If I’m being completely honest, part of what originally drew me to anime (and what draws many people, I think) was the intensity of violence in some series and movies. Princess Mononoke was the first anime I watched that I knew was Japanese in origin, and the violence of it, though tame by some standards, both totally threw me off and absorbed me. The same could be said of Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen (Trust and Betrayal), which doubly surprised me because my experience of Kenshin up to that point had been the mostly bloodless kind from sixty-odd episodes of the series.
Tsuiokuhen makes no qualms of how bloody it’s going to be right from the start, as a group of bandits mercilessly brutalizes a traveling slave caravan, including the young Himura. The bandits, in turn, are dealt with in an even bloodier manner by Seijuro, who will become Himura’s teacher.
The focus of the entire Kenshin franchise is not on violence, however – at least not the lethal kind. The emphasis is on Kenshin’s vow to save others by his sword without taking human life. And although a few different events later in the battousai’s life have an affect on how he develops this ideology, you could say it all began in that caravan when he was protected by women whom he’d only known for perhaps a few days, or maybe even just a few hours.
Let me paint the scene, if you no longer remember it, or if you’ve never seen it. Kenshin is a young boy at this point. He walks alongside a group of individuals – slave traders and slaves – on the way to some destination. When the bandits come and slay everyone in the caravan, Kenshin is left as the lone survivor, and only because of this – the women in the caravan cover Kenshin with their own bodies, pleading to the young boy that he’ll continue to survive, as they are all eventually tortured and killed before his very eyes. Those acts of heroism buy enough time for Seijuro, who has detected the bandits’ presence, to arrive and slay the bad guys.
Kenshin, unsurprisingly, is forever changed. All throughout the next day, he uses his two little hands to bury the dead, the women (who receive special burial), slave traders, and bandits alike. And it’s here that Kenshin begins the path toward giving his sword for a greater cause (even if it takes another tragedy, and lots of war, for him to finally transform fully). He gives his sword and his life as a commitment in devotion to the unnamed women who sacrificed their lives for him.
The story of God’s love for mankind is much the same. God came down as man, stepping down from his throne, to die an awful death at the hands of those to whom he offers life. Betrayed and killed as an innocent, Jesus died full of love for his torturers and betrayers. But because he stepped in our place as a perfect sacrifice, we might live a full life, one dedicated toward serving God and serving others. As Kenshin could now go from a wandering orphan to a great hero, because others undeservedly died in his place, we can become so much more than we are because Christ died in our place.
The trick, though, is to not just believe – it’s to let go. Kenshin didn’t just believe that the women died for him – he saw it with his very eyes. It’s that he let go of his life, of any ambitions he might have had as a child, of any future ambitions as well. He dedicated his life fully to doing right (if imperfectly). For him, there was no turning back.
I like how Tim Keller relates this idea to us. He says that Christ took his hands off his life as a dying sacrifice so that we might takes our hands off our lives as a living sacrifice.
Let that sink in. HE died that we might live. HE paid the price so that we could be free.
What more can we do but give him our all?