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Anime / GunBuster

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Saving the Earth with hard work and guts!

"A miracle will happen — we'll make it happen!"
Noriko Takaya

GunBuster is a six-volume OVA from 1988 directed by Hideaki Anno. The series is what put Studio Gainax on the map, and is one of the most well known title among old school otaku. 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!), that eventually takes a left turn into The Forever War. 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's 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 into The 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.

And that's just 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. 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, on color film.

In 2004, Studio Gainax released a sequel series, DieBuster, as its 15th anniversary project. This was released in R1 as Gunbuster 2. A third entry in the series has been reportedly in production for decades. Additionally, a little known work known as Aim for the Top! Next Generation (consisting of novels and manga) bridges some gaps between Gunbuster and Diebuster.

No relation to the Taito arcade game.

Tropes appearing include (but aren't limited to):

  • Action Girl: Noriko is one of the bravest and baddest women in the history of fiction. She has the astronomical killcount to prove it.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Episode 4, especially with the scenes of the Exelion's interior being destroyed as the battle continues.
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: The science lessons for each episode.
  • Anime Accent Absence: Jung speaks regular Japanese, she's just really snarky.
  • 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 
  • Atrocious Arthropods: The Uchuu Kaiju, or Space Monsters, are a race of Insectoid Aliens bent on eradicating humanity.
  • Author Appeal: We have a character named Jung Freud. And you say the director went through therapy? Who'd have thunk it?
  • Badass Adorable: Noriko.
  • Badass Arm-Fold: So associated with this trope that the gesture in question is commonly referred to as the "Gunbuster Pose" by anime fans. Alternately, the more concise "Busterpose/Busterposing", And in Japan, the Gainastance.
    • Noriko notably does a sitting version of the pose when Gunbuster combines, and Gunbuster's default pose is a seemingly permanent one.
  • Battle Mecha of Overheard Insults, or rather a harsh critique by Kazumi of Noriko.
  • Bittersweet Ending: On the one hand, the fact that TWELVE THOUSAND YEARS have passed means that all of their loved ones are no longer around, and they'll have to acclimatise to a radically different society. On the other hand, the fact that they are recognized after all these years, humanity still remembers their sacrifice and welcomes them back, makes some viewers baww like a baby.
  • Bowdlerized: The original Japanese videotape release is notorious for showing Noriko's pubic hair in a bath scene, subsequently trimmed in future releases.
  • 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.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Happens several times when fighting the Space Monsters.
    • First when the fleet is ambushed upon returning to the Sol system, resulting in a desperate battle with roughly 90% casualties for the human side. In the end, Noriko defeats the aliens by allowing the titular mecha to take a ramming attack directly to its abdomen before zapping the bejeesus out of the enemy flagship.
    • In the next episode, humanity destroys a far larger fleet under even more terrifying conditions by creating an artificial black hole that swallows the enemy fleet but which also takes down 3 planets and throws the Earth's axis off tilt.
    • The Space Monsters are finally defeated for good when humanity replicates this with an even larger black hole created by crushing Jupiter, which they lose thousands of Exelion-sized ships defending and which ultimately only works when Noriko and Kazumi Ota nee Amano plunge into the black hole's heart and activate it manually with one of Gunbuster's two core reactors, dooming them to never see their loved ones again. note .
  • Calling Your Attacks: Yes, it's mentioned elsewhere, but it needs its own entry, seeing how often Noriko does it.
    And of course...
  • Caped Mecha (Bustaa Shieldo!)
  • 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?"
  • Cool Big Sis: Kazumi is the very model.
  • Combining Mecha: The titular Gunbuster is the combined form of the first two Buster Machines. Noriko tops, while Kazumi's on the bottom.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Downplayed. The Space Monsters are frightfully powerful and alien creatures that are speculated to be "antibodies" of the universe itself, which regards humanity as a disease to wipe out. They reproduce by laying eggs in stars and can shrug off the elimination of a fleet the size of Neptune's orbit. Despite all this and the desperate measures humanity is led to to keep them at bay, humanity does manage to succeed at defeating the monsters (at least temporarily), so the story still comes down favorably on humanity's side.
