadership of the Oniwabanshu. Unlike other characters who were based on real life historical figures and American comic characters, Misao is based on Nakoruru from the Samurai Spirits and Shiranui Mai from King of Fighters/Fatal Fury by SNK.
8. Myojin Yahiko
Yahiko is the orphaned son of a samurai who is initially introduced as a mere pickpocket due to his family’s remaining debts to local gangs. Thanks to the intervention of Kenshin, he is free from his debts and continues his training to be a swordsman as a student of Kaoru whom he develops a genuine brother-sister like relationship with (they were actually brother and sister in the pilot).
Yahiko is always motivated to prove to himself that he is a man. When he wanted to protect a girl from some gangsters, Kenshin taught him some basics in fighting multiple opponents by making them chase him and taking them down one-by-one. Thankfully, he manages to use the basics of this. Even though Yahiko never formally learns Kenshin’s fighting style, he has mimicked his moves in his fight against Henya. leading him to his most significant victory.
7. Shinomori Aoshi
As the leader of the Oniwabanshu (based on a real-life ninja clan with the same name), Aoshi wishes to make a name for him and his clan. Due to being a ninja, a majority of his techniques requires stealth and speed, and his opponents will fall in the most grotesque of methods. However, due to the cowardice and dishonorable tactics of Takeda, his former employer, costing him the lives of his comrades, Aoshi shows that he is not a villain when he shows that he is emotionally affected by his losses. He feels the best way to regain his honor is to defeat Kenshin. He is obsessed with beating Kenshin to the point that he temporarily allies with Shishio despite his twisted methods. In addition, he almost kills his own master just to find Kenshin.
Thankfully, another loss to Kenshin convinces Aoshi that his obsession will destroy him and that his comrades would not want this for him. Coming to terms with his sins, he eventually finds peace in his life with the remaining members of his clan. For some that don't know, Aoshi’s withdrawn personality is influenced by Hijitaka Tokizo, the deputy leader of the Shinsengumi who was known to have rid himself of his own emotions.
6. Seta Sojiro
Sojiro (loosely based on Okita Soji, a captain of the Shinsengumi) is Shishio’s number one man and is also one of Kenshin’s toughest opponents in the animated series. In the anime, he is responsible for the assassination of Okubo Toshimichi, a real life Meiji official who requested Kenshin and Saito to take out Shishio. Though real life history has him killed by bandits, Sojiro made it look like bandits killed him. Not only did he beat Kenshin in their first fight, he destroyed his sword.
As a child, he met Shishio after being burned alive and nursed him back to health. Shishio encouraged Sojiro to get back at his family who abused him. When he did, Shishio was impressed by his potential and made him his disciple. In addition to his nimble foot speed, what makes Sojiro a unique opponent for Kenshin is that he always smiles when he fights (due to his childhood trauma).
Since Kenshin’s needs to read an opponent’s expressions to get an idea of how they will act, Sojiro is a very difficult opponent to predict. Kenshin eventually breaks Sojiro’s will and defeats him. Thanks to Kenshin’s guidance that he needs to redeem his soul, Sojiro decides to go on his own journey of self-discovery.
5. Sagara Sanosuke
Despite coming across as a knucklehead, the great thing about Sano is that he has his own unique principles due to his upbringing. As a child, he was adopted by Sagara Sozo and the Sekihoutai (both real life entities), a militia consisting of peasants and farmers working for the Ishin Shishi. Due to a real-life incident in which the government said they would cut taxes in half but couldn't due to the costs of the war, Sozo was blamed for spreading lies and was executed despite following orders by the Ishin Shishi to spread the news about the tax cuts. Due to these incidents, Sano is understandably distrusting of the administration.
Knowing that he can't change the past and that he can still be of service to his fellow man, he fights with Kenshin because he respects him for both his amazing strength and for his willingness to atone for his own sins. The best thing about Sano is that though he is not 100% all brains, he is certainly 100% all heart. He wants people to get to the point and aims for the finish when he fights.
Despite losing his Zanbato, or horse cutter in his fight against Kenshin, he knows his fists are enough to get the job done and this later expands his skill set when he learns the Futae no Kiwami, the ultimate punch. Despite his background with the Sekihoutai, Sano was based on Harada Sanosuke, a Shinsengumi captain, even though this real life figure did make appearances in some parts of the series.
4. Saito Hajime
Saito Hajime is the most notable real-life figure in the series. Like the real life Saito Hajime, he was the captain of the third unit of the Shinsengumi and would later operate as a police officer under the alias, Fujita Goro. In the anime, Saito has a deep history with Kenshin dating back to being on the opposite sides of the Boshin war nearly 15 years prior to the series. However, their rivalry is more motivated by who is the better swordsman as opposed to whose allegiance is just. Due to circumstances bigger than them, Saito joins forces with Kenshin to save their country. Like his real life counterpart, Saito’s signature move is a left-handed thrust, but keeping in tone with the Shounen gimmick, it is given the name Gatotsu.
