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V-Cinema and OVA: No Mosaics, No Blurred Details, No Missing Bits

Christopher Panzner looks into the historical success of the Japanese direct-to-video market, or better known as V-Cinema and OVA.

Dallos launched the OVA phenomenon.

Dallos launched the OVA phenomenon.

Part of the reason we in the west have such a problem with the expanding definition of manga and anime is that we dont have 14 centuries of history behind our comics. But lets call it 300 years, from the time of the Toba-e booklets produced in Japan (and, later, kibyoshi, or yellow cover books), circa 1700. And Ukiyo-e prints from such luminaries of the art, now household names Utamaro, Hokusai and Hiroshige. (But there was also Kunichika, Kunisada, Kyôsai, the Osaka School, Toyokuni, Yoshitoshi, Toshusai Sharaku, Kuniyoshi, Harunobu, Toyokumi, Umano, Sharaku, Eizan, Eisen.)

In the early and mid-1800s, derived from popular comics, traditional shunga portrayed everyday life and, yes, included Kama Sutra-like graphic depictions of lovemaking (often for the illiterate.) What we call pornography. Violence, too. But also a lot of court life because that was where the money was and, of course, its all happening at the zoo.

Jump ahead a century or so to the advent of cinema, TV, the VCR, CDs, DVDs, mobile phones and the Internet and you have anime (the shortened form of animeshon in romanji, the phonetic English equivalent), mangas sister art.

But larger Yoma (demons or supernatural entities of evil intent) and Yokai (supernatural creatures) loom on the horizon direct-to-video, OVA/OAV (original video animation/original animation video) and live-action V-cinema (the term invented by prolific Yakuza horror director Takashi Miike.) And they are a far cry from tokusatsu like Toho Studios original suitmation Gojira (Godzilla, King of the Monsters, 1954) and kaiju films like Rodan and Mothra, the original Furries.

OVA Kill

In the west, if you tank at the box office (vaulted films), you go to DVD. Then there are low-budget sequels (Disney), B movies, cheapo independent flix, teeny, horror, marketing nightmares (target/genre) and, of course, the porn industrys bread and duck butter. Do not pass go; go directly to video.

OVA originally appeared in Japan in the 1980s (the first was Bandais Dallos, in 1983, directed by Mamoru Oshii) as the VCR became a ubiquitous appliance in Japanese households. Such was the demand for anime that people short-circuited conventional television and the boom was on. Freed from the constraints of time limits, commercials, sponsor obligations, episode formats, identical openings and closings and, well, just about all the rules, OVA took on a life of its own. Creators could make shows as long or as short as they pleased, a series (Bubblegum Crisis), a one-shot (Black Magic M-66, Riding Bean), a film (The Heroic Legend of Arislan) or anything in between, although most OVA series episodes are normally between a half hour or an hour long and about half the amount of the original TV series episodes (Record of Lodoss War) and an hour at the shortest for movies (Welcome to Lodoss Island, the film version).

The Bubblegum Crisis was such a huge OVA hit that it has spurred countless sequels and TV series.

The Bubblegum Crisis was such a huge OVA hit that it has spurred countless sequels and TV series.

If you can feel the confusion creeping in here, its because OVAs can become TV series, a TV series an OVA, an OVA a film, a film an OVA and an OVA made during or after a successful TV run. And very often with the same characters and even the same plot. To give you an example of the no-holds-barred marketing mentality, the OVA movie El Hazard the Mysterious World was made into a television series; another OVA, El Hazard the Alternative World; and then another television series, The Wanderers. All of the characters are the same and storyline more or less the same with nuances. The Bubblegum Crisis (one of the very first OVA) was originally an OVA series, followed by a TV series, Bubblegum Crash, and later, almost ten years after, a TV series remake, Bubblegum Crisis 2040.

But the anything goes attitude extends to content, too.

