There’s few frameworks that we have to lay down before we start speaking of good OVAs. I’m mostly speaking of same things as every other person when it comes to good animation and storytelling, but when it comes to OVAs we have the luxury of observing the coda, execution and uniqueness as well. TV-animation is meant to be sold to a wide variety of audiences and to expand the market (or at least it should be, otherwise something’s seriously wrong) while OVAs are meant for the niche audience. In this sense a good OVA is a completely different product from other animation works, even from movies as they’re more comparable to short stories from literature whereas movies and TV-series are more akin to whole novels.
As such all the series presented here might not be what you’d call masterpieces. Some of them are actually pretty meh or even bad at most levels, but excel at being what OVAs should be. I’ll be skipping the most known series just for variety, such as Aim for the Top! Gunbuster, Mobile Police Patlabor, Dirty Pair and such. There’s slew of recommendation lists out there, and while you can take this post as one, I’d suggest you to take this list as something like a glance at more uncommon and yet good shows. OVAs do not play with the same set rules as other works of animation mostly due to niche nature they have. While the overall quality can be determined by the sales (sales always determine the quality of the product over opinions, as rough as it is) OVAs have the small lax in this rule; an overlooked work might have had a small spread and print, affecting its sales overall.
The first example perhaps I can offer you is Cosmos Pink Shock, which I already mentioned in the Part 1. It’s a good 40min show about a girl crossing the universe inside a hyper-rocket that can achieve near-light speed travel in order to find her childhood sweetheart who was abducted by aliens. Cosmos Pink Shock has very nice animation, very nice designs, good music and overall the quality is up there. It only saw tape releases, even thou the animation alone would have demanded an LD release. It’s a beautiful little work that never really spread anywhere. A group called BOX actually searched for this kind rare releases for wider spread. The group has ceased to exist , but their work has been nothing short of remarkable. I’d almost call this a cultural preservation act, as they have subbed such works as Superman Locke and Queen Millenia, which both have had more than slight impact on Japanese animation and comic culture, thou their effect has become near extinct since the end of the 90’s. While BOX’s site has dead MegaUpload links, I presume my dear readers are smart enough to add “bakabt” to their Google search. Nevertheless, give Cosmos Pink Shock a shot. You might not want to stop at there thou.
Speaking of gorgeous animation, go watch DAICON III and DAICON IV from Youtube now. Never mind the quality, it can’t be helped.
There’s schlock, but then there’s good schlock, and then there’s schlock that’s like Cyber City Oedo 808.
To be honest, Oedo isn’t really bad. It’s an OVA that’s completely in spirit of the 80’s OVAs at its best; not really good, but goddamn if its not entertaining as hell. Oedo’s an example of well done Japanese cyber-punk without going all babbling like Ghost in the Shell, or all coffee on you like the Humanoid. It’s far more action packed and is more subtle on its questions on humanity and such, thou they can be dismissed quickly by the characters’ nature. It’s very dystopian, and some have drawn similarities with Judge Dredd and Robocop in certain feel to Oedo, thou I’m not sure whether or not I should agree. Oedo is unique enough to stand on its own to feet, and this is mostly because it’s well animated, has decent voicework and its execution is nothing short well paced. The story in Oedo is more akin to not-so generic cyberpunk detective/murder story, but somehow I can’t put my finger why the plot was decent. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter; Oedo’s a ride that is meant to be enjoyed, not to thought through.
If you want something more cerebral, wait one more entry when we enter the 90’s as promised. But for now, enjoy one of my personal favourites; Birdy the Mighty.
Birdy the Mighty is one of those OVAs that never really saw an end, and neither did its later 00’s TV-series. Birdy the Mighty is nothing short of your generic sci-fi detective story, but that’s not a bad thing. Birdy has a lot of charm both as a series and as a character. I’m partial for her 80’s appearance because fuck yeah 80’s. Still, the plot’s pretty simple; Birdy accidentally kills a young boy while chasing down a fugitive criminal, and to save this boy’s life her superior commands her to allow this boy’s soul into her body. When this boy, Tsutomu, is in control the body they share looks like his, but when needed Birdy can and will take her own form back. As such there’s an interesting duality going on all the time, but sadly it’s not well thought out or even used. It’s kind of there, but as with most OVAs there really wasn’t time for it. The 00’s series does it a bit better, but the show was too slow for its own good and didn’t really grasp the audience to have the final third season. As such, Birdy the Mighty OVA is flawed and could have done a lot of things better, but it’s nowhere near bad. It’s not even OK series, as the animation, acting and the concepts lift the OVA above most others even if the execution is partially sloppy. It’s the concept and idea that is Birdy’s mightiest point.
