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Anime / Aura Battler Dunbine

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"Fortunate are those who remember the story of Byston Well..."

What do unicorns, pixies, and colossal, insect-like robots all have in common? They're all heavily featured in Aura Battler Dunbine, the brainchild of Yoshiyuki Tomino of Gundam fame.

Dunbine tells the story of Show Zama, a Japanese motocross fan who survives a botched trick by being summoned into the fantasy world of Byston Well. There he meets Drake Luft, a local lord who tells Show that he summoned him to be an "Aura Battler" and pilot the Aura Machines to put a stop to a civil war that is tearing Byston Well apart. Everything starts off well, until Show by chance meets local resistance member Marvel Frozen who reveals that she was also summoned to Byston Well from America and that Drake's true intention is not to save the world but to take it over with the Aura Machines. Horrified at the revelation, Show takes his personal mecha — the Dunbine — and defects to the resistance, making new allies and enemies along the way as he tries to make up for his mistakes and stop his former lord.

Dunbine is mostly known not for its rather standard Tomino mecha plot, but for its interesting concept of setting Humongous Mecha battles in the middle of a Medieval European Fantasy. The mecha themselves take fluid, organic shapes and are much smaller than most mecha designs. The show starts off much more light-hearted and enemy-of-the-week than your typical Tomino anime, but the second half undergoes a massive tone shift and becomes much darker and serious with an explosive climax as "Kill 'Em All Tomino" returns to form.

Has had several spin-offs, including Garzey's Wing and The Wings of Rean.

Compare with Panzer World Galient and The Vision of Escaflowne, two other Humongous Mecha series in a Medieval European Fantasy setting.

This series contains examples of:

