One of anime’s greatest charms, it takes the imagination to new levels that re-define it. As Dragon Ball Z did for action as a whole, the same can be said about Sailor Moon for female superheroes. In addition to the superhero genre, anime is also famous for its diverse sci-fi library. The sci-fi realm of anime contains numerous sub-genres that have been categorized as their own distinct genres such as mecha, space opera, and cyberpunk.
The great thing about sci-fi as a whole is that it may predict what the future can hold for us. Akira somehow predicted that the 2020 Olympics would be in Tokyo, and the original Ghost in the Shell movie predicted the rise of the Internet. Today’s list will cover titles from all faces of the sci-fi category but within the format of OVAs, short for Original Video Animation.
Through the OVA platform, numerous animes beyond sci-fi have the chance to present stories that have the animation quality of theatrical releases but get to explore stories as if it were a mini-series. So get ready as we count down into our top 10 Sci-Fi OVAs
10. Hybrid Child
- Episodes: 4
- Aired: Oct 2014 – Jan 2015
What defines free will? What defines a soul? How do we develop our emotions? If any of you have asked yourselves these very questions, then maybe Hybrid Child can help you find the answers. If anything, the idea of having an artificial human as a companion may be possible in the future considering the other kinds of androids that are being made right now for “other” purposes, which we won’t get into. But is an AI capable of developing feelings, ultimately love? Either way, some sort of interaction with someone or something is bound to give its owner the capabilities to grow as a person with their Hybrid Child.
A lot of the themes of Hybrid Child are very relatable to the current state of the human condition and their relation to technology, and exhibits qualities that are likely possible in our lifetime. If anything, watching this anime may be a preparation for things to come and when they do happen, we should be ready for the positive and not the negative on what androids with feelings can for the human race and what the human race can do for them.
9. Aria the OVA: Arietta
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: Sept 2007
Taking place after the second season of the TV series, this episode further goes into the relationship between Akari and Alicia and brings it full circle. Aria itself brings a very unique kind of theme that can be seen as universal. In some instances when people explore new places, it is natural to react with wonder and excitement. On the other hand, what one finds unique and exotic, those who spent their lives in that place just think of it as nothing special because it’s always been part of their everyday life. In extension, the series also demonstrates that people as individuals are also unique with what they can do as opposed to what they can’t.
Though the TV series shows how Akari is of use to others with her job rowing a boat, the OVA shows how far her personal development has gone now that she is groomed to take over Alicia’s position. Not only does Akari show gratitude for Alicia’s guidance, but how a teacher can also learn from a student. Ultimately, we can learn that the places we go (or grow up in) and the people we spend time with all have value and we should treasure them.
8. Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199 (Space Battle Ship Yamato 2199)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr 2012 – Aug 2013
This series serves as a retelling of the original 1974 classic, Space Battleship Yamato. For some of you newer fans that prefer the higher-res and bulkier style of today’s anime, this might be the anime for you. Even if some of you fans that are purists of Matsumoto Leiji, we still recommended it since it still does its own unique job of being faithful to his distinct art style, but still giving all audiences something that is fresh.
Due to being a retelling and being more condescend that the original series, some changes were made from the original anime to make it feel more realistically believable and feel more international. For example, the original TV series in its pure Japanese form had the crew of over 100 exclusively being Japanese nationals while with 2199, the Yamato is an official UN vessel with a crew of nearly 1000 consisting of numerous members of numerous backgrounds.
Many of the themes from the original are still intact about relationships, making sacrifices, and overcoming all odds to do a great job of making new fans of an undeniable classic.
- Episodes: 7
- Aired: Nov 2006 – May 2008
So when an instant ramen noodle is celebrating its 35th anniversary, how do you do it? By making an anime about humanity migrating to the moon!! And in addition, be prepared for to watch an anime that will continue to promote that respective product!!
