2011 is coming to a close this week, so this is the last Sampler of the year. No I’m not going to talk about a New Year’s anime (and not just because I couldn’t find one.) I’d like to round off the year with a show that, sadly, not too many people have heard of. This is probably my personal favorite older anime. Today we take a trip back to 1988 with Gunbuster.
A little background information may help explain some of the shows…quirks. In today’s terms, the animation isn’t exactly par. But as far as late 80’s anime goes, it’s actually pretty decent. The director of the show, Hideaki Anno, was also the director of Neon Genesis Evangelion (which oddly enough was also set in 2015.) The name of the show comes from two sources: The tennis anime “Aim for the Ace!” and “Top Gun,” and its plot is based of Aim for the Ace! (although many parallels to Top Gun are in it.) Anime in the 80s was also very different from modern, so take every quirk with that in mind.
So we get a cute little monologue from a young girl who tells about how her father is a defender of Earth who fights aliens in space on the ship Luxion, which he is the captain of. Fade to the future. Noriko’s dad died when his ship was overrun by the aliens, but she still wants to be a pilot just like her dad.
I may be exaggerating, but this opening has to be one of the most stereotypical ever made. It’s not only incredibly 80’s, but fits almost to a tee the cliches found in anime openings. Of course you only have to sit through a minute and a half of that, then back to the show where Takaya Noriko is enviously watching the mech pilots training. When I first saw this one thing kept running through my head: Push ups? Sit ups? Jump rope? They’re giant robots, what do they need to exercise for? But apparently these sisyphean work outs are impressive to Noriko.
But Noriko is at least a master jump roper outside of a mech, of course she still gets made fun of by the people who can actually use them. The senior student, Amano Kazumi, steps in to save her from the ridiculing. This prompts an overly-dramatic, trance-like romance moment where violins play and everything is overly bright and floral/bubble patterns fill the background. Seriously, out of nowhere this happens too. You’d think that all of a sudden it was a love story between the two. Anyway she gives Noriko a pep talk and a hair ribbon then leaves.
So now we find out that this is a special school made to train youth in using mechs so they can help fight the aliens, and two students are going to get picked to go up and be representatives of the school. They also have a new coach, Ohta Koichiro. Instead of an introduction, Coach has their auto-balance disabled and makes them run fifty laps, except Noriko has to do it out of her mech because she couldn’t use it properly. So he’s every gym coach ever.
The next day starts off with a surprise phone call for Noriko telling her she has been picked to represent the school. No student, including her or Kazumi, can believe that the most incompetent person probably on Earth was picked for such a high honor. When she goes to complain, Kazumi gets yelled at by the Coach for doubting him, and also reveals he is a survivor of Noriko’s dad’s ship (which comes with an awesome eye-scar apparently.)
Sick of all the vandalizing of her mech, mocking, and pranks by her fellow students, Noriko goes to Coach to ask him to pick someone else. He takes her on a walk to show Kazumi running up a giant staircase wearing iron clogs, and lectures her on hard work. Thus beginning the amazing training montage. For full effect I recommend muting the actual show and playing Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best” for the entirety of the montage.
Noriko’s being good at stuff prompts another student who doesn’t even have a name to go into a jealous rage and challenge her to a mech battle after class. She then spends the next two minutes or so beating the living daylight out of Noriko. To stop her sensory overload, Noriko turns off her mech’s monitor and fights in blackout. Gone in a completely over the top psychotic rampage, nameless girl takes out her blade and tries to stab Noriko. Instead Noriko dodges by jumping up in the air and performing the Inazuma Kick (Lightning Kick), which may be one of the greatest mech series attacks ever (as the series progresses anyway.)
Girl finally calms down and accepts defeat. Now that Noriko has near-killed a fellow student in an illegal on campus fight, everyone is happy and trusts her completely. Her and Kazumi fly off in a private rocket ship into space to join their fellow pilots.
Mech shows may not be your cup of tea, but I do highly recommend watching the rest of this series and its sequel, Diebuster (also known as Gunbuster 2,) both of which combined is only twelve episodes. Firstly because the ending of Diebuster is just absolutely amazing, and secondly to expand your anime reaches and explore new genres. There’s more to anime than any Top 10 of the 21st Century list you may have read. Go watch some older shows like this, you may just end up loving them as much as modern stuff.