When people talk about their favorite anime, they’re normally talking about their favorites in regards to series and movies. What I don’t often hear about is their favorite OVA specials. Well, stand-alone OVAs, sure… Be it the old classic three-to-four episode titles that were popular during the eighties and nineties, or entire shows that were unable to release on TV due to their excess of mature, graphic content. But today, we’re not talking about any of that. We’re talking about series relate OVAs.
I’ve always had a fascination with these kinds of OVAs, whether they come as bonus episodes or entire bonus story arcs, and especially regardless of whether they came before, during, or after the series. Being that they aren’t considered a direct part of the series they come with, they’re given their own slots on Myanimelist and are able to be judged separately from the source material, giving them the ability to surpass said material in some circumstances.
And so, I’ve decided to list off a few of my favorites, in an effort to explore a concept that I honestly doubt anybody’s ever done before, and if someone has, I’d love to see a link to it. In the mean time, strap yourselves in for an extravaganza, where we’ll be looking at the best OVAs that anime has to offer. Well, I say that, but it really is just my opinion. Some of them are from anime that I hate, some of them are from anime I love, but they’re all ovas I enjoy watching.
Also, for various reasons I won’t be including any OVAs that also worked as the end of their series, unless I can somehow do so without spoiling anything. Otherwise, you’d definitely see the Steins;Gate ending here, and Wolf’s Rain would be unquestionably #1.
10: Another the Other: Inga
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I hate Another. I appreciate it’s great production values, but the story and plot make my blood boil. The mascot character and her goth gimmick were completely pointless to the mafia ghost plot, and the two only managed to connect in ways that were insulting to both parties. So how did the OVA managa to salvage some dignity out of all that crap? Well, first of all, they cut the school plot out of it almost completely, leaving only a couple of brief references, none of which left any hint to the Final Destination feel of the series. Not only did this save the OVA from being bogged down by bullshit, but it also made the mascot character infinitely more likeable, as she’s not a fucking murderer this time around.
You’re gonna see me saying a lot on this list that an OVA has the ability to capture everything that’s good about an anime while avoiding it’s flaws, and while that’s not the case everytime, it’s definitely the case here. The Other captures the high budget animation and brilliant art direction of the series, and instead of building up a mystery that’s going to collapse around us, it focuses on making us like it’s principal(only) characters. It’s able to give us details about their backstory without having to resort to exposition, which is always nice, and those details go a long way in helping us to like and relate to them, so the idea of something happening to either one feels genuinely tragic, and not just shocking due to gore content.
I can’t imagine anyone caring about the fate of the characters in the larger Another series. I can only see people watching it for it’s pretentious Hot Topic appeal and generous portions of over-the-top gory deaths. I can’t picture anybody getting invested in the lives of a bunch of kids who keep submissively coming to a school that they know is out to kill them, struggling to save themselves despite already having accepted their fate, but I can easily see people getting invested in the story of two estranged twin sisters coming together after several years only to face the possibility of being separated in an even more permanent way. If this is an indicator of what Another could have been, then to put it nicely, at least something good came out of it.
9: A Certain Scientific Railgun: Someone’s Watching
Well, to be more accurate, the title of this OVA is “Since Misaka-san is the Center of Attention Right Now,” which is a bit too much of a mouthful to say. Personally, I originally thought it was just the 25’th episode long before I ever figured out that it was an OVA, and can you blame me? It just feels so canon, like it fits right there in the story as the cool-down period of the Level Upper Arc. It has the same tone and pacing as any other Railgun episode, and even the exact same animation style, production values and everything. It’s missing an English dub, but other than that, it fits into the series like a glove.
Following the events of the Level Upper arc, where a mysterious criminal enitity was selling artificial power to the level zero students of Academy city, and no, it’s ties to drug trafficking were no accident, Misaka and her friends have returned to their normal lives, as normal as those lives can be. However, Misaka has been jumping at shadows, constantly feeling the unpleasant presence of a new entity watching her from behind, making her feel constantly unsafe and uncomfortable. This inspires her friend and loyal stalker Kuroko to take up the case, investigating the recent urban legend “Someone’s Watching” in an attempt to figure out the source of Misaka’s turmoil.
