Gunbuster -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A+

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  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Bandai Visual USA, Inc.
  • MSRP: 64.99
  • Running time: 180
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Gunbuster


By Chris Beveridge     December 26, 2006
Release Date: February 20, 2007

© Bandai Visual USA, Inc.

What They Say
A.D. 2015: The Luxion fleet, commanded by Noriko Takaya's father, is annihilated by an assault from Space Monsters while navigating the constellation Cygnus. Six years later, Noriko has become a first-year student at the Okinawa Girls' Space Pilot High School, training to follow her father's trail to the stars. Even though she is a great athlete, piloting a machine requires totally different skills. She has hard times to improve her piloting skills, but with her hard work and guts, she never gives up on her dream. After going through the intensive trainings, she finally takes off for space along with Kazumi to battle against Space Monsters...and to save the earth!

The Review!
The fate of all mankind rests in the hands of one bouncy young girl who must learn to pilot a giant robot.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The only language track included here, likely due to there not being a way to separate the music and effects track from the dialogue, is the Japanese mix and it's a real winner. The show is done with the linear PCM format which means the stereo mix has a high bit rate of 1.5 mbps. The forward soundstage is very well served by this as there is a good deal of noticeable directionality throughout and a general level of power to it that shines through. This is a very solid mix, particularly considering its age and pedigree, and it translates well through our system. We had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally released to video in 1988, this six part OVA series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. All the episodes except for the final are full screen while the last one is a matter 1.85:1 presentation which is also in black and white. Bandai Visual has done a great job with this release, essentially porting over the Japanese remastered set from 2004. Each episode basically runs at a near constant 8 mbps just for the video, though the last episode does drop down to an average of 6 but with it being letterboxed and black and white there isn't any noticeable drop in quality. The transfer for this really has nothing I can even quibble about as it does a great job of taking a show that's nearly twenty years old and done on an obvious budget at the time. The only thing that may throw some people, but it's something I'm actually glad about, is that the film grain and noise that ensues from it may be too busy for some. To me, this gives it a very great look feel which in combination with the traditional animation style simply makes it all the more alive and fluid. Colors are rich and deep, blacks look great and the print is free from cross coloration outside of the end credits on the last episode which is a source issue anyway. The opening credits are as they originally appeared with soft subtitles while the end credits are left untranslated.

Though not going with the Japanese set release style, the packaging for this release is pretty solid. The design has a chipboard digipak that has a thin (but not paper thin) slipcover to it. The slipcover features a really nice feel to it with a shot of the Gunbuster in the background while the three young leads are sprinting about in front of it. The back cover has the same kind of overall background with a few shots from the show and a decent summary of the premise. The bottom has the production credits and the usual array of logos. All of the minimal technical information is along the bottom of the box while the spine has a good looking silver foil logo for the show. The digipak inside, made of the same kind of solid material as the Marmalade Boy sets, has a good looking wraparound image of the top portion of the Gunbuster which evokes some Evangelion imagery. It opens up to a great looking panel of the lead characters and then to the three discs which has a black background with text and schematics from the show. A booklet is also included which covers notes about each of the episodes, character designs and other illustrations. It's also the only place where the end credits are translated in full. The packaging in general could have been a lot more, but it also could have been far less and I think they found a decent balance.

The menu design for the show is similar to their Patlabor release in that feel a bit basic and almost barren, but this also reflects many of the parent company's Japanese releases so I can't really criticize there too much. The western licensors have always placed a bit more sense of style and flash on their menus, sometimes at the expense of functionality. The menu design is consistent across the three volumes by using the slipcover layout of the blue sky and grass with each disc having a different character posing there. Set to a bit of music, the episodes are top level selectable along with the science lessons. Access times are nice and fast and the layout is easy to navigate.

The extras for the show are interesting but it's a show that just never had all that much for it, unless you're counting the science lessons as extras. Beyond those pieces, which also include the two new ones done in 1995, the extras that are spread across the three volumes are promotional videos that showcase those particular releases. They're always interesting to see since it shows how the show is marketed but from a "historical" point of view it does a very good encapsulation of how Gainax progressed during these six episodes.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When few releases were really available back in the early 90's, if you were into anime by what came into specialty comic book shops you either got a stack of raw tapes in their back room or the handful of subtitled and dubbed releases that were available. One that was very new at the time, and brought over rather quickly considering the age, was Gunbuster. The first couple of episodes seemed to epitomize what you knew about anime from magazines like Animag. What viewers weren't aware of was just how those new people at a company called Gainax were going to mess with them.

A six episode OVA series that came out the year after Gainax debuted with the incredibly detailed Wings of Honneamise, this was the series that would take a group of young animators and storytellers that grew up watching anime and let them take a stab at it on their own. As such, it has plenty of reverence for older shows and lots of obvious moments where they're basically showing their love of classics like Getter Robo, but they also put their own twist on it with parodies, humor and by making the leads young women instead of the usual men that deal with such weighty issues. I'm not quite sure you can call this a shoujo adventure, but the term has certainly been bandied about with it because of how many shoujo conventions it does follow early on.

