Coffee Break #1: Retro Anime OVA Expedition, Part 1

Over the course of around five years now, give or take some unnecessarily long breaks, I have tried to watch various anime OVA that were released in the 80s, 90s, and sometimes the early 2000s. I am admittedly awful at watching series of any kind, especially newer ones. So I figured it would be beneficial to my habit-forming if I started with pint-sized series before building my way up into larger ones. So far, this has been a successful method, as I have been watching more anime lately, and I figured, “Why not write about what I watched?” So, that’s where we are now.

Eternal Filena (1992)
Eien no Filena 永遠のフィレーナ

Having recently played the Super Famicom RPG by the same name, I saw fit to watch the OVA that came before it. A 6-episode adaptation of the 9-volume light novel that ran from 1985 to 1994, I knew to expect something that was very incomplete. But was I disappointed? Honestly, no. And I think that having played the video game beforehand is what saved it for me.

That being said, this OVA is by no means a bad experience. In fact, I thought it was good for what it was. The story is based around a woman named Filena who is the last remaining heir to a kingdom that fell to an oppressive empire fifteen years prior. Raised as a man, Filena must participate in gladiatorial combat to please the very citizens of the country that destroyed her own. Once she learns of her royal heritage, though, she sets off on a journey to restore her kingdom and stop the empire.

Filena and her wife, Lila, are both likable characters. I also liked Nest, and even Baraba, as much of a jerk as he seemed early on. I only wish I could have learned more about these characters before it was all over, because the game certainly gave them bare-bones backgrounds. Baraba was even a completely different character in the video game. Of everything this OVA provided, I suppose the only thing that really disappointed me was the animation, which is just so bland and wonky compared to the gorgeous artwork that decorates literally every piece of media for this series. It’s like those games back in the day that had such crazy artwork to help sell them, then you actually play the game and it looks nothing even remotely like that.

For a comparison, the Filena OVA covers roughly the first hour of the video game in six 30-minute episodes. I think that goes to show how condensed the game truly is and why I was able to appreciate the OVA more. Not only that, but there were characters present here that weren’t in the game, as well as various inconsistencies. If this OVA is true to the way the story is told in the light novel, then there must be a far more lush tale waiting out there in the source material. I’m grateful that this OVA was finally fansubbed, though, as I was able to enjoy it fully than if I were to try and watch the low quality RAWs I had been holding onto for over a decade.

Honestly, I like this series enough that I’d go out of my way to pick up all the novels to someday read, and maybe even go after the Japanese LaserDiscs, as expensive as those are. I suppose VHS is a decent alternative, but I can only ever seem to find former rental versions, and the way those look are just so displeasing. Would I recommend this OVA to someone else? Certainly not before you at least played the game, because there isn’t much to find here on its own. You either watch it after having read the novels to be on some tier of disappointment, or you watch it after having played the game to find yourself pleasantly surprised, then wishing the game had given you more of the story that it was apparently missing. But to watch it on its own? Probably not a good idea.

Dragoon (1997)
Ryuuki Denshou 竜機伝承

I think what pulled me into this one was the art style and the obvious high fantasy setting. I don’t need much else to get me interested, honestly, and the more 90s it is, the better. Without going into too much detail, Dragoon is a 3-episode OVA that starts us off with a young girl named Myuu displaying her power in a wild escape attempt from a tyrannical empire. Naturally, she gains amnesia after this and has to be protected by the young warrior, Sedi, as he escorts her on her journey to rediscover her memories. Various other characters join them on their journey, and most of them are pleasant, though a few can be annoying at first.

While this OVA ends just as the story begins, it is actually not an original story and is based off of a Japanese PC RPG of the same name. Wikipedia and other English-language sources seem to lack this information, which is why I originally felt rather sour about the OVA as a whole when I completed it. I thought that it had a lot of promise and that it was rather cruel to have it end just as it began. But now that I know that it is based on a game, I am more forgiving of it than I was initially. It was even popular enough in Japan to spawn a light novel and drama CD.