I’m eventually going to post a review of the first season of Railgun, so I’m not going to bore you just yet with all the reasons I love it so much more than it’s predecessor Index, but suffice to say, Railgun is an anime that I love watching, and this OVA feels like not only a legitimate member ofit’s episode count, but I’d even go as far as to say it’s one of the better episodes, as Railgun is very plot and arc heavy, and this one stands out perfectly fine as a standalone, despite it’s references to the plot that preceeded it. Most Railgun OVAs that I’ve seen ranged from okay to pointless, with this being the only awesome one of the bunch. also, the ending is one of the funniest moments in the series… Nay, the franchise.
8: Strike Witches: Operation Victory Arrow
This is another anime that I’m planning to review at some point in the future, although my attempts to do so have resulted in some unfortunate difficulties. I’ve loved the series since 2010, and while it does have an unfortunate reputation for having way too much excessive and sometimes poorly thought out fanservice, I’ve always felt as though it’s strengths in terms of animation, character development and story progression ultimately made up for it. Thankfully, like The Other, this is an OVA that focuses on the best of it’s source title with a reduction of it’s lesser elements.
In this iteration of the series, we’re given three separate episodes, each dealing with different characters and the lives they’re living after the disbanding of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing. In the first episode, the three Karlsland soldiers, Deitland-Wilke, Barkhorn and Hartman receive a visit from Hartman’s twin sister, who brings them new technology to try out. In the second one, Lucchini and Yaeger must attempt to destroy a Neuroi without harming a historical island. Finally, Closterman and Bishop must take care of a couple of refugee children who’s experiences have turned them against the witches. And all of this is framed by the main character, Miyafuji, reading their letters.
First things first, yeah, I’m pretty bummed that Yamamoto and the Orussian girls didn’t make it into this OVA. Everyone loves a good Eila and Sanya story, seeing how their status as a pairing is borderline canon. Having said that, I really can’t complain about what we did get, which is amazing. All three of these stories are compelling and show off the strengths of the involved characters while still challenging them. The fanservice is kept to a minimum, with the show’s notorious panty shots getting almost glanced over during action scenes, and there being only a minute long nude scene in episode 2. Those action scenes, by the way, are beautiful, some of the franchises best. It was nice to see these characters out of their element, even if it cut some characters I would have preferred to see.
7: The Lucky Star OVAs
It’s been several years since the last time I watched Lucky Star, and while I was a huge fan of it back in the 2000s, I’m not sure how it would hold up if I watched it now. What I do keep coming back to, however, is the OVA collection, released undubbed a few years after the release of the series proper. At only 42 minutes in length, this OVA collection is a series of short stories from the Lucky Star universe, and since none of the material is from them anga, it feels more like a cast reunion than anything else. It captures the humor of the series, along with the wei… Okay, to be fair, Lucky star never got this weird.
The scenarios we’re given are as follows. First, we get a reminder of the forgettable B-side of Licky Star, filtered through the perspective of a character’s dog. We then cut to Tsukasa struggling to keep up with her more experienced friends in an MMORPG. We also get a few menial but still overblown and melodramatic scenes like a cast volleyball game, a school trip that ends up with the main cast getting lost in the woods, and a live action Lucky Channel, but operhaps the most memorable clips are Kagami having a dream about Konata taking her on the nerdiest Cinderella adventure ever, and a trip to the pet shop that ends in… Let’s just say surreal fashion.
