If you’re even a little bit familiar with anime, then you’ve probably come across at least one original video animation (OVA). These are short animated films and shows that serve as extra — often non-cannon — content for an anime’s home release. (The source-material manga is usually also included in the bundle.) Despite their limited availability, several OVAs have surprisingly managed to outshine their original series and, as such, have gained quite the reputation with fans. While there are many classic anime OVAs of note in the anime community, these are the five we feel you absolutely need to make time to watch.
The classic OVA Crying Freeman follows Yo Hinomura, a young Japanese ceramicist whose life changes after a run-in with the 108 Dragons, a powerful Chinese mafia organization. The organization hypnotizes Yo, forcing him into a life of crime as their assassin. Yo may not look the part, but he ends up becoming the perfect killing machine. Even so, he’s still human. Every time he eliminates a target, he sheds tears, earning him the nickname “Crying Freeman.”
This bloody tale of an (unwilling) assassin who rises through the ranks of the organization that stole his freedom started out as a manga by Kazuo Koike and Ryoichi Ikegami. The classic OVA features a lot of nudity and violence but also gives viewers a glimpse at the seedy mafia underworld of the late ’80s. In addition to the OVA, Crying Freeman also has two live-action movies.
Read or Die (R.O.D.)
Yomiko Readman is your typical glasses-wearing, book-infatuated klutz. But the young woman hides a big secret: She’s actually a secret agent for the British Library Special Operations Division. Her codename, “The Paper,” denotes her ability to manipulate paper into any object she imagines, including weapons.
Yomiko’s powers come in handy while fighting against the evil I-JIN Army, a group who seeks to use reincarnated historical figures to take over the world. Accompanied by “Ms. Deep,” Yomiko travels around the world solving various cases. But when IJIN sets an evil plan in motion to take away people’s freedom, things get complicated for our hero.
Read or Die is a unique, quirky tale that — thanks to its main character — is a joy to watch. At just three episodes long, the classic OVA still manages to pack in a ton of funny scenes, especially those involving Yomiko’s obsession with books, and, of course, a little action courtesy of its stereotypical villain. If you’re looking for more Read or Die, there’s a TV series that takes place after the events of the OVA.
California Crisis: Gun Salvo
American television has inspired countless movies and shows, and that includes anime. Enter California Crisis: Gun Salvo, the classic OVA that perfectly captures what people though American culture in the ’80s was all about. After a night of drinking, Noera heads to Los Angeles for a job. But his peaceful ride suddenly gets interrupted by Marcia, a cute girl on a motorcycle who stole a black orb from the wrong people.
It seems that everyone wants to get their hands on the mysterious black sphere, and they’re willing to do anything to get it. Now, Noera and Marcia must dodge these potential thieves while working to uncover the secret of the strange object in their possession.
Unfortunately, California Crisis: Gun Salvo isn’t available outside of Japan, so it doesn’t have any subtitles. But you don’t really need them. The anime’s visuals and the characters’ mannerism make it easy enough to follow each scene. Besides, it’s the nostalgic feeling the OVA gives off that’s most important.
Cyber City Oedo 808
In the year 2808, society has advanced enough that machines and AI do the majority of the work. However, despite these technological achievements, crime still runs rampant. Cyber City Oedo 808 follows three convicts — Sengoku, Goggles, and Benten — who join the Cyber Police to get the criminal activity in Oedo (formerly Tokyo) under control.
In return, each mission they complete will shave a few years off their sentences. To ensure they don’t try to escape, the convicts wear special collars around their necks. Removing the collars or failing to meet the time limit of their mission means certain death. Split into three episodes, the classic OVA follows each criminal as they navigate their crime-fighting and deal with ghosts from their pasts.
If you’re into cyberpunk, action, and explosions than you should definitely check out Cyber City Oedo 808. It’s a short and enjoyable watch that doesn’t take itself very seriously — the characters even make many funny but cliché puns.
For decades, the world of Jerra has known nothing but death and destruction due to an unending war. MD Geist follows Geist, an M.D.S. (Most Dangerous Soldier), an enhanced soldier with incredible fighting abilities and an insatiable lust for combat. Because of this, Geist gets cryogenically frozen aboard a satellite. But Geist awakens from his slumber when the satellite carrying him suddenly crashes on Jerra. Ready to engage in another war, Geist finds that he must stop a computer from activating a doomsday device that will lead to the destruction of Jerra.
Violence is a very common trope in classic OVAs. What we might deem too violent by today’s’ standards — such as muscular men fighting to the death for a noble cause — was prime entertainment in the ’80s. And MD Geist delivers in two OVAs spaced a decade apart, the type of idealistic destruction reminiscent of the era.