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Anime Secret Santa 2011: Gunbuster PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 25 December 2011 00:00
In a way, the show I ended up with for my Anime Secret Santa was almost predictable - the list of shows I've seen over the years is a huge one, and there's not much left that's not obscure or hard to get hold of that could have made the cut. Gunbuster is also a rare series where I've seen the sequel (Diebuster), and so out of the three options I was given, going back to this early GAINAX classic was a bit of a no-brainer (although I admit that it being the shortest of the three options also gave it a leg-up..!

Gunbuster follows the story of Noriko Takaya. After her father was killed by Space Monsters (yes, that's their official name) during the maiden voyage of his new starship, she decided to one day go into space herself and hopefully take a measure of revenge on the creatures - and so she's been attending a school on earth that specialises in training its students in the use of a new breed of space combat machines, powered suits that themselves serve as a training ground for humanity's ultimate weapon: the giant mecha, Gunbuster. Noriko's not exactly star material - that honour is reserved for Noriko's fellow student Hazuki Amano - but despite being an utter klutz, her instructor Coach Ohta sees potential in her that no-one else does, and perseveres with her training - which ultimately sees Noriko and Hazuki the two graduates from their school who are chosen to go into space and fight the Space Monsters. And that's just the start of Noriko's adventures, as the six-episode series leads us through the discovery of the abandoned wreck of her father's starship, several battles with the Monsters, the development of a "final solution" that humanity can deploy against them - and Noriko and Hazuki dealing with the unfortunate side-effects of relativistic time dilation effects, which leave them out-of-time and disconnected from the world they grew up in and in which their schoolfriends remained.

So. Visuals first. Gunbuster dates back to 1988/89, when anime looked rather different from how it does today - although I have to admit to being a fan of "old school" character designs. Add in that the two studios involved in production - primarily GAINAX, although with some input by Studio Fantasia - have a reputation for enjoying their fanservice, and you can probably guess that this is very easy on the eye. (This is reputed to be the first series to exhibit the "GAINAX Bounce", which fans of bouncing breasts will appreciate, while Studio Fantasia when on to create fanservice legends Agent Aika and Najica Blitz Tactics.) Even away from the character designs, the series stands up well against modern shows that benefit from modern digital animation techniques - it doesn't look current, obviously, but it doesn't look 23 years old, either. I go back to some other 80s shows like Macross or Voltron, and the animation quality is jarring - there's none of that here. So thumbs up on that front.

The real fun is on the story side, though, and here's where I get to draw comparisons. Battles against mysterious aliens, and dealing with time dilation effects? That's Voices of a Distant Star, right there. The training and qualification process that Noriko and Hazuki go through at the beginning of the series is Battle Athletes (who even seem to have copied taken inspiration from Gunbuster's training outfits). The ending, drawn in black and white for artistic reasons, is a proto-GAINAX ending (with the advantage that this one doesn't actively ruin the show). There are concepts and ideas and visual hooks in Gunbuster that, looking back with the eyes of someone who's seen far too much anime for his own good, have propogated down through anime in the 20-odd years since and are still being drawn on for inspiration today.

And for good reason - it's a damned good story, mixing action, comedy and emotion in almost perfect proportion, and through the omake Science Lessons trying to be at least passably believable on the science front, too. At least until you get to the Space Monsters themselves, at least. Six episodes is enough to get you hooked on the characters and emotionally connected to them (especially in the latter part of the series, when time dilation is really messing up their lives) - and enough to leave you wanting more. More of this, and not of Diebuster which, while it's a very good series in its own right, isn't quite on the same level.

Gunbuster has been a gaping hole in my resume for a while now. I've been told several times that it was something that I needed to see, and yet somehow never managed to get around to. Secret Santa gave me the push that I finally needed to track it down, and I have to admit: I'm glad I did. A true classic.

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