Rurouni Kenshin is set in the 11th year of Japan's Meiji Era, or 1878 to us Westerners. It centers around a swordsman named Himura Kenshin. Kenshin is a small, unassuming figure with long red hair, tied in a low ponytail, large violet eyes and a huge cross-shaped scar marring his left cheek. Kenshin's humble demeanor belies his dark past. During the violent Bakumatsu, Kenshin functioned as a hitokiri (assassin) for the Ishin Shishi, a group of revolutionaries hell bent on overthrowing the Tokugawa Bakufu, which had ruled Japan for 300 years. After a series of tragic circumstances, Kenshin swore off killing and exchanged his katana for a sakabatou, (reverse blade sword) after the war ended. After ten years of wandering and helping people in order to atone for all the killings he did, Kenshin wanders into Tokyo and is almost immediately accosted by a young girl wielding a bokken (wooden sword). She accuses Kenshin of murdering people at night in her sword style's name. Kenshin decides to help the girl, Kamiya Kaoru to stop the fake Battousai. After everything is over, Kaoru invites Kenshin to stay at her dojo, even after she finds out that he is the true Hitokiri Battousai.
The most pedestrian of the three arcs, the Tokyo Arc serves as an introduction to the setting and characters. Aside from Kenshin and Kaoru, we are introduced to foul mouthed pickpocket Myojin Yahiko, pugnacious gangster Sagara Sanosuke, the coquettish Takani Megumi and the silent, brooding Shinomori Aoshi. The battles in this arc are not very memorable outside of Kenshin's battles with crazed assassin Udo Jinei and Aoshi, who is a skilled onmitsu of the Oniwabanshuu.
The epic middle arc starts off by introducing an old enemy from Kenshin's past in the Bakumatsu, former Shinsengumi captain, Saitou Hajime. Saitou reeks havoc by severely injuring one of Kenshin's friends while holding the other two hostage in their own home, all without their knowledge. An epic battle ensues and Kenshin discovers that his past nature as an assassin is not as distant as he would like to believe. The assassination of an important government official forces Kenshin and Saitou to put their rivalry aside and join forces to fight a formidable foe, Kenshin's own successor as an assassin, Shishio Makoto. Shishio is a swordsman of unbelievable skill who actually rivals Kenshin's abilities. Kenshin is forced to leave his happy life in Tokyo and journey to Kyoto, a city he had hoped never to return to. Kenshin must attempt to defeat Shishio without killing all while battling with the assassin mindset that is still embedded deep within his heart.
This most riveting conclusion of the story finds Kenshin and his friends home from Kyoto and ready to pick up where their lives had left off before the battle with Shishio. However, the ghosts of Kenshin's past will not remain quiet for long. Deep in Kenshin's past as an assassin is an unspeakable tragedy, which led to Kenshin's cruciform scar, his sakabatou and his vow not to kill. Now a man associated with that tragedy comes to Tokyo, bringing with him chaos, grief and guilt for little rurouni who has already been through so much. Will Kenshin survive this clash with his sanity intact or will Yukishiro Enishi succeed in breaking Kenshin's spirit in a way no enemy before has been able to?
A solid story line, a historical setting and loveable characters are what make this series memorable. All the characters, even the antagonists are fleshed out and at least believable, if not always likeable. Rurouni Kenshin is a manga worth reading!