As I mentioned earlier, the thing that initially drew me into giving this OVA a try was the art style. Everything about it screamed at me that it was my kind of animation, so I gave it a shot. Unfortunately, I felt regret within the first five minutes as poor Myuu dealt with attempted sexual assault. Why wouldn’t she, after all? She’s a pretty, young girl and the only way to show that a man is villainous around someone like that is to have him molest her, right? It’s not like she could have just had an outburst of power evaporate him without a single finger being laid on her. Regrettably, this is not the only time that this happens to her, though thankfully the final episode is completely devoid of it. I’m just relieved that it was only attempts and nothing more, but it’s such a tiredly used means of showing how vile a person is and was completely useless to the plot.

Now that I’ve said all that, I suppose it is worth mentioning that Dragoon does have a plentiful amount of unnecessary nudity, though nothing ever more than breasts or featureless bumps where the vagina is. It didn’t really bother me outside of some token anime awkwardness and those two villainous moments, but it’s something to keep in mind. It’s also apparently only the OVA that is like this, as the fanservice in the PC games isn’t remotely as copious.

The abrupt end is unfortunate for English-speaking audiences, as Japanese audiences could reach out to the source material easily enough if they wanted more of the story, and could even play the two sequels. But much like Eternal Filena, it’s not a bad OVA if you go into it knowing that it does have a better source material and just try to enjoy the animation for what it is. Knowing that it was based on a game now makes me appreciate what I saw more than when I was actually watching it. Heck, I’d spend $10 on an old VHS of it, why not?

Phantom Quest Corp (1994)
Yuugen Kaisha 幽幻怪社

As a general rule of thumb, an OVA that is completely original without a source material is usually stronger as a whole than the ones that do have a source. This obviously isn’t always the case, as there are good OVA based on a manga or light novels (such as the one I talk about after this title), and there are OVA with no source material that are awful. But generally, ones that are completely original tend to impress me more than those based on something else. This is definitely the case for Phantom Quest Corp.

The basic gist of this story is that a woman named Ayaka runs her own business that deals with supernatural hauntings and the like. Think of Ghostbusters, but Japanese inspired. Ayaka herself is an entertaining character with various flaws, all of which honestly add to the enjoyment. She drinks, she’s an obnoxious fan of karaoke, and she’s bad with money. But she’s a hilarious and good-hearted person.

Animation isn’t anything wildly impressive, but it’s charming. If someone were to ask me for a list of anime that had that look that just defined the early/mid 90s era, this would definitely be on it. I love the character designs and felt that the animation was fluid and successful at setting a solid comical tone, given that this series is definitely a comedy with each episode being a self-contained story. It takes the right kind of slapstick for me to even enjoy it, especially when it comes to anime, and this one was just right.

The only flaw I really felt with this was that there wasn’t anything more to it beyond the four episodes it had, at least in terms of animation. It could have definitely been its own series, even a short one. Thankfully, if you can read Japanese, there is a light novel to accompany this series, although I’m not certain if it’s just retelling the same story or if it is something new entirely. There’s also an American-made manga that is a single “floppy” issue and can be found for reasonably cheap on eBay and the like. Whether or not it is worth the read is beyond my scope of knowledge, though, but hey. I might peek at it one of these days. One thing I do know for certain; I need the DVD for my collection.

All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku (1992)
Bannou Bunka Neko-Musume 万能文化猫娘

All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku is, aside from being a mouthful of a title, an OVA that has been on my radar for years. Aside from the usual advertising I saw as a kid back in the day, I also remember my uncle having the DVDs in his small anime collection and have always just wondered about it. Doing some investigation years later finally led me to realizing it was actually a 6-episode OVA, 12-episode TV series, and another 12-episode OVA, all of which I believe are alternate universes from each other. It was also later adapted into more manga than the initial source material.