  • 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.
    • There is a training ship from which they use two boosters to accelerate two machines up to sub-lightspeed to investigate the ruins of the Luxion, and the names of the staff are actually Gainax staff member names!
  • Creator Provincialism: The setting is not only in Japan, the whole world is effectively under Japanese cultural, economic and political dominance.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: A lone Gunbuster versus enough space aliens to span the diameter of Pluto's orbit? Yeah... the aliens don't stand a chance.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Kashiwara and Jung, although they were evenly matched.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Episode six, to emphasize the serious drama.
    • Especially notable in that it was animated in monochrome on color film, which cost the studio a bundle.
  • Distant Finale: WAY distant.
  • Diving Kick: SUPER, INAZUMA, KICK!!!!!!
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: "Coach" Ohta.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Jupiter Shattering.
  • 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.
  • Expy: The Space Monsters get one in the form of The Gohma.
    • In 2007, Noriko and Kazumi would get their own in the form of Simon The Digger and Kamina respectively. Yes, The Simon The Digger and The Kamina from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
  • Failed Future Forecast: All this future tech and there's still a Soviet Union around!!
  • Fanservice: By modern standards, Gunbuster contains a strong amount of Fanservice. The bath scene in Episode Two is particularly notable.
  • 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.
  • Finger Firearms / Hand Blast: "BUSTEEEERRRR MISSILE!!!"
  • Foe-Tossing Charge ("Super..." "...Inazuma..." "...KIIIIIIICK!")
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Without any censorship!
  • 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"?
  • Genre Shift: From sports anime spoof to Top Gun to The Forever War.
  • Godzilla Threshold: It's us or them, so why not destroy the core of the galaxy? Luckily, there is No Endor Holocaust.
  • Gratuitous English: File under Calling Your Attacks. "Homingu Reiza!!!" "BUSTAAAA!! MISAIRU!! "Ride on, ride on..."
  • Heroic BSoD: Noriko during the fourth episode. Kazumi also gets one in the fifth episode, and at the worst possible time.
  • She's Back: When Kazumi breaks down in episode 5, Noriko gives her a short speech that falls somewhere in-between What the Hell, Hero? and Get A Hold Of Yourself Man. After a moment, her eyes take on a steely gaze and she says, Noriko... let's combine! Cue Curb-Stomp Battle.
  • 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...
  • Homage: Dozens, maybe hundreds. Including many shows and stories long forgotten.
  • Homing Lasers: The Trope Namer for it!
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: The space monsters are seen as the galaxy's "immune system" that in turn sees humanity as a disease that must be wiped out. And with that knowledge, the humans know that there is no other choice but to wipe out the aliens for them to survive. However, it is averted in Episode 6 where there is a discussion of whether or not humanity is right in taking these steps. It's ultimately hand-waved given that humanity's only options are to either survive at any cost, or very certainly die off.
  • Hot-Blooded: Noriko Takaya may have been one of the first true examples of a female Hot-Blooded protagonist in giant robot history. Not only that, she remains as one of the most Hot-Blooded mecha pilots in history, to the point where only one hailing from her own studio can claim to surpass her.
  • 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.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: Averted - Jung is only telling scary stories during hyperspace jump. Noriko doesn't take them well. Double Subverted, when space monsters manage to perform a precision strike on the fleet within hyperspace, where, normally, no sensors work, and wipe out most of the ships.
  • I Know Madden Kombat: The Buster Home Run, which is effectively playing baseball with a ball of energy (see below).
  • Indirect Kiss: The medium is a soda she shared with Smith Torren (This poor sod doesn't make it through the next battle). She gets really red in the face after realization.
  • 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.
  • Ineffectual Loner: Jung Freud.
  • Infodump
  • Japan Takes Over the World: As may be expected from a series created by a Japanese studio 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.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jung.
  • Large Ham: Coach Ohta in the science lessons.
  • 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 the center of the galaxy and 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.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: (BUSTAAAA MISSAIRU!)
