The original Aim For The Top! Gunbuster ova series, whose title referenced the Aim For the Ace! Tennis anime series and Top Gun, starting being sold on VHS a year after Royal Space Force appeared in 1988. Also, it was directed by the one and only, Hideaki Anno. He’s spent time being an animation director and taking part in other animator roles before this one, but now he’s going to run out and take the keys for this anime production. Why? Because the script for this original work was just sitting around in the Gainax office and Anno felt that someone had to make it. Why not him? With that thought process, the script became alive and Gunbuster was a major success. Partially because the passion behind what he and the rest of Gainax put into the material and partially because of the hot girls and robots. Let’s not lie here, that last part heavily played a hand this OVA’s success. I wish that six-episode OVA was legally available. Unfortunately, I only have the film to review here because that’s all I can get my hands on legally. That’s ok, there is still plenty of content to talk about still.
Gunbuster takes place in a fictional time period where humanity has discovered space travel. Unfortunately, humanity has also discovered a giant race of wondering space bugs simply known as Space Monsters during their exploits. The worse thing about this? The Space Monsters seemed more interested in just destroying the human race then becoming friends with the human race. As humankind just traveled over the edges of the solar system, the space monsters mounted an attack and the humanities fight for survival began. By developing space faring battleships and giant fighting robots, humankind felt like they were more prepared for the growing conflict to come. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth. One of the first battles lead by an Admiral Takaya in 2015 was destroyed. To prepare for the next attack, Coach Ota, who survived the next invasion and served under Admiral Takaya, is now working on a plan to save humanity. It involves getting two people to pilot the super robot, The Gunbuster, in an effort to save humanity.
Following that backstory, we meet Coach Ota’s training school girls to use giant robots, a bunch of school girls in 80’s workout clothes, and our main protagonist, Noriko Takaya. Stumbling and awkward, Noriko got chosen to go into space school alongside the school’s #1 pilot, Kazumi Amano. Not feeling right for the role herself, she struggles with her training in space and even gets grounded because of the lack of confidence in herself after failing during her first mission with some added flack side she received from her partner, Kazumi. Noriko still doesn’t think she is good enough to do anything and doesn’t feel like she pushed herself far enough to succeed yet. Of course, that changes when something dramatic happens.
When the human space fleet is ambushed by a huge fleet of space monsters and starts losing, Noriko finds the courage in herself to pilot the unfinished Gunbuster to save the day. After that, Noriko finds herself on the short list of people who are trusted to fight against the Space Monsters for the future. She was in the fore front of people who get heavily involved in risky missions. As one of the two pilots of the Gunbuster, that’s just the name of the game for her and Kazumi. Even to the detriment of themselves when they get completed detached from their own society by a time distance of over 12,000 years. Space travel, black hole bombs, and heavy gravity completely sucks, doesn’t it?
Gunbuster the movie is a mildly hard science fiction film with a large dash of super robot when the Gunbuster comes out. The major concept scientific concept that plays heavily into Gunbuster’s plot is time dilation. I can’t say whether not the time that flows from one time period to another in this anime would work the same as it would in real life, because humanity has never made it that far into outer space beyond our solar system yet. Still, there are some principals that are maintained like how time dilation is affected by gravity and distance the faster a unit travels closer to the speed of light. I think that the exact rules of how time dilation works could be thrown out the window here for the drama at hand. That drama being the more time Noriko, Kazumi, and others spend in outer space to deal with the space monster menace, the more they separated from the society they are protecting. This is seen from how far Noriko’s life changes compared to her best friend from high school, Kimiko, whose ages keeps progressing further and further as time goes on. You know, like her friend becoming a motherhood and even older from that point on? It’s even worse in the finale. The loneliness of outer space hits us all with that one. But the Earth remembered.