For starters, if any of you readers are old school lovers or long time fans, you can instantly recognize the art style of Otomo Katsuhiro, the creator of Akira. Even after more than 20 years, his art style continues to hold up and it perfectly compliments the dark and mysterious nature of this series. Though Otomo-sensei only contributes to exclusively the designs and not the story itself, like Akira, it explores the alienation of orphaned youths, the effectiveness of the education system, and whether or not we can trust our governments.
Ultimately, it shares a great message of caring for our planet and that of hope. Last, if there is any reason to watch this anime that clearly defines its greatness, it has to be the theme songs provided by the Queen of J-pop herself, Utada Hikaru.
- Episodes: 6
- Aired: Apr 2000 – Mar 2001
At number 9 is one of Gainax’s modern classics, FLCL, or short for Fooly Cooly. Though a majority of this series presents itself as a comedy, it has many sci-fi qualities that pay homage to Gainax’s staple as a mech studio but its appeal goes beyond that.
To some fans, Naota comes across as a cynical parody of Shinji from Evangelion. Though Naota has a down to earth kind of feel, he comes across as pessimistic but his time with Haruko, the character who drives the series, slowly changes his attitude by serving as his foil. In the end, Naota finally learns to break out of his bubble and see that there is more to life than what he considers boring, and at the same time, be thankful that he still has people that care for him.
Another factor that also contributes to the appeal of this series is the soundtrack provided by The Pillows, a J-rock band. The chords and drum beats of the soundtrack do a great job of capturing the themes of enjoying life and cutting yourself loose. The fact that this series is beyond the definition of unorthodox is what makes this series continue to hold up and even have a sequel after 15 years.
5. One Punch Man: Road to Hero
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: Dec 2015
In some instances, an OVA can be a prequel to a TV series and One Punch Man: Road to Hero, is one recent example of this approach. Though One Punch Man is mostly a parody of the superhero genre, it does exhibit numerous sci-fi elements with the concept of advancing oneself with technology. In this OVA, the audiences get to learn more about Saitama’s past.
Though Genos has all the advancements in the world, it doesn’t stop him from being motivated to improving himself. While Genos takes his duties seriously, Saitama has his own motivations in becoming a hero and for a while, it took Genos some time to open up what makes Saitama the way he is. In the end, it’s not that the strength of the hero that defines one, but hard work and willing to have the motivation to be one.
Without motivation to do anything, all the technology in the world or the strength of Mike Tyson is about as productive as watching paint dry. The message of One Punch Man is not about what you have, but what you do with it and with hard work and dedication, all things are possible.
4. Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn
- Episodes: 7
- Aired: Mar 2010 – Jun 2014
In this distinguished installment of the Universal Century saga, Unicorn not only explores the concept of technological evolution but the direction of human evolution as a whole. It is undeniable that the world of Gundam has always been appealing with its intense mech battles but that alone does not define why Gundam has created a nearly 40-year legacy.
It explores the vast potential of the human race and if any Gundam series does the most effective job of presenting that, it has to be Unicorn. The series teaches its viewers that if we are going to fight for what we believe in, there will be instances where our convictions can and will be challenged, and such moments can make or break us. But by taking into account what people can learn through sacrifice, all things are possible.
Another great thing this series does (without giving away any spoilers), it teaches us that when we plan for something big in the future, we should anticipate what can happen and if in the event that a certain anticipation does happen, we should be prepared to positively embrace those changes and not give into fear and hate.
3. Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster (Gunbuster)
- Episodes: 6
- Aired: Oct 1988 – Jul 1989
Before Gainax and Anno Hideaki guaranteed their immortality through Neon Genesis Evangelion, they broke out in Japan and with international Gen-X anime fans with Gunbuster, or known as Top wo Nerae (a play on the classic tennis anime, Ace wo Nerae and the Tom Cruise movie, Top Gun) in Japan.
