Have you ever romanticized a show or movie in your head and when you go back to it years later you realize that it’s not as good as you remember? You know what I’m talking about. That childhood movie that you forced your parents to watch with you hundreds of times in a row. Stuff like that. For me, Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal kind of falls into that category. For that reason, I’ve been avoiding doing a critical review of it but I thought that it was finally time. So let’s go explore the question on whether or not it’s worth watching today!
Where can I watch Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal?
This one is a difficult one. If you do a quick search on the internet for “Watch Samurai X Trust & Betrayal” you won’t come up with much. The best you’ll get is a link to Amazon where you can buy the OVA. Unfortunately, it’s not available at any of the legitimate streaming services around.
That’s right, if you want to watch this anime, you’ll have to shell out a decent amount of money to purchase it. Occasionally, the full thing is available on Youtube. That typically only lasts until it gets copyrighted and taken down. Clips of it do exist, but you have to piece them together to get even close to the whole story. That’s no way to watch so I don’t really recommend it.
This past year I finally bit the bullet and purchased a DVD copy. It was a birthday present to myself. I ended up getting the directors cut too, which set me back more than I would’ve liked. If you want to go this route, make sure you’re careful about which version you’re purchasing. You’ll be spending a decent amount of money so make sure you know whether or not you are getting the sub or dub, a DVD or Blueray, and if you’re going for the box set of all of the OVAs or not.
(I don’t get compensated for this Amazon recommendation)
How was the story in Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal?
Before I get too into the review, I want to make it clear that I’m reviewing the English dub of the OVA. There’s a difference between dubs and subs so you need to know which one I watched to better understand this review. Some of the shortcomings that I bring up here are not an issue in the English subbed version. They mainly surround the dialogue and how the whole story flowed. With that said, let’s get to the story.
Trust & Betrayal is the prologue to the Rurouni Kenshin anime. The whole purpose of this OVA is to give us Kenshin’s backstory and reveal how he got his cross shaped scar. We start with Kenshin as a boy traveling with the slave traders that purchased him after his parents died. The caravan is attacked by bandits and Kenshin is the only one to survive after he’s saved by a conveniently timed rescue. Seijuro Hiko, the thirteenth master of the Hiten Mitsurugi sword style, easily dispatches the bandits and saves Kenshin.
I should note at this point that Kenshin’s name is really Shinta. Once Hiko saves the boy and wanders off, he comes back to the site to find that Shinta buried everyone. Judging Shinta as an acceptable candidate, Hiko renames Shinta as Kenshin. From there it’s off to the races.
How is this as a start?
The opening of Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal really sets the mood for the rest of the OVA. The English dub isn’t the best at dialogue. At best it’s choppy and feels unnatural. You get the sense that the characters are saying the words that they’re supposed to say. It doesn’t feel like natural conversation at all. This is unfortunately a common theme throughout the OVA and only goes away on rare occasions.
The beginning also sets the standard for the level of violence that’s going to be common throughout. The way the bandits slaughter the slave traders and everyone involved with them is graphic and brutal. We don’t get the watered down version of people dying by the sword. We get to see people impaled, slashed and ripped apart in the most gruesome ways. For instance, we got to watch as the woman who protected Kenshin was picked up by the hair and then had a sword run through her neck. It’s no wonder this OVA has a mature rating.
Finally, the start of Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal also introduces us to the music. This is probably the most outstanding feature of the entire OVA. As a full disclosure, sometimes if I need to listen to something in the background while I’m doing work I’ll either put on The Sound of Snow Falling or the entire soundtrack to the OVA. This can be hit or miss depending on copyright infractions at Youtube but there’s typically something to listen to.
Is the soundtrack really that good?
I’m no music expert. All I know is how I feel when listening to music. There are some tracks out there that can connect to me on an emotional level that others can’t. I couldn’t tell you what notes any of the musicians played or even what instruments are being used. I just know if I like the sound or not.
When I hear the music from Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal I can’t help but get pulled into the sad but compelling story of Kenshin Himura. I’m drawn to the noble but conflicted boy who chose to violate his master’s teachings in order to try and help those who were suffering. To me, the music contains this sad duality. It brings us along for the ride as we feel Kenshin’s pain and suffering. For that reason, I think the soundtrack is excellent. I’m actually listening to it right now as I write this review.
So the opening sets the tone for the rest of Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal. How did things go from there?
Trust & Betrayal flashes between three different time periods in Kenshin’s life. There’s his time training with his master, the period right before becoming an assassin and the present timeline where Kenshin is off killing people. They all intertwine and help explain Kenshin as a character. It also helps us understand how Kenshin makes the decisions that ultimately lead to the events that happen at the end.
In Kenshin’s time training with Seijuro Hiko, we learn that his master tried to warn his hardheaded apprentice that the path he wants to go down is not preferable to what he’s doing now. Kenshin has amassed considerable strength and if he allows that strength to be used by one political side or another, he’ll regret it. Kenshin’s immaturity doesn’t allow him to see it that way and ultimately there’s a falling out.
This hardheadedness combined with Kenshin’s strength leads to much of the story in the middle of the OVA. Kenshin is an excellent assassin but also still just a child. He even still likes to play with a top that you spin. This gets used multiple times to indicate to us that we’re ultimately still watching someone with the mind of a child thrust into a war.
How does that make you feel?
Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal is both awe inspiring and sad when you realize how Kenshin’s life is unfolding. He might be helping bring about a new government that will ultimately benefit society, but he’s also losing his humanity in the process. Despite what Hiko tried to teach Kenshin, his words reflect that he sees his opponents as wild animals that need to be killed. The gravity of his actions either aren’t felt or are buried deep inside.
That’s a hard realization to come to, especially as someone who’s watched Rurouni Kenshin. I like him better as a character when he’s cheerful and friendly, not dark and gloomy. It’s hard watching one of my favorite anime characters have to go through such a tough time. I know that this story has to be told in order for us to fully understand Kenshin’s past, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
How would you describe the middle/end of Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal?
Once things go downhill for the Choshu clan the anime slows down considerably. Kenshin and Tomoe get sent to Otsu to live a faux life as husband and wife. Their days are spent traveling to town and farming. It’s not very interesting but I do understand why we’re getting this. There has to be something to humanize Kenshin and bring his abilities back down to Earth.
Once the betrayal part in Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal happens, things pick back up. It is a big stretch to think that Kenshin could survive everything he did, but he did receive some help from Tomoe there at the end. In all, it’s a sad but satisfying ending to the OVA. I really want to start an episode by episode review of Rurouni Kenshin now. Maybe I’ll do that…
Is that all you have to say about the ending?
Not by a long shot. The whole point of Kenshin spending time with Tomoe in a mountain hut is to help Kenshin realize that he’s destroying himself by being an assassin. It’s what Seijuro Hiko tried to warn him about. It’s what Katsura tried to partially shield him from. Kenshin was finally able to grow emotionally during this time and leave behind some of his misguided principles that led him to become a mass murderer.
The time in the hut was also important for Tomoe. It was important for the plot for her to fall in love with Kenshin. By spending so much peaceful time with him, she began to realize that he wasn’t as bad as you would think. Tomoe recognized the growth in Kenshin and began to fall in love with him.
Therefore, while the peaceful time in Otsu is not my favorite part of Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal, I understand why it was necessary. It’s possible to think of this part as boring, but I think you’d be missing some important story elements if this section wasn’t done in the way that it was.
What do you think of Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal after re-watching it again?
From a critical perspective, you can tell that this OVA has aged. The animation isn’t as crisp as newer anime. The English dubbed version is rough from a dialogue perspective. There are some moments that I went “Who thought that’d be a good line to say?” There were awkward social interactions and confusing statements. Nothing felt like I was watching real people holding a conversation with each other. That’s a big issue for me.
On the other hand, the music is top notch. I’ve already covered that so I won’t do it again here. I think the OVA as a whole conveyed it’s story pretty well all things considered. I’m predisposed to liking it, since I’m such a big fan of Rurouni Kenshin to begin with.
Is the dialogue in Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal as bad in the subbed version as it is in the dubbed one?
In the middle of writing this review I had this question pop into my head. There is such a thing as “Lost in translation” after all. I took a pause and watched the original Japanese version with English subtitles. What I found was shocking. It’s almost a completely different anime with the subtitles!
A majority of awkward moments between two characters in the English dub disappeared. Once I understood what was supposed to be said in those scenes, everything made a lot more sense. Let’s take the scene where Kenshin brings Tomoe to the inn as an example. In the English version, the innkeeper looks like a complete idiot with her dialogue. She changes her mind almost instantly just because of Tomoe’s perfume.
In the Japanese version, the innkeeper tells Kenshin that Tomoe can’t have a room and if he’s insistent on her staying there, she can stay in his room. This leads to the rumors about Tomoe and Kenshin. It also explains why Iizuka says what he did at breakfast. I gained a completely different view of the OVA once I saw this.
Were there any other moments like this?
Yes. The monologue by Tatsumi, the leader of the ninjas out to get Kenshin, was different as well. He didn’t paint Tomoe’s fiance’s decision to go to Kyoto as one of compulsion. Tatusmi said Kyosato did it in order to impress Tomoe and achieve fulfillment as a man. He was also more misogynistic towards women, but that’s a different conversation. His whole conversation with Tomoe felt more personal and on topic, and that was a good thing.
One final moment that I’ll mention is the interaction Kenshin and Tomoe had in the inn before the festival. Kenshin had just been advised that he needed to tell Tomoe to get out of town. Kenshin arrives back at the inn and in the English dub, he and Tomoe have a cumbersome conversation that ends up with them going to the festival together. Tomoe came across as annoyed and somewhat rude while Kenshin was a little creepy.
In the Japanese version, the conversation was more understandable and it made the pair out to be more sociable. After watching that I thought “That was actually a normal conversation.” I didn’t get that from the English version. That statement could be used multiple times over.
Is Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal worth watching today?
For an anime fan, yes, it is. Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal is an OVA that you’ll want to spend the time to watch. My recommendation is to watch the Japanese version with English subs. I may have fond memories of the English dub, it just doesn’t stand up to the superior Japanese version. I will probably watch the English version if I decide to put this OVA on in the background. If I’ve got the time, I’ll choose the Japanese version.
Is this OVA worthy of the title of one of the best OVAs ever? I’ll have to watch more OVAs to figure that out. I still rate it highly and it will be one of my all-time favorites. If that helps sway you into watching it then so be it. If you like sword fighting anime that are loosely tied into historical events, then Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal is perfect for you. For those that like emotional stories, it has that too.
Let me put it to you a different way, I spent more money purchasing 1 DVD than I have in years. I had to wait almost a month until it arrived at my house. Given the chance to make that purchase again, I’d be happy to do it again without hesitation. I’d even consider buying the entire box set of Samurai X OVAs.
Now go watch some anime!