Once again, the things I like seem to have a lot lore behind them, huh? Maybe it’s because world building that makes the show feel more real and grounded. I mean, I mentioned Admiral Takaya here for a reason. Why? Because it adds so much to admiral’s daughter, Noriko’s, backstory and constant struggles. She is called the daughter of defeat because of that loss and it gives Noriko something to drive forward. “My father is not a loser and I will prove that with my own strength.” Noriko is the ultimate underdog with a large heart. She can’t use her robot as well as everyone else in the beginning, but she works as hard as she can pushing herself forward more and more to even acquire a chance to show herself to everyone else. Eventually she gets so strong that she has to push her idol and team mate, Kazumi Amano, forward in her time of need. Kazumi wants to be in a relationship with coach, but she doesn’t think he’ll be alive by the time she gets back. Maybe Noriko needed to separate herself from humanity because she became too strong welled and overpowered for everyone else around her. I’m so proud of my daughter, Noriko Takaya.
Now that sounds all fine, right? Generally, it is. The movie has a complete narrative to it, even it if is thinned out quite a bit because it doesn’t have as much meat as the OVA. I’ve had to read the synposis for the OVA and I can’t believe all the character things that I’ve been left out on. Noriko’s development is generally intact, even if suffers a little bit in the beginning when her training at Earth school isn’t completely on display, but everything and everyone else around her is bare bones. Her relationship with Kazuki Amano is there, but barely there alongside Kazuki and Ohta’s relationship for when they got married and beyond, and Noriko’s quickly established relationship with Kimiko Hugichi, her high school best friend. Everything that is absolutely needed to push the plot forward is there, so the movie could be called functional at best regarding its story and plot. So many things that I still want to see and know, but maybe I should be just glad to have it in some form?
Visually, I can’t help but admit that is still looks great. Possibly because the movie took the most visually impressive scenes and ran with them? The character designs, the uniforms, the mecha action, and so are still beautifully fantastic. Along with how beautiful space is from a color perspective as well. The animation cuts aren’t noticeable in this film, because there isn’t any time to rest as the film moves along at a breakneck pace The pilot uniforms themselves are very 80’s and pretty fanservice heavy with our female pilots girls wearing athletic looking leotards without any pants alongside the 80’s colored tube socks. Why? I don’t know. They do look a little off putting compared to the military uniforms that everyone else is wearing, but it is emphasizing the super robot element of piloting a robot alongside the only slightly more realistic spaceship stuff. Can’t complain too much, I think. Plus, every space scene just looks wide open and visually great still. The spaceships are cool looking, the space monsters are well detailed and horrifying looking, and I really love the robot designs. I also really love the finale that is completely in grey scale and has a gigantic planet bomb.
I just love Gunbuster’s mechanical design. From the basic RX-7 to the groundbreaking and awesome looking Gunbuster design, I have no complaints regarding how they are drawn or move. Hideaki Anno wanted to create his own space anime with its own lore and awesome titular robot and he did it. Let’s be honest here, the Gunbuster is one of the coolest looking and one of the most influential robots around in the anime sphere. Well, at least for Gainax and Trigger. From the construction of the Gunbuster through an epic transformation sequence to all the cool abilities from its missile fingers, head laser ray, all the way to the cape that it uses block enemy attacks. MORE ROBOTS WITH CAPES PLEASE. What isn’t super robot anime about this? It takes a super robot to save the day in a hard science fiction world, so it makes sense.
Would I recommend this Aim For The Top! Gunbuster movie? Until the OVA itself is legally released for the public again, I would say yes. Even if it’s skinned down quite a bit, it’s still a completely original heart warming and at times, heart breaking story. The character work is still ok and functional, the mechanical designs and visuals are still great, and it’s still a classic anime that needs some love and affection. You can stream it on HiDive and probably find the disc from Maiden Japan, so give it a watch if you can. Maybe if the movie is supported enough, Sentai Filmworks and all it’s affiliates would find it their hearts to allow us to watch the complete six-episode OVA legally at some point. At least there is this movie to feed on until that happens. Easy recommendation for everyone to watch because it isn’t that long of a watch. Only takes 90 minutes and you can move onto something else. Witness the trigging mechanism for a lot of what Studio Gainax AND TRIGGER produced afterward for yourself. I’m not even kidding about this.