  • Mile-Long Ship: The Eltreum, which comes in at an impressive 70 km in length.
  • Motion-Capture Mecha: All the mecha in the series; Gunbuster itself is the "Kung-Fu Robo" variation of the trope.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Jung Freud, named after psychologists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.
  • Nightmare Face: Kashiwara during her fight with Noriko.
  • Nipple and Dimed: Several nipples are shown uncensored and even the downstairs aren't censored away during the Furo Scene!
  • 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. As the center of the galaxy is about 25,000 light-years away, the effects may also just be less than halfway to Earth by the ending.
  • "No More Holding Back" Speech: 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.
  • Omniscient Morality License: Say what you will, but Ohta still bets the fate of humanity on little more than his gut feeling about the daughter of the man who saved his life.
  • Plot-Relevant Age-Up: Or non-age-up as the case may be.
  • Posthumous Character: Admiral Takaya
  • 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 send a fleet in to ram the Black Hole Bomb. At first the shields hold, but eventually the enemy suicide attacks are so large that the shield fails, setting up the final twist to the Bittersweet Ending.
  • Randomly Reversed Letters: In the ending, when Noriko and Kazumi return to Earth after over 12,000 years, and the Earth lights up into a giant "Welcome Home" sign, one of the katakana is reversed.
  • 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.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: While the translation itself is good, the subtitles for the 2007 DVD release are filled with typos. Barely ten lines will go by without a misspelling, absent punctuation mark or most commonly, random missing letter.
  • Rule of Cool: Anno has said he was more concerned with how scenes worked out for drama and excitement than trying to be realistic.
  • Rule of Drama: The only time actual science is invoked is when it can raise the angst quotient.
  • Sampling: Episode 5 actually samples audio from Ghostbusters of all things, several times. really.
  • Sapient Cetaceans:
    • The final episode shows an Orca amongst a ship's crew.
    • The Eltreum uses cyborg dolphins for navigation, though only one is briefly shown.
  • Schizo Tech: Displays, uniforms, and other random tidbits are designed to be retro despite technology reaching insane levels. It does come down to hot-bloodedly battling kaiju while shouting a lot, after all.
  • Serial Escalation: In-between and after her occasional breaks, each of Noriko's battles is more awesome than the last. Except episode 3.
  • Shout-Out: Enough for its own page.
  • Skyscraper Messages: The entire planet is shut down then lit up to give our heroines a warm welcome back after twelve thousand years.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: The next mecha show made by Hideaki Anno basically took everything Gun Buster held dear and smashed into tiny pieces then smashed the pieces.
  • Spiritual Successor: Let's just say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
  • Starfish Aliens: The spacemonsters are among the biggest echinoderm/Giger-inspired horrors in fiction.
  • Starship Luxurious: The Eltrium.
  • 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.
  • Tannhäuser Gate: Mentioned as being involved in the series' FTL Travel during one of the Infodumps.
  • That's No Moon: No, it's a planet-sized, black hole-generating bomb made out of Jupiter!
  • 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 Koichi Ohata, 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.
  • Time Dilation: A major plot point later in the series. In the final episode, alone, Kazumi becomes fifteen years older during her stay on Earth while Noriko barely ages in comparison to her due to the effects of time dilation when travelling at FTL speeds.
  • Time Skip: Handled in an interesting way due to the aformentioned Time Dilation. With several years for some characters being mere hours for the main cast..
  • 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.
  • Training from Hell: This anime heavily averts Hard Work Hardly Works and makes it clear that training and hard work are just as important as potential, if not more so.
  • Training Montage: One early fan Gag Dub (Robotech III "Not Necessarily the Sentinels") even set it to the trope-naming music.
  • Unobtainium: Eltreum, what the massive ship of the same name is made out of, which is supposedly indestructible to everything known to man, bar annihilation with its antimatter equivalent.
  • Vertical Mecha Fins: The Gunbuster's twin rocket boosters.
    • They also serve as a Stealth Pun whenever the Gunbuster crosses its arms. When two fires combine to make a flame...
      • 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.
  • Wave-Motion Gun. BUSTAAA BEEEAAAMMM!


Video Example(s):



Noriko kicking through an enemy ship and lands on another ship below with a badass arm fold.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / BadassArmFold

Media sources: