I had been asked to name my choices for the Top Ten Japanese original anime videos (OVA’s). Instead, I am going to write a series on “forgotten” OAVs, both OAV movies and short series of usually four episodes. These will include some really obscure titles that I liked but almost nobody else did, and some titles that were popular at the time of their release but were rapidly forgotten. These will not be in any particular order.
Actually, I’ve also been asked for my Top Ten OVA picks. I always preferred the Original Animation Video abbreviation, but the Original Video Animation term is the one that the public has chosen. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, anime fans often asked why, since OVAs were so popular in Japan, the American animation studios &/or the movie industry couldn’t make American OVAs as well? They eventually did, but they’ve been called direct-to-video and direct-to-DVD releases here. The first was the Warner Home Video release of Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation on March 11, 1992. They are still coming; Universal Studios’ The Land Before Time XIV: Journey of the Brave is due to be released on February 2, 2016. (I am tempted to add “whether we want it or not”, but obviously lots of people do. Universal wouldn’t keep churning these out if they didn’t sell.) The Alpha and Omega, Balto, and Disney’s Tinker Bell direct-to-DVD sequels are popular as well.
It’s an open secret that most of these are planned and have their post-production by the well-known American movie companies, but the actual animation is subcontracted to animation studios all around the world. Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation itself was subcontracted to Tokyo Movie Shinsha in Tokyo for its animation, resulting in anime fans calling it a disguised American OVA. Disney’s subcontractor of choice is Prana Studios in Mumbai. Prana is the actual animation studio of Disney’s Planes and Planes: Fire & Rescue, which were going to be direct-to-DVD releases until Disney decided to release them theatrically. The animation quality is high enough that most of the public is unaware that they were not regular Disney or Pixar productions – and, frankly, could you tell the difference? Prana is quietly advertising that it’s available for more American animation work.
But I digress. Here is a Japanese OAV that I liked when it came out in 1985. It was already mostly forgotten by the time that I joined Streamline Pictures in 1991, which is why we never considered it seriously for acquisition.
Leda: The Fantastic Adventures of Yohko (Genmu Senki Leda), directed by Kunihiko Yuyama. 75 minutes. March 1, 1985.
This was one of the earliest OAV productions, released on March 1, 1985 as an OAV VHS cassette. It was also released briefly as a theatrical feature, but not until that December 21 as a Christmas special on a double bill with Vampire Hunter D; presumably because both were based on novels by the same author. Leda was an adaptation of a romantic girls’ fantasy novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi, better-known for his horror-fantasy Vampire Hunter D novels and stand-alone novels like Wicked City. It, Birth, and Windaria were arguably the high points of the short-lived Kaname Productions animation studio, since they were full movies even if they were OAVs. (But Birth had the famous/notorious ending where two women have a conversation that explains everything, except there is no sound – so there is no explanation. Many fans when Birth was released thought this was very arty, but it was revealed later that there was supposed to have been dialogue, but that Kaname had run out of production money and could not afford to hire voice actresses for the final scene. So how successful could the studio have really been?)
Yohko Asagiri is a shy high school student who has developed a secret crush on an upper classman. She is too shy to tell him in person, so she composes a love song, plays it as a piano sonata and records it onto a music cassette, and puts it into her Walkman to play to him. (By the way, whatever happened to Walkmans?) She contrives to pass him with her Walkman, but when she presses “play”, she is transported to the fantasy world of Ashanti, past the handsomely effeminate Lord Zell who demands that she give him the “heart of Leda”.
Yohko awakens in a beautiful but fantastic forest full of strange insects and animals, including a mountainous turtle. She meets Ringhum, a talking dog, who deduces she is not from Ashanti; therefore she must be from the Noa dimension. “A few days ago that mirage appeared. That must be your world, Noa. When that mirage appears, there is a road between worlds. And somehow you took that road to come here.” They discover that playing Yohko’s cassette on her Walkman is what opens the road, but when Yohko is about to play it again, her Walkman is seized by mysterious men on jumping motorcycles (later revealed as the arrogant Zell’s search party). They want it for its “Leda energy”, and are about to kill Yohko and Ringhum when Yohko is seized by a giant flower and is transformed within it (the flower displays excessive Leda power) into a superwarrior dressed in a sort-of bikini with padded shoulders and a magic sword. Yohko defeats most of Zell’s search party and escapes with Ringhum (did I mention that he can also fly?) on one of the bad guys’ motorcycles. Ringhum notes that Yohko has become much more powerful, and that if this is not normal for high school girls from Noa, she must have become a champion of Leda, who is a goddess or something – anyhow, Leda controls the energy of both Ashanti and Noa.
Yohko and Ringhum are speeding across a desert when they see the last three of Zell’s search party fleeing with the Walkman. They pursue to get it back, leading to a chase across the desert, through underground tunnels, and to Zell’s flying fortress which sends drones to kill them. They are rescued by a really huge robot in the ruins of Leda’s shrine that starts crushing the drones, then walks off after Zell’s fortress. Yohko and Ringhum follow it until the fortress flies into Garuba, Zell’s floating castle.
The giant robot’s pilot emerges: Yoni, a younger girl in a bikini-wth-flowing-cape who is Leda’s last shrine maiden. Yoni tells them that Zell is the conqueror of Ashanti who has destroyed all of Leda’s other shrine maidens. He was one of Leda’s students who betrayed her. He has been trying to gain control of Leda’s power so he can invade and conquer Noa as well. “Legend says that whenever Leda’s power is used for evil, a warrior from Noa will come to protect that power.” The fate of two worlds rests upon Yohko.
Now that Zell has Yohko’s Walkman, he is ready to invade Noa as soon as Nom, his chief scientist can analyze and control the sound waves of her sonata on tape. Yohko, Yoni, and Ringhum must break into Garuba and recover the Walkman before Zell can use it to conquer Noa. But Zell’s scientists need a focus to control Leda’s power, so Zell orders Nom to lure Leda’s warrior and use her for that focus. Yohko, Yoni, and Ringhum find that breaking into Garuba is easier than they expect – in fact, they are invited to dinner with Zell. Yohko is separated from the others by a forcefield, but her subconscious resistance to being brainwashed results in Zell’s death and the destruction of his castle. Yohko, Yoni, and Ringhum escape just in time.
The whole experience has made Yohko more self-reliant. Back home, she no longer needs the crutch of her piano sonata to go up and meet the boy she loves.
Leda: The Fantastic Adventures of Yohko, Windaria, and Bavi Stock I, all from Kaname Productions, were popular largely because of their attractive character designs by Mutsume Inomata; already a veteran anime character designer and animator, a manga artist, and a video game designer at 25 years old when Leda was produced in 1985. She has a website today, although she is no longer active in the animation industry.