Say you’re a newcomer to the anime scene, and you come across something called an OVA. What does OVA mean in anime? What do people mean when they say it isn’t part of the regular anime season, but side content made for fans to enjoy? The world of anime is pretty straight forward at most times, but things like limited time slots, extra content or even censorship can sometimes create issues when releasing a new anime series. And this is where things like OVA come in.
OVA stands for Original Video Animation. It is very much like any regular episode for an anime, or even a movie. But it’s often times shorter and could be used as a standalone story. Often OVAs explore side content that is going on in the plot of their specific anime. But some are made in a way to explore creative freedom and can include themes like alternate universes, different timelines or even perspectives not seen by the main characters. They can also be used as a way to bypass some forms of censorship.
All in all, OVAs make for great additional content to any anime series. And often times, it really helps expand the universe for the story you’re invested in. I mean, who doesn’t want more of their favourite anime, right? And OVAs are a great way of making that happen without burdening an animation studio with a whole new anime season or a high budget movie that may or may not succeed. And yes, budget does matter, and a ton of anime aren’t built for multi season success.
So, an OVA ends up being short, sweet and still welcome for any fans looking to indulge in it. But when did the OVA come into being? And what do OVAs mean for anime in general? Well, like stated previously, if you’re new to the entire anime scene and want to know more about OVAs and the like, then let’s get right into discussing it. Here is a detailed conversation on OVAs, how they work and why they add so much to the viewing experience!
OVA: What Are They?
So, let’s start with the basics. As you’ve read before, OVAs are Original Video Animations. They are projects that are made separately from the source material for the sole purpose of adding something new. This means that they are often original stories that are independent from the plot they are adapting.
And this could work for anything. No matter if it’s a manga or anime, or even a light novel or a video game, OVAs exist to add a different narrative point. But they might also work as promotional content, with anime releasing a short OVA prior to the official series airing. The most recent example of an anime that used an OVA of sorts as a prologue, was Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury in Fall 2022. The very first look into the series was actually Episode 0 that showed the events that led to the plot of the anime occurring.
But that’s something that is canonical to the series, right? However, OVAs don’t always have to follow that guideline. Sometimes an OVA can just be an alternate story onto itself that has nothing to do with the main anime. And example of that was Ciel In Wonderland, an OVA of the Kuroshitsuji series that took inspiration from the famous Alice In Wonderland, with its own characters swapped in. Again, it had no bearing on the central plot, but was a unique additional bit of media for fans to enjoy.
The OVA Origin Story:
But how did OVAs come into being? Well, capitalism had a play in it. Back in the 1980s, VCRs had become all the rage in Japan. And with it came the true rise of anime as an industry for all ages, rather than just for toy selling purposes. People were so ravenous for new animated content that animation studios were having a hard time keeping up with their audiences.
I mean, buying time slots on stuff like prime-time TV wasn’t cheap. So, cue in the age of ‘Direct-To-Video’ content. This was media that didn’t require a theatre release or cours, as they are known in Japan. And while that might sound like something that didn’t make the cut for a box office hit, that was not the case for Japan. Over there, it was the direct answer to a huge demand and boy, did it succeed at fulfilling said demand.
Thanks to the advent of the VHS tapes, we saw anime take a whole new avenue. Because it wasn’t being broadcast to a diverse audience, animation studios could experiment with mature themes and such, and get away with it thanks to OVAs. The earliest account of an official OVA in anime is a little known short called Dallos created by Bandai back in 1983. From then on, the market picked up on the OVA trend quickly, leading to the 1980s being saturated with many stand-alone titles that started out as OVAs. It’s like people couldn’t get enough of them.
However, because of the infamous ‘Japanese Economic Bubble’ popping near the end of the decade, the 1990s held very little promise for the OVA boom. And so, they became much more rarer, with barely any coming out before the new millennium. But by then, the internet was just starting out, helping anime reach a much wider audience. So, it was no wonder that OVAs came back full force to meet a new global demand, around the 2000s.
How Are OVAs Different From Regular Anime?
OVAs are anime, as in the medium. So, they aren’t inherently different in that regard. But they are separate from a regular anime season because they don’t follow the same narrative plotline as the anime they are related to. Sometimes, they aren’t even set in the same universe.
OVAs are not broadcast or shown in theatres. They are very much side content for fans to consume after an anime is completely finished or on hiatus. So, the story can be completely unique from the series, like an alternate fantasy setting, or it could be set around the same timeline but involve different characters. An example of this is Given: Uragawa No Sonzai, which was set during the events of the Given movie, that chronicled the side pairing instead. But the OVA actually went back to the main pairing and how they felt during the entire skirmish during the movie events.
OVAs can also be different in quality, depending on how much the budget is or the animation studio picking it up. But they all tend to be similar in nature, as they are meant to tell a story that is not already present in the manga or anime they are related to.
What Do OVAs Mean For The Anime Landscape?
The humble OVA has done so much for the anime world, despite a lot of people not being aware of its significance. While it has become much more open to new ideas, anime is still from a place that used to lean pretty heavy on the conservative side. What OVAs did was allow storytellers in anime to experiment and create without fearing a loss or gain in profit.
Because let’s be real, the anime industry still needs capital to grow. And investing in OVAs is a great way of testing the market for new anime releases without having to commit fully to a whole 12 episode season. The fact that it’s directly available instead of requiring a physical purchase means that there is more freedom in the creative process, allowing different artists to try unique techniques or storylines that might not be as well received by a general populace.
And like, overall? OVAs are just fun to experience because they are like a treat for an anime that, otherwise, might be done telling their tale. I know Buddy Daddies just finished airing, and it had a perfectly good ending. But because it was so well received, fans are asking for any continuation into the story forward, even if it is in the form of an OVA.
OVA gives artists and writers a space to see what works and what doesn’t. Which has certainly helped the anime industry grow into being much more vibrant with its storytelling and diverse with its characterizations.