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Gunbuster, known in Japan as is a six episode anime OVA series created by Gainax in 1988. It was the directorial debut of Hideaki Anno, best known as the director of Neon Genesis Evangelion. The title is a combination of the titles of classic tennis anime Aim for the Ace!, whose plot inspired Gunbuster's, and the 1986 film Top Gun. To celebrate Gainax's 20th anniversary in 2004, an official sequel to Gunbuster, Diebuster (or Gunbuster 2), was released as an OVA. The series features new characters and mecha, but retains the format and many of the concepts of the original series.


In the very near future, a race of huge, insectoid aliens is discovered traveling the galaxy. These aliens, which are known as the Uchuu Kaijuu, or Space Monsters (Note: This name is what they are referred to throughout the series, although the Super Robot Wars games names them the "STMC" or "Space Terrible Monster Crowd"), seem dedicated to the eradication of the human species as the latter takes its first steps away from the solar system, and they are getting closer and closer to Earth. Humanity has responded by developing spacegoing battleships and giant fighting robots. These complex robots – RX-7 Machine Weapons – are actually an advanced type of fighting suit, piloted by a single occupant. As advanced as they are, however, they are being used as trainers for a new weapon, the Gunbuster. However, being relatively new technology, they are difficult to operate (stock shots show pilots working multiple controls with hands and feet, while fingers rapidly operate switches on the handgrips), so pilot candidates are selected from the best and brightest youth on Earth and the Lunar colony. These are trained at schools around the world.

The story begins in the year 2023, not long after the first battles with the aliens, and centers on young Noriko Takaya (タカヤ・ノリコ Takaya Noriko) (voice: Noriko Hidaka). Although Noriko's father was a famous admiral in the space fleet who went missing following one of the first battles of the war, her own talents as a pilot are questionable – especially when compared to the other students. Nonetheless, she has entered a training school on Okinawamarker, largely due to the influence of her instructor, "Coach Ohta," who was one of Admiral Takaya's crew. He has faith that she will overcome her early clumsiness, while other students are critical of her inability.

Noriko idolizes the beautiful, competent and talented Kazumi Amano (アマノ・カズミ Amano Kazumi) (voice: Rei Sakuma). She is not alone, the other students recognize that Amano is the top RX-7 pilot at the school, and likely the entire world. Coach Ohta shows the extra training which Amano creates for herself, inspiring Noriko to look within herself for strengths which she didn't know that she had.

Only two Gunbuster pilots from each school will be selected for the real mission. Amano, of course, will be going, and all of the others want the second slot on the team. Takaya is determined to win, not only to be with Amano but also to find (or avenge) her father. She is thrilled to discover that she has in fact been chosen as the second Japanese pilot.

Following that selection, conflict between Takaya and other students comes to a head, when the second-best RX-7 pilot at the school publicly challenges her to a one-on-one fight. Planned for late at night, when none of the school authorities will be around to stop it, Ohta learns of the duel and comes to the battleground – but does nothing. He is there to observe, and perhaps to save Takaya's life, if the combat gets too intensive.

Takaya is on the defensive from the start, and the older student humiliates her by action and over the radio. As Takaya's RX-7 is pummelled, Noriko realizes that her difficulties are a case of sensory overload – she is getting too much information from the electronic monitoring systems. She turns off her monitors, but as the systems go dark, her opponent is infuriated by the perceived insult and prepares the final, killing blow. Just as it appears that Noriko is doomed, she destroys her opponent's RX-7 with a "Thunder Kick." Her opponent muses that the school rookie has beat her with an advanced maneuver which she hadn't been taught. This is the proof that Ohta was seeking, that Noriko had an innate ability which would be invaluable in the battles to come.

Together, with Coach Ohta and friends to come, Noriko and Amano face the trauma of war and the discovery of loss.

For the final battle, Earth has created Buster Machine III, a giant bomb. When detonated this will cause a black hole to be formed that will suck the space monsters in.

In the final episode, after the bomb is set off, Noriko and Kazumi spend 12,000 Earth years traveling home. Upon arriving in Earth orbit, the pilots cannot make contact with anyone nor see any sign of habitation on the planet, suggesting that human civilization is long gone. However, their despair is instantly dispelled when a massive light pattern suddenly appears on the planet saying "WELCOME HOME!" (the final character, however, is reversed, suggesting the current civilization has an imperfect understanding of the now 12,000 year old language) Delighted that their home civilization is alive and well after so long, the pilots abandon their mecha to land on the planet.

Episode List

  1. Shock! Big-Sister and I are Going to be Pilots Together?!
  2. Daring! The Girl Genius Challenger!!
  3. First Love☆First Sortie
  4. Launch!! The Incomplete Ultimate Weapon!
  5. Please!! Time Enough for Love!
  6. At the End of Eternity...



