It's almost unwatchable. The last five minutes have meaningful story content, but everything before that is empty. No characterisation worth noticing. Ditto for the plot. (Apparently there is one, but the scriptwriters chose to edit out all the interesting bits and give us boring people walking past buildings and having very polite conversations while sitting down.)
It's so underplotted, in fact, that the DVD sleeve starts telling lies. (Apparently you've got to watch the DVD extras to learn the full story or something.) Here's what that blurb says:
> "Feudal Japan - The battle for the capital city of Kyo rages as warring political factions vie for power against hereditary rulers. After the murder of her parents at the hands of her seditious uncle, a young girl named Kintoki flees to the mountains to lead a harsh life and is renamed Kai Doh Maru by the local villagers. Rescued by Raiko, the Captain of 'the Four Knights' - honourable defenders who protect the peace of the city. Kai Doh Maru is raised within their group as a boy, living among the knights, she learns the practices of martial arts and develops into a skilful samurai, becoming a permanent member of their team. Now, as a young woman of seventeen, she begins to discover new feelings of passion and love for Raiko. She also discovers that these new emotions cause a storm of jealousy and rage in another woman linked to her past."
Let's break that down a bit.
> "Feudal Japan"
To be precise, it's 889 AD, aka. the Era of Awesome Hats. That's okay so far.
> "The battle for the capital city of Kyo rages"
No, it doesn't.
> "as warring political factions vie for power against hereditary rulers. After the murder of her parents at the hands of her seditious uncle,"
I don't remember any of that, but maybe it was covered somewhere and I just didn't notice. A montage or a bit of exposition or something.
> "a young girl named Kintoki flees to the mountains to lead a harsh life and is renamed Kai Doh Maru by the local villagers."
Horse manure. I didn't see any of this.
> "Rescued by Raiko, the Captain of 'the Four Knights' - honourable defenders who protect the peace of the city."
That's not a proper sentence. Also, more importantly, I didn't notice any rescuing.
> "Kai Doh Maru is raised within their group as a boy,"
I do remember being surprised by this, though. My notes say "girl? really??" Neither the character design nor the voice performance suggest anything except an ordinary boy. There's some conversation in which Kintoki discusses whether or not she'd like to be more traditionally feminine, while there are hints that her master-retainer relationship might theoretically, perhaps have the potential for evolving into something more... but it's understated almost to the point of homeopathy.
> "living among the knights, she learns the practices of martial arts and develops into a skilful samurai, becoming a permanent member of their team. Now, as a young woman of seventeen, she begins to discover new feelings of passion and love for Raiko."
BWAHAHAHAHAHA "passion" (holds sides from laughing too much) he said "passion" (rolls on floor) AHAHAHAHA IT HURTS
> "She also discovers that these new emotions"
> "cause a storm of jealousy and rage in another woman linked to her past."
In fairness, there is a fair bit of violence. A horse is made unhappy. It's demonstrated that swords remove body parts. Buildings burn. We learn that villains are slightly less emotionless than heroes, because they're capable of evil laughter. However it's still I Don't Care Things happening to I Don't Care People.
The last five minutes are okay, but they don't fit. Anti-drama acquires a dramatic ending! I don't mind, but it's a bit odd and you'd think the scriptwriters should have setting up this ending in some way. Raiko fights to rescue Kintoki, who's being quizzed about whether or not she'll return to the battlefield. There's a female villain who likes her. "Let's live together peacefully, just the two of us."
This is quite good, as far as it goes, but nothing's set it up. It came out of nowhere and it's got no weight. We'd been aware of Kintoki's masculine and feminine sides, for instance, but there had never been any suggestion that she might have to choose between them or that Ohni Hime might be involved in that.
It's based on folklore and history, incidentally. Sakata (no) Kintoki was the real name of the man who inspired the folk hero Kintaro. Yeah, that's right. They gender-swapped him. Similarly historical-but-legendary are Minamoto no Raikou, Abe no Seimei (he's here too, although that's inaccurate and he shouldn't have been born yet), etc.
The animation is high-quality and in an highly original style, though. I wonder if it might be trying to replicate the kind of traditional drawings from the era that are shown most clearly in the title sequence. The colours are misty and almost monochrome. There are lots of half-tones. The lines are simple. The CGI buildings in the background don't fit in very well with that, though.
Also, to be fair, I enjoyed the song over the closing titles.
I thought this OVA was rubbish, but it's possible that to appreciate it properly, you've got to have all this Japanese culture at your fingertips. If you grew up on Kintaro and other such folk tales, maybe you'll enjoy how this riffs on those? Someone must have thought this was watchable, since it got a Western DVD release. However I think it's a dramatically empty exercise in style that, at best, you'd only manage to get through because it's so short.