The idea to revisit the Gunbuster series came to me because I want to remember why I find Gunbuster boring in the first place, and also why I vastly prefer Diebuster over Gunbuster. I might have rushed the 2 OVAs at the time, resulted in not much recollection of them. Naturally, the first part would be about Gunbuster, as I present both my past memory and my current thoughts on the show to reflect my changed opinion.
My short clean non-spoilery thoughts: The OVA is worth a watch if you want to watch a character working her way to the top in an 80s aesthetic. If you just want to watch an action oriented story, you will most likely be disappointed, I do not think it delivers the action part well most of the time.
I remember only 4 characters in Gunbuster, with only 3 of them relevant. Even then the 3 characters are meh. Everyone else are either only there to progress the plot, or plain unmemorable.
Let’s start with the character design, I like everybody’s simple character design, including the unmemorable ones. Noriko has the plain generic cute anime girl look, makes me want to say “her look is made that way to be easily projected on”. Coach with his glasses on look fucking manly and cool, even though he is crippled and has lost an eye, in a way he looks even cooler and manlier. Onee-sama has the reliable senpai and perfect model student look, later on she looks like a reliable adult. The Russian’s design communicates a headstrong characters and she is exactly that. The delinquent is an interesting one, her role shifts from a delinquent to a coach and then to principal, her appearance fits all 3 of the roles. The ship commander do looks like a commander. Noriko’s friend looks like the cliche female friend who is beside the main protagonist, and she is exactly that.
In short, the character’s simple design communicates their role extremely effectively including the unmemorable ones. I do not know what black magic is casted upon the character design, except for Smith.
Now for the characters themselves. Noriko gets 70% of the screentime for the sake of her development. She is the protagonist so she naturally gets a lot of screentime. Here’s the problem, I’m not interested in her growth. Her training montage and the results from it is tame to watch. She becomes cool to watch when she work out her feelings and become determined, coincidentally that is when Gunbuster gets good. Beforehand I find the OVA kind of boring. The OVA gets better after that point because we are treated to an interesting timeskip and a cheesy romance subplot. That cheesy romance subplot is Onee-sama character arc, and it works because…….it feels genuine as well????? The climax and resolution from it is extremely satisfying. And then there is the Coach, he doesn’t get development but he looks awesome and manly, and acts awesome and manly, that is enough.
Everyone else are not important, including the Russian. She challenged Onee-sama in episode 2 for no reason and then accept her afterward even though the fights earlier has no clear victor. Afterwards she talks about her love for the coach, and then decide to move on from it. Oh yeah she once tried to challenge Noriko to the duel. I guess she is there to serve as a rival to Noriko and Onee-sama. To be frank, I do not know why she is there. At least her character design is great like everyone else, except for Smith. I think everyone else are purposefully made unmemorable since it is about Noriko’s journey, there is no reason to devote screentime to other characters.I remember Gunbuster is grounded, and there isn’t any fights.
Well, Gunbuster is grounded most of the time, occasionally it decides to slightly tip the scale and become a super robot tokusatsu action show, always done in a pivotal point in the show. The sudden shift in tone actually enhance the scenes. When Gunbuster stays a grounded show, there is tame fights and science fiction stuff. I can see people enjoys the science fiction explanations, but I don’t think anyone will say those fights are good, fortunately they do progress the plot. The tame fights are well animated but they are not choreographed like a fight scene, I don’t think they are meant to be enjoyed as a spectacle and more to serve a narrative purpose. I’m not a science nerd, naturally I am not interested in the science theories. I do like the usage of time dilation.
Let’s talk about the time dilation and the aliens, what they serve in the story.
Other than the coach, the cheesy romance subplot, and some of the fights, the role of the aliens and the time dilation are really interesting for me to think about, also allow me to act smarter than I actually do.
The antagonist of the story, the Zerg (they act and look like a Zerg to me mkay) wanted to eradicates humanity for unknown reason within the story. The zerg are treated like a destructive force and aren’t given any personality, like an apocalyptic natural disaster. They are far superior in both strength and numbers. The humans are only at war with them to keep themselves alive. At one point the background character questioned whether they shall just accept their fate, as they are essentially sacrificing everything around them to keep themselves temporarily survived. Shall we(the human race) really sacrifice everything for our goals(ensure their own survival)?
The answer is yes, because Noriko and Onee-sama sacrificed themselves to ensure humanity survival. Their idea of sacrificing themselves are not taken lightly by the Captain and the Russian though, especially the Russian. Now I can get to the time dilation, the part that make the second half and the ending so effective.
The time dilation the characters experienced is foreshadowed as a looming threat. Everyone acts like it is not a big deal, because no lives is lost. From a strictly utilitarian perspective, it really is not a big deal. But in actuality it is a big fucking deal, because we have people we are close to. Noriko and Onee-sama will not die when they sacrifice themselves, only an uncertainty amount of long duration will pass by by the time they return home. When they return home, twelve thousand years have passed. The two heroes are uncertain whether humanity still exist on Earth. That’s what makes the ending so well loved, and why time dilation is the redeeming element of the OVA for me. (Oh man, it is hard for me to write this part without feeling pretentious.)
Well, I like Gunbuster more on the rewatch, largely thanks to the second half, as payoff for all the setups are really satisfying to watch. I’m sure one can find more enjoyment from the OVA if they can be invested in the 3 relevant characters more, none of whom I care that much.