Himura Kenshin is one of the few manga to be consistently 5 star quality. Each of the main characters are given fantastic development throughout the 27 volumes. It being samurai based, there's this feel of nobility which author Nobuhiro Watsuki conveys throughout, especially in the title character himself. Many manga have the character go through this arc of being a troublemaker/punk to a hero, but Kenshin from the onset is a noble character, with a tragic past. It's a refreshing read in the modern age. I would say it's shocking it hadn't gotten a live action adaption until this one, but the fact is that many popular manga have not been adapted. (One Piece, Naruto) and when they are, they're usually either unfaithful to the source material or just plain bad. (Dragon Ball Evolution, and more recently the Attack on Titan adaption.) With a noble character like Kenshin, adapting it would prove tricky with this track record. Director Keishi Otomo delivers a worthy adaption, expertly nailing what the character is all about.
If you've read the manga you know what to expect here. The film adapts the first main arc, and very faithfully at that. There are movies out there over 2 hours where you look at your watch while watching (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) but not this one. That's the first sign of success. While there's certainly a lot of great positives to go over, there are some negatives. The fist one is how Sanosuke is introduced. Muneteka Aoki did a really good job portraying the character. He got the look and personality down. The problem is the writing. He joins with Kenshin and then the dojo unnaturally fast. His plot from the manga was partly cut, probably to save time. In this case, I think adding an additional 20 minutes deepening his character arc would have been better. Another thing is that Megumi also joins up with the dojo rather quickly. She barely had any words with Kaoru. This stuff happened smoothly in the manga but in the film it's a little choppy.
The biggest negative would have to be Teruyuki Kagawa's portrayal of Takeda Kanryu. Now Kanryu is not a likable character in the manga, and the film doesn't pretend he is either. But, Kagawa's rather comical acting took away from any little menace this guy possessed from the manga.
With those out of the way, we can discuss the many things the film did right, namely Takeru Satoh as the title character. This definitely rivals Kenichi Matsuyama as L from the Death Note series. Satoh grasps the peaceful nature of Himura, expertly delivering his quotes. His transition to serious Battosai mode was also fantastic in his battle with Jin-e. Kaoru was solid. It's still a little funny how she leads this dojo but loses every real fight she's in, but that's how the manga did it too in the arc. Yahiko was also solid. The character isn't given much to do, but again in this particular story he doesn't really do anything. Megumi's character arc was certainly interesting in the manga and the film manages to convey it well.
The fights are a lot of fun, and very well choreographed. One of the best things was the careful attention to detail. The choreography makes it a point to show in present day Kenshin is not killing anyone. With over 30 men rushing at him this is truly an accomplishment. Like the manga, the arc really ends when Kenshin battles Jin-e. While perhaps not as deranged as his manga self, Koji Kikkawa did a solid job portraying him and shows what a stark contrast he is to Kenshin. Saito has always been a fan favorite, and rightfully so. His hardcore demeanor with his sense of justice as a samurai police officer has always been compelling. The film nicely sets the kind of relationship he and Kenshin have in the prologue flashback. I'm looking forward to more of their interactions in the sequels. The soundtrack is very solid. Every theme which played at the onset of a fight scene was done well.
Overall, KENSHIN could be the archetype of a live action manga adaption. The first step is grasping who the main character is, and that is done here. The next is a faithful adaption of the story, and it adapts the first arc wonderfully. (It sadly does cut out somethings which would have made it feel truly complete.) The flashbacks to Kenshin's past were done really well, showcasing who he was back then in contrast to who he is today. The theme of redemption and not letting the past rule over is a major theme in the franchise, and I'm thrilled to see the film utilize that well.