Similarly to Phantom Quest Corp, Nuku Nuku is a series of individual short stories with no real direction other than just the characters living their comical, day-to-day lives while dealing with the various antics that happen throughout. Aside from instantly loving that our protagonist, Nuku Nuku, is voiced by Megumi Hayashibara, I was pleasantly surprised with what I found waiting for me in this title. Another slapstick comedy that hit the nail on the head, I enjoyed each episode and all of the characters, despite how ridiculous they could be. Although if I had to say who a least favorite was, it would probably be the father, Kyusaku. I just lost some respect for him after that “housewife” episode with how Akiko was treated, despite how selfish she can be. It’s clear that she loves her son, Ryunosuke, and for her to be put through all of that just made me feel sorry for her. At least it ended on a note I considered satisfactory and in line with the series’ humor.

I should also point out that I’m easily put off and annoyed by verbal tics in anime characters that aren’t children, and cat girls are very prone to this. Thankfully, anything like that was minimal. When it did happen, it was only when Nuku Nuku was really excited, and as a result was hardly aggravating.

I’m looking forward to at least watching the TV series, which as I stated earlier, is an alternate universe but still largely the same thing. The other OVA, DASH!, is a little more questionable. It seems to stray a bit from the source material, at least in the character designs, so we’ll see how that goes. If I see this OVA on DVD, I’ll likely pick it up, but I want to know how I enjoy the rest of the series beforehand, just in case there’s a complete collection.

Sorcerer on the Rocks (1999)
Chivas 1-2-3 シーバス1-2-3

After four moderate-to-great recent anime watches, I really wish I could end this post with the last title being on equal terms. But no, we can’t always have nice things. Sorcerer on the Rocks is downright awful, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t need much to be pleased with an OVA. The series, somehow, started as a 7-volume manga named Chivas 1-2-3 and is, unfortunately, a spin-off of one of my favorite series; Sorcerer Hunters. It was adapted into a 2-episode OVA that, quite frankly, I would have dropped like a ton of bricks after the first episode had it been any longer. This series was also somehow popular enough to spawn two drama CDs and a video game.

While the animation is pleasant, clean, and has a more defining style to it, I can’t feel anything positive for this series due to the woefully underwhelming cast. Our lead character, Chivas, is a purely narcissistic and despicable asshole that abuses his comrades. The only reason I even remember his name is because it’s the title of the dang series in Japanese. His comrades are also a bunch of poorly written sods that I can’t help but feel pity for, simply because they have to be around this douche canoe. One girl is a delusional slave, the other is a compliant one, and the last guy, who is mostly alright, is marred by his apparent homosexual attraction to Chivas (why…) being written off as a gag. The only character I was rooting for was a side character who was apparently a debt collector, and that’s because she made Chivas’s life difficult, which he rightfully deserves. Good for you, blue-haired girl!

If the manga is better, which I’m certain it is, since it’s 7-volumes versus 2-episodes, it doesn’t really change the creepy and uncomfortable nature of the “protagonist”. Chivas mistreats his companions constantly and honestly makes it impossible for me to find anything redeeming about him. It’s not even slapstick humor, unless it’s the poor guy in the group who is attracted to him. When Chivas mistreats the girls, it’s just disgusting. It could be argued that at the end of the day, he does care about them, but that’s a load of crap. That’s just the classic abuser mindset. “I love/care about you, thus I can do whatever I want to you, no matter how heinous.” Despite his horrible nature, he is revered as a hero in the end because he saved the town. People admire him! They honor his name! What is wrong with all of you?!

I despise that this is related to Sorcerer Hunters, I really do. Because that series is actually good where as this is just uncomfortable trash. The unfortunate thing is that had the characters been better, it wouldn’t have been a terrible OVA. The story wasn’t awful or anything. Nothing innovative, but had at least some thought behind it. Regardless, if I see a DVD of this in the wild, I’ll be sure not to spit on it out of respect for whoever is selling it. I’d want to get rid of it, too.

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