"A miracle will happen — we'll make it happen!" —Noriko Takaya
GunBuster; or, as the fans call it, BustGunner, is a six-volume OAV from 1988, directed by Hideaki Anno, that really put Studio Gainax on the map, and a series fondly remembered by old school otaku. While it's a bit of a rough diamond, viewers today can still see why it stood out then, where it led Gainax, and where Gainax took the ideas they started in it. It's also considered somewhat of a spiritual predecessor to Neon Genesis Evangelion and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, as it contains a lot of elements that would later be used in those shows.Top o Nerae! ("Aim for the Top"), the Japanese title, serves notice that the show will borrow from many sources and genres. It is a mashing-together of Top Gun and a famous Tennis Manga/Anime Ace o Nerae! (Aim for the Ace). As might be expected from this, episode 1 opens at a girls' high school that trains Humongous Mecha pilots to battle the alien monsters that destroyed the Luxion Fleet six years before.The central character is Noriko Takaya, daughter of the admiral in command of the lost fleet and one of the newest students. Despite having plenty of motivation, she is clumsy, not terribly mature, and completely lacking in self-confidence. Like all the students, she is in awe of Onee-sama ("Big Sister") Kazumi Amano, the star pupil of their school — especially after she defends Noriko from a group of bullies and gives her some advice (and a headband). Unfortunately, school becomes even harder after "Coach" Ohta, their new instructor, serves up Training from Hell for everyone. Oh, and Kazumi carries a torch for him, a big one.Noriko's life becomes harder still when "Coach", who is also the sole survivor of the Luxion fleet (Noriko's father saved his life), sees something in Noriko that no one else does. Because of this, he selects her as Kazumi's partner to graduate early and participate in a secret project — over all the other students, and the objections of both Kazumi and Noriko. Days of bullying, several speeches, a couple of training montages, and one robot catfight later, Noriko and "big sister" are shipping out for advanced training in earth orbit. Here they find a rival, "genius" Soviet pilot Jung Freud, who starts by challenging Kazumi to a duel, then settles into a snippy sort of friendship.At this point a Top Gun/Sports-themed Mecha show takes a left turn intoThe Forever War. Admiral Takaya's flagship comes barreling through the solar system at near light-speed, and Noriko and Kazumi are chosen to intercept it. It's been years since the battle that wrecked the ship - but, thanks to time dilation, it's only been hours since then aboard the ship. Noriko runs through the ship, hoping to find her father, but jeopardizing their chances of getting off the ship in time.That's the first two episodes. The middle two show our heroines shipping out with the fleet, tapped to try out the new "Buster Machine" giant robot. If Noriko's angst and fear doesn't derail them first.Episode Five is Kazumi's turn to get put through the wringer. She's decided she loves "Coach" Ohta. Unfortunately, he's dying of radiation sickness, and their next mission will take them away for years of earth time. Fortunately, Noriko's grown enough of a backbone to keep her in line.The Final episode is elegiac and deeply angst-ridden (not that the previous episodes were a barrel of laughs). In fact, it's so serious that it was animated in black and white. "Big Sis" Kazumi is now "auntie" Kazumi, teaching the children of her old classmates at her old school. She gets the call to go back into space for a final mission to destroy the aliens once and for all (using a bomb built from the planet Jupiter. Yes, you read that right). She rejoins Noriko and Jung, who have been in space all this time and have hardly aged at all. Sacrifices will be made, angst will flow, people will forget how to spell, and you'll know beyond doubt that you've seen something made by genuine fans of the genre(s).What words can only hint at is the sheer sincerity and passion put into all these rather hoary old tropes. The plotting is not that well paced and all over the place (writer Toshio Okada has commented that he put in EVERY idea he had). Much of the characterization is perfunctory (and the archetypes used are from another age, especially Ohta and the other military men). The science is silly and the dialog hoary, but the big moments pull you in, and the angsty ones will make you cry (the climax of episode 6 can pull tears from some of the toughest otaku). More than anything else, it showed that the team from Gainax could pull off "popular" anime (their debut work Royal Space Force: The Wings of HonnÍamise had run into a buzzsaw called Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind) and that they would be a force to be reckoned with.In 2004, Studio Gainax released a sequel series, DieBuster, as its 15th anniversary project. The two series have converging endings. This was released in R1 as Gunbuster 2
Ascended Fangirl: Noriko's subtly implied to be one in the series proper; in the science bonus shorts, it's played up for comedy. note She's basically the runner-up poster girl for this, second only to Ryusei Date from Shin Super Robot Wars. This makes for some amusing conversation when they meet in Super Robot Wars Alpha.