While the clips are mostly comedic… Except for the closing segment, which is a little boring… This ova does a great job carrying over the distinctive personalities and dynamics of the characters. These skits have the feel of the original series, but removed enough that they don’t have to worry about tying into a longer narrative, which was never one of Lucky Star’s strong suits in the first place. Come to think of it, maybe Lucky Star was always better off in 8-10 minute chunks, rather than 22 minute episodes… Well, we’ll save that argument for an actual review. If you’re a fan of the series or the manga, this is an OVA I highly recommend checking out.
6: A Little Snow Fairy Sugar: The Play
To tell you the truth, this is a series that I watched very recently. It’s been out for around fifteen years, and I really only knew about it from it’s infamously sugary name and occasional appearances in the first few AMV Hell videos, but I never really picked it up until I saw it for 15 bucks in the Sentai filmworks holiday sale, and I wound up watching it as part of my January vacation from work. I was expecting a dumb, pandering, diabetically sweet series meant to keep little girls quiet while entertaining them with as little effort as possible, but I was surprised to see that it was actually one of the best children’s anime I’ve ever seen. And the OVA at the end was even better.
I won’t spoil the framing device that the OVA uses, because it actually is a pretty big spoiler, but it does feature an event that apparently took place in the timeline of the series. Saga’s class is putting on a play, which was written by one of her classmates. The fairies also put on a play of their own, despite having only recently learned what the concept of a play really is. Their play winds up being a sort of distillation of the original, named Princess and Fairy,” and while we don’t get to see the play from start to finish, we do get to see the Fairies’ interpretation of it, as well as just enough material to tie up the various plot threads of the episodes.
As highly as I regard Sugar, it had a couple of flaws that made me back off from giving it a perfect score. It had a vaguely pedo-ish story arc involving an actor in a bear costume, and while Saga talking to her invisible fairies in front of people made her look crazy at first, the story seemed to drop that piece of logic very early on, so she could have entire side conversations with them and nobody would notice. The OVA manages to avoid both of these problems, despite the fact that it brazenly references the bear storyline at several points. It acts as a call-back to many characters and events, but at no point does any of it feel forced or contrived, and everything works into the plot perfectly.
These special episodes really are a representation of everything that was great about Sugar, with no noticeable drop in quality either for the animation or the writing. True, it doesn’t really represent the more emotional moments in the series, but there are feels to go around in the bookend sections, and the fact that it was able to combine so many elements into one short story while remaining true to everyone’s personalities and dynamic means that it must have been put together with a deft hand by someone who loved and understood the original material.
5: Hellsing Ultimate
As a concept, Hellsing has always been awesome. It’s about an anime representation of Dracula being used as a weapon by a secret anti-supernatural organization, although whether he’s being used willingly or not is up for debate. I didn’t hate the first series, but it’s problems were blisteringly obvious, from it’s bare bones animation budget and pointless characters all the way down to it’s pretend plot and terrible, terrible writing. I’m not much of a manga reader, so peoples’ assurances that the manga was infinitely better fell on deaf ears with me, but if the ultimate OVA was as accurate as I’m told, I have to read it at some point.
Hellsing ultimate needs little introduction, as it’s probably the most famous and well known OVA on this list. Not only does it have a higher budget than the first series, it’s also much better directed, and the only real area where the first show trumps it is with the pacing of the first episode. While the two shows start off similarly, with the origin story and subsequent character development of Seras Victoria, but the conflict that we jump into is completely different… Instead of some fake-vampire chip mystery that never gets resolved and an enemy that might as well not exist, we get all-out war with fucking Nazis! how cathartic after the last couple of years, am I right?
I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen this show in years. I generally tried to rewatch everything on this list before writing about it, but I really don’t have enough time in my schedule to watch an OVA consisting of ten 45 minute episodes. Really, it’s longer than the first series. Luckily, Hellsing Ultimate is damn near impossible to forget, as my favorite moments from the series are still vividly available for replay in my memory, including The Major’s speech, Kari Wahlgren’s performance as Rip Van Winkle, the same character’s outstanding fight with Alucard, and the balls-out invasion of London that results in an unbelievable level of casualties, to name a few stand-outs.
