Gunbuster: Aim for the Top! (1988) IMDb

Creators

Anno Hideaki (director).

Extent

Previously rated a 2.

Categorization

OVA series. Military SF.

Subject

War orphan with hidden affinity for mecha must fight vast alien menace in space! Some say the aliens are merely the antibodies of the Milky Way, fighting a human infection. Faster-than-light time dilation messes up the lives of those who fight, and it’s dangerous work. Only the central heroine remains young.

Commentary

An uneasy operatic mixture of titillation, pre-Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) mecha anime, shoujo tropes, tennis spokon parody (Aim for the Ace! (1973) and its 1980s OVA sequels) and surprisingly deep tragic pathos.

The creators apparently could not agree where to go with this, so they went everywhere and ran out of money. Some parts are evocative, grounded tragic SF like The Forever War (1974), but lots of other stuff is very corny and exaggerated, like the name of Soviet pilot Jung Freud. Much is ripped straight out of 1988 trends and everyday environments with no regard for the credible evolution so brilliantly executed in Wings of Honneamise: Royal Space Force (1987).

The contrasts can be sharp. The mecha themselves are ugly without realism and so anthropomorphized that they seem to benefit from callisthenics, whilst their designers have simultaneously attempted to illustrate precisely how the pilots operate them using the laughable cop-out of a couple of sliding levers. These scenes have the appearance of parody, but the writers are just poking a little fun while trying to tell an original story in the cracked old mold. Astoundingly, it works!

There’s a character called Toren Smith, named after the real person, who was a friend of the studio. I wonder whether Toren’s also named after Haldeman’s Taurans, the aliens of The Forever War. There’s all sorts of weird background matter lurking beneath the surface, giving the show its unique texture. According to a roundtable discussion with Anno at Anime Expo ‘96, in Gunbuster, Hawaii is occupied by a revived Japanese Empire following a 2000 CE war with the US. Though not stated on the show, this WW2 sublimation underpins the whole script. The Japanese, training on Okinawa, resort to suicidal tactics, culminating in a sublime weapon surpassing the atomic bomb: The black hole bomb.

The studio’s passion is amazing. A character played by Wakamoto Norio has his eyes hidden by glasses, which suddenly produce a glossy reflection when he presumably emotes behind them. Several characters have gag names, the protagonist loves heavy metal and anime, and so on. The “antibody” premise recalls “The Immunity Syndrome” (1968). Gunbuster is eccentric, if not to say erratic, but I’m becoming dangerously sentimental towards it as the years go by.

References here: “Don't mention the war!”, Blazing Transfer Student (1991), Love & Pop (1998), Tengen toppa gurren lagann (2007), Interstellar (2014), “Cassette Girl” (2015).

animation fiction Gainax Japanese production mecha moving picture series

Bonus material:

Science Lectures (1988)

Categorization

Super-deformed explanation of premisses. One brief episode per episode of the original series. I believe the first four lectures were created alongside their parent episodes for the original release, whereas the last two are a later addition for some other release (original laserdisc?).

Subject

Noriko and her oneesama, periodically interrupted by the sudden appearance of koochi Kouichiro, explain the fictional science behind the series.

Commentary

No budget, but a very admirable effort. Explicit geeky references amuse.

animation fiction Gainax Japanese production moving picture

Bonus material:

Gunbuster Renewal EX (2004)

Categorization

Three very brief films released with the 2004 remaster. They may be older.

Subject

Episode 3: Jung learns more about the Sizzler mecha, from an engineer who points out that there is nothing strange about the mass production model being less powerful than the prototype: it’s anime tradition.

Commentary

Not as charming.

animation fiction Gainax Japanese production moving picture

Sequel:

Diebuster (2004) IMDb

Creators

Tsurumaki Kazuya (director).

Categorization

Another dizzy mix of epic SF, mecha, kaijuu, porn, psychic powers, reluctantly shoujo social structures and most of all, the genre of “konjou”, meaning passionate effort.

Subject

Humanity has had a long history, slowly producing another 83 Buster Machines to battle space monsters who now enclose the entire solar system. Nobody seems to want to venture outside in any event. Humankind is stuck in a rut. One girl sneaks away from home to be a space pilot, but she’ll have to work her way up from waitress.

Commentary

Konjou may never have been done better: the audiovisual beauty and intense effort of the early combat scenes inspire tears. As in the original series, some details hint at sincerity, others at parody, and fan service intrudes.

References here: Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (2007).

animation fiction Gainax Japanese production moving picture