Gunbuster follows the genre of Super Robot anime, started by the Mazinger Z series, but also contains some elements of the Real Robot genre by showing mass produced versions of the titular robot (called "Sizzlers") as well as previous smaller combat mecha called "RX" which are used along with bigger battleships in space warfare, elements seen previously in Gundam and Macross. It is notable for being one of the few anime series to deal with the concept of time dilation in a realistic way, and indeed makes it one of its central plot elements. Though the scientific accuracy of the series is variable (it posits the invention of acceleration compensators, artificial gravity and warp drives by the year 2015) it includes many hard science fiction elements, and provides a consistent technological frame if one assumes that human technological progress has been put into overdrive in order to wage war against the aliens.

Gunbuster is also notable as being a spiritual predecessor to Anno's more famous Neon Genesis Evangelion in that the themes of space opera and mecha action take somewhat of a back seat to various romances, rivalries and other relations between the main characters, made more complex by the differing speeds of their aging due to time dilation (for Noriko, the 40 year or so timespan of the major part of the series takes roughly about a year). It is also similar to the later Evangelion in that it begins as a high-school anime, with the students at Okinawa space high school for girls competing for places among the elite pilots sent to fight the space monsters. This pattern has since become somewhat of an anime cliché. Noriko also shares many personality traits with Evangelion's Shinji Ikari, particularly in her lack of confidence in herself, and Jung Freud, a Sovietmarker pilot who befriends Noriko and Kazumi, is regarded by many fans as a prototype of Asuka Langley Sohryu, right down to her red hair and arrogant attitude.

Production notes

  1. Much of the final battle sequence is not animated, but shown as a series of images portraying tableaux of events during the battle.
  2. The entire final episode is monochrome, except for the very end. Unusually, this was achieved by executing the artwork in shades of grey, rather than shooting color animation using black and white film.
  3. The characters were originally designed by Haruhiko Mikimoto, who also did likewise on The Super Dimension Fortress Macross and on the following year's Gundam 0080. They were adapted for animation by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, of The Wings of Honneamise and Neon Genesis Evangelion fame.
  4. Mechanical designs for this OVA were created by Kazutaka Miyatake (who also worked in Macross) and Kouichi Ohata (Macross II).
  5. The series is also notable for being the first anime to introduce jiggling breasts as a form of fan service, which led to such movement being sometimes called the "Gainax bounce", and also lead to the show being nicknamed "Bustgunner" by fans.
  6. Posters on the backgrounds of some scenes indicate that Noriko is a fan of anime, sci-fi and classic rock music. In episode 4, as she is crying in the women's quarters aboard the battleship Exelion, a poster of Tracy Chapman hangs on the wall by her bunk bed. Her apartment in episode 5 is decorated with posters of My Neighbor Totoro, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Space Battleship Yamato, as well as a Van Halen calendar. In episode 6, posters for Thunderbirds and Message from Space, as well as a promo ad for Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies, can be seen in Noriko's room aboard the battleship Eltreum.

Science lessons

A typical Gunbuster science lesson.
L to R: Kazumi Amano, Coach Ohta, Noriko Takaya.
The science lessons are short "omake" bonus features originally present on the first two volumes. Each short lasts around two minutes, and stars super deformed versions of Noriko, Kazumi and the Coach explaining the various scientific aspects of the series. The Tannhauser Gate, or starbow as it's more commonly called, created by the fictitious Dr. Tannhauser as explained in the first of the science lessons, is a direct reference to a remark made by the Replicant Roy Batty at the end of the film Blade Runner. Although only four "lessons" were produced during the series' original run, another two episodes (for episodes 5 and 6) were later produced for the Japan-only Laserdisc collection. They also appear on subsequent DVD releases in Japan and North America. The "New Science Lesson" clips mark the directorial debut of Kazuya Tsurumaki, who went on to direct FLCL, first half of The End of Evangelion and Gunbuster 2.

  • Science Lesson 1: The Theory of Ether Space
Noriko and Kazumi discuss the discoveries by Tannhauser allowing for faster-than-light travel.
Noriko, Kazumi and Coach discuss time dilation effects.
  • Science Lesson 3: Faster-than-light (c-plus) Travel All About Warp
More Tannhauser Gate space warp theory, increasing the Schwartzchild radius to achieve warp.
  • Science Lesson 4: The Evil Space Monsters
Discusses the enemy space creatures encountered in the series.
  • Science Lesson 4+1: The History of Spaceships
Noriko and Kazumi discuss the history of space travel from the earliest manned rocket to their most advanced ships.
  • Science Lesson 5: Final Chapter: The True Solar System
Noriko and Kazumi discuss the solar system as it pertains to the Gunbuster universe. As Noriko recites the planets of the Solar System, planets Mercury to Jupiter are accompanied by her cosplaying as a Sailor Senshi (from Sailor Moon) representing each planet. For Earth, she cosplays as Tuxedo Mask. (Only the Inner Senshi are featured, as the Outer Senshi (Sailor Saturn, Sailor Uranus, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Pluto) had not yet been introduced in the Sailor Moon series; hence Noriko's clueless look while reciting the planets beyond Jupiter.) When Coach appears and gives his usual lecture, Noriko cosplays as Sailor Moon and declares herself the "Pretty Soldier of Hard Work and Guts."


