Reviving a classic: playing with time and emotions.
Gunbuster vs Diebuster is part of a dual Bluray re-release where Gainax has cut down each of the 6 episode series into a combined 3 hours. Today we look at Gunbuster.
There has been a recent trend where major studios will re-release their prolific animes in the form of shortened movies. I don’t exactly know who started this, but the first one I heard of was Production I.G. with ‘The Laughing Man‘ for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (season 1).
Quite obviously, such releases are both good and bad. The negative thing here is that a lot of stuff is cut out. Not something core to the story of course, but here we have just the bare bones. In today’s world where every source of entertainment vouches for our precious time, nothing is better than having good (varied) fun in short bursts. Whether we read novels or mags, watch tv or anime, play games or listen to music, it has to be enjoyable for us to have spent time on it. And without delving further into the finer points of this topic, I will instead tell you why you should spend and an hour and a half watching Gunbuster the movie.
First off, let’s rewind back time by 20 years. Or at least imagine yourself in a time when the Soviet Union was withdrawing from Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq war ended, people were betting on the winter and summer Olympics, George Bush became president elect, Akira was blowing away everybody’s mind and ‘Yippee ki yay, motherfucker!‘ was a quote for the ages. In late summer of that year, a little studio called Gainax was working on a not so little OVA called Top o Nerae (aka Gunbuster). Therefore to fully appreciate this anime, think you’re in 1988.
So the anime takes place in the year 2023. Everything is all futuristic and shit. The threat of aliens (durr) has inspired us to create (not so giant) fighting robots called Buster Machines. These machines of ridiculous power and utter annihilation can, of course, only be piloted by cute young girls high schoolers.
Before your mind automatically goes into the cliche ridden world of todays pop-crap animes, the story begins with ‘some’ spaceship being attacked by ‘someone’ and the Admiral of said ship rescues the last person onboard, and eventually goes down with the ship.
Six years later we see the Admiral’s daughter, Noriko Takaya, as an aspiring student for the Earth Defence in order to pilot Buster machines. And Noriko sucks ass at piloting the Busters. She is then paired up with the best girl in her class, Amano Kazumi, for a secret mission (of operating the Gunbuster). Once again, before the high school drama begins, we are taken into space where the two girls conduct their first mission.
Beyond this, I’m not going to delve any further into the story. Suffice to say that mankind has to be saved from the aliens and huge assplositions occur.
So what makes Gunbuster so much better than all the plethora of space opera animes out there? Well, besides the fact that this is one of the first (and therefore the best), it does many things right that almost all the animes of today get wrong.
Let’s start with the basics. While the core story may not be something new to most of you, it is the characters that make this anime such a timeless classic. These are believable people in semi-believable situations. Their reactions are nothing out of the ordinary, their emotions are real, with none of the melodrama we find today. A simple conversation will last as long as it has to, with no prolonged staring going on. Their fears we can relate with, and their choices we understand. This is why we empathize with them. But this is only half of what makes Gunbuster so epic.
The other half is the setting and how effectively it’s used. Being a space opera, the inclusion of science and technology are inevitable. Unlike most animes however, where science is used as a poor excuse to coverup unexplainable plot holes and technology, Gunbuster uses it to it’s advantage.
Travelling at the speed of light sounds really cool. Come back home after your short trip only to find that your family and friends have aged for years while you were gone and suddenly you’re left alone. This basic theory forms the crux of the anime. Such a plot element is very easy to screw up, but Gunbuster handles it very delicately and the execution is absolutely beautiful. How travelling at the speed of light can alter your perceptions, your emotions and those around you is astounding. There were many touching scenes in the movie and most of them were because of playing around with this concept.
The end of the movie takes the ‘sacrifice for the greater good’ route, but given the premise of ‘saving humanity’, I couldn’t see any other alternative. In the last half you will also notice striking similarites to Evangelion. Don’t worry, there are no hyper-emo/ mind-fuck sequences here, the similarities are only visual. Still, one can see where Hideaki Anno got his initial inspiration from. While the characters in Evangelion were even more memorable than Gunbuster, the enjoyment of these characters and the story itself was nowhere near as good or done as tastefully.
I’ll be honest when I say that the first time I saw Gunbuster (episode 1 of the OVA) I couldn’t take it as seriously. The character designs were just too old school (and almost laughable) by todays standards. Good news is you don’t have to give it more time than 5 mins before you’re so engrossed in the anime that you don’t care about anything else. The space battles look oldschool-cool and brilliantly animated. The music is also a trip. The opening and the ending songs are typical 80’s synthesised pop, with the background music being very evocative and heartwarming, even today. The highdef treatment for the Bluray obviously helps. Not to mention the fact that the entire original cast re-recorded everything for this movie!
So 20 year’s after it’s release, Gunbuster is among the best animes to date, and it still manages to trounce most of the modern titles. Memorable characters, great story and setting, brilliant music and animation are all what makes this anime extremely entertaining and a classic. My only mild complaint about this movie is the sequences that were edited out from the OVAs. Sure they didn’t move the story along, but they helped flesh out the characters and their complex relationships with each other. The biggest one being that anybody watching this movie will have no idea who Jung Freud is or why she was there in the ending scene. Still, this Bluray release is a must see for anybody who hasn’t yet seen Hideako Anno’s best directorial effort to date. Or better yet, grab the original OVA series boxset if you can still find it.
We’ll continue the second part with the (arguably) modern classic sequel, Diebuster.