[Throwback Thursdays] Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster Review & Characters - Aim for the Top!

gunbuster wallpaper

Aim for the Top!

  • Episodes : 6
  • Genre : Shounen, Mecha, Sci-fi
  • Airing Date : October 1988 - July 1989
  • Producers :Gainax / Studio Fantasia

Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster Preview / Plot (No Spoilers)

In the year 2015 humanity meets an extraterrestrial foe. Called simply the “space monsters”, the first battle with these giant alien insects leaves only a handful of survivors and cripples a large part of the Earth’s space force.

Fast-forward 8 years, and humanity has united against the threat of the space monsters. All over the world teenagers are being trained to pilot the fighting suits which will be used to combat the alien forces in space. Enter Noriko Takaya; she dreams of being chosen to pilot a suit, in order to follow in the footsteps of her father, who was an admiral in Earth’s space force. Gunbuster is Noriko’s story, and follows her journey from zero to hero!

gunbuster mecha wallpaper

Who does Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster cater to?

Gunbuster is a shounen anime, so anyone who’s after big battles, overpowered characters and a dash of comedy will find lots to enjoy in Gunbuster. Fans of sci-fi and mecha anime won’t be disappointed either; the mech designs and animation are stunning, and there are a few really cool physics-y concepts for science nerds to get their heads around. In a master stroke, the studio catered to female and male audiences with a female protagonist, so Gunbuster really has something for just about everyone!

What's so appealing about this piece of work.

The main appeal of this anime is that it’s the work of Hideaki Anno. Firstly, it’s Anno’s directorial debut. I’m a massive Evangelion fan, so I wanted to compare the two series, made seven years apart, and see if Gunbuster was a sort of Evangelion prototype. As an animator Anno brought to life some seriously kick-ass mecha concepts, and Gunbuster this is no different. The animation and design is superb, especially when it comes to the bad-ass future tech featured. Aside from the animation, Anno is known for bringing dark psychological elements into his work, and Gunbuster is no exception.

Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster Trailer

Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster Main Characters List

Noriko Takaya

gunbuster noriko takaya

Voice Actor :Noriko Hidaka

Noriko Takaya is your typical high-school loser, but with a Hideaki Anno twist. She’s the worst pilot in the school, and to make matters worse, Noriko is the daughter of a famous admiral. Being a hopeless pilot with such prestigious heritage makes her a target for intense bullying, especially by the school’s number-two pilot, Reiko Kashiwara. Topping it all off is the fact that Noriko’s father was killed in the first encounter with the space monsters!

Despite appearing so hopeless, Noriko is hell-bent on being selected to fight the space monsters. Her true potential starts to show when, against all the odds, she is chosen to fight!

Kazumi Amano

gunbuster kazumi amano

Voice Actor :Rei Sakuma

Beautiful and talented, Kazumi is the ace pilot of the school. Cutting an imposing figure in her customised fighting suit, she is admired by all, especially Noriko. It’s no surprise at all therefore, when Kazumi is picked to fight for Earth.

Kazumi is fiercely competitive, but because of her pride she initially doesn’t see Noriko as worthy of her attention. Her overconfidence is her main weakness, and we soon find out Kazumi has a lot to learn.

Kouichiro Oota

gunbuster kouichirou oota

Voice Actor :Norio Wakamoto

Ohta is the school’s new fighting suit coach. He is one of the only survivors of the Luxion, captained by Admiral Yuzo Takaya, a.k.a. Noriko’s father. Despite having survived the battle, Ohta is left with serious injuries, and walks with a cane.

At first appearing grim and unforgiving, Ohta reveals himself to be a passionate and encouraging figure. He has a special bond with Noriko, and is relentless in pushing her to believe in herself.

Contains Spoilers

Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster Review

I discovered Gunbuster while writing an article about Gainax’s top anime. I had heard the name once or twice, but when I found out that it was directed by Hideaki Anno I was intrigued!

At first glance Gunbuster is a standard mecha anime with a pretty well-used storyline; the idea of “do your best and you can overcome anything, even a horde of billions of space aliens” isn’t exactly a groundbreaking concept in anime, even in 1988 (and let’s face it, Gunbuster’s storyline is essentially Aim for the Ace set in a mecha world, with characters and concepts from Top Gun). Despite this, it’s actually executed really well.