To follow with the path of good concepts and ideas, let’s move to the 90’s, and to the one of the last true OVAs that was made during that time. Enter JaJa Uma! Quartette, known as Wild Cardz in the West.
JaJaUma! could be described as a two-part pilot for a full TV-series, or so it has always felt like. The world a lot of content and is fleshed out reasonably well in relatively short period of time. A lot of things are shown and not explained, the pacing is tight and fast, and the story is honestly well written and never loses its goal. There’s also a bit of mystery in there and not everything is explained outright, which shows Studio Ox’s trust in their viewers. The worst thing JaJaUma! Quartette has going for it that there’s not nearly enough of it anywhere. Sure, it was adapted from a comic and there’s few radio dramas and a PlayStation game but goddammit there’s a lot of wasted potential in here. With more development this series could’ve become phenomenal, and while that can be said about a lot of things, JaJaUma! Quartette has the same kind of charm that a lot of other female character driven series have had during the past ten years and beyond. There’s a lot of love and labour in here.
Now I promised something more cerebral, and here it comes; Giant Robo the Animation. I can’t do enough justice to this series, but what I can say that while I recognize it as one of the best animation works to date, it’s not what OVAs should be. Yasuhiro Imagawa is a good director and I like his works, but it took ten to twelve years to finish Giant Robo. Fist of all, it’s seven episode series, and while that’s not bad, it took most of the 90’s to finish this work. It was always late, the staff went over budget and it wasn’t successful at all. Anyway, it’s still recognized as one of THE animation works out there for a good reason.
Let’s move to the 00’s where OVAs are mostly dead and TV-animation is facing dire times.
I’m cheating a little bit with this one, but might as well as this counts as Original ‘Net Animation; Kyousogiga.
Kyousogiga has similar problem as JaJaUma! Quartette. A lot of stuff is bashed into very short time and most of the details can go by fast. At its core Kyousogiga is shinto version of Alice in the Wonderland with some Mirror thrown in there. For modern animation it’s very detailed and lively, and actually manages to avoid looking all too plastic like 99% of the TV-anime out there. I presume that much like a lot of Studio 4°C’s works, Kyousogiga was thrown in as a potential TV-series, but never took off. Which is sad, because this could have worked, but perhaps they thought that it was too surreal for its own good. Now this sounds something I wouldn’t say, but if the anime industry is dying due to lack of new and creative (hrhrrh) works, why aren’t the likes of Kyousogiga given the Green Light? Well, mostly because the people in charge have lost the touch with their audience at large and aims only at lonely otakus who sit on their computers writing about OVAs. Expanding market means getting new viewers, not taking existing viewers from other competing products.
None of the mentioned series have done anything major alone. OVA as a whole was one of the driving forces behind the VHS standard due to its popularity at the time. Nowadays pressing DVDs is cheap, but costs to make a movie or a video original have risen far too much. The current situation of the economy doesn’t help either, and the fact that the TV and movies at large do not target large audience any more but fight over the same audience, much like the game industry is doing. It’s an unhealthy form of competition and serves only industries’ own destruction at best. OVA format filled a certain slot that was open. However, OVA can’t fill that slot, but it can’t fill the newly opened slot either. It’s a format out of its time, and OVA is barely alive mainly because it has been there since the 80’s. DVD did not have to fight any format wars or punch through same kind of think walls as VHS had to, and as such we’re enjoying the kind of consumer culture. There’s a lot of good and bad in the current format/s, but we’ll get back to HD-DVD and BD in few years.
Appreciation is kind of keyword here; people don’t need to like OVA format or anything other things that have moulded our current way of consuming entertainment, but if we can’t appreciate them and what they have managed to do, then we can’t appreciate what we have now, or value them at any level. This kind of attitude doesn’t just apply to customers, but to the industries as well. Abandoning what has worked for something that really doesn’t have the same punch but is cheaper and easier to produce just doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s also the other way around, as seen in the video game industry.
The best way to revive the current animation culture in Japan would be to start developing and creating TV-series that expand the market and clean their current image, and revive the OVA format for what it was made to begin with.
With this, I’ll end this summer’s theme of OVA history. These last two parts are mostly just extra, but what the heck, most of these deserve proper mentioning. Next week we’ll return to a more normal rhythm and discuss a bit more about designing.