Review for Gunbuster OVA Collection - Collector's Edition
I haven’t done this in years... bought an anime blind. There is such an online community, there is so much written about anime, and it’s just so accessible now that it’s hard to go into any show blind. Even the slightest bit of blurb around a show will give you some idea of what it’s about, and these day’s you have to really work to avoid fan or critical opinion, let alone spoilers. Back when I first got into anime on home media, the anime Gunbuster and its sequel Diebuster were names that I would constantly see on forums, but oddly enough, I never read further than that. Talk about these shows was so ubiquitous that it quickly became background noise to me. Other than the fact that they exist, I didn’t know a thing about them. But that ubiquity left such an impression on me, that when All the Anime announced a Blu-ray release of Gunbuster, I actually placed an order before the echo had died. It’s only now that I hold the Collector’s Edition in my hands that I can read the blurb and learn what the show is about.
Gunbuster is a show from 1988-89; a space opera featuring giant robots (already not my favourite genre; the giant robots, not the space opera), but it’s from Studio Gainax, and it’s directed by Hideaki “Evangelion” Anno. That’s well worth three hours of my time.
Noriko Takaya’s dream was to become a pilot like her father Yuzo, an Admiral in the space fleet. That dream turned to ashes when her father’s ship was destroyed by alien monsters, thousands of light years from Earth. Now she trains to be a mecha pilot, to go into space, and discover the truth of what happened to her father. She’s far from the best in the class, yet she’s picked by instructor Kouichiro Ohta along with the genuine best pilot in the class, Kazumi Amano, to pilot the ultimate weapon against the aliens, The Gunbuster.
Six episodes of the Gunbuster OVA are presented on this Blu-ray from All the Anime. The disc offers you the choice between the 4:3 and 16:9 versions of the show, but only the final episode, and elements of the fourth episode make use of the wider format, the rest of the material will still be presented as pillarboxed. Many of the episodes are followed by Science Lesson short form bonus animations.
1. Whoa! Big Sis and I are Going to be Pilots Together?!
Science Lesson 1: The Theory of Ether Space
2. Daring! The Genius Girl’s Challenge
Science Lesson 2: Starbow and the Rip Van Winkle Effect
3. First Love * First Sortie
Science Lesson 3: Faster-than-light (c-plus) Travel
Science Lesson 4: The Evil Space Monsters
4. Launch! The Unfinished Ultimate Weapon!
5. Please! There’s Time Enough For Love!
6. Final Episode – At The End Of Eternity...
Science Lesson 4+1: The History of Spaceships
Science Lesson 5: The True Sol System
You can watch all of the OVA series in 4:3 pillarboxed 1080p aspect, but you also have the option as mentioned, to watch elements of episode 4, and all of episode 6 in the original widescreen aspect ratio, close to 2:1 for episode 6. Gunbuster comes from the cel and paint era, so it’s a proper transfer of a film source, potentially enough resolution to challenge 4K UHD, let alone a Blu-ray. The image is clear and sharp, colours are rich and consistent, detail levels are excellent, and you get a natural level of film grain. A fair few film sourced anime have suffered from DNR in the transfer process on Blu-ray, but thankfully Gunbuster isn’t one of them. Apparently this was the animation that brought us boob physics, and a long line of anime since then owe a debt to Hideaki Anno for that. The animation is excellent, with a lot of work gone into the world and mecha designs, and there is always something going on, on screen. That explains why this had the kind of OVA release schedule that Hellsing Ultimate got. They made sure they got it right before releasing each episode. Having said all of that, Episode 6, widescreen though it is, is presented in monochrome, and during the more intense action sequences, can degenerate into looking like a pencil sketch slide show. I guess Anno’s predilection for audience abusing finales began long before Evangelion.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, and DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. I was happy enough with the Japanese audio. The dialogue is clear, and the subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos. The action comes across well, and the show’s music works as it should to drive the story, and get the audience invested in the drama and action.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray style case with a reversible sleeve. This slides into a thick rigid artbox, where you will also find a fold-out poster and a 46 page artbook, and room enough to keep the blurb sheet you’ll find inside the cellophane wrapping the whole thing. The disc boots to an animated menu where you will find the following extras.
Previews and Commercials
- Video Notice [July 1988] (2:16)
- Video Notice [Nov 1988] (5:02)
- In Store Notice  (5:22)
- Blu-ray Box Commercials  (0:34)
Episode Specific Features
- Episode 6 Creditless Ending (3:30)
- Episode 6 Vintage Ending Credits (2:41)
- Harumi and Yuriko’s Good Morning Okinawa Girls! (2:00)
- A Cosmic Battleground Along the Orbit of Halley’s Comet (1:47)
That’s the thing about blind buys, sometimes you’ll wind up disappointed. Not that Gunbuster had too much of a chance to get into my good graces. After all, it’s a show about giant robots, one of my least favourite anime genres. They’ve got to be really special to get my attention, do something different, or subvert the genre completely. Gunbuster from 1988 is as straight as these shows get; teenagers in giant robots fighting against an alien menace. It’s Hideaki Anno’s take on Macross, compressed down to just six episodes.
This story delivers without a trace of irony what Gurren Lagann would eventually do with tongue firmly buried in cheek. And Hideaki Anno himself would so famously deconstruct the genre in Neon Genesis Evangelion, that shows as quaint as Gunbuster would be consigned to anime history thereafter.
The story is pretty standard for shows like this. Faceless aliens threaten humanity, and all that stands between them are a couple of teenage girls in their giant robots. The show manages to create a future history for the far off year of 2021, where a faster than light ship from Earth runs into the aliens in a far distant part of the galaxy, and war begins. The daughter of the captain of that ship, Noriko Takaya joins up to find what happened to her father, and get revenge, but she has no talent for flying the giant robots, unlike top of the class Kazumi Amano. And then a survivor of that ship shows up, Koichirou Ohta, who will coach the girls, prepare them for the battle ahead. And for no discernible reason whatsoever, he’s determined that Noriko will be the saviour of humanity, despite her lack of ability. Yes, this is one of those shows where the heroes succeed solely through superior willpower.
These are goofy characters who spout even goofier dialogue. It’s not a show that can be taken seriously, and given the era that it comes from, I doubt very much it ever was supposed to. It has some saving graces though. The animation is top notch, especially for a show made pre-CGI with cel and paint. It’s mercifully short, delivering an admittedly entertaining tale across just six episodes, three hours worth. Most impressively, it weaves the concept of time-dilation into its story, with characters on deep space missions aging just a few hours or days, while months and years pass on Earth. The way the characters have to deal with this is approached with some emotional honesty, regardless of how goofy the rest of the show is.
Gunbuster gets a solid package with this Collector’s Edition release. The presentation on disc is also top notch. But once again with a vintage show, I feel like I’ve come too late to the party, and I would have appreciated Gunbuster more back in the nineties.
Gunbuster Collector’s Edition had stock issues and at the time of writing is still available from Anime Limited and some mainstream retailers, but currently sold out at United Publications and not listed at Anime on Line.