The series was originally released in Japan over three volumes on VHS videocassette, with two episodes per volume. It was then released on three laserdiscs with a later boxset containing two new science episodes. Eventually, it was released on DVD. In 2004, a remastered four disc set was released with dramatically improved image, and new extras such as three short animations, a rough cut of episode five and an unmatted version of episode 6.

The series was first released in English in North America starting in March 1990 on video by U.S. Renditions as their first release. It was only released in the original Japanese language audio track and featured some rather loose English subtitles, especially on the first volume. It was later re-released verbatim in 1996 on VHS by Manga Entertainment after U.S. Renditions ceased operations.

The series was released in English on a single DVD in the United Kingdom by Kiseki Films, but this release suffered from poor video quality and inconsistent subtitles. It was also criticized for lack of advertised extras and the editing of a scene with full-frontal nudity.

On November 24, 2006 Bandai Visual USA released a limited, regionless reprint of the 2004 R2 remastered set exclusively at Kinokuniya Bookstores. The set lacked any translation and was an exact 1:1 copy of the R2. The set was marketed to die-hard fans of the show, and was meant to cease distribution upon the R1 release. As of August 2007, six months after officially going off sale, the set can still be purchased at Kinokuniya.

On February 20, 2007, Bandai Visual USA officially released the remastered R1 DVD box set under their Honneamise label, with the series spanned over three discs like the R2 and R0. However, the set lacked the fourth disc of the previous R0, which contained the rough episode five and unmatted episode six, along with other period extras.

Whilst it is common for anime released in North America to come with an English-dubbed audio track, no English-language audio track has been released. In an interview with Anime on DVD, Jonathan Clements stated that "the Music & Effects track has been lost, and [an English dub] would need to be reconstructed from the ground up". However, in 2006, a theatrical version of Gunbuster was released in Japan featuring a 5.1 soundtrack, containing new sound effects, the original score and re-recorded dialogue by the original Japanese voice actors. The feature-length film is an abridged version of the original OVA, and uses the same animated footage as the original. This film (along with the theatrical version of Diebuster, which was released theatrically as a double feature with the Gunbuster theatrical edition) has been licensed for North American distribution by Bandai Visual USA. It was initially released in the USA on DVD as Gunbuster vs. Diebuster: Aim for the Top! The GATTAI!! Movie, a box set containing the theatrical edits of both Gunbuster and Diebuster. A high-definition Blu-ray Disc version was released in November by Bandai Entertainment in the USA (following the liquidation of Bandai Visual USA and Bandai Entertainment's acquisition of the Honneamise label) and by Beez Entertainment in the United Kingdom, where Gunbuster The Movie will also be released as a separate Blu-ray Disc.

Region 1 DVD Controversy

On the original video release of episode 1, Noriko's training montage was accompanied by music composer Kōhei Tanaka's rendition of a piece inspired by Vangelis' theme from Chariots of Fire. Unlike the R0, in which this scene is completely intact, this set, while visually uncut, has this piece of background music replaced with a piece of score from later in the series. There was a bit of a controversy regarding this change, due to lack of info as to why, along with no official announcement made until after a fan discovery.

The reasoning behind the change is still unclear. During a panel at Anime Los Angeles 2007, where the change was discovered, Tatsunori Konno, president of Bandai Visual USA, was unsure of the circumstances regarding the change. It appeared as if the fact of its existence had slipped his mind. After the panel, he stated to a fan that he believed it was due to fears of copyright infringement. Fans have speculated that this was due possibly to its similarity to Vangelis' score, given that the piece was a homage. The official letter of response from Bandai Visual USA, written by Takenari Maeda, was that it was something "the Japanese producers thought they needed to do for the US release" with no other reason as to why given. They offered the alternative of purchasing the more expensive, limited R0 release for "stickler" fans. While the minimal dialog in the scene remains, this change also omits the sound effects in the scene as no isolated Foley reel exists.

It was later discovered that this act of sound manipulation also had an adverse effect on the overall audio quality of episode 1, causing the track to sound somewhat "muffled" in comparison to the Japanese release's audio. This is probably due to some kind of audio noise reduction process, or the act of reencoding the audio to accommodate the change.

Upon being informed of the alteration at Fanimeconmarker 2007, Gainax President Hiroyuki Yamaga stated that he was unaware until that moment, even checking with a colleague before responding. His opinion was that, from a business perspective, one altered foreign release of a show they did twenty years prior did not affect him. However, from the perspective of a fellow anime fan, he could sympathize with American fans over the alteration. He likened it to feelings he had over changes Yoshiyuki Tomino had made to his landmark first Gundam series.


All the characters are named in some part for members of the production staff, with the exception of Jung Freud, who was named after the two famed psychologists. An example of this is Amano Kazumi, the maiden name of Okada Kazumi, the wife of Okada Toshio, one of the founders of Gainax and its first president. She also worked on the show. The character of Smith Toren was named after Toren Smith (reversed to fit Japanese name patterns). Smith was a key figure in popularizing anime and manga in the United States. Once the owner of Studio Proteus (which has now been absorbed by the publishing company Dark Horse Comics), also provided the voice of an anonymous bridge operator during one episode of the OVA.

See also


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