Bittersweet Ending: On the one hand, the fact that they are recognized after TWELVE THOUSAND YEARS, that humanity still remembers their sacrifice and welcomes them back, makes some viewers baww like a baby. On the other hand, the fact that twelve thousand years have passed means that all of their loved ones are dead.... that's pretty much the definition of a Bittersweet Ending.
Break the Cutie: Poor Noriko pretty much goes through hell and back directly due to her insecurity and codependency issues before finally shaping up and becoming a Hot-Blooded badass. Kazumi doesn't exactly get off easy in Episode 5, either.
Casual Danger Dialogue: When the Gunbuster is about to get crushed between two... big... alien things in Episode 5 and the Buster Beam just bounces off the hulls of each inflicting no damage, Noriko's and Kazumi's response is basically along the lines of "Hm? Oh, that's neat. Not too shabby, giant alien things. 'Course, we're still ten zillion times more badass than you. Gonna crush you now, mkay?"
Combining Mecha: The titular Gunbuster is the combined form of the first two Buster Machines. Noriko tops, while Kazumi's on the bottom.
Creator Cameo: Not the creators themselves, but the studio. If you look closely, you see a Gainax billboard in the background of the Japan Air Lines shuttle launch scene.
Creator Provincialism: As may be expected from a series created in the halcyon days of the late '80s, Gunbuster paints a picture of a world dominated by Japan. It's governed by a Japanese Empire ruling from Tokyo, protected by a very Japanese Imperial Navy. According to the backstory, Japan bought Hawaii from a declining USA in a very different economy. 12 years later during World War III, the US attempts to take Hawaii back. However America's continuing collapse allows a more militant Japan to confiscate its space program and technology, soon using it to force the rest of the world under its emperor.
Honestly though, all of anime in a general sense is this...from A Certain Point Of View.
Here however, it seems shown that the Empire of Japan is in control, if not makes up, most of the human race, with other nations being in part Japanese colonies.
Eternal Japanese: Averted in the final scene. 12000 years later, "WELCOME HOME" is written awkwardly in katakana with the last character backwards. The present inhabitants of Earth were clumsily mimicking the pilots' bygone language.
Fanservice: By modern standards, Gunbuster contains a strong amount of Fanservice. The bath scene in Episode Two is particularly notable. For the time? Well, let's just say that it's the Trope Namer for Gainaxing. And many fans refer to Jung as "Juggs"... Hell, some people like to refer to the series itself as "Bustgunner."
Final Solution: It has been speculated that the space monsters are the galaxy's antibodies, and they're out to cleanse it of the human disease. And seeing this as the case, humanity must annihilate the alien threat for them to live on.
Furo Scene: In Gunbuster episode #2, completely uncensored!
Genocide Dilemma: One has questioned that if the galaxy is a living being and the space monsters are its antibodies, is it right for mankind to kill the galaxy to destroy the space monsters hell-bent on wiping out the "human disease".
Heroic Sacrifice: In the final episode, Noriko prepares to use her Buster Machine's engine to start the Black Hole Bomb, knowing that she'll die, being unable to escape. Subverted when Kazumi combines their Buster Machines so that they'll have two engines, therefore still being able to leave. And then Double Subverted when it takes them 12,000 years to get home, meaning that everyone they know is by now quite long dead...
Hot-Blooded: Noriko Takaya may have been one of the first true examples of a female Hot-Blooded protagonist in giant robot history.
Humans Are Special: Inverted (probably, since this is just speculation made by human scientists) in the sense that the alien monsters are like the galaxy's antibodies, and they see humans as bacteria with no good purpose at all, and must be eliminated.
Humongous Mecha: The "Buster Machines". In fact, the main mech is one of the largest of the genre at 250m tall, and the largest at the time of its release.
In Space Everyone Can See Your Face: Almost justified by using fish-bowl helmets with forward-facing lights mounted on top. This gives their bodies a realistic amount of shadow, but their faces are fully visible.
Lensman Arms Race: We begin with not especially radical vessels capable of accelerating to a fraction of c and of using a fairly sci-fi standard method of FTL travel via wormhole, and robots only a few stories tall. Then we get seven mile long battleship-carriers, aliens who eat suns to reproduce, a robot bigger than the Eiffel Tower which is capable of killing thousands of alien ships in a single attack, using the aforementioned battleship as a bomb that creates a black hole to kill an alien fleet eighty astronomical units in size, a new battleship ten times the size of the old one, and capping off with using the planet Jupiter as the core of a Black Hole Bomb the size of the moon to destroy thecenter of the galaxyand wipe out all the aliens forever. Even with relativity, on Earth all of this takes place in a timeframe of about fourty years. On the alien side, we go from small skirmish fleets to the aforementioned eighty AU Earth attack force to a fleet in the Galactic Core of easily ten billion creatures. It gets so ridiculous (and awesome) that the characters even lampshade the fact toward the end.
No Endor Holocaust: Averted when the humans decide to take the old Excelion warship out past the orbit of Pluto to overload and detonate its degeneracy reactor to create a black hole to destroy the Space Monsters, despite the massive distance, shockwaves are felt on Earth; so strongly, in fact, that they are said to raze cities and change the landscape.
Strangely, though, this does not appear to be averted when they destroy the centre of the galaxy, however, it may be that after 12,000 years, humanity may have found a way to protect themselves that we today couldn't possibly comprehend.
Ramming Always Works: Inverted In Episode 4 the Excelion fleet is nearly destroyed. Capitain Tashiro decides as a last ditch resort to ram the Excelion into the enemy flag ship. When the Buster Machine is finally activated Noriko is castigated that it isn't complete. She responds that she'll ram it if she has to. In the end the enemy flag ship ends up ramming Noriko and is destroyed as Noriko has it where she wants it.
Averted in the final battle also The enemy fleet send a fleet in to ram the blackhole bomb, initially it doesn't work as the sheilds hold, but eventually the enemy suicide attacks are so large that the shield fails setting up the final twist to theBittersweet Ending.
Red Shirt Army: All the other battlesuits? And the fleet? And the 50 mile long flagship with a team of psychics and genius dolphins that can rewrite the laws of physics? Windowdressing.
Retro Rocket: The Luxion, and all subsequent Luxion-Class spaceships. Cigar-shaped? Check! Fins? Check! Stripe(s) painted near nose cone? Check! (Extra points for the uppermost stripe being painted in red and white checks.) Then again, Luxions were designed to take off from Earth's surface.
Science Marches On: In the show, the Solar System has several planets beyond the orbit of Pluto, including one that is called Jupiter 2. Sol is also part of a binary system, with the other star, Nemesis, being half a lightyear away.
During one of the later Science Lesson episodes (done for the laser-disc release), Coach tells Noriko to name off all of the planets in the solar system, which she does while instantly cosplaying as each corresponding Sailor Moon character (inner planets only, the outer senshi hadn't appeared yet).
As is usual for Gainax, Gunbuster carries a fair number of references to Getter Robo. The titular mech owes a few design cues to the Getter Dragon from Getter Robo G; the legs and chest are extremely similar in design, the Buster Beam fires from the mech's head, much like the Dragon's Getter Beam (the other Getter machines had their beams fire from the stomach) and, as mentioned above, the Gunbuster was initially meant to dual-wield Axes similarly to the Dragon. Moreover, the way Gunbuster removes its Degeneracy reactor to kickstart the Jupiter Bomb is heavily inspired by Musashi'slegendarysacrifice in the original Getter manga.
Super Prototype: The Sizzler mechas are based on the titular mecha, and are noticeably less powerful.
Discussed in one of the Science Lessons, where someone claims that Super Prototype is just a fictional trope, and the Sizzlers are only smaller because of their more modern, efficient miniaturization. He goes on to say that a feature that saved Noriko's life is a silly expense necessitated only by the Gunbuster's outmoded design, and the Sizzlers got rid of it.
Theme Music Power-Up: Used at least twice, though played differently each time. In episode 4, the OP music doesn't start playing until immediately after Noriko takes out the alien 'command ship' by being rammed and then surviving, and the music then continues for the rest of the episode. Then, in episode 5, once Noriko and Kazumi's halves of Gunbuster combine, we get a proper Theme Music Power-Up... except that it's not the series's OP, which didn't play at all in the episode.
Theme Naming: In this case Shout-Out. Smith Toren is named (in reversed order) after the founder of manga translation company "Studio Proteus", back before he was famous (the anime version has more hair). Coach Ohta, or "Koichi Ohta", was probably named for KoichiOhata, who worked as a mecha designer on this OVA. According to the other wiki, several characters - Noriko and Kazumi among them - were named for members of the production staff.
The Space Monsters are named after more obscure kaiju.
Took a Level in Badass: Compare the Noriko Takaya of episode 1 with the Noriko Takaya of episodes 4 and 5, and you'll see that she went and pulled a Simon. Or rather, Simon would pull a Noriko 20 years later.
They also appear to serve something of a practical purpose - the Vertical Mecha Fins can combine to form a shell over the head like a bullet, allowing the Gunbuster to pierce through objects like a rocket. This is used towards the end of the final episode.
World Of Cardboard Monologue: While in the combined GunBuster in episode 5, Kazumi gives a short inner monologue about how she'll fight for the last six months, because that's the only way she can live in the same timeframe as the dying Coach Ohta.