To any Otaku (roughly obsessed fan, but closer to psycho) worth his salt, the depth and breadth of manga and anime Shojo for fangirls and Shonen for fanboys are well known. They feature science fiction; Greek, Norse and Hindu mythology, historical drama (Chinese history and World War II, for example); giant robots (mecha); sports; detective dramas; fantasy; teen rebellion; TV adaptations and sequels (of popular television cartoons); literary adaptations; videogames adapted for TV; adult and the list is growing. But also the death of loved ones, crime, juvenile delinquents, homelessness, poverty, villains with good traits, heroes who do evil deeds, nudity, parents bathing with their children (in My Neighbor Totoro!) made for kids!

Were definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Japan introduced sophistication into direct-to-video, spinoffs, franchises and a sub-genre is born.And like the tense bubble that, with a pinprick, explodes, were about to experience our very own Bubblegum Crisis. Yesterdays underground film industry is becoming todays worst mainstream nightmare on DVD and the Net. And its only going to get worse.

Ask your raincoated video store clerk, the new Hollywood critic.

Urotsukidoji, one of first hentai OVA releases, has spawned a franchise of devious and demented content.

Urotsukidoji, one of first hentai OVA releases, has spawned a franchise of devious and demented content.

No Mosaics, No Blurred Details, No Missing Bits

Unless youve been living in an island cave like the Japanese Imperial Army survivors of World War II, there isnt any reason to explain what manga or anime is big eyes, crazy hair, the sweat drop, blushing, the blue face, nosebleeds, squiggles, nose bubbles, exploding action lines, the cloud puff from the mouth, spraying tears, rivers of cheek tears, the thought balloon. Melodrama, vagueness and the unexplainable. Astro Boy, Gigantor, Robotech, Star Blazers, Battle Of The Planets. Speed Racer and Kimba the White Lion, my two sentimental childhood favorites.

Tenchi Muyo, Cowboy Beebop, Dirty Pair, Dragon Half, Evangelion, DNA^2, Maison Ikkoku, Legend of the Overfiend, Dark City, Gundam, Mononoke-hime, Serial Experiments Lain, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Trigun, Martian Successor Nadesico, Lupin III, Golgo 13, Zillion, Tokyo Babylon, Pokémon, Hello Kitty, Sailor Moon, Transformers, Star Blazers (Battleship Yamato), Blackstar, Jem, The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Arcadia of My Youth (Infinite Orbit SSX, Captain Harlock), Voltron, Robotech (Macross), Orguss (Super Dimensional, etc.), David the Gnome, The Noozles, Nickelodeons Grimms Fairy Tales, Power Rangers.

The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Iron Giant and The Last Unicorn, at a stretch. Weve made them our own.

But how comfortable are we going to be when Good doesnt necessarily triumph over Evil? When criminals are unpunished? When established authority (police, judges, government officials, respected institutions, etc.) are not necessarily respected? When excessive violence, brutal torture, knife/gun-play, gruesome crimes, physical agony, excessive and unnecessary bloodshed, sexual depravity, sadism, masochism, cannibalism and every other form of lurid and unsavory social taboo is circulated freely through fansub, videos translated and/or subtitled by fans for non-profit distribution on the Web or through the anime clubs at many colleges and universities?

What will become of the Hollywood happy ending?

For an answer, youd have to back more than 20 years ago already, to one of the very first hentai OVA, Lolita Anime I: Yuki no Kurenai Kesho-Shojo Bara Kei (1984). Heres a byline from anime historian Fred Patten, A half-hour video... [that] consist[s] of two 15-minute dramas of rape and sadistic sexual torture/murder of schoolgirls, whose spirits exact a gruesome supernatural vengeance.

And if you want to get a taste of whats to come, pick up a copy of Urotsukidoji (Legend of the Overfiend), a gut-wrenching mélange of the unthinkable and unspeakable which, apparently, makes the Tijuana Bibles of the early part of this century to the 1950s look like the Sunday funny pages.

Someone alert the Presidential Prayer Team!

Suggested reading:Anime Web Turnpike ( ( A Parents Guide to Anime (

The most excellent History of Manga and Anime (

Chris Panzner has split the last 25 years doing TV, animation and films. He was there when Innocence died. He recently created writing company Power Lines and production/distribution company Eye & Ear.