  • Action Bomb: The last few episodes feature the Upper Earth military loading planes with explosives. The pilot eject from their seats and then guide the plane through a remote control on their waists to accurately home them into Aura Machines. Surprisingly, it works.
  • Aerith and Bob: The residents of Byston's Well having strange names is understandable, but "Marvel Frozen" is not in fact the kind of name an American woman is likely to have.
  • All There in the Manual: There's a lot of extra details that can be found about the characters and the Aura Machines in various supplementary material such as the show's official website and model kit manuals.
    • It's said that going Hyper will kill the pilot if left unchecked, but that never actually happens in the show. Mainly because either Show ends up killing them first, or in the case of Bern, their Aura gets sealed away.
  • Anyone Can Die: This IS Tomino we're talking about.
  • Armored Coffins: Early on in the series, if your Aura Machine became damaged in mid-air you would be likely to either crash and die or bail out and fall to your death. After Todd narrowly survived his bailing out by using the forest to break his landing, he made sure that all his future machines had an ejection system with a portable glider that he could fly to safety with.
  • Artifact Title: The title is Aura Battler Dunbine. Unlike Tomino's other more influential work, the titular Dunbine eventually became obsolete for Shou once he got his hands on the Billbine. Although the Dunbine wasn't completely retired (Marvel then started using it), it created a segregation whereas the titular machine is no longer ridden by its main hero.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Very heavy on the bitter side, to the point of being a hair's breadth away from Downer Ending. All of the antagonists were slain, thus bringing peace to both Upper Earth and Byston Well, but all of the heroes (save Cham) died in the process - with Ciela guiding everyone's souls back to Byston Well to be reborn again in the next life.
  • Black Knight: It wouldn't be a Medieval European Fantasy show without one. The wandering mercenary known simply as "The Black Knight" is enlisted in Drake's army about halfway into the story.
  • Book Ends: The opening to most episodes (and all of the early ones) states that this is the story of Byston Well, as related by the Mi Ferario. This narration takes a turn for the tragic when the last episode reveals that Mi Ferario was singular, and it was specifically referring to Cham Fau, the Sole Survivor of the entire main cast.
    • When Show first meets Todd he asks if being in Byston Well is a dream, Todd punches him and tells him it isn't. When Show deals the killing blow in their final battle, Todd remarks that it was a nice dream, with Show tearfully replying that it wasn't.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: When the Mi Ferario Bell hears that all of the heroes are coming together for a joint attack on Drake, she asks "is it because it's the final episode?" only to be smacked by El.
  • Cast from Hit Points: As Aura is drawn from one's life energy, it's possible to drastically increase one's Aura to preform miracles by sacrificing your life force. Jacoba Aon becomes an old woman in exchange for expelling all the Aura Machines from Byston Well, while Elle and Ciela sacrifice their lives to disperse the evil Aura in the final battle.
  • Char Clone: A Tomino production has a hard time going without one. Bern Bunnings (The Black Knight) ends up filling this role as a Type-1.
  • Color-Coded Armies: Whether they're foot-soldiers or piloting Aura Machines, the armies of each nation have their knights wear armour of a specific color to indicate to the audience who is who - Drake's wear red, Bishott's wear dark green, Ciela's wear pale blue etc etc. The only subversions are individual combatants like the mercenary Black Knight who wears black no matter who he fights for, and the Zelana crew, who due to being a makeshift guerrilla force don't have a unifying set of armour, thus their members have a variety of colored armour.
  • Cool Plane: The Aura Fighter Galava. Unusual for a mecha anime, it's a fighter developed with the same technology that's used in Aura Battlers, which they actually stop developing, as the humanoid form seemed to reach its maximum potential with the Zwarth.
    • The Aura Bomber Bubuly which is considered the final form of all the Aura Machines, as it outperforms every other non-battleship machine. Though in a twist, it does not become the Final Boss that Show fights.
  • Damsel in Distress: Riml spends most of the first third of the show locked away in Drake's castle. To her credit, after the first couple of rescue attempts by the heroes fail, she decides she can't rely on others anymore and manages to escape herself and rendezvous with the heroes.
  • Deadly Upgrade: Once a pilot's Aura reaches a certain level, his/her Aura Battler can go "Hyper", growing much larger in size and becoming almost unstoppable. However, this tends to have the rather nasty side-effect of killing the pilot.
  • Deflector Shields: Due to the abundance of aura power on Upper Earth, aura machines transported there gain aura “barriers” that block incoming attacks. While their effectiveness is limited against other aura machines (especially in melee combat), they’re almost completely impenetrable by Earth’s weapons, shrugging off even direct hits from nuclear missiles and the resulting fallout.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: Several of the later Aura Battlers become this, but none more so than Shot's final creation -the Bubuly. Statistically, it outperforms every other Aura Machine, but not only does it have the highest Aura consumption of any Battler note , it's so complicated to use that not only do you need a top class pilot to fly it, but also three competent sub-pilots to handle the weapons, radar, and other systems. It's no wonder that for the final battle, Bern ditches it for the slightly less powerful Galava since it can be operated solo and requires much less Aura to power.
  • Escapism: The common denominator amongst the humans who were summoned to Byston Well, whether it be poverty from unemployment or parental neglect, all of them wished to escape from their miserable lives; it's why several of them express the desire to not return to Upper Earth.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Todd, whose whole reason for fighting, other than defeating Show, is to protect his mother.
