AceCaseOR writes, Having previously reviewed Hellboy: Sword of Storms, I now bring to the table a review of another genre animated work – a science fiction series this time. This one is an anime series by Hideaki Anno and Gainax, and is a brilliant deconstruction of Super Robot shows. No, I’m not talking about Neon Genesis Evangelion, I’m talking about Gunbuster.

Cast, Crew and Other Info:

Director: Hideaki Anno
Writer: Hideaki Anno Toshio Okada Hiroyuki Amaga
Cast: Noriko Hidaka as Noriko Takaya (voice)
Rei Sakuma as Kazumi Amano (voice)
Norio Wakamoto as Kôichirô “Coach” Ôta (voice)
Maria Kawamura as Jung Freud (voice)

Premise:

In the far future, after mankind has discovered Faster Than Light travel, they come into conflict with the Uchuu Kaiju (Space Monsters), massive organic spacegoing aliens who breed in stars. During the beginning of this conflict, Noriko Takaya, a young girl whose father was commander of the fleet that first made contact with the Space Monsters (and was destroyed by them), enrolls in a space pilot academy so she can go into space and avenge her father’s death.

High Points:

  1. The use of Time Dilation in the show. A lot of space opera anime really ignore this concept. In Gunbuster, it’s a major plot point.
  2. Gunbuster – This is a giant robot you could seriously see humanity putting all their hopes in, and it really lives up to the challenge.
  3. The emotional response of the show – My heart was practically in my throat from episode 4 on. This is, seriously, a very good show. Now, mind you, I was hooked from the first episode, but I didn’t get that emotional response until episode 4.

Low Points:

  1. Price – The show costs $57 from Amazon and is 6 episodes long. It’s good, but I wouldn’t pay that much for it. Get it from NetFlix.
  2. The final battle. Unfortunatly, for the final space battle, the show falls back on the crutch far too commonly used in some anime of “This space battle is so epic, we can only show it to you in a series of dramatically filmed still comic panels”.
  3. The last shot of the series. Our heroes have survived the final space battle, barely. However, due to time Dilation, they return to Earth 12,000 years after they left. Yet, the people of earth have a big “Welcome Home” in lights on the surface of the earth waiting to be turned on upon the arrival of Gunbuster. I would think, in 12,00 years they’d think they were dead – but that’s just me.

The Scores:

I’m using some categories for comic books and graphic novels because of the nature of the medium, except I’m substituting “acting” for “characterization”and “production” for “flow.”

This isn’t totally original. It’s a deconstruction of giant robot shows, and it uses themes and major plot elements that were used in Tau Zero and The Forever War, but it handles them in an original fashion. 4 out of 6.

The artwork is very good. Even the Still Frame Space Battle, which I listed as a low point, had very good art. At the time of release, this was Gainax at it’s best, only topping itself with Evangelion and FLCL. 4 out of 6

The story is excellent and very tragic. Noriko has to watch her friends go old, have children and families while she barely ages during her space trips – and one day she may go out into space, and return and find that her friends have died, not from enemy attack, but old age. This series really hits that home for the viewer. 5 out of 6

The acting is good. None of the voices are particularly grating, which even some of the greatest anime series have problems with (Macross), and there were no lines that came off too humorously when it should have been taken humorously. There were a few bits that slightly annoyed me, such as one character’s “haughty-full-of-herself-laugh”. 5 out of 6.

The production of the show is good. OVAs (Original Video Animation – direct to video shows) from this time (1988) generally had higher animation quality and production values then anime series shown on television in Japan at the same time. Also, the last two episodes were kind of rushed. By the time episodes three and four were released, episodes five and six had just been approved. Plus, this is the show which brought us the “Gainax Bounce.” Don’t know what the Gainax Bounce is? Well… just watch the show. Anyway, considering the quality of the animation in those episodes, and considering how they pulled off some of the visual style of the last episode, that scores it some major points. I still can’t stand Still Frame Big Battles, so they do get docked a point for that. 5 out of 6.

Emotional Response: I felt kind of bad for Noriko for the first 2 episodes, I felt really bad for her at 3, and my heart was in my throat through 4-6. This show really brought the kind of “This can’t end well” response you can only really get from the best tragic anime, which is something you really don’t expect from a Super Robot Show. In the last episode I really thought that Noriko and Kasumi would die in the last episode. After the tragedy of constantly seeing their friends go old, I got the impression that they realized that, they would not only outlive their friends, but out-live them by a life time, but they would also probably return to find their friends who were left behind elderly and worn down by years of waiting, assuming they weren’t already dead. Thus, they went on a suicide mission to save humanity’s future, while realizing that they had no future of their own. 6 out of 6

Overall, this is, widely held (and I would say correctly so) to be a classic anime series. Over the course of the 6 episodes, you really come to care about the characters, and the plot arc of the supporting cast greatly over shadows the story arc of the space battles, and that’s a good thing. The show has a lot of little flaws which prevent a perfect score, but not so many to drag it down too much. 5 out of 6.

In total, Gunbuster gets a 34 out of 42.

Yeah, my last two reviews have been very positive. That is, in part, because I haven’t really found anything that I’ve wanted to review yet that was either “bleh” or “blechh”. I will try to find one in the future, though.