Pilgrimage to Mecha 05: Gunbuster (OVA)


Join us for our Pilgrimage to Mecha – where I go back in time and catch up on some of the classics and hidden gems of the mecha genre. Whether it was before my time or I simply missed out on them, it’s time for me to watch them and let you know why you should too!

This time, we have guest author Artemis sharing her thoughts on the Gainax classic: Gunbuster

Aim for the Top! Gunbuster

OVA (6 Episodes)
Directed by Hideaki Anno


In the very near future, a race of enormous, insect-like aliens is discovered travelling the galaxy. These aliens seem bent on destruction and are moving closer and closer to Earth, and humanity has responded by developing space battleships and giant fighting robots. The story begins in the year 2023 and revolves around student Noriko Takaya, whose father was a famous admiral in the space fleet killed during one of the first battles of the war. Though she believes her own talents to be negligible, Noriko, alongside undeniably talented schoolmate Kazumi Amano, is selected as a pilot and agrees to fight in order to help save the planet.



Watching Gunbuster is like being hit over the head with a 80s sledgehammer. The training montages! Those skimpy leotards! That opening theme song! I like to imagine that those in charge of production simply called a planning meeting and informed staff that if they didn’t create a show that was 80s enough, they’d all be promptly fired.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, mind you, and it’s abundantly clear that a lot of love and dedication went into this piece. Whatever its faults, Gunbuster has plenty of heart. Nowhere is this more apparent than with main protagonist Noriko, who despite by today’s standards being a total cliché (clumsy but earnest, a supposed no-hoper with much hidden potential), is also extremely believable. Her character development is where the power of the show really lies, and while the whole thing is cheesy as hell, it also makes for a deeply satisfying watch.


This actually came as a surprise to me, because for a while there I didn’t think I’d be able to stop smirking for long enough to take any part of this story seriously; the first half of the story is certainly entertaining but not exactly what I’d call a masterpiece of storytelling, and between the whole bitchy schoolgirl spectacle and hilariously named pilot Jung Freud (yes, really), anyone would be forgiven for thinking the same. The random bouts of fanservice don’t help much with that, either. I have no issue with nudity in anime, but there’s a pretty big difference in my mind between showing that yes, our characters do have breasts and are understandably naked while bathing, and depicting those same characters lounging around a crowded thoroughfare clad in bikinis that are obviously several sizes too small.


For some, another issue may be the length of the show. On one hand, six episodes actually works well in Gunbuster’s case, because it means that there’s basically no inane filler and that the ending doesn’t drag on and on until it’s outstayed its welcome. The show stops exactly where it needs to, and the emotional impact of the conclusion isn’t squandered by needless melodrama. On the other hand, it’s difficult to feel any kind of real sadness for characters who are introduced and then killed off in so short a time. Noriko’s reactions are again entirely believable, but these brief introductions and farewells exist solely to further her own development, and so there’s little chance for the viewer to become emotionally involved directly. Instead, Noriko is the sole vehicle through which nearly all major events gain their significance.

Luckily, the last episode of Gunbuster, and more specifically the final ten minutes, absolutely delivers on the emotional payoff. The action, while surprisingly sparse, is used highly effectively, and the main plot points all come together to form one of the most tightly executed and tensely exciting climaxes of any mecha anime I’ve seen to date.


Why You Should Watch

Regardless of whether you count yourself as a sci-fi or mecha fan, Gunbuster is an interesting and certainly culturally significant watch, and one that shouldn’t be eschewed simply because of its age. In fact, I’d argue that this anime has only grown more fascinating over time, as it’s essentially a window to an age of anime that I doubt anyone will ever see the likes of again. Gunbuster is a jangle of ideas, and the first couple of episodes are slow going, but what we’re ultimately left with is a very moving end to quite a remarkable story –one that can be marathoned in under three hours. There’s really no reason why you shouldn’t watch.

5 thoughts on “Pilgrimage to Mecha 05: Gunbuster (OVA)

  1. First off interesting series. I would have liked to have seen it back when it was made. This was exactly the type of entertainment I was NOT finding back then.

    Re: “story begins in the year 2023”
    Rant: One of my biggest Sci Fi pet peeves is the ridiculously soon NEAR FUTURE. (The worst example: Blade Runner made in 1982 takes place in 2019, when there is no way that technology would be that advanced by then). You would think that writers would be intelligent enough to make a better extrapolation regarding what COULD happen. Is this another example of how writers — schooled in the descriptive and the qualitative … have a hard time understanding objective science and the quantitative? Another example Ray Bradbury. Brilliant writer and storyteller. Did not understand one bit about the science in his “science fiction.”

    … sorry for getting so off-topic
    : )

    • I would say Ray was probably one of the best in tempering his sci-fi themes to realistic ideas. He basically predicted the earbud in Farenheit 451, and every year we’re getting closer to his idea of an entertainment room where all the walls are screens.

      • Yes, those are good!

        The Martian Chronicles was way, way off however and did not even account for the KNOWN science of the time.

        The human drama he made, and how he captured aspects of the human experience was still very, very compelling, even though his science was absurd. The Martian Chronicles will have to be classified as “fantasy” clearly.

        Young science fiction writers should definitely read Ray Bradbury however.

        PS: and still way off topic. I would love to see a Broadway stage production of the Martian Chronicles, which would minimize the gadgetry and lean heavy on the humanity within the storytelling.

        • Yeah, you’re right. In the same vein, while much of Gunbuster tries to be a hard science fiction story, the actual Gunbuster itself is obviously a super robot. I get what you mean, though. Granted, I wonder if anyone back in the Cold War could have imagined a time when spending money on manned space programs would be considered frivolous as it is today.

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