In the early 21st century, a young girl loses her father when his fleet comes across an alien race that seemingly only knows to destroy whatever is in front of it. The formation of a squadron and fleet to go back out and destroy this threat is formed and over the years it takes to happen, the young girl becomes a young woman and joins that force. Noriko Takaya, in mid teens, finds herself wanting to go into space to be with her lost father but has a lot of problems in trying to deal with the machines that they have to use for them. All of this changes when a survivor from her fathers ship comes to the school as a coach and selects her and the class genius, Kazumi Amano, as his personal projects for something much bigger that neither knows about. This selection pits Noriko against others and has Kazumi unsure if Noriko can handle all of it, but Noriko knows that she must make the grade in order to realize her dreams.

Initially coming across as something like and fanciful, easily disarming its audience by the combination of the Top Gun name with Aim for the Ace, it is light and silly as you see mecha doing calisthenics and the usual kind of trouble that goes on in an all girls academy when one of them seems to be getting special treatment. But as Noriko begins to grasp her true potential through hard work and guts, her world expands as she's thrust into missions in space and works with other pilots across the board. Emotions and growth that normally comes to any teenager is made worse by having to fight in the midst of a war that involves the future of humanity as well as potentially the galaxy itself.

With only six episodes, it doesn't have the time to truly grow the characters as you would see in a thirteen or twenty-six episode series but it knows to keep the cast small. With the focus primarily on Noriko, her growth is plainly evident along the way even if forced through clichés that must play out. Where the show takes its risks, and risks are its trade in stock, is in dealing with the vast distances that must be covered. As the characters deal with each situation, some are left behind on Earth which means a lot of time is lost there as they travel at sub-light speeds. This plays nicely into providing some real angst and issues as Noriko returns from a ten minute trip to see friends now six months older. And that's only the start of that particular arc of the show.

Having seen Gunbuster so many times over the last sixteen years, it's hard to find a lot to be really critical of with it when everything is taken into context of its creators and intentions. Through hindsight, a lot of what is done here is easily visible in shows that have come since then. The last two episodes play out like a lot of Evangelion in the quick cuts, lots of meetings and tense discussions and the quick displays of dazzling technology. The earlier material with its lighter tone, the trademarked Gainax Bounce and plenty of skin and fanservice all point towards other shows like Mahoromatic. Perhaps it comes as something where it's like when you discover a musician, you fall in love with their work that was new to you and enjoy their older works, but things that come afterwards never seem to measure up. For me, Gainax is like that in that after Evangelion, they never quite seemed to be what they once were. Recreating that energy and sense of recklessness in a production simply can't happen when you become so entrenched over the years.

Bandai Visual's release of this show has essentially taken the Japanese remastered released from 2004 and ran with it. They've done an excellent job of taking an already solid presentation and making it entirely accessible to the western audience that has been without it for far too long. I was particularly pleased to see that Carl Horn was brought in to help edit the booklet that was included. Going through the shows history in the US helped to remind just how far the industry has come. Looking back at the original US Renditions VHS release which still plays flawlessly, I was amused to see some still very familiar names. This new release was translated by Glova Corporation, whereas the original was done by Ken Iyadomi who has long been at Bandai Entertainment, as well as Toshifumi Yoshida and Trish Ledoux who went on to work at Viz and have done numerous things with manga and anime since then. Even the script editor is still active today in Robert Napton who is now at Bandai Entertainment. Seeing the shows own release history reminded me strongly of my own association not only with the title but with domestic anime releases in general.

In Summary:
Whenever that hypothetical question comes up in conversation about what anime you would take with you to a desert island, it's always been a pair of shows for me. Without fail, I come back to the Wings of Honneamise when it comes to a theatrical piece or Gunbuster for an OVA. These two releases, seen very early on in my "formative" years as an anime fan, have always had a very special place in my heart. Each of them does something that I don't think has been replicated to this day by anyone else in how they tell their stories while also maintaining a very high replay value.

My VHS tape has served me well, and I've enjoyed watching this show raw from Japanese DVD imports, but it's never felt quite complete until I've gotten this gorgeous looking release. This is a show that reminds me how great anime can be, how involving it can be, how rich and detailed animation should be. While those behind it may never excite me in the same way again, they have given me the ability to be excited repeatedly with this release whenever I want. Gunbuster is a true gem in the vast sea of anime that is out there and is one that I cannot recommend enough.

Japanese 2.0 PCM Language,English Subtitles,Good Morning OGH!,Promotional Trailer (Produced in July 1988),Cosmic Battle Space,Sizzler Project
Promotional Trailer (Produced in 1989)

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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