Gunbuster

Type: OVA
Number of Episodes: 6
Genre: Science Fiction / Mecha
Vintage: 1988-1989
Date of Review: October 17, 2016

Earth is threatened by powerful alien bioships from beyond the Solar System, but humanity’s warships and battlesuits are fighting a losing battle. When her father is killed in deep space, Noriko Takaya joins the Earth forces, hoping to gain the confidence and skills needed to help defend her homeworld. No one is more surprised than her when she’s handpicked as a pilot for the secret Gunbuster project. Can Noriko overcome her anxiety and fears when the survival of the entire human race is at stake?

From animation powerhouse Gainax — who would later go on to colossal fame with the release of the legendary Neon Genesis Evangelion — comes a classic tale of love, loss, and giant robots kicking ugly alien bugs in the head. However, the fighting clearly takes a back seat to character drama and development, and it works out quite well.

Our protagonist Noriko is almost immediately likeable, even when she’s whiny. (Hey, have you ever tried to pilot a giant robot correctly on your first try?) From her idol Kazumi Amano, to mentor Coach Ohta, to rival Jung Freud, the cast of Gunbuster is well-rounded and believable. There’s a strong sense of desperation right up until the end, as humanity is this close to extinction. Watching people cope with this but still work hard to achieve their goals and save the human race gives the show a great undercurrent of excitement, and even the little stuff shines, like seeing female cadets playing a version of “Truth or Dare” to pass the time while tearing past lightspeed on their way to destiny. Of course, you’ll be seeing plenty more of Noriko and the other girls, if you catch my drift. Gunbuster‘s not exactly shy when it comes to nudity. Speaking of which, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Gunbuster is apparently the origin of the infamous “Gainax jiggle.” (Look it up, kids.)

It should come as no surprise that Gainax knows their shit cold when it comes to mechanical design, and Gunbuster showcases some ridiculously detailed technology. The scenes of the degeneracy drive engaging as well as the Buster Machine combination sequence are just jaw-dropping. Any time the Gunbuster itself is on screen is just a visual treat, yet it’s carefully kept to a mininum for maximum effect. The mech cuts a striking profile, despite being just a basic gray with a few orange accents. Of course, it’s got plenty of over-the-top attacks, which are incredibly effective at repelling alien invasions. But even before all of that, Gunbuster looks badass simply standing on the hull of a ship with its arms crossed! That pose has become the classic Gunbuster image.

Giant robot versus alien battles nonwithstanding, Gunbuster is also a good example of hard science fiction, as our heroes often have to deal rather severely with the consequences of relativistic space travel and time dilation. Warping out to fight aliens may only take the pilots a few hours, but months or even years pass them by back on Earth. The psychological effects of such a time jump, as well as seeing old friends age while they remain the same, are just as important to the plot as blasting apart extraterrestrial vessels. This makes Noriko and crew seem much more real.

As with many popular series, Gunbuster was later compressed into a film version, but do yourself a favor and just watch the original OVAs instead. It’s not that much longer, and you’re better off getting the full experience!

When it comes to worldbuilding, great characters, and finely detailed mecha action, Gunbuster delivers ’em all in a mere six episodes. Complete with a soaring score and a stunning finale shot in glorious black and white, ostensibly as an homage to classic mecha anime like Tetsujin 28-go, this is a series that can’t be missed if you’re a science fiction nut. Aim for the top!

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4 responses to “Gunbuster

  1. How does Gunbuster feel compared to NGE? Is there a connection between them (well, apart from being two mecha shows by the same studio) on a thematical, dramatical or some other level?

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