Out of all the OVAs on this list, This is the one that improves upon it’s source material… Second most. Yeah, just wait until number 1. Ultimate is dripping with atmosphere and personality, confidently balancing it’s tone between sensationalist gore and classic terror. Oh, and it feels no hesitation portraying Nazis as warmongering bloodthirsty monsters whose asses are ripe for the kicking, which I can only imagine makes Myanimelist a little uncomfortable. Every fight scene is awesome, no matter how many combatants are involved, and every plot twist will have you screaming, gasping, or in some cases cheering, because why not. I’d keep going, but you’ve probably seen it, and you probably love it.
4: Carnival Phantasm
My knowledge of the Type Moon fandom is somewhat limited, but I have experienced the majority of the anime incarnations of the Fate series, from the highs of the first season of Fate/Zero to the lows of the second season of Unlimited Blade Works. I’ve also seen the Tsukihime anime, but it was dog shit and I don’t remember it to any sort of vivid degree. I’ve never played any of the games… Sue me… And I’m vaguely aware that there’s a thing called Melty Blood that exists, among doing other things. I still think I know just enough to enjoy Carnival Phantasm to the fullest, as the humor is well-written enough to not be lost on newbies, at least for the most part.
In any case, this OVA is a non-canon comedy collection featuring the stars of Type/Moon’s various intellectual properties, with the excuse being that a certain Carnival has caused a rift in time and space, allowing people from different worlds to meet, or something. I never could catch all of it, because I was too distracted by the sight of tiny little cat people trying to make serious expressions and nodding their heads enthusiastically, making me laugh so hard that I’m literally shaking while typing this sentence. I may actually break my keyboard before writing up entrant number three.
Thankfully, most of the material is based around the original Fate/Stay night and Unlimited Blade Works, and the Tsukihime material is easy enough to grasp. The skits and scenarios are diverse, but for the most part, it works around one core joke… The Fate universe is super-serious, and this universe is super silly. You might think that would be too narrow a concept to base a two-and-a-half hour series on, but it works, mainly due to the fact that it heavily emphasizes both extremes. It knows how 100% serious Fate was, so everything about it is lampooned and played for laughs in the most ruthless ways possible.
Whether the contestants in the Holy Grail War are drag racing, playing on a game show, trying to survive mundane every-day tasks, dressing up and eating each other, or just watching Lancer die over and over again, this was an idea that couldn’t possibly fail, and you can just tell that Type/Moon is having the time of their lives with it. And hey, if that’s not enough, this OVA comes with it’s own OVAs! Seriously, you can watch the Holy Grail battlers face each other in a Mario Party style game to face the boss Ilya in her Berser-Car! It’s a laugh a minute OVA comedy series, and it couldn’t be parodying a more perfect series.
3: Black Rock Shooter
There are two versions of this title available… The OVA, which came first and is about an hour long, and the TV series, which is about 8 episodes long. The tv series had a lot more character development, a lot more background to the mystery of what was going on, and actually took the time to explain itself. The movie was much more contained, only focusing on about three characters, and never explaining how the real world was related to the alternate world where the two badass ladies were fighting. Contrary to what you may have guessed based on that description, the TV series was boring and stupid as fuck, and the movie… well, the OVA, really… Was a lot more engaging and entertaining.
The OVA strikes a really fun balance between the two worlds. The fight world is intense, overblown and action packed, even though you don’t know what they’re fighting over, potentially making it’s story significance feel small. The real world features a much smaller scenario, two high school girls becoming friends and attempting to stay friends, which doesn’t sound like much, but you like them and believe in their bond so much that you want everything to work out for them, which leads to them making a bigger impact than they should. These two worlds work off of each other brilliantly, with one almost seeming to provide depth and meaning while the other provides action and excitement, and they even feel related in some way that’s never explained.