Due to the word play of the original Japanese title, a lot of elements from both Ace wo Nerae and Top Gun are mixed into this movie about how a group of the best people who are the best at what they do is competing against each other to become number one, but in the end, they’re still a team. The main character Noriko exhibits qualities that compare to Hiromi from Ace wo Nerae. Like Hiromi, she is initially not up to the abilities with some of her peers and may come across as awkward, but is driven to succeed and can over come with the right encouragement.
Though the base plot of this OVA series is humans fighting against an alien invasion with giant mechs and advanced space weapons, its great quality is its critique of human relations and how people change within the course of time based on where they may be in their lives.
2. Ghost in the Shell: Arise
- Episodes: 5
- Aired: Jul 2013 – Aug 2015
Though international audiences are getting a live action treatment in 2017, one series to certainly check out is its anime reboot, Arise. Though it is not at all connected to Oshii Mamoru’s movies or the highly acclaimed, Stand Alone Complex TV series, Arise at its core is still faithful to the themes of Shirow Masamune’s original manga despite some of its superficial differences in regards to some of the character designs.
What continues to make Ghost in the Shell popular after 25 years are not its high-octane action sequences or the sex appeal of Major Kusanagi, but how its critique of society and its relationship with technology continuing to still be relevant. Though humans in real life cannot enhance their bodies as cyborgs, smartphone technology, and the Internet can easily parallel the themes of the series such as the relationship between governments and lobbyists, corporate greed, privacy, the question of one’s identity, and free will.
The series presents to its audiences that having technology in our hands may be a choice, but when we make that choice are we really giving up our privacy to corporations, governments, and our fellow human beings? Or are we sharing our daily lives with the world? And when we present ourselves on the Internet, are we really presenting our real selves or a false identity to make us look good like we’re a celebrity? Do the features of such technology allowing us to share what we eat make us self-centered? The fact that Ghost in the Shell always continues to explore these questions continues to fascinate audiences because what may have been the anticipation of this series is now progressively becoming reality.
1. Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu (Legend of Galactic Heroes)
- Episodes: 110
- Aired: Jan 19998 – Mar 1997
Coming in at number one has to be the longest series in not just the sci-fi genre but in ALL of OVAs, Legend of Galactic Heroes, based on the novel series by Tanaka Yoshiki. Though most OVAs tend to normally be between four to twelve episodes, this series contains 110 being fully faithful to its original source material.
However, the series is not defined but its quantity, but by its quality and relevant storytelling. As previously stated, the sci-fi genre tends to overall be a very critical evaluation of the human condition, and this series does a great job of striking that. Given the combative nature of the 2016 American presidential election, some of the hostilities that went on between the Democrats, the Republicans, and their supporters can loosely be paralleled in this anime in addition to other events in history such as the Napoleonic Wars.
Though this anime takes place in the far future in the deep regions of space with humanity living in numerous terraformed planets, extreme political differences still divide the human race. The series goes beyond just the conflicts between the Alliance of Free Planets and the Galactic Empire, but even explores the inner conflicts within those factions and how those conflicts are just as equally or even more dangerous than an outside enemy.
Even though humanity has progressed with the help of technology through the Internet, for many on social media, you may have seen numerous people throughout the American election praising the candidate they support and denounce the opponent, causing rather hostile division. Though the original novels were published in the 80s with the anime being in its prime throughout most of the 90s, its core themes still carry onto this very day and probably will even if humanity goes onto space.
Just like outer space, the list is vast and almost limitless so we will throw in some honorable mentions; Iria, Macross Plus, Bubblegum Crisis, Battle Angel Alita, and Hoshi no Koe. As a whole, the science fiction genre within anime captures the spirit of what it’s all about; capturing the imagination, as well as being a reflection of the times we live in and where we may be going.
Sometimes the factors, which are fiction then can be tomorrow’s reality. It is possible that what we have listed is our future whether it would be in nine years or over nine thousand. So what are some of your top anime sci-fi OVAs? Please feel free to share a comment.