At the beginning of the story we’re granted two glimpses of Noriko growing up. The first of these is a class presentation where she excitedly tells the class about her father heading into space. The second of these is her reaction to finding out Earth’s fleet was destroyed in a confrontation with the space aliens. These are really important to the story as it sets up the rationale for Noriko’s slightly incomprehensible behaviour i.e. why we can find her struggling through her training despite apparently having no aptitude for piloting a mobile suit!

This raises an important point: What sets this anime apart from many mecha anime of the time is that the actual narrative isn’t really important; the story works because it involves us in the characters’ struggles through their emotions and reactions. This is important because as an OVA of only 6 parts, the story moves at such a pace that it would feel rushed if we weren’t able to experience it through the characters eyes. Unfortunately at times there are some situations which could have been built on in a longer series, like the burgeoning romance between Noriko and Smith, which would have led to a much bigger emotional reaction.

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Overall though, the depth of the characters is a highlight of the series, especially one so short. One thing I really enjoyed was the change in relationship between Noriko and Kazumi; at first Kazumi was pretty cold and unforgiving towards Noriko, but every episode something occurred to alter the dynamic, and by the end of the series Kazumi came to respect Noriko and even learn from her. As well as the relationship between the core characters, their reactions to their surroundings was really enjoyable to watch. So many anime of the genre feature characters which are at home with this futuristic technology which they are presented with, so seeing Noriko and Kazumi react to to the time distortion made for a more immersive experience.

The design and animation were another highlight, and added a lot to the immersion factor. Miyatake Kazutaka (of the original Macross series) was responsible for the mechanical design, and really brought the futuristic elements of the series to life. Fighting suits have a realistic feel to them, and the scenes of them being operated have a really nice complexity. One thing I really enjoyed was the difference between the human and space monster aesthetic. So many sci-fi anime slip up when it comes to alien design, often with human and alien design being pretty similar, so it was refreshing to see the sleek, but clearly mechanical style of the human fleet pitted against their beautifully organic insectoid foe.

The design complements another of Gunbuster’s strong points - the sci-fi. The science side of the anime is really well thought out, and despite it being insanely powerful, Gunbuster isn’t one of those “ultimate machines” that conveniently destroys the enemy. This makes the series a lot more enjoyable to watch, as there seems to have been genuine consideration to how the aliens could have been combatted if the technology of gunbuster was available to us.

So is there anything bad about Gunbuster? I think one thing everyone can identify with is that some plot elements were a little ambitious to fit into one episode (I’m looking at you Toren). The fact that Noriko pines after Toren despite meeting him for a total of 10 minutes of screen time really grated on me. One thing which I personally wasn’t a fan of, ironically, is the fan service. Granted in certain scenes it was fairly tasteful, but when Noriko rips away her clothes in the final scene it felt a little too much.

In the face of Gunbuster’s many positives, these small niggles can be overlooked. In a nutshell, Gunbuster is a really well done mecha anime, with some features that make it stand out from a horde of Gundam wannabes. Below are three personal highlights of the series.

1. The Black episode

Gunbuster highlight  Black Episode

The final episode of Gunbuster is animated in black and white. While some claim this was a cost-cutting measure, it was just as expensive, if not more, than using full colour. Whatever anybody says, I thought the final episode tied off the series brilliantly. The use of black and white wa

2. Revisiting the Luxion

gunbuster highlight 2 Revisiting the Luxion

The “space hulk drifting through sub-space” is one of those sci-fi tropes which just had to be included in Gunbuster! The tension of this scene was masterful; I didn’t believe that Noriko would find her father, but I fostered a secret hope that she would pull the door open to find him grievously injured, unconscious, but still breathing, slumped over the controls of the ship. Traipsing through the wreckage only to see the stars peeping through the destroyed main bridge really made me feel for our main character.

3. Return to Earth

gunbuster highlight3 Return to Earth

I’m a massive sci-fi nerd, so one of the most exciting parts of the anime for me was seeing the technology progress as time passed for the characters. Returning home to see that the super-advanced Exelion has been replaced with the even cooler Eltreum was another one of those moments that made me love this anime. The ship’s construction being designed like a modelling kit was also pretty cool too!

I hope you enjoyed reading this review! If you have any comments stick them in the section below!



Author: Adam

I think I do too much sports to be an otaku, but I like science, anime and video games too much not to be a nerd. Currently working in a lab in Japan's least Japanese city.

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