He is equal to Kenshin as a swordsman and is also very formidable without the use of weapons since he made easy work of Sano. Though he may not have the same absolute principles of Kenshin, Saito is a man of honor and knows when to put his duties for his country before his samurai pride. Thanks to the introduction of Saito in the series, many people have become interested in the group he was part of, the Shinsengumi, a military unit that supported the original Shogun regime. Despite the character’s inclusion bringing popularity to the group and as anime as a whole, it has caused controversy amongst historians who dispute whether or not pop culture should portray them as heroes.
3. Shishio Makoto
Shishio is the main villain of the Kyoto-arc. Like Kenshin, he was also an assassin or a hitokiri for the Ishin Shishi during the Boshin War. Due to Shishio’s more sadistic and violent tendencies, the Ishin Shishi feared that he would be a liability after his use ran out. When that time came, he was ambushed and the Ishin Shishi tried to burn him. Despite the attempt, Shishio survived and uses the next ten years to plot his revenge.
Beyond his skills with the sword, he is also formidable without any weapons taking out Sano with ease. When he touches someone, he can burn him or her. When grinding with the ground, his sword allows him to create sparks creating flames. Though the man is a maniac, fans can see his point of view for why he is motivated to take out his revenge. In some ways, he is a sympathetic villain. In his final moments, he also shows that he is also capable of true love with his companion, Yumi. Then after his death ending up in Hell, he decides if he couldn't take over Japan, he might as well conquer Hell showing that his ambitions just do not end with his death.
2. Hiko Seijuro XIII
Hiko is Kenshin’s master and the present (and 13th master) master of the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu. As the present master of the Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryu, he wears a 200-pound cape to denote his position and to keep him conditioned for the fighting style (Watsuki-sensei said the cape was influenced by Spawn, the face of Image Comics). After Kenshin loses to Seta Sojiro, he seeks his master’s guidance in order to learn the Amakakeru Ryuu no Hirameki, the ultimate technique of the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu.
Hiko shows the true significance of his greatness in his fight against Fuji. He appeals to Fuji’s humanity and his respect as a fellow warrior. Despite how hideous Fuji is, Hiko just gave him the respect he was seeking his whole life as a human being and that he only wants to fight him as a fellow combatant for the sake of glory and honor. Though Fuji is verbally limited, he was able to show his comprehension and respect. In this Japanese version of David vs Goliath, Hiko makes easy work of the towering Fuji with his ultimate attack. Last, Hiko is a descendant of the previous Hiko Seijuro in Watsuki-sensei’s one-shot debut manga, Crescent Moon in the Warring States.
1. Himura Kenshin
The main character himself, Kenshin is a former assassin turned vagabond. Upon his arrival in Tokyo, he finds himself in a situation in which both him (by using his former alias, Battousai) and a girl named Kaoru are being framed for a string of crimes. He gets down to the bottom of the situation and reveals to Kaoru that he is the real Battousai but has long reformed in his ways. Despite his kind nature and being small framed, Kenshin feels he has a lot to atone for and feels protecting the innocent while choosing not to kill is the best way to do it.
So how does he achieve victory without resorting to killing? He uses a blade called the Sakabato in which the blade is reversed with the dull side facing outwards. When some of his battles push him to his limits, there are instances where the killer in him may resurface and is willing to fight without mercy. But with Kaoru’s presence, he doesn’t have to resort to being a killer to achieve victory.
Despite his adolescent appearance, he happens to be 28 years old and there are some theories that suggest that practitioners of the Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryu tend to age slower than average. He is never afraid to run from a fight that in defeat, he does tend to take it with great shock. But with the right push, he can regain his edge and make a triumphant comeback. What is also interesting about his character that is is his unique speech patterns in which he ends everything in (de)gozaru (a very outdated way of saying desu), he says it so much to the point that even many non-Japanese speaking fans can recognize it. Even by the standards of the Meiji era, it was considered outdated! On one last note, Kenshin was influenced by a real life hitokiri named Kawakami Gensai. Like Kenshin, he was small framed but made it up with his technique and speed.
Some quick honorable mentions are Jin, Anji, Honjo, Fuji and Cho. So here is our list of top 10 characters from Rurouni Kenshin based on the animated series. Hopefully, one day if or when the Jinchu arc of the manga gets an animated adaptation, this list can be appropriately updated. Granted the characters and the fights from that series would look awesome in animation, we can only dream. So who are your top 10 favorites from this hit Shounen classic?