It shouldn’t be surprising that Dragon’s Heaven (1988) is one of my absolute favorite OVAs. Produced during the OVA boom when bubble era money funded creator-driven visions and rough experimentation in an unprecedented way, Dragon’s Heaven is nothing if not very representative of its creator and director, Makoto Kobayashi.
Kobayashi was an artist, mangaka, and model kit builder that worked on everything from S.F.3.d to Gundam ZZ, while his work (both illustrated and scratch-built) appeared in a variety of model kit and anime magazines throughout the decade. Dragon’s Heaven combined both of his talents, featuring a live-action intro with gigantic animatronic robots and an animated story based on his manga.
For animation, Kobayashi’s character and mecha designs were worked over by Toshihiro Hirano (Megazone 23, Fight! Iczer-One) and Osamu Kobayashi (Gurren Lagann), respectively. But the end result perfectly captured Kobayashi’s Moebius-inspired style on video. Much like Birth (1984) and California Crisis (1986), Dragon’s Heaven succeeded in looking completely different from any other contemporary anime title. That kind of animation experimentation became less common as the economics of anime changed during the collapse of the asset bubble in the early ‘90s, but Dragon’s Heaven remains a fantastic example of an unusual era in Japanese animation and an incredible artist.
Dragon’s Heaven merchandise is available on the second-hand market, including books, posters, pencil boards, and garage kits, but actual production material is rare. While it isn’t hard to dig up animation cells from some of the most obscure ‘80s OVAs, Dragon’s Heaven cells or settei1 sheets are rarely offered up on Yahoo Auctions or Mandarake. Settei can be an unusual item for collectors because by their very nature they’re photocopied and thus harder to verify as used in production, but they also tend to feature lots of references and material that never makes it into official artbooks.
I recently won a small stack of Dragon’s Heaven settei on Yahoo Auctions, although upon arrival it was clear they were newer copies of older sheets and probably too clean to have been used in the production of a 30-year old OVA.
The gallery below features most of the material included in the auction, including what look to be some rough sketches by Makoto Kobayashi himself. If you’re interested in more Dragon’s Heaven production material I’d encourage you to search out Movic’s Dragon’s Heaven Creations book, a collection of settei used for the OVA.