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Original Video Animation


Original Video Animation

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Original Video Animation (オリジナル・ビデオ・アニメーション Orijinaru Bideo Animēshon?), abbreviated OVA (オーブイエー Ōbuiē?), is a term used in Japan for anime titles that are released directly to retail sale, without prior showings on TV or in theaters. OVA titles were originally available on VHS, though they later became available on other media such as Laserdisc and DVD. OVA is sometimes used, perhaps inappropriately, to refer to any extremely short anime series or special regardless of its release format.

OAV or Original Animated Video is sometimes used in place of OVA, and the meaning is generally accepted to be the same. According to source[1] the abbreviation OAV was too similar to AV ("Adult Video"), causing OAV to be misinterpretated as Original Adult Video, resulting in a shift towards the OVA abbreviation.


The OVA format

Like anime made for television broadcast, OVAs are broken into episodes. OVA media (tapes, Laserdiscs, or DVDs) are usually sold with just one episode each. Episode length varies from title to title, and might be anywhere from a few minutes to two hours or more per episode. An episode length of 30 minutes is quite common, but this is by no means the rule. In some cases, the length of episodes in a speciffic OVA may vary greatly (in GaoGaiGar Final, the first 6 episodes last around 30 minutes, while the last 2 episodes last 40 and 50 minutes respectively and The OVA Key the Metal Idol consists of 15 separate episodes, ranging in length from 20 minutes to nearly two hours each.) An OVA series can run anywhere from just one episode (essentially a direct-to-video movie) to dozens in length. Probably the longest OVA series ever made was Legend of the Galactic Heroes, which spanned 110 main episodes and 52 gaiden episodes.

Many popular anime began as Original Video Animation, and later grow to become popular television series or movies. Tenchi Muyo!, for example, began as an OVA but went on to spawn several TV series, three movies, and numerous spinoffs. Other OVA releases are made as sequels, side stories, music video collections, or bonus episodes that continue existing TV series or films, such as Love Hina Again.

OVA animation is well regarded for its high production quality. OVA titles generally have high budgets and therefore the technical quality of animation is almost always superior to TV series and may equal or exceed the quality of movies.

OVA titles are also known for detailed plots and well developed characters. Probably the most significant reason for this is that the format offers the writer and director much greater creative freedom than other formats. Since OVA episodes and series can be any length, the director can use however much time he likes to tell the story. There is a great deal of time available for significant background and character/plot development. This is in contrast to TV episodes that must begin and conclude an episode in 22 minutes, or films which rarely last more than two hours. There is likewise no pressure to produce "filler content" to extend a short plot into a full TV series. There are other reasons as well: OVAs are more likely to be scripted for artistic reasons, rather than mass-market appeal. Many OVA titles are targeted to a specific audience, whereas mass-market films and TV series are written for a more general audience. As well, OVA releases are not bound by content restrictions or censorship (such as violence, nudity, or language) that are often placed on television series.

Most OVA titles run 4-8 episodes and tend to have a complex and continuous plot which is best enjoyed if all episodes are viewed in sequence. This is in contrast to TV series, which generally have many short "mini-stories" that happen to be related somehow, rather than a unified plot. Many OVA titles can be thought of as "long films" that just so happen to be released in parts. Release schedules vary, as some series may progress as slowly as 1-2 episodes per year. Some OVA titles with a lengthy release schedule ended up unfinished due to lack of fan support and sales.


OVAs originated during the late 1970s. As the VCR became a widespread fixture in Japanese homes, the Japanese anime industry grew to behemoth proportions. Demand for anime was massive, so much so that consumers would willingly go directly to video stores to buy new animation outright. While "direct-to-video" was a pejorative in the United States for works that could not make it onto TV or movie screens, in Japan the demand was so great that direct-to-video became a necessity. Many popular and influential series such as Bubblegum Crisis and Tenchi Muyo! were released directly to video as OVAs.

Although direct-to-video anime had appeared earlier, the first actual OVA series to be billed as such was 1983's Dallos, directed by Mamoru Oshii and released by Bandai. Another famous early OVA, premiering shortly thereafter, was the original Megazone 23. Other companies were quick to pick up on the idea, and the mid-to-late 1980s saw the market flooded with OVAs. During this time, most OVA series were new, stand-alone titles.

As the Japanese economy worsened in the 1990s, the flood of new OVA titles drained to a trickle. OVAs were still made, but in smaller numbers. Many anime series ran an economical 13 episodes rather than the traditional 26. New titles were often designed to be released to TV if they approached these lengths. In addition, the rising popularity of cable and satellite TV networks (with their looser censorship rules) allowed many new titles to be broadcast directly to the public when previously that would have been impossible. Therefore many violent, ecchi, and fanservice series became regular TV series. During this time period most OVA content was limited to that related to existing and established titles.

However, in 2000 and later, a new OVA trend has begun. Many TV series are released in a fashion in which not all of the episodes are broadcast normally--some are released in OVA fashion: they are only available if one purchases the video (generally, a DVD). Examples of this include Love Hina: the 25th episode was DVD-only, and Oh! My Goddess: several episodes of the TV series are DVD-only. The popular anime and manga series Hellsing has also begun an OVA series, this time more heavily based on the manga. This trend is becoming quite common, with many new titles offering DVD-only episodes. Further more, many recent OVA series pre-broacast the episodes and release the DVD with unedited and revised for better quality of animations.


  1. ^ OAV versus OVA: what's the difference?, Lawrence Eng; December 10, 2004

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