There Are a Lot of Mixed Feelings About That Rurouni Kenshin Anime Announcement, Here’s Why
CW for mentions of child pornography
This last weekend was Jump Festa 2022, an annual event put on by Shonen Jump’s publishing company, Shueisha. During the event, several anime series were announced that got fans (myself included) excited for what 2022 will have to offer.
One of those announcements involved a new Rurouni Kenshin project from Liden Films (Berserk 2016, Otherside Picnic, Tokyo Revengers), and while we don’t exactly know what the project is yet, it already has fans talking – and not for good reason.
Rurouni Kenshin is a series about Himura Kenshin, a wanderer who does his best to not get involved in any fights – and when he does, he fights in a way that won’t kill his opponents. That’s because he used to be a legendary assassin who has a lot of blood on his hands. As to be expected, you can only leisurely stroll away from your past for so long before it catches up with you.
I used to watch the hell out of Kenshin, and normally, seeing news about a new production would get me excited and a lot of anime fans excited. Kenshin was a series held in high regard back in the day, but lately, whenever you bring it up it comes with something that really sours any new project that bears its name.
That’s because as iconic as Rurouni Kenshin is, its creator, Nobuhiro Watsuki, was charged with child pornography years ago.
A quick history of Rurouni Kenshin
Kenshin originally aired in Japan in 1996 and aired here in the U.S. in 2003 (with DVD releases beginning in the year 2000). The manga is even older, being published in 1994 with releases in the U.S. beginning in 2003. Now if you’re like me and were watching the anime on Cartoon Network, then you only saw two seasons, as the third season never aired on TV here (it was released on DVD in 2002, though). The third season also isn’t adapted from the manga, telling a different story from the source material. There have been movies and OVAs throughout Kenshin’s life cycle, including a live-action film series that began in 2012.
Kenshin is one of those series that my brain kinda puts in the “before times” of anime, back when it would take years before it would be aired here, and back when we wouldn’t always get the entire story. It was a time when you would kinda be stuck buying the DVDs first and taking a chance because 1) anime information on the Internet was still new and not always accurate, and 2) not everything in the video store ended up on Toonami right away (as is the case with Kenshin).
I say all of this because my kneejerk reaction when I see fans celebrating a release by someone which such a heinous record is to give a deep sigh and lament how fans will just ignore some truly messed-up actions in favor of watching or reading their favorite series. Those fans are out there, don’t get me wrong, and the “ugh, why THIS anime studio” commentary, but it occurs to me that Kenshin itself is old enough to be a series that anime fans today might not even know what the heck it is, or if they do, the series ended so long ago that they’ve moved on from it and have no idea what happened with its creator.
If you were a fan watching it on Cartoon Network, for example, that was back in 2003, which was almost 20 years ago.
This came to mind when I was discussing Kenshin with a friend who, like me, was a fan of the series in the early 2000s, but doesn’t keep up with anime as much as I do. They had no idea what had happened after the series came to an end so hearing “new Kenshin anime news” had them go, “Oh hey, I used to watch that, that might be rad,” instead of knowing what happened with its creator.
And no, that was not fun news to break to this friend, but, well, if you haven’t looked into Kenshin since the early 2000s (or even with the live-action movies which had gaps in releases from 2014 to 2021) then you probably don’t know.
So? Let’s talk about what happened.
The charges against Nobuhiro Watsuki
In November 2017, news broke that Nobuhiro Watsuki had been charged with possession of child pornography. Here is the story from Anime News Network:
According to the authorities, Watsuki possessed numerous DVDs with nude footage of young girls in their early teens, and stored them at an office in Tokyo at least as recently as October.
In his deposition, Watsuki allegedly said that he “liked girls in late elementary school to around the second year of middle school.”
Authorities searched Watsuki’s home as part of a different investigation, which linked him to the purchase of DVDs with child pornography.
The charge against Watsuki alleges that he possessed the pornographic videos from July 2015. Possession of child pornography entails imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of up to 1 million yen (about US$8,800), if found guilty.
For reference, elementary school in Japan is around 6 – 12 years old with middle school being 12 – 15 years old, according to this breakdown here. While Watsuki doesn’t give a specific age number, I’m guessing “late” elementary school is around 11 – 12 years old. In 2017, Watsuki was 47 years old.
In February 2018, Anime News Network reported that Watsuki would have to pay a fine of 200,000 yen (about US$1,900). Watsuki did not face any jail time. The Rurouni Kenshin manga went on a hiatus in December 2017 due to the charges but resumed publication in June 2018. According to Anime News Network, the announcement from Shueisha, “noted that Watsuki is living a life of reflection and atonement, but that Shueisha and Watsuki decided that continuing the manga to answer the desires of fans was a matter of duty. At the time of the manga’s hiatus, Shueisha commented that it is taking this news seriously and that Watsuki expresses deep regret.”
Viz was publishing the manga simultaneously, in English, before the hiatus, but the company stopped publishing it when news of the child pornography charges was revealed. From what I can gather, they still don’t publish the manga today. Two more live-action Rurouni Kenshin movies have been released since, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final and Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning, both of which are available on Netflix worldwide.
So if you’re wondering why you’re seeing unsavory rumblings about this new Kenshin anime announcement, this is why.
(Image: Liden Films)
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