War themes in Rurouni Kenshin

The story begins with Kenshin as a small child name Shinta. We meet Hiko Seijuro shortly as he takes the boy under his wing, gives him the name Kenshin, and teaches him Hiten Mitsurugi, a powerful sword style and philosophy.

Kenshin is eager to save the helpless from the suffering they are going through under the Tokugawa Shogunate and joins a rebel clan as an assassin. While he takes no pleasure in his job, he considers it a purpose, and he is terrifyingly efficient and merciless. He kills for peace.

He soon meets up with a woman named Tomoe, who treats him kindly, something he almost doesn’t understand anymore. The existence of a spy in the ranks of the Choshu clan throws them into turmoil, and Kenshin and Tomoe must flee and hide.


Kenshin is the softspoken assassin of the Choshu clan. He is a proficient killer and a terrible force. Kenshin is torn between his desire to facilitate change, and the seemingly endless trail of corpses he leaves behind him.

Tomoe Yukishiro enters Kenshin’s life through a coincedence, but her caring begins to open his eyes to both his own nature and the nature of others that he has forgotten.

Katsura Kogoro leads the Choshu clan, and is dedicated to fighting the Shogunate. He is an honourable man, and it is he who recruits Kenshin to fight and kill.

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Takasugi hated the opression caused by the Tokugawa and with Katsura, built the Kihei-Tai, the army dedicated to defeating the Shogunate. He is ill with tubercolosis, but dedicated to his cause.

The Shogunate’s men include Saito, who commanded the Bakufu army and Kondo, the leader of the Shinsen Gumi, a feared group of warriors who supressed any resistance to the Shogunate.

Historic Battles of Japan 1600-1895

Here is a list of the important battles in Japanese history and there relation to the Rurouni Kenshin series

Battle of Sekigahara~Ninth Month of 1600

Battle which unified all of Japan under the rule of the Tokugawa Shoguns. This battle brought about 250 years of peace from years of fighting between various clans. Also brought the samurai class into more a more prominant place in society.

Role in Rurouni Kenshin

Though this battle was never mentioned in the course of the series, it is the battle that places the Tokugawa Shogunate in power. The Ishinshishi in the OVA are struggling against this same Shogunate 200 odd years later.

Shimabara Rebellion~1637

Uprising near Nagasaki lead by Christian samurai and farmers in protest of the Shogunate’s treatment of those of the Christian faith. The most well known figure of this rebellion was Amakusa Shirou. The final battle occured at Hara Castle where the Shogun’s forces slaughtered the rebels even after their surrender. This was a part of the Tokugawa move to isolate the country and to remove western influences from Japan.

Role in Rurouni Kenshin

This is the Christian rebellion mentioned in RK episodes 67-76 mostly by Amakusa Shougo. He is supposed to be the reincarnation of Amakusa Shiro and also supposedly possesses Shiro’s sword with which it is claimed to performs mircles just as Shiro once did.

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Civil unrest in Kyoto during the early part of what would come to be called the War of Restoration or the Boshin Senso. Caused by the arrival of the ‘black ships’ off the coast of Edo. The unrest was instigated by members of the Choshu, Satsuma and Tosa clans who saw the Shogunate’s move to ‘open’ the country as a threat to their security. These clans hoped to reinstate the emperor to power and to force the Shogun to step down.

Role in Rurouni Kenshin

This is, of course, the time period Kenshin becomes involved in the war against the Shogunate. It is at this time that he becomes the hitokiri for the Choshu Ishinshishi. Later he becomes a bodyguard and soldier.

Battle of Toba/Fushimi~January 27 1868

First Battle in the Boshin Senso, which occured in the villages of Toba and Fushimi mear Kyoto. The combined forces of Satsuma, Tosa and Choshu repelled Bakufu forces. The Shogun and his forces flee to Osaka.

Role in Rurouni Kenshin

This is the final battle that Battousai is involved with and the battle in which Battousai vanishes from sight, leaving behind his killing ways and hitokiri’s sword. It is also here that Kenshin recieves the Sakabatou from Ari Shakuu. This might also be the battlefield where the attempted assassination of Shishio Makoto occurs

Boshin War~1868-1869

This is also called the Restoration War. War to ‘capture’ areas still under control of the Shogunate and to supress areas (such as Aizu) that were still supporting the Shogunate. Ended with the surrender of naval units in Hakkaido in 1869 in the Battle of Hakodate.

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Role in Rurouni Kenshin

This war is mentioned frequently throughout the series and is likely where Kaoru’s father died. This is the war Kenshin refuses to join in after the Battle of Toba Fushimi. He refers to it as ‘selfish fighting’ in the manga.

Satsuma Rebellion~ Feburary 1877

This is also refered to as the Seinan Wars. Rebellion of the samurai class lead by Saigo Takamori against the corrupt ministers of the emperor and in response to the treatment of former samurai who had lost there place when the Meiji came to power. This war lasted for six month before it was crushed by the government army.

Role in Rurouni Kenshin

Another ‘war’ frequently mention, which oddly enough occured one year previous to when Kenshin enters Tokyo. Saito mentions it in episode 35 and it is also mentioned somewhere near the end of the Shimabara Arc as well.

Sino-Japanese War Sino-Japanese War~1894-1895

War against China supposedly fought to free Taiwan from Chinese influence and to modernize the island nation. Japan gains territory in the war, which includes the island of Taiwan. Proved to the western nations that Japan was a fully modern country, which put them on equal footing with the world powers of the day.

Role in Rurouni Kenshin

This war appears only in the Seisou Hen. This is the war Yamagata asks Kenshin to lead his expertise to. What his function in the war is never clear. Perhaps he is just being used as a symbol of samurai spirit or maybe he trains soldiers.



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About the author

Nadia Petrova

I'm running this blog because I love Japanese culture, especially the art of geisha. When I was a little girl, I used to dream of becoming a geisha myself. In my spare time, I enjoy watching good anime and reading some manga.

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