Type: OVA (6 episodes)
In the future, mankind is locked in a desperate fight with gigantic aliens who use stars as incubators for their species. This causes stars to nova and explode in a fairly short time. With no other choice, mankind develops giant robots and space battleships to combat them. Noriko is a trainee at one of the academies. She's also a terrible pilot.
A new coach arrives at the school and has other ideas for the pilots. He sees Noriko as unskilled, but believes in her determination and guts. She is chosen along with the school idol Kazumi to train in deep space. While the two have a tumultuous relationship, eventually they'll develop a bond of friendship which the future of the human race will depend on.
I am sick of giant robots, but often those titles are recommended to me, and I end up liking them. I'm always up for classic anime, so I figured I'd give the old school legend Gunbuster a try. This is one of those titles that "gets better", but starts very low and ends very high. Gunbuster can be divided into 3 parts over 6 OVAs.
Gunbuster was first intended to be a kind of parody, but not the silly kind typical to anime. It's subtle with its satire, and mecha anime being far fetched to begin with, it's hard to know if it's serious or not. What's scary is how well it still works at the start even though the focus changes later on. Noriko is the downtrodden girl who just can't master the giant robots, until the most bad ass coach who ever existed thinks she has potential. Not skill; the key is guts and hard work. The initiate training episode is left behind for combat training in space where Kazumi enters an intense rivalry with a Soviet vixen. (Note the Berlin Wall didn't fall until 1989. Gunbuster was made in 1988). I'll be honest and say these episodes weren't all that great. It's easy to give up on Gunbuster at this point. And you'd be missing out.
Then the focus changes. The creators must have realized that perhaps they could make this title into something much more, and decided to go for it. Gunbuster gets serious, but even during the first two episodes it had a great environment and was still always intelligent. Building on this, Gunbuster grows in subtle yet noticeable ways. Noriko and Kazumi get some exceptional character development (coach being a total bad ass remains unchanged) in some very good stories.
The reason I rate this title as excellent is due to the last two episodes. Yeah, they're so good they eclipse the first two lame duck episodes. I'd like to talk up these episodes but I want to keep this review short (kinda). Episode 5 has great drama with a compelling story. As the 80's music kicks in (aww yeah), Gunbuster launches into one of the most epic anime battles ever created. With a climax like that, I didn't think there was anywhere else for Gunbuster to go. Episode 6 takes the next step by creating a compelling tale about friendship, teamwork and sacrifice. Done entirely in black and white; the whole thing is just beautiful, and the ending is a masterpiece.
Gunbuster is a very good for a giant robot show (oddly enough "Gunbuster" itself doesn't show up until the end of OVA 4), but I found it a surprise that Gunbuster has the best science fiction I've seen in anime. Yeah stand back, there's real science fiction in here. Science theories long considered invalid (such as aether, nemesis, etc) are also used for the basis for the show in inventive ways. The closer you approach the speed of light, the slower time passes from your perspective (as per time dialation in the theory of relativity), and this is a major factor in Gunbuster. People age at different rates. Others miss out on life events and are left behind. This is great sci-fi.
Despite it's 80's vintage, Gunbuster looks very attractive. If you don't like 80's character designs, you don't like them, but Gunbuster makes them look as good as they ever got. While the first episode is a bit grainy, by the final episode the lines are very clean and the colors exceptionally vibrant for a title of this age (obviously the source was well cared for). It also has really superb animation. While the regular giant robots don't look interesting from the outside, the cockpits are a treat to watch. Gunbuster is filled with all sorts of lovely high tech looking digital gages and dials that light up, flicker and dance around the screen. If you're a true mecha anime fan, you know the cornerstone of any good mecha anime are launch sequences. Gunbuster will delight you with some of the most lavish launch sequences anime ever came up with.
Gunbuster is more of a science fiction title than a giant robot title. There are basically three audiences for this show. Those into sci-fi, those into giant robots, and those into classic anime in general. The more you fall into these categories the more you'll enjoy it. You'll also need to give it a chance to grow. The first two episodes certainly don't hint at how great it becomes by the end. I wondered if perhaps my taste in classic anime was due to nostalgia, but I think that Gunbuster has shown me that there was most certainly a passion in some classic titles that seems absent in modern ones. That isn't something you can really describe as a feature though. If you're not hip on old anime, this will probably not something you'll like. I'd still say this is one of the anime greats as far as classic anime goes, and certainly one of the best sci-fi titles (with actual science, not BS fantasy) that was ever produced as anime.
Noriko: Smith, the old me is dying with you. As of now, I am reborn. I won't cry anymore. I won't rely on anyone else. With my own strength, I'll see this through to the end.
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