I’ve been planning to watch GunBuster for some time after I learned it is the predecessor to the likes of Evangelion and heard that it contains the prototype for Asuka’s character (the latter of which is questionable at best). Since I clearly love Hideaki Anno, with NGE, EOE, and Kare Kano all holding 10’s for me on MAL, I guess I shouldn’t be surpriseing that I like this show so much, but what bothers me is that unlike other Hideaki Anno works, I’m having trouble putting to words what makes it great. So instead of writing something quick and focused about it, it’s being relegated to a broader review. I’m sorry GunBuster.
The show has impressive visual consistency. I absolutely love the artstyle, which feels both tied to its era and unique. The background art is quite beautiful at times on earth, such as during the Rocky Balboa-esque training montage on the beach, but is more understated in space, which is fitting given the setting. As far as animation, everyone and their mother will tell you about how this show pioneered “breast bounce” physics, and I can’t deny that this was a welcome surprise for how it added life to both the characters and fanservice; uncensored fanservice that made me pause and check MAL and see the 17+ rating and go “huh”. Further strengthening these characters visually are their designs, which are each distinctive in both hairstyle and facial features. One of the characters had blue hair, but given her place as the hero of the world it seems fitting that she have an almost inhuman appearance. The least impressive aspect of the animation to me is how standard the mech v. mech fights are, which don’t showcase much range of motion on the robots. I get the feeling that these bots are rigid and move like a plastic action figure just out of the box. Besides that however, most of the laser animations from GunBuster are amazing and really do feel “epic”, which you see more of as the show goes on. Finally, the final episode is shot in black and white, which really enhances the drama of the situation as the two main characters are in a way sacrificing their friendships for the world.
As far as the story, it is surprisingly slow for what I expected to be a bombastic title with lots of fighting. In fact, the first half of the show (and title, incidentally) apparently pays major homage to Aim for the Ace; a tennis anime which I assume has more to do with training montages and feuds between characters than fighting giant aliens. I could see this slow and arguably tangential start being a huge problem for most people, but I actually found it somewhat refreshing to see these characters build up relationships before going into space and fighting the enemy. It definitely puts into perspective how the show is just as much about the arcs and relationships of the characters than actually fighting the aliens. The ending is also phenomenal for reasons that are hard to explain without spoiling the story, but I’ll say it says so much with a great visual moment that connects perfectly and makes the film sit with emotional resonance.
Speaking of which, Noriko Takaya’s purpose being to avenge her father is simple, yet poignant, and her gripping fear at needing to face the enemy is understandable and not overbearing (of course, this is coming from someone who has no problem with Shinji Ikari). I will say that the entire female cast of the show having a desire to marry their coach feels a bit strange and harem-y, but it could just be an artifact of the Aim for the Ace homage and trope of the genre that I’m missing. I also love the addition of a fiery russian redhead into the cast. Noriko Takaya’s arc increasing her fierceness and bravery in the form of screaming definitely makes her seem like a worthy precursor to Shinji.
The voice acting in GunBuster cannot be understated, and it’s part of what gave the anime much of the polish that pervades its essence. A huge part of this polish and strength also comes from its director, Hideaki Anno, but what I recognize as his trademark style isn’t entirely there, which is probably because this was one of his first projects and not in his more introspective “depression”-era of creating anime. Much of what made the directing good were things like establishing shots and cohesive flow that is less unique and more just standard skill; something that I think shows that even someone whose style is as eccentric as Anno’s has to master the rules of the trade before he can break them.
That’s it. Somehow I said what I like about this show so much without really saying anything. I hope someone reads this and watches the show, and maybe tells me why I like it so much. I’ve mentioned many things here that I think are good and even exceptional, but somehow the explanation of how these elements synthesize into a 9/10 isn’t intelligible for me. I’m sure I’ll return to this and give it a more proper serve next time.