Gunbuster

Gunbuster

Gunbuster anime series cover art
Gunbuster

Series Overview

Gunbuster (Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster / トップをねらえ! GunBuster) is one of the early original anime by the studio Gainax and is basically responsible for putting them on the map. It also heavily influenced many of Gainax’s later mecha series, such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gurren Lagann.

In fact, you can still see the influence of Gunbuster in studio Trigger’s anime. I feel like this is pretty common knowledge, but Trigger was created by ex-Gainax employees and is in many ways the spiritual successor to Gainax.

But, what exactly is Gunbuster about?

Set in 2015 (the series is from 1988, so forgive them for thinking 2015 would look like this), humanity has expanded beyond Earth — sort of. Earth is still the only planet humans inhabit, but humanity has a large fleet of city-sized ships that can travel at light-speed throughout the galaxy.

However, a mysterious enemy has emerged from the center of the galaxy to destroy humanity. I don’t feel like this enemy was ever named, but they’re basically some bug-like biological entity. And so, the premise of Gunbuster is that humanity has to fight back against this enemy in deep space so they don’t reach Earth.

The plot isn’t really all that involved. Instead, it’s the various perspectives regarding deep space travel that made the series interesting to me. I’ll explain this more in the final section, but I really enjoyed how the series explored the effects of deep space travel on the human psyche.

One of the not-so-good parts of Gunbuster, however, was the often out of place nudity. There were some obvious fan service scenes, which is fine. But then there were other scenes that included random nudity that didn’t seem to be meant as fan service but also didn’t add anything.

Main Characters

Noriko Takaya is the protagonist of the series and eventual pilot of the mech known as Gunbuster. If you think that’s a spoiler, I’m not really sure what else you expected to happen. Anyway, her dream has always been to go into space to follow in the footsteps of her father — a ship captain who was lost in battle protecting humanity.

In a lot of ways, Noriko being the protagonist is pretty annoying. She has no talent for piloting mechs, she doesn’t work as hard as other cadets, and yet she’s still chosen to pilot Gunbuster because of who her father was. It’s not the same as Shinji piloting Eva-01 because, in Noriko’s case, there are many other candidates who are better options than she is.

Noriko Takaya from the anime series Gunbuster
Noriko Takaya

Kazumi Amano is the other pilot of Gunbuster, though that role doesn’t really make much sense. Throughout the whole series, we’re told how important it is for her and Noriko to work together to pilot Gunbuster. But at the same time, we see that Gunbuster can be piloted just fine by a single person.

Really, Kazumi is just there to be another main character who isn’t Noriko. There’s no logical reason for her to be kept around in an important role if it’s already been decided that Noriko is going to be Gunbuster’s main pilot. Also, she had some awkward character development towards the end.

And while not exactly a main character, the third mech pilot who’s somewhat important is Jung Freud. Jung is a Soviet (yes, the Soviet Union still exists) pilot who’s a romantic rival of Kazumi. She and Kazumi are both in love with their commander, Kouichirou Oota.

Jung is kind of just a third-wheel since Noriko and Kazumi are the designated pilots for Gunbuster.

Interesting Perspectives

My favorite parts of Gunbuster were the sci-fi concepts and unique perspectives it introduced surrounding deep space travel. To discuss these, I’m going to need to spoil the entire series. So skip to the conclusion if you don’t want to be spoiled.

At the end of the series, humanity constructs a black hole bomb that I thought was really cool. Essentially, they somehow compressed Jupiter down to about the size of Earth’s moon and then caused it to implode into a black hole by pumping energy into it. I have no idea how that would work, but I thought it was a cool concept for a sci-fi weapon.

Now, what I really liked about this series was how it handled light-speed and near light-speed travel (for the most part). In case you haven’t taken physics classes that have covered this, the closer you get to light-speed, the slower time moves for you. This concept is known as time dilation. And technically speaking, at light-speed, time stops.

Gunbuster from the anime series Gunbuster
Gunbuster

So how is time dilation used in Gunbuster? Well, when people leave Earth and go to travel the galaxy, they’re moving at a significant percentage of light-speed. And in this series we sometimes see them travel between 98-100% light-speed for brief periods of (relative) time. What that means is that time for them is different than time for people on Earth.

Noriko and Kazumi leave Earth at about the age of 17 and travel through space for around 6 months relative to themselves. But when they return to Earth for the first time, 10 years have passed there. So, while Noriko is still 17, one of her friends from school is now 27 with a child.

Although time dilation is a very real and measurable thing, I haven’t actually seen any other sci-fi series ever make use of it. It was really interesting to see how Noriko and Kazumi come to terms with this phenomenon and what it means for their relationships with other people.

Conclusion

After watching the first episode, I was expecting Gunbuster to be a 5 or 6. But with every passing episode, of which there are only six, I found myself liking it more and more. The start is definitely slow, but by the time I got to the end I felt like it was a solid 8/10.

One last thing I do want to mention about this series is that the sixth and final episode is all in black and white. This was an artistic choice, not the product of Gainax running out of time. However, I don’t really think that choice added anything to the episode. It didn’t hurt it, but I would have rather it just been in full color like the previous five.

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Finally, I’d like to thank Roman for supporting DoubleSama.com at the Heika tier this month and recommending I watch Gunbuster. To learn more about how you too can become a supporter of this blog, check out Patreon.com/DoubleSama.

My review of Gunbuster 2: Diebuster, is available here.

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