Mecha March is finally here and this is the first show that is running off the review chain. Out of the mind of the creator of the Mobile Suit Gundam and some other series that deserve some attention in today’s anime sphere comes Aura Battler Dunbine. This was a show that came out a few years after Gundam’s inception. Yet this show has nowhere near the amount of staying power that Gundam has. To be honest, I can totally see why. Yes, Dunbine was the first Japanese story that had a character transported to a fantasy world ever in anime history, which can be a big deal considering everything that is coming out today, and this was the series that introduced flying fantasy battleships that became prominent in Japanese rpgs afterward. The problem here is that Aura Battler Dunbine’s execution isn’t that memorable compared to a lot of other Tomino shows.
Aura Battler Dunbine starts when the Japanese teenage motorcyclist by the name of Show Zama and some assorted others are transported to another world. That other world’s name is Bison Well. He and others are then forcibly trained to pilot giant robots against an enemy that they don’t fully understand for no particular reason. You see, Drake and his army are doing this because people from upper Earth, what Byston Well natives call where we live, because apparently people from their have stronger aura power then in Byston Well. You know, powers that help people fly in mechs better. That is until a pilot from the other side encountered Show Zama and told him that the situation was more complicated then Show realized. The other pilot’s name was Marvel Frozen, a female native from Texas. Eventually, he left that side and joined what could be debatably called the good side. That’s only where this show starts, because it gets crazier from here.
From that point on for the rest of the show’s first half, the show is centered around war, establishing Aura Dunbine’s world, establishing Dunbine’s huge cast of heroes and villains, and other things. Show and Marvel are the crew of a ship called the Zalana which is run by the prince of a soon to be fallen Kingdom by the name of Neel, Keen who is the daughter of a lord that betrayed the side she is on, and other people that only get a name. Sad for them, but this show’s cast is too big. Show and Neel’s maturity is developed by these characters beating each other up and/or yelling at each other until they find that they are both idiots. Thankfully, they stop playing the alpha male game. Unfortunately, in my eyes, these characters never get interesting to me. Well, not until the last half but even then, they are still only vehicles for the driving the plot then anything else. The princess that eventually gets established later on are interesting until they get thrown into this show’s plot and become vehicles themselves. This show is more story focused instead of being character focused which hurts everyone including the villains.
The villains aren’t completely interesting either. The main bad guy, whose name is Drake, is a villain who wants to conquer Byston Well and eventually the Earth for himself. Besides his relationship to his daughter and wife, that’s all we get to know about him. His subordinates are either people that are so dedicated to him and barely get anything done at all yet still have their positions anyway or are slightly higher on the achievement levels and just plan on betraying Drake with their schemes that eventually fail for reasons. I mean, their schemes fail spectacularly and in the end, Drake doesn’t even know about any of them except one. The fact that Drake didn’t have to deal with that problem either was pretty hilarious, honestly. There were plenty of ace pilots that Show had to fight too, but possibly way too many of them. In fact, there were way too many villains in general. Many of them were not given enough screen time to develop their rivalry with Show, except if they were there in the beginning with him, because other villains needed screen time for that episode or string of episodes that eventually lead to their deaths. Please curate your ideas, Tomino. Too many things going on here.
Speaking of too many, I feel like Aura Battler Dunbine fell victim to having too many episodes. To me, that means it hasn’t aged well. I’m not saying that the plot it’s bad. It’s not. There are a lot of good ideas in this show because it’s a very good anti-war show. The insanity of war hitting Byston Well and then building up until the faeries themselves got rid of everyone involved with it and their weapons and sent them to upper Earth is a very interesting turn. Yes, entire fleets of mechs and battleships went into upper Earth and then have to deal with the politics of the Upper World. Yes, their weapons don’t affect the ships from Byston Wells, but they can provide resources and other things the flying battleships and their armies to keep running. The problem is that there are so many side plots that seemingly come out of nowhere. Yes, all of these things eventually pay off in later elements of the story, but why did we have to have a build up to a massive war between two sides to have a short intervention with our protagonist appearing in another dimension just to pull out a princess that plays into the story later. Same with that whole sending Show Zama to upper earth in the early episodes and having major confrontations with the current villain at that time, Garalia, and the people of upper Earth itself. That just happened out of nowhere too. There has be a better way to world build or do other things then just having characters appear somewhere. That is the smaller part of a larger problem.
