By Gina Tumlos
My older sister Nani and I are three years apart in age, but growing up, the distance between us could not have been less than a few hundred lightyears. She had been in the honors class since birth, class president, teacher’s pet, a success story waiting to happen, while I, on the other hand, spent the first half of my life wishing I was invisible.
I grew up half in awe and half in fear of her, not just because she was the best in Science (and CLE, and English, and Filipino, and basically in all the contests she ever joined), but also because she was, without a doubt, the best in bullying me too. You can ask her today what her favorite pastime was as a kid; she’ll tell you it was making me cry, like clockwork, every day.
When I was 4, she left me terror-stricken in the backyard because she said the weeds were the eyes of the devil. To get back at her for all her evilness, I pushed her while playing patintero. She bit my hand until it bled as payback. I have lived in mortal terror of her since then, a force I refuse to reckon with even until this day, 25 years later and counting.
To me, Nani was the scourge of humanity, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse all rolled into one, the Plague to end all plagues. The Old Testament God had nothing on her. We had absolutely nothing in common (she refutes even our common ancestry and claims I was found in a trash can), until one afternoon in 1999 when we turned on the TV and found our new religion.
I can’t say what it was for certain. It could have been the red hair, the double-edged sword maybe, or the fact that our new favorite character carried his troubled past on his face (X literally marked the spot) that brokered the peace between Nani and me. For 30 minutes each day, we were transported to the Meiji Era where a wandering swordsman set to right the wrong. We cheered when Kenshin won a fight, and we held each other’s hands whenever he lost faith in himself. We suddenly had something to look forward to together: Will Kenshin kiss Kaoru or not? Can Kenshin survive Shishio’s burning wrath? Surely, Saito will come save the day! Will Aoshi ever have tea with Kenshin?
We visited every comic book store in Metro Manila for copies of the OAVs and VCDs and any paraphernalia we could buy. We scoured the bangketas of Session Road for the perfect Kenshin poster. We picked our favorite opening and closing credits; sang the songs in gibberish and made mixtapes for ourselves. She had a kimono made while I wrote the fanfiction. We replayed to each other the sequence of the story arcs on the bus ride home and spent dinnertime raving like lunatics over what just happened in the episode we had just seen. When the final episode aired, we hung our heads in deference to our comrade, stifled a sob or two, and watched the OAV over and over again until we broke the VCD player.
We moved on to other things after Samurai X. She joined me in my Lord of the Rings craze (still ongoing, by the way) and made sure we got premiere tickets for the films. We spent summers theorizing what will happen in the next Harry Potter books, there were film screenings I dragged her to, school events I had to support because of her, TV shows we watched in her laptop when we lived together in college. But always we came back to Samurai X.
We came back to it because, to some extent, it came at the right time and changed our lives. We were 11 and 14 respectively, ages where we were still very vulnerable to external influences, and it was just our luck this was what we fixated on.
In Kenshin we saw an ideal person: someone who had a lot to atone for, whose greatness became his downfall, and whose humility fueled his search for redemption. We saw in him restraint, humor, commitment, and compassion. Watching Kenshin make the right choices, choices that saved hundreds of lives instead of ending just one, watching him give people chances to make amends, to not wield the hand of supreme justice but one of forgiveness, I think planted something deep within us.
It’s something we continue to discover about ourselves as we got older, a well of patience and empathy for each other whose origins we cannot quite trace, until we come back to that time and place. On that day, on that sofa, where we realized that only the two us will ever know what it’s like to be there, grateful to have someone to share in your overzealousness, your excitement and your anxiety over goddamn cartoons, and know that these feelings are reciprocated and even amplified because my sister has to be better and best in everything including this, and that’s just the way it is.
Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno, distributed by Warner Bros., opens in Philippine cinemas Aug. 20, 2014. Its sequel, Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Falls, opens Sept. 24.