Fun With Numbers: The Late-80s OVA Boom (and Why Late Night TV Replaced It)

The two most influential series in the history of anime are almost indisputably Neon Genesis Evangelion and Mobile Suit Gundam, a pair of robot shows which showcased the buying power of Japanese otaku and led to an explosion of new material being produced. I’ve written previously about the late-night boom fueled by Eva’s success, but to say Gundam deserves less credit is to ignore one of the bestdramatized underdog stories in anime history. Then-16-year-veteran Yoshiyuki Tomino straight-up flipped a series meant to sell toys to kids for a realistic science-fiction epic in an era where the main thing robots did on TV was wrestle with one another for the spectacle. The results of Gundam’s eventual success were many; it spawned one of anime’s longest-lived franchises and has accounted for tens of billions yen in model sales per year to this day. But it had another key effect on the industry – it got people thinking about how to harness the fans with a serious sci-fi bent that Gundam had shown to be there for the taking.

Towards the end of 1983, one year after the final installment of the Gundam movie trilogy was released, the recently-formed Studio Pierrot released the first episode of what is considered to be the first OVA series ever, Mamoru Oshii’s Dallos. The series enjoyed healthy success, and several other companies began commissioning OVA projects. What followed was a surge in the amount of new original and manga-spinoff adaptation projects marketed chiefly towards older audiences, both hentai* and not (per myanimelist, charted here). The yearly abundance of non-hentai OVAs is plotted below, along with the number of TV anime and ONAs (included mainly as a curiousity) in that same period.


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