Gunbuster – I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness

Putting aside the hyperbole and the fandom that seems to hold hands and religiously scream about every post-digisub series (myself included), the majority of newly crafted anime is objectively mediocre and creatively flat. Realizing this, yet still hopelessly attracted to spending an inexplicable amount of time rooted in front of the stuff, it’s about time that I took charge of my senses and sat down with some anime that sticks with me for longer than 23 mins.

Gunbuster has been around since 1988 (that’s nearly 20 years, people!) and otaku are still talking about it today; sadly, it’s been festering on my hard drive for nearly as long, so rather than plow through a brain hemorrhaging 5 episode marathon of D.Gray-man (*shudders*), I resolved to try out Gunbuster instead. 6 episodes and Diebuster later, I feel like an idiot for waiting this long.

So for the uninitiated, what is Gunbuster? Sad Girls in Space, of course!
Literally subtitled “Aim for the Top!”, Gunbuster’s heroine, Noriko, is an ambitious teenage girl who dreams of piloting mecha and defending Earth against Uchuu Kaijuu (reads better than the pulpy translation “Space Monsters”). Similar to the archetypal Shonen Jump lead, Noriko makes up for a profound lack of natural talent with “hard work and guts”, her unwavering drive relates to the recent death of her Space Admiral father. At least, it is with Noriko’s colourful personality that Hideaki Anno begins to paint Gunbuster’s dramatic tapestry.

Indeed, I did just name-drop Neon Genesis Evangelion’s revered creative maestro. There was once a time when otaku respected the talent of Hideaki Anno without needing to append a disclaimer to their opinions. It’s worth mentioning that Gunbuster was his directorial cherry popping and even here, his unique artistic quality is stamped all over the series. For example, consider that the final (sixth) episode is almost completely drawn in monochrome (black and white), the animation would occasionally degenerate into black and white stills and the plot is borderline obsessed with applying hardcore, believable science fiction to what, in the end, will always be an anime about mecha and space monsters; no doubt, applying such rigid scientific rules to Gunbuster proved to be Anno’s masterstroke.

My favourite moments are almost exclusively related to the science of Gunbuster’s (and essentially, our) universe. During much of episode 3, Noriko is falling in love with a fellow male co-pilot by the name of Smith Toren. That he dies is no surprise; these days it’s a fairly typical plot device in anime to quickly develop a secondary character only to kill him off for emotional effect (see Full Metal Alchemist), it’s more the way Smith dies that is disturbing. Adhering to “Alien“‘s memorable tag line, “In space, no-one can hear you scream!”, Smith’s radio goes dead and that’s it, he is gone forever. The feeling of desolation and helplessness is chilling.

The desolation of time and space are the heart breaking truths at the centre of Gunbuster’s moving drama. Due to advances in space travel, lightning speeds can be achieved, though at a considerable cost; months spent in “space time” are equivalent to years on Earth. Noriko’s struggles are hard enough without having to deal with the devastation of her old life; her friends and family slipping away with every passing minute. Some of the saddest moments come as Noriko hesitantly reunites with old class mates, seeing how they’ve grown up, made families and settled down. The quiet and reflective tone adopted during these moments twists Gunbuster’s emotional complexity, tinging Noriko’s heroism with an inevitable sense of loneliness. It’s obvious from where Makoto Shinkai cribbed his ideas, especially “Voices of a Distant Star“.

Of course, with a name like Gunbuster, one must be expect some ripping good mecha action. GAINAX delivers, apocalypto style. Clearly influenced by his involvement with Nausicaä, Anno has the universe “rejecting humanity” in the Miyazaki fashion by sending some mind bogglingly huge insect-looking monsters after us, in their billions. Mankind’s only response is to create “buster machines”; mecha and/or weapons with incomprehensible god-like power. I could call it “epic” but that’s such a cliche word to use these days; let’s just say the final episode involves the destruction of Jupiter. Planets gets explodes. Enough said.

The animation by GAINAX is wonderful. Carefully hand-drawn, beautifully fluid and dotted with overwhelming detail, it is a story that springs to life on screen, constantly moving. Like the best anime from the 1980s, there is an overriding sense of spirit and enthusiasm pulsing through this, almost as though someone ripped out their soul and trapped it in Gunbuster for all to see. I hope more of you do, I can confirm it’s better than D.Gray-man.

Naruto Shippuuden – 5 – Keep The Car Running

The massive clash of Gaara’s sand vs. Akatsuki’s blonde bombshell Deidara rages ever on while Naruto and Sakura celebrate with a bowl of ramen having again teamed up with their perverted old sensei; anti-social bastard that he is, Kakashi declines their company, no doubt to finish off the latest volume of his favourite romantic yarn “Make Out Paradise”. In between the action, we glimpse a sun drenched flashback to a pre-Kazekage Gaara and Kankuro, striding atop a cliff that majestically looks over their endless desert, reaffirming their new found desire to work hard, protect the innocent and earn friendship the good old fashioned way – just like Naruto. The episode ends with a devastating explosion when what appears to be a clay-based nuke is dropped in the middle of down-town sand village by Deidara. Civilian casualties are expected.

I can see why people are already starting to complain about Naruto Shippuuden. It’s true that the story is slow going, just as it’s true that the animation has been mediocre since the superlative first two episodes. I’m still enjoying it though. As is the case with Death Note, it seems that reading the manga is key to our ultimate enjoyment of Naruto; I’ve steered clear of the manga for that very reason, I’d rather not spoil the story. I enjoy anime more than I enjoy manga.

Sometimes I wonder why I’m so compelled by Shonen Jump’s “fighting” anime; characters like Gaara are the answer. Over two hundred episodes plus and we’ve seen him dragged through hell; abused and isolated as a kid, lost in life and consumed by hatred, yet he finds salvation through friendship. That he changes so much through out the series and finally discovers a meaning to his existence, only a heart of stone would not feel a pang of attachment to him.

Next week’s episode is an hour long special. Here’s hoping something big and flashy happens!

Past, present and future

To quote rubbish rockers Staind, it’s been a while. Of course I haven’t stopped watching anime, I just don’t have much to say. I could write boring episode reviews, but you know, that’s boring! More than anything I seem to rely on inspiration to write and the feeling now is that I’m either burnt out or just couldn’t care less.

Death Note was great, but it’s fast becoming a weak parody of itself; Light and L locked together – it’s like some stupid sitcom. Code Geass is superficially exciting and features some colourful animation, but it’s mostly just absurd, camp trash; a retooled Gundam for the motaku generation.

Red Garden is one of the few shining lights to emerge from the horrendous winter season. A novelty for TV anime these days; it has a story to tell, it has female characters with integrity and it doesn’t look like it was animated for pedophiles. Score!

Eyes then turn to the spring ’07 season and hope springs anew. I better not be the only one looking forward to Bokurano; imagine an alternate version of Evangelion where Shinji and his giant robot accidentally squish Father Ikari (and his car) underfoot, while Asuka’s a child prostitute and after every victorious mecha mash up, the pilot curls up and dies. As long as the production values are up to scratch (we’re depending on GONZO here, so it’s a flip of a coin really), Bokurano will stun, surprise and shock anime fans not prepared for such cold, hard brutality.

It’s nice to see a couple more TV shows from Studio BONES are gearing up for launch too. I do enjoy dark science fiction and as far as I can see, Studio BONES are up there with the best. “Darker than Black” (with a Yoko Kanno soundtrack!) and “The Skull Man” may sound corny, but coming from the brilliant animation house behind the likes of Wolf’s Rain and Kurau Phantom Memory, expectations are sky high.