Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014)
Off the bat, I would say The Legend Ends is the best film of the three, though you still have to watch all three in chronological order. I was worried about what would happen if they were to try to adapt what were the thirty most dramatic episodes of the anime series into two movies. Thankfully, the writers decided to make some tweeks to the original narrative for it to work, unlike the mess that was the Shin-Kyoto-hen OVA.
Technically, once again the movie did everything right in adapting the Rurouni Kenshin manga to a live action film. The fight scenes were all well-choreographed and well-shot, and Sato Takeru delivered a faithful performance as Kenshin.
That said, the movie still suffered some narrative hiccups. Once again, this movie tried to adapt 10 hours worth of TV series into a two-and-a-quarter hour long movie. Consequently, there were some dents in pacing where the movie tended to dump exposition due to not having enough time to tell the audience what they need to know more organically. The scene where Kenshin masters the ultimate sword technique was also rather clumsily handled. The manga showed it as a major moment of self-realization for Kenshin, while The Legend Ends has Kenshin’s master basically say, “You are feeling this” as if the director had no way of showing Kenshin’s emotional state to the audience outside of having a character actually tell them. It’s almost like these people went to the George Lucas Prequel School of Screenwriting.
Overall, the Rurouni Kenshin films definitely stand out among live action adaptations of manga and anime, and probably serves as proof that only the Japanese should be allowed to do it. I’m looking at you Speed Racer, though to be fair Emile Hirsch was basically what Speed would’ve looked like if he existed in real life so I’ll let that go.