In 1996, Kenshin came to life as an anime, running for 95 episodes. During its run, a film was also released, it was an original story not from the manga. The TV series began with the Tokyo arc, but added characters and later extra stories, or “filler”, to finish out season one.
The second season, the Kyoto Arc, is considered by fans to be the best of the series. Sticking very close to the manga for its storylines and characters, it was very successful in Japan. It was released on VHS and Laserdisc. There was a DVD release in 2006 which coincided with the manga’s kanzeban re-release.
When the time came for the third season came to air, Watsuki had not yet finished the third arc of the manga, so a number of original stories, fitting into mini-arcs, was created by the anime production staff. Focusing primarily on the Tokyo-based core characters, it proved to be unpopular, and the ratings sank. The anime was canceled, before Jinchuu could be produced. Here at Hajimenokizu, our problem with this season is based on the absence of Saitou. 😛
The series was licensed in the US & Canada by Media Blasters, and thanks to airing on the Cartoon Network, became an important anime to an entire generation of anime fans. Initial releases were as single discs, with Media Blasters later producing deluxe “bento box” releases, as well as a more budget-minded release as both single series and as a complete run.
Back in Japan, 1999 saw the release of the 4-episode OAV series, Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen. Tsuiokuhen takes its story from volumes 19-20 of the manga where Kenshin talks about his past during the Bakumatsu. The art style does not really resemble Watsuki’s art, instead going for a more “realistic” look. The OAV series was released as Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal in the US by ADV Films, and used a different dub cast than the TV series. ADV later released a recut version, where the four episodes were re-edited into a two hour film, under the label of “Director’s Cut”. For Shinsengumi fans, the role of the group is expanded from a few panels from the manga to having more screen time, focusing on Saitou and Okita. Kondou and Hijikata are also featured, but the other members are not named, and don’t seem to match up with Watsuki’s design.
In 2001, Rurouni Kenshin: Seisohen was released, which briefly covered events from the manga’s Jinchuu arc, but was primarily an original story set years later. It was also released by ADV in the US, under the title of Samurai X: Reflection. The art style is similar to Tsuiokuhen. Saitou has a small but pivotal role in the story.