The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 24 – Gunbuster


Still focusing on mecha (although this will be the last one for the moment) this series is much shorter than the others at just six episodes, but is made by one of the great anime production companies, Gainax, a series which has covered plenty of other series already covered in this column, including another mecha series, Neon Genesis Evangelion (See No. 21).

This series however, Gunbuster was one of their earliest projects, running as a six-part OVA (Original Video Anime – a straight-to-video release) between 1988-89. It combines many other elements, such as parody and drama, but it is also noted for its technical aspects and realism.

The series takes place over a period of several years starting in 2023. Humanity is at war with a race of enormous insect-like aliens dubbed the “Uchuu Kaijuu”, or “Space Monsters” in English. This race wants to wipe out the entire human race. In response humans are fighting back using a mecha called the RX-7 Machine Weapons. Two girls make it through the training programme to use the mecha, Noriko Takaya and Kazumi Amano. Kazumi is a natural. The talents of Noriko, the daughter of a missing space admiral, are rather questionable, but thanks to the help of their stern coach Koichiro Ohta, she proves herself capable.

Noriko and Kazumi thus make their way into space in order to fight off the alien menace, but come across many problems. The chief problem is the fact that many of these operations take place far away, meaning they often have to travel at light speed. Because of this the two girls tend to remain at the same age while their friends on Earth get older. The story sees them travelling more at light speed, remaining young as everyone back home gets older, and also discovering just how far the Earth is willing to go to protect itself, including the use of the incredibly powerful Gunbuster mecha.

There are many elements concerning Gunbuster. For one it parodies lots of other mecha shows for comic effect. Of course there is one problem with this, in that many people, especially in Britain will not have seen the earlier series it is referencing and thus will not get the joke.

However, there are many other things to enjoy. Much like the later Evangelion, the mecha aspect takes a backseat and the main story is about the relationships between the characters. It is also more realistic than most mecha anime. Although it did not get many predictions correct it does show time dilation realistically and makes it a central plot device. This rings especially true in the later episodes which see Kazumi remain on Earth for a period, thus she ages normally while Noriko is still in space travelling at light speed.

Another notable aspect of the series is the technical aspect. Critics have in the past talked about the way it uses colour for example. However, confusingly it appears to be best used when it is not used. The final episode is dramatic in contrast to the previous five because with the exception of the final scene the entire episode is shot not only in a much narrower aspect ratio (16×9) but it is also in black and white. It is hugely engrossing.

The series was short, it is hard to find, and it has never really been given a fully satisfactory DVD release in English, but Gunbuster is still regarded as being one of the anime greats. The series was followed by a much later sequel called Diebuster which came out in 2004.

Gunbuster’s most notable UK release was on DVD by Kiseki Films, a now defunct company. Copies can still be found second hand.