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My favourite mecha anime: Aim for the Top! GunBuster

July 9, 2013

The second in a series of posts. Previously: Eureka Seven

The GunBuster

GunBuster rising to the challenge. Definitely the 80s, look at that hair, and those shoulder pads. Click the image to enlarge.

Title: Aim for the Top! GunBuster
Studio: Gainax
Air date: October 7, 1988 – July 7, 1989
Episodes: 6

In the not-so-distant future, Humankind has ventured out into deep space and gotten in big trouble by making it’s presence known to space monsters who can warp across interstellar distances and who are mutely and aggressively hostile to Human life.

There’s nothing for the Human race to do but develop giant fighting robots and train kids to pilot them.

The story opens in the year 2023 — six year after the destruction of the Luxion Fleet by Space Monsters — at one of the many schools around the world where young men and women train in large mecha robot suits to pilot the GunBuster weapon, a new giant fighting robot. Only two pilots from each school will be chosen.

Noriko looking all ninja-like, taking her training seriously. Click the image to enlarge.

Noriko looking all ninja-like, taking her training seriously. Click the image to enlarge.

The main character is Noriko Takaya, an emotional, immature young woman, lacking confidence and so prone to blubbering that you want to smack her on the nose with a rolled up newspaper! How she even qualified?

She’s the daughter of the dead Luxion Fleet commander — that explains it for the other students.

Noriko is taken under the wing by Kazumi Amano, the class phenom she idolizes. A new teacher, “Coach” Ohta — the only survivor of the Luxion disaster, joins the school. Naturally Kazumi crushes on him. He, in turn, takes Noriko in tow, and shows her what she can do with “hard work and guts!” Noriko gets the message and, along with Kazumi, advances to the GunBuster program. That’s nearly two of the six episodes. What follows is more drama, melodrama, angst, suspense, hard work and guts, than you can shake a stick at. The wonder of it all is that it makes for such a great anime. You can read a very good plot synopsis here.

GunBuster is both a product of it’s time, and ahead of the curve. It shamelessly leverages what was popular at the time, particularly high school, and sports-themed animes, like Aim for the Ace.

But when it shifts into full space opera mode, it enters new, uncharted territory and delivers a visual and emotional punch on a scale hard to describe and perhaps never equaled. The final episode, featuring action on a vast intergalactic scale, is famously done in black and white, and delimits the climactic battle to still images, which actually magnifies the impact in the mind’s eye.

The animation style of GunBuster has stayed quite fresh, to my eye at least, unlike most of it’s contemporaries, like the 1988 Appleseed film, also produced by Gainax.

The soundtrack of GunBuster is big and brassy, exactly in tune with the visuals.

Catching the wreck of the Luxion — not so easy! GunBuster touches on hard science like the relativistic effects of space travel. Click the image to enlarge.

GunBuster was, I believe, the second major effort by the young studio Gainax. They drew on the popular anime of the day, and threw in lots of their own new ideas. As mecha anime, it incorporates elements of both the older Super Robot, and newer Real Robot genres. It is definitely a case of the whole equalling more than the parts. It’s success helped make the studio’s reputation, influenced other anime producers, and paved the way for Gainax’s Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Noriko walking from Aim for the Top

Noriko Takaya walking the walk in BustGunner, I mean GunBuster — It’s not prurient, It’s physics, damn it!

GunBuster featured strong female characters in leading roles. Gainax was made up of anime fans and realized the largely male audience would accept and prefer female characters in male roles if the women were attractive and showed a wee bit of nudity (known as fan service). Gainax also brought new realism to their anime. Everything looked, and moved more three-dimensionally.

One sort of “realism” relates back to fan service, and became known as the “Gainax bounce.”

I have no idea where to get Aim for the Top! GunBuster. on DVD. I’m sure it’s available, if you look hard enough. Twenty year later, Gainax produced a sequel OVA called DieBuster, which will be the subject of a future post.

Next in the series: Patlabor: The Movie

From → Anime

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