Aura Battler Dunbine’s main problem is that the power driving the show isn’t completely explained. It’s called Aura power (yes, its very original) and that’s the power pilots use to power robots. I think? Aura power is as well explained and defined as a catch in professional football. You know what it looks like, but the rulings are mostly decided by referees after the play happens. Even if it’s obvious if something is a catch or not. Aura power is very much plot magic because enemies are stronger or they aren’t because their aura power is growing or it doesn’t. Sometimes aura power builds up so much that you can literally feel the hand of god grab some of the characters and take them somewhere else. I suppose we learn that aura power is tied to emotions because when a character is overly emotional, it’s possible for you to explode. That’s it really and it seems like even the characters don’t know how it works either. They constantly comment on the condition of their power. This is a big deal because it’s the literal driving force of this show.
Ok, that’s enough negativity. I’ve been raging on this show too much. There are a lot of good elements to this show as well. For one thing, the premise of Aura Battler Dunbine is incredibly creative. I say this after watching who knows how many mech shows and knowing this show came out in 1983. Where else in anime can you see full castle siege combat happening alongside mechs flying in the air. Catapults and trebuchets throw rocks at mechs and then crush them. There are also scenes of ground combat or mechs carrying siege machines to battle sites. You can tell how new of a thing that mech combat is for Byston Well because all the monarchs are still held down by the idea of castles. Siege weaponry is being used in an era that beam weapons are used, so it shows that the technological growth was too fast. Then there tons of scenes where flying battleships and mechs face combat against fighter planes and other upper Earth weaponry and things. The inherent coolness of this show needs to be brought up because Aura Battler Dunbine plays with those aspects more then other things do. Even Escaflowne, which is a show that I love, isn’t that creative.
I love the gender equality in this show. Tomino has always been pretty good at this aspect besides never having a female main character in a gundam show. There are more or about as many female characters in this show as there are male characters. Most of them are either in a position of power like a queen that control entire battlefleets or they are piloting mechs which makes they take up the majority of named characters. There is one princess character that gets locked away in a tower or in a battleship to be saved later, but that is it. Even then, there were multiple attempts to rescue her which ended in failure and in the end, she got herself out. All of it in order to enact revenge against her parents. Despite the things that happen to her, I’m glad it happened. I should also mention that there is a whole of the villains who wear pink pilot suits and don’t even care about it at all. It might not be noteworthy, but it at least needs to be commented on.
Lastly, this is a 49-episode series that is full of filler and other tactical retreats moments but the bigger and most powerful moments in this show are worth the price of admission. I mean, I can’t call a lot of these battles blood baths because when a side gets over whelmed, their leader will call a tactical retreat to reform their forces to fight another day. But when one side completely commits all their forces to one cause, amazing things and powerful moments occur. Despite the lack of character depth that I imagined above, every character death is incredibly powerful and meaningful in multiple ways. There is always a lesson telling our characters not to do what those villain characters did. Then there are other impactful moments centered around the destruction of cities. Those happen because our characters made massive mistakes that they eventually learn from. Then are times when nuclear weapons are out in play because Tomino doesn’t mess around when those are used. Even with the barriers of Byston Well tech being able to handle nuclear blasts and radiation, the effects they had on their surroundings and how they are used are never a joke. Don’t play around with nukes, kids. They are powerful things. I think this show plays with the isekai aspect more than a lot of other series do because the Upper Earth scenes are just as important as the Byston Well scenes.
I have to at least comment on the mecha designs in this show. The designs created by Kazutaka Miyatake are so alien or monster like, so you can automatically tell Dunbine designs from any other mech series imaginable. I mean, apparently these mechs are built from monster corpses. An example of this the Dunbine itself. Most mech series during that time period had whiter and more humanoid mechs, but the Dunbine is purple and its head is something that a pterodactyl would have instead. No mech in this show are colored in the standard way either, because each of are well defined and interesting which is good because I did have trouble telling one mech from another. I mean, the enemies kept building experimental units that were supposed to be more powerful then the last, so I got lost from time to time. Too many mech models to fit into my head at one time.
Despite a lot of the problems I had with Aura Battler Dunbine, I had a blast. I won’t say that this is necessary viewing for anyone, but I think it could be a fun watch for those people who want to see where isekai anime came from. Might be worth a glance. Also recommended for people that are interested in older mech shows and people that watching Tomino shows. So basically, people like me. Its visuals are outdated because it’s an older series, but you can see the seeds of what becomes Zeta Gundam and other Tomino shows in Aura Battler Dunbine. A very big Tomino jumping off point. As influential as the series is for other mech shows and Japanese media in general, it’s worth watching for all the cool ideas it bring to forefront. Once again, not necessary viewing but worth at least reading about, checking out a few episodes here and there, and just general exploration of the isekai genre.
Also, if you want to check out Aura Battler Dunbine yourself, you can buy a copy on RightStuf right here!