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: Nearly every named character on the cast is killed during the final battle, including the main hero, as their souls are carried back to Byston Well to be reborn again.
  • Evil Matriarch: Drake's wife Luuza. You will be hard-pressed to find a worse mother in any anime. (And that's before we meet Precia, Ren, and Ragyo!) Of course, it's not like Show's mom is any better...
  • Evil Overlord: Drake.
  • The Fair Folk: Both the Mi Ferario and the Ae Ferario, though the Mi-Ferario can be befriended and will work alongside humans as Cham demonstrates.
  • Foreshadowing: The second OP features Show and the Black Knight having a sword battle which comes across as odd considering that Aura Battlers have completely replaced sword and cavalry battles. It's how the pair finish their duel after both their machines are rendered inoperable.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Leprechaun isn't exactly the type of name you ought to give for an Aura Battler, now is it?
  • From Bad to Worse: If a single Aura machine heading up to Upper Earth was bad enough, imagine an entire army complete with Aura Ships appearing everywhere.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Show in regards to Marvel, later reciprocated.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Show, Jeryl and Todd all gain these at some point during the final arc as they each go "Hyper". Though only Show comes out of it alive thanks to the Power of Friendship.
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Evil: The final arc reorganizes the many factions into three such groups. The various anti-Drake groups rally around Queen Ciela (Good), Drake himself and Todd make up the Bad and the splinter group of Bishott, Luuza and Shot Weapon form the Evil.
  • The Good King: King Foizon in considerable contrast to King Furaon Elf.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Thanks to Marvel's What the Hell, Hero? speech, Show starts to doubt whether blindly serving Drake is the right thing to do and quickly defects.
  • History Repeats: A large theme of the OVA sequel "New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine", in which a young man teams up with a Mi Ferario to rescue a princess and fight against a Black Knight in an Aura Battler. As it turns out, this was partially invoked by Shot Weapon's plan that if he recreated the events of the original show, the Aura Road would once again open up and he could escape his punishment.
  • Hufflepuff House: If you can find the map of Byston Well, you may notice a large kingdom called Ree, neighbor to Ah and Ku, that only gets a passing mention in anime.
    • A Day in the Limelight: Seisenshi Gaiden's PS1 game, however, greatly expanded the detail about this kingdom by making the player join them.
  • Irony: The prototype Aura Battler - Dunbine means "Guardian of the House of Luft" in Byston Well's fictional language, only to become the greatest enemy of Drake Luft.
    • Due to its status as a Deadly Upgrade, none of the pilots who went "Hyper" did so voluntarily. But the one person who desperately wanted to use Hyper Mode (even knowing it would almost certainly kill him) never managed to do so.
  • Jacob Marley Warning: Discussed by the officers onboard the USS Carl Vinson in the final minutes of the anime. Captain Scott theorizes that the warring factions of Byston Well were sent to warn them of the consequences of seeking military power, considering the era the anime was made.
  • Jerkass Gods: Despite the rampant destruction the Aura Machines have caused, when Show attempts to ask the Ae-Ferario for help, their queen Jacoba Aon tells him that they won't get involved with human affairs. And when the Aura technology finally threatens to destroy Byston Well, Jacoba Aon uses her Aura to transport all Aura Machines and their pilots to Upper Earth, simply moving the problem elsewhere.
  • La Résistance: Nie Given leads one against Drake's expanding conquest of the Kingdom of Ah and beyond.
  • Lensman Arms Race: A large crux of the series is the introduction of advanced technology into Byston Well and how it escalates the civil war as the various countries continuously upgrade their Aura Machines from Mini-Mecha all the way to Battleships.
  • Lost Technology: After the "Drake Wars", the world of Byston Well quickly forgot the means of producing Aura Machines and electronics in general which is heavily reflected in the more organic looking Aura Battlers of the OVA sequel.
  • Mad Scientist: Shot Weapon and his partner Zet Light, who designed the Aura Machines.
  • Mask Power: The Black Knight.
  • Mid-Season Upgrade: From the Dunbine to the Billbine, though the Dunbine still sees action right up until the final battle.
  • Mini-Mecha: Aura Battlers are pretty small by Humongous Mecha standards, standing at 6 to 8 meters tall in most cases. For perspective, Dunbine's entire torso is about the size of that protruding blue bit on the Mobile Suit Gundam's abdomen where its cockpit hatch is.
  • Mook–Face Turn: They’re never seen in any fighting, but when the battle is taken to the United States, a large portion of the military has defected to liberate their country from Drake.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Shot Weapon. That is all.
  • New Life in Another World Bonus: An Unbuilt Trope as antagonists summoned from another world share the same merits. When Shot and his partner Zet got summoned to Byston Well, their revolutionary Aura Machines turned the once peaceful afterlife fantasy world into a war zone very quickly. Furthermore, their weapons are not limited to just their world. When their weapons get sent back to Upper Earth, warfare additionally spreads all over, leaving millions dead and causing massive political chaos.
  • Offing the Offspring: A very chilling example near the end.
  • Organic Technology: The aura machines are built using body parts from Byston Well's huge insectoid beasts. Aura muscle comes from tissue, armor from the carapace, etc.
    • In the OVA sequel all things related to electricity has become lost to the people of Byston Well and so their Aura Battlers are almost totally organic.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: They come in two types: "Mi-Ferario", which are the stereotypical little winged pixies who are troublemakers but are largely harmless, and "Ae-Ferario", which look completely human other than their unnatural hair colors but can be extremely dangerous as their powerful Aura makes them Reality Warpers.
  • Outside-Context Problem: The creation of Aura Machines was alarming for Byston Wellians. Any nation or noble house that didn’t have them were on the receiving end of a Curb-Stomp Battle and those that did were stuck with crude, shoddy prototypes that they had to improve on their own.
    • They become this to Upper Earth, where modern military hardware is useless against them thanks to their Super Empowered barriers and weaponry. It’s not until the last few episodes that they figure out a countermeasure via Action Bomb.
  • Physical Gods: The Ae-Ferario are feared and revered for their ability to weaponize their Aura and bend reality.
  • Psychic Powers: Once someone has trained their Aura, it grants low-level powers such as sensing people's presence, projecting one's thoughts to one's allies, and in the rare cases of Elle and Ciela, future sight and mind reading respectively.
  • The Punishment: In the Tales of Neo Byston Well OVA, it turns out that as the head developer of Aura Machines, Shot Weapon was cursed to live forever even if his body became rotten.
  • Rebellious Princess: Riml, Drake's daughter. She cares about her father but hates what he's doing.
  • Reincarnation: In the Distant Sequel OVA "New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine", several characters are in fact the reincarnations of people who died in the original show.
  • Ridiculously Potent Explosive: Aura weapons are pretty normal despite being made of different materials, except when you’re on Upper Earth where a missile can easily destroy entire city blocks or cause entire cities to disappear.
  • Science Fantasy: This anime was noteworthy for this. The setting was a medieval kingdom full of unicorns, fairies... and giant robots.
  • Shout-Out: Featured in the series are three enemy ace pilots who bear an uncanny resemblance to Mobile Suit Gundam 's Black Tri-Stars. This is given a Lampshade Hanging in Super Robot Wars Alpha 1, where both trios appear.
    • According to Mobile Suit Gundam: Complete Works, the Zeong was originally planned to be called the "Galava" but it was changed mid-development. Tomino liked the concept of "the rival's final aircraft" and so he reused the name for Bern Bunnings' last Aura Machine.
  • Spell My Name with an S: A lot of the character's names suffer from this, not at all assisted by a number of cases of dissonance between the "intended" English spelling and the katakana used for the names. The official DVD subtitles even change spellings half-way through!
    • The names of the mecha don't fair much better as they have been written various ways on official merchandise, even for extremely simple ones like "Wryneck" which is a real word.
  • Super Empowering: The Mi-Ferario can become this if they ride in an Aura Battler as while they cannot fight themselves, their finer control over Aura can bring out a pilot's true potential. Both Cham and El Fino do this unknowingly for Show and Todd respectively.
  • Theme Naming: The majority of the Aura Machines are named after fairies, either directly like "Leprechaun" or a corrupted form of their names like "Will Wipps" (Will-o'-the-Wisp).
  • Too Dumb to Live: King Furaon. He doesn't believe his men when they tell him Drake has betrayed him until Drake's army is right at their castle about to invade, he doesn't send reinforcements to the heroes who fight Drake's army since he priorities keeping his precious castle safe, and when Drake's men have conquered his castle and demand he surrender Furaon panics and starts swinging his sword frantically causing him to fall off the top of the castle to his death.
  • Too Long; Didn't Dub: In both the English subtitles and dub, the pilots of Aura Battlers are also themselves called "Aura Battlers" whereas in the actual Japanese they are referred to as "Seisenshi" ("Holy Warriors").
  • Transforming Mecha: Several Aura Battlers towards the end of the show possess this ability, but the most noticeable is Show's Billbine, which has both a humanoid mode and a jet-like "Wing Calibur" mode.
  • Translation Convention: When Show compliments Marvel's fluency in Japanese, Marvel responds that she's actually speaking in English and proceeds to speculate that it's something to do with the nature of Byston Well, that what they're actually hearing is one another's souls communicating.
  • Trapped in Another World: One of the oldest examples of the genre which combines modern technology with fantasy elements. It also shows how exponentially deadly these combined armaments are in the modern world, where Aura Power is ten times more potent than on the alternate world. It also stands as the first Trapped in Another World anime ever made.
  • Useless Accessory: All Aura Battlers have wings and yet none of them use them to fly - instead using the thrusters often built into their beetle shells.
  • War from Another World: Perhaps the earliest example in anime, when the war in Byston Well undergoes a Mass Teleportation into Upper Earth. Everyone then struggles to deal with the consequences and ensure they do not result in calamity.
  • Warrior Prince: Being one of the rare cases of a Komon who can naturally pilot an Aura Machine, King Foizon takes it upon himself to fight on the front lines and manages to hold his own against even more experienced Aura Battlers like Todd.
    • Once she finally escapes from her parents' hold, Riml Luft takes part in Nie's resistance and becomes an Aura Battler.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Of the initial trio to be summoned to Byston Well, Tokamk Robskiy dies in their first battle serving to make Show and Todd realize that being an Aura Battler is not a game.
  • Wham Episode: Episode 16. Garalia and Show end up in Upper Earth and find out the hard way that Aura weapons much stronger than in Byston Well.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: This has been vaguely implied across the many entries in the "Tales from Byston Well" franchise but Dunbine gives the clearest example as Shot Weapon states that it took four years in Byston Well before he finally created the Aura Machines whilst an American who knew Shot claims that he went missing around two years ago.
  • You Will Be Spared: "We will spare the city of Boston out of respect for Todd Guinness."

"This is this story of Byston Well, as related to me by the Mi-Ferario..."