I've noticed a lot of people don't like this OVA for the fact that it doesn't stand up to the Miike film that was released a year before this OVA. This review is from someone who has read half the manga currently and has seen the Miike film three times and is currently watching it for a fourth as I write this review. Although I can see their point, I think it's important to take this at face value as a different form and new look into a series. This isn't meant to be related to the movie in any way, and going into it expecting it to be similar will ruin the experience for you.
-- Story --
So this isn't so much of a retelling of the manga as much of a sort of backstory into Ichi himself. If you're coming into this expecting the gore and slasher themes of the film or manga, you're going to be disappointed. Although some of the depraved aspects of the franchise are present, this isn' the ultimate gore fest that many people are used to and I think that really has to be kept in mind before watching. Aspects of the manga and film are present to a small degree but in reality, this is its own work with no ties. I cannot emphasise that enough.
It has enough of the dark and gritty aspects of the franchise to keep some hooked; this is more of a character study, however. It's an interesting look into Ichi himself as a person and how he became to be. It's more of a somewhat psychological take behind a character which is something I did hope for in the franchise - the characters are so twisted and dark, there's an underlying questions as to why they've become the way they have and the people they are in the franchise at the current time. Frankly, I'd quite like an anime like this surrounding Kakihara and his backstory.
-- Art --
The art isn't as good as you'd expect for an anime franchise of something as famous in the horror scene as Ichi the Killer and that is a letdown. Although the use of colouring is well done and fits the mood, there's a lot of repeated frames and even some repeated scenes that have been copied and pasted into the final edit. It makes it feel like the OVA was slightly rushed through nearer the end as if they were panicked about a time schedule and had to just do with what they had to make the best they could. If that's the case, I can forgive the repetition, but if it's not then it's a shame and it could have been done better. I haven't found evidence to support either so I'm unsure where I fully stand on the art.
-- Sound --
The sound work in this was excellent. The voice actors were perfect for their characters and the use of sounds in specific scenes was spot on. Some of the sounds really made me squirm and it was really well done from a sound aspect. I did get a curious knock on the door from my neighbour checking everything was alright after I had the volume on this too loud whilst watching.
-- Character --
It's hard to review this from a character aspect, truly. Although we see glimpses of other characters this is more around Ichi than anyone else. It would be best described as a character case study. For that, I was going to rate this less than I gave it until I sat back and wrote this.
For a character study arc, of sorts, this did really well with Ichi. It really dug into him and his character, the things that have made him who he has become in the franchise we know. It took a new eye to him then the base knowledge we knew and showed his development over a period of time to become the depraved maniac everyone knows from the franchise. The voice acting was spot on and Ichi's reactions felt so realistic. The characterisation was really well done and it really allowed a better look into Ichi and a new look into the franchise.
-- Enjoyment --
I really did enjoy this. I was a little let down with the fact that not all characters were present and that the story wasn't the same - but I did get to adapt and realise this wasn't another retelling of the story. That really boosted my enjoyment of the OVA and allowed me to settle back and just enjoy the full OVA. It was reminiscent enough of the original story for that small thrill, but not enough to feel like it was just another retelling of what I'd already watched or read and I liked that a lot.
-- Overall --
Overall, I'm going to be honest. I think this was given a bad rep by people that were too occupied with the movie and compared it instead of taking it for what it is. It's reminiscent of the story but in a new way that's been adapted to not be another retelling and I think that took a lot of guts on the creators part. To create something like this and add in a lot of new information not present in a franchise with such a large cult following takes a lot of balls. It's a fresh new take and it was refreshing, to say the least, knowing I wasn't going to be watching the full story once again.
Does Ichi the Killer deserve a full R-Rate anime series? More than likely, everyone will say yes, and I agree.
Is this anime OVA that series? Not at all.
Is this worth a chance with fresh eyes? In my opinion, it definitely does.