It's hard to review this in a vacuum. Having just watched season two of Kenshin within the last two months I'm going to always judge this compared to the original, so I'll try my best to write two reviews where needed (mostly characters and story), from the perspective of a return viewer and someone new to the series.
Story - 3/10
For anyone who watched the original series this will seem like a fan cutdown of the entire Kyoto Arc, but created by a fan who really had no use for plot, or backstory, or character development, or consistency. The whole OVA boils down to Kenshin meeting Misao, Kenshin having to replace his sword and a couple very quick fights with little reason why the fights are happening. They left in character introductions, with the idea that you already knew who the characters were, all so that said characters can have a short version of the duel we saw in the original telling.
If you're new to the series you'll be utterly confused at what's going on. Sure they give a quick rundown of who Shishio is and why he's out for revenge, but you never get a true picture of why Kenshin is there to fight him, why Aoshi wants to kill Kenshin or why Sanosuke and Anji are so evenly matched. The way the final battle also ends would have you believe Shishio was never a threat to begin with, as Kenshin did away with him pretty easily, they probably could have just sent some random swordsman.
The OVA was labeled as "From Misao's Perspective" but most of her storyline is cut from the series. She's with Kenshin for the start, but where she and the Oniwabanshu shined in the series is completely removed and replaced by the scene of Seijuro Hiko talking down Fuji.
The only thing that seems to be added, but it could just be that I somehow missed it in the original, is Seijuro giving a somewhat eloquent reason for why these men follow someone like Shishio, as they were all hurt and needed someone strong to help heal their demons.
Animation - 4/10
After almost twenty years, and the proliferation of HD Television, you would think the animation on the series would blow away that of the mediocre original. In backgrounds and richness of color it did, but the character animations, even judged on their own, were terrible. Every face was bland without emotion or detail, some were oddly distorted and misshapen. Great looking characters like Misao, Saitou, Sawagejou and Usui were drawn as if they were being explained to the artist by a friend of a friend of a cousin who watched the original series.
There were some very good scenes, mostly towards the end with the country on fire or the Purgatory exploding, but they didn't do much to make up for the horrific characters.
I generally try to stay away from criticizing music from a culture or language I may not understand very well, but I just can't adhere to that now. The first ending theme is a play on a very pretty Kenshin tune, Kimi wa Dare o Mamotte Iru, whose two instrumental versions are great pieces of music. For this OVA they decided to add vocals and they ruin such a good song. It sounded like a drowning cat, out of tune for even this traditional style of Japanese music.
On the other hand, the second ending theme was rather good and fit well with the songs from the Kenshin series as well as the original lightness of the show. Likewise the in episode music stuck to what we were use to in Kenshin, very good music that fit the story and scenes in front of us.
Voice wise, if I was new to the series I would think the voices fit well to the characters they were meant to portray, but as a returning viewer the voices go hand in hand with a problem I'll note below in the character section. The U.S. voice actors were very very bad. They were times of extreme overacting, a real lack of emotion and often the timing was terrible, as if they were reading the lines off the script in front of them without any passion for the show. Usually Sentai and Aniplex are on point with their V.O. but someone screwed up royally with this dub.
Characters - 3/10
That problem is that almost every character has changed. Kenshin is no longer the sweet hearted Kenshin who gave up a life of killing. He's an angry Kenshin who doesn't seem like he's out to stop an evil man, but rather he's out for revenge. This culminates with Kenshin doing the unthinkable for those of us who watched the original arc.
The changes in characters doesn't stop at Kenshin, Misao is not the love struck young girl of old, instead she seems like an angry gal who's out to get the man who promised to marry her, but keeps making excuses. Yahiko is even more self absorbed, at one time bad mouthing Kenshin's style and basically calling it garbage (something a fellow martial artist would never do, even if they were from a different style.) Kamiya is just a non-factor, acting like a lost puppy for the short time she's on screen. Finally there's Gramps, who is now a respected elder statesman, instead of the goofy letch from the series.
Granted someone who is unfamiliar with the series wouldn't see a big difference and probably wouldn't have a problem with the characters. Though being new you'd most likely be irked by the fact you learn nothing about them, thus you'd have no idea why most of them are acting as they are.
Overall - 3/10
Catching lightning in a bottle twice, they say it's nearly impossible. With Trigun it was a valiant effort, but a disappointment, they've failed here with Kenshin and I'd be shocked if they don't turn FLCL into a heaping pile of garbage.
When trying to reboot a series or make it into a movie there is only so much you have control over, and one of those things you can't control is the time period and emotional state the viewer was in when watching, so often you're doomed to failure before you ever start.
As a returning viewer the story didn't work because it was horribly rushed, thus making it pointless. There wasn't much "From Misao's P.O.V." it was just a condensed and weakened version. There was also too much of a change in character personalities (some that spit in the face of the series) for those of us who spent thirty plus hours watching the Kenshin series.
For people new to the series (though why would you watch this first?) the show leaves too much out and basically expects you to know what's going on. You're thrown into a story you don't know and you never get insight into any of it.
This just seemed like a money grab, hoping to cash in as Trigun, Ghost in the Shell and others did with reboots. To strip most of the story and boil it down to basically the battles, and not even battles done well, takes the viewer as a mindless putz just in it for blood and violence, which typically is the exact opposite of an anime viewer, who tend to go for great stories and emotion over rushed and ill executed fighting. The OVA isn't for older viewers and it isn't for newer viewers, as many have said before, it's kinda just pointless.
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