And thank God for that, because the series sacrifices the development of their friendship to try and explain itself, but without that strong dynamic to keep us feeling invested in the story, it all falls flat. The interplay between the two world in the OVA version feels… And I never thought I’d say this about anything… Jarring in all the right ways. To be fair, the animation is just as good with both titles, but ultimately, this is one of those rare cases where the mystery is more intriguing than the truth, as each answer just brought about more questions.
I was unaware, until I started writing this project, that Black Rock Shooter was an offshoot of Hatsune Miku. Apparently, her music got remixed into the instrumental soundtrack of this film. All I knew was that I’d never seen anything like this before. The action is hardcore, the duel animation style is impeccable, and the focus is exactly where it needs to be. This may be a bit of a stretch, but the juxtaposition of the two worlds may be a metaphor of how you often need to fight to keep a friendship going… Even against your friends themselves, sometimes… But at the end, it’s always worth it.
2: Spice and Wolf: Wolf and Tail of Happiness
The only “Special episode” entry on this list that isn’t considered one by Myanimelist, Tail of Happiness was the seventh episode the the first season, but for some reason, wasn’t originally aired on TV. It was released alongside the series on DVD, sitting comfortably in it’s proper place in the lineup, fitting in so well with the other episodes that you’d never guess it was an OVA, even though very little that happens in it would be missed had the episode been outright skipped. It’s also my favorite episode of the series, with the two season premieres coming in at second and third, but that has little to do with it.
This episode takes place directly inbetween the resolution of the first story arc and the catalyst of the second story arc, and it takes this time to develop the characters of Holo and Lawrence, as well as to flesh out their relationship as the two of them prepare for the onset of the next leg of their journey. They wander through Pazzio, making deals to endear themselves to the local marketplace, as Lawrence buys Holo new clothes, and Holo tries to offer him her hand, making this feel more like a date than anything else. Oh, and also, Holo struggles to choke down an entire barrel of apples while learning the different values of several coins. The best material here isn’t all mushy.
Actually, you could probably point to this episode as the moment their romance actually began to bloom… And I’m not just talking about the hand holding, as much as Holo wanted to call it the tail of happiness. It also featured a lot of flirtacious doubletalk and innuendo between the two, along with some moments of flustered expressions that had rarely been there before. Lawrence gets jealous, Holo notices, and the entire fandom melts into a puddle of feels. It’s nice to know that while Holo understands the whims of the human heart, she’s not jaded enough to be above them.
They bicker, they banter, they play cute little mind games with each other, they deliver on all the beats of their lovable dynamic without any complicated plots getting in their way. That’s not to say that the plots in this series are, bad, I mean if that were the case I wouldn’t have given it a perfect score. Still, every anime needs an episode like this… Some pleasant downtime to allow us to get better acquainted with the people and wolf Gods tht we’re supposed to be rooting for, and this might just be the most pleasant of its’ kind. I’d tell you more, but wouldn’t you rather have a bite and see for yourself?
FMA Premium Collection, FMA Brotherhood 4Koma Theater: I rewatched both of these in preparation for this list, but neither one was as good as I remember.
Toradora Rice Cooker episode: I almost put this in just for the sake it being Toradora related, but honestly, this OVA kinda sucks.
Love Hina episode 25: Unlike the rest of the series, this one sticks close to the manga, which actually allows it to be funny, bare-bones budget aside.
Black Lagoon, Roberta’s Blood Trail: It was kind of fun, and it did a good job integrating the larger cast into it’s story, but the writing just wasn’t very strong.
Sankarea OVA: It actually does manage to fill in some holes from the series, but it’s pretty forgettable. It should have been included with the DVD.
Higurashi Outbreak: It’s easily the best of the OVAs for this series, but like the others, I appreciate how weird it is moreso than how good it is.
1: Hey, you know that thing the Nostalgia Critic does where he goes through a list, and then cuts off at the end and saves the #1 slot for it’s onw review the following week? That’s really lame, right?
Tune in next week for a full review of my favorite series based OVA of all time!