The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials


Title: Gunbuster aka Aim for the Top! Gunbuster aka Top wo Nerae!
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: Gainax
Format: 6 OVA
Dates: 7 Oct 1988 – 7 Jul 1989

Synopsis: In the future, a race of aliens has been discovered in the outskirts of space. To prevent these hostile creatures from reaching Earth, humanity has developed battleships and giant fighting robots, and has developed a global school system to nurture candidates to man its ranks.  Due to the constant near light speed travel the space army undergoes, those chosen to fight for mankind must sacrifice their friends and family along with potentially their lives.

The Highlights:
Visuals: Appropriately captures the sense of scope and feel of a space epic.
Characters: Strong core cast, but an anemic secondary cast.
Story: Ambitiously paced.  Ambitiously presented.  Ambitious overall.

If you ever want to know what an old era super giant robot anime looks like, Gunbuster is probably the most accessible representation of the genre. Though the series openly embraces the tired tropes, it still maintains a sense of relevance to an audience far beyond children and die-hard fans, because its over-the-top eccentricities are anchored in a believable world and compelling main characters. Running six episodes, Gunbuster offers a compact one-two punch that nails the sense of naive wonder, the raw feelings and the grandiose scope that makes super giant robot shows such an emotional roller coaster.

The show starts with the high school hijinks of Noriko, who is a bright eyed girl dreaming of following in her father’s footsteps of defending the Earth against aliens. The age old formula of guts and determination allows her overcome her obstacles again and again against increasing odds. Though the core themes of “believe in yourself” and “work hard and good things will happen” are compelling enough reasons to resonate with the narrative, Gunbuster adds another interesting bent to the story by adding near light travel, which distorts the time the characters live in. Though the implications of time dilation is not a factor until late into the series, it does offer some of the most thoughtful and emotionally provoking scenes in the anime.

The short episode count lets the show hammer down all the key points without losing anyone’s attention; however, it does this at the cost of emotional connection with the characters. For a television production, the audience can grow with the characters week after week for dozens of episodes, making even the most trivial side characters feel like extended family members. Gunbuster blasts through its six episodes leaving little room to connect with anyone except the absolute core characters. There are moments that could have been truly heart wrenching, but there simply isn’t enough time to let the drama fully mature into anything emotionally genuine.

No super robot anime is complete without massive, ridiculous battle scenes and Gainax does not fail to deliver. The fights in the OVA provide a strong adrenaline kick with their energy and creativity.  The visuals are a product of masters doing the craft they love with the same enthusiasm they must have felt while watching their childhood giant robot shows.  As for the music, while some of it feels dated, the overall score fits well with the actions exploding on screen.

Director Anno Hideaki may be most known for Evangelion, but his directional debut is something to behold. Gunbuster does not draw a loan on disbelief or rely on nostalgia; it is a rare example of super robot anime that has withstood the test of time.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Shadowmage

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