Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen
Studio: Studio DEEN (Rurouni Kenshin, Vampire Knight)
Manga author: Kazuhiro Furuhashi (Urusei Yatsura, Ranma 1/2)
Genre: Adventure, Samurai, Seinen
First complete run: 1999
OVA episodes: 4
Also known as Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal, this anime OVA is a really intense two hours. It features Kenshin Himura, the protagonist of Rurouni Kenshin, years before the original anime takes place. This prequel inhabits an earlier period during the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate, when Kenshin has not yet given up his violent past and transformed into the reticent, pious young man of Rurouni Kenshin. Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen provides fan service in the form of an expanded explanation of Kenshin's personal background. But it also constructs an original story which is far more dramatic, far more rapid paced, and a lot more violent than the main show. This four-episode OVA is a dark and gripping story set in a time when samurai from all over Japan were being mobilized against each other.
Stylistically, Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen is very old school, almost like the '80s animation of Vampire Hunter D. In contrast with the longer anime, Tsuiokuhen's visual style is gritty and extremely graphic. The tone of the OVA is eerie enough to verge on horror. Its characters exist in a morbid, hopeless world whose realism gives them an empathetic quality that Rurouni Kenshin fell short of, for me. While not as easy to watch, the OVA is also far more fast-paced, providing more action and less fluff. Tsuiokuhen has a level of somberness and thus realism which the regular show never reaches.
A worthy addition to the show, even for viewers who got impatient with Rurouni Kenshin's artfully lugubrious pacing.