Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal are the highly acclaimed prequels to the wandering samurai anime series ‘Rurouni Kenshin’.
Of course, anyone that has seen the series will have always been curious about Kenshin’s much talked of ‘shady’ past during the Japanese revolution – and just how he managed to get that famous cross shaped scar cut into his cheek.
Well, that’s exactly why the ‘Trust’ & ‘Betrayal’ OAVs were produced and quite frankly, I couldn’t be happier they did.
Because you see what we have here my friend is a set of emotionally charged, beautifully animated classics.
Our tale begins with a young lad called Shinta who is saved from the jaws of death by a master swordsman going by the name of Hiko Seijuro. Taken under the wing of Hiko, he gives the young orphan the name of Kenshin and decides to train him in the ways of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu – a swordsman technique that is without rival.
As the years pass, Kenshin’s amazing dedication to his training have turned him into a deadly swordsman who’s skill can now rival even that of his master.
However, with Japan being torn apart by civil war and corruption, Kenshin can no longer stand by and see the weak being exploited anymore – and so he leaves his training to fight for what he believes is right, inadvertently triggering his transformation into the most feared assassin in Japan – Hitokiri Battousai.
Should those with such extreme power ever take sides in a war? Can peace ever be achieved by killing another? Indeed, Kenshin fights for what he believes is right, but does he realize the tragic consequences of his actions?
Straight from the outset, its obvious several things have been changed from the TV series that we know and love.
Gone is the lightweight atmosphere and carefree humour – replaced by a dark sense of impending tragedy and regret. Indeed, it should be noted that no where are these changes more obvious than in Kenshin himself – who is presented here as almost a totally different person. He kills without remorse and at the speed of lightning.
There is no doubt ‘Trust & Betrayal’ is intended to be a far more mature story than what came before it. Many of the darker aspects of the TV series are explored here in great detail and we therefore end up with a much more gritty, violent and unforgiving anime. And I must say – frickin’ love it!
An immediately noticeable trait in the story is that there are no out right ‘good’ or ‘evil’ characters for us to get behind.
Almost every personality is flawed in some way and yet, this just serves to make the characters feel even more human.
Everyone makes mistakes in life, and a lot of Samurai X is about coming to terms with these mistakes and trying to move forward with life.
Taking the Military ‘Leader’ of the Tokugawa Shogunate for example, while this bloke is on the totally opposite side to our ‘hero’ Kenshin, you can’t help but respect the man for trying to protect what he believes is best for his country.
Trust & Betrayal is full of characters like this and it really helps us as an audience connect to the anime on a higher emotional level. Fight scenes feel so much more important than ever before and it usually ends up being edge of the seat, finger nail biting stuff.
Forgetting the story for a moment, I have to highlight the animation used in ‘Trust & Betrayal’ – which is quite simply some of the most beautiful I’ve come across in any anime, ever. The character designs are perfect and the background detail excellent, however, what really stands out here are the action scenes!
They are so stylized, so amazingly choreographed that you simply have to sit back in awe as swords clash and blood spills. While events are unfolding on the screen, I don’t know whether to feel sorry for the people dying in front of me or drool at the beautifully drawn animation. It’s just that good!
Any previous knowledge needed?
With this being a 4 part OAV prequel to the events in the ‘Rurouni Kenshin’ TV series, I certainly recommend you check out at least 4 – 6 episodes of the TV series before tackling ‘Trust & Betrayal’.
I’m not saying this because there are certain facts you need to know as a prerequisite before watching.
Instead, I suggest that if you want to feel the full emotional punch of this anime, then it would be wise to invest some spare time into seeing what the 90-odd episode TV series is all about and get a feel for the history of Kenshin.
Not to mention the fact that a certain character called Saito appears sporadically throughout these OAVs as a leader of the Shinshengumi! And thus if you really want to understand the absolute awesomeness of his appearances, then I’d highly recommended you check out the TV series first.
Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal blew me away. The story is fantastic, the animation is revolutionary and its historical retelling of the Japanese revolution is fascinating. If you love action, drama, romance, politics or just plain old samurai, all I can say is buy these OAVs now.