Bust a Gun

[Editor's note: Let this post be a lesson to anyone who complains I haven't been posting enough lately. You know who you are.]

Not too long ago while doing some idle web surfing, I stumbled across the name Gunbuster 2. In itself, that wouldn’t have much meaning for me. However, things changed once I noticed who was directing: Kazuya Tsurumaki. And if that name doesn’t mean anything to you, that’s quite unfortunate, for Kazuya Tsurumaki is the genius behind FLCL, regarded by anyone with taste as one of the greatest things ever.

So, needless to say, I found myself very interested in what Tsurumaki’s newest creation is like, in much the same way as seeing Brazil made me want to check out Terry Gilliam’s other work. (Fun fact: Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen are pretty much the same movie.)

But there was one problem. I mean, besides the fact that Gunbuster 2 isn’t even finished yet, let alone released here, thus requiring locating fansubs, but the Internet makes that pretty easy. Rather, even though anime titles are often inscrutable, the “2″ at the end does indeed indicate that it is a sequel to — hold your breath — Gunbuster. And since I’m one of those people who has to see things in order, the course of action was clear: give up watch Gunbuster first.

[Editor's note: Spoiler alert from here on out, probably. But you should've figured that out by now.]

Is Gunbuster a “classic” anime? I have no idea, as that sort of things isn’t something I typically follow closely, or at all. But it was created back in 1988 by Hideaki “Evangelion” Anno, if that means anything.

Gunbuster is a six-episode giant robot show. In 2015, mankind encountered giant (as in, “bigger than a huge spaceship”) insect-looking aliens who seemed none too pleased about our existence. Protagonist Noriko’s father died fighting them, so now she’s training to battle them too and defend Earth. Of course, since these creatures live in space, the obvious weapon of choice are humanoid mechs. (Why do my plot summaries always come off sounding snarky? Stupid Internet.)

Pretty much every sci-fi TV show or movie I’ve ever seen that incorporates space travel — I can’t readily think of any counterexamples — ignores the time dilation effects of near-light-speed travel and strong gravitational fields. They always assume a constant universal temporal reference frame. Not so with Gunbuster; not only does it acknowledge time dilation, but it even serves as a prominent plot point. Although only about a year passes during the series from Noriko’s perspective, decades pass back on Earth. As a result, part of the cost of fighting the aliens far off in space is leaving behind everyone and everything you know back home.

So, Gunbuster gets major bonus points for reasonably realistic use of general relativity. I’ll even overlook how a sub-light-speed ship can catch up to a FTL rocket (yes, rocket) from Earth to Neptune in a matter of minutes.

And this may sound weird, but there’s another thing the series does that I really liked. The eponymous Gunbuster, the ridiculously huge two-pilot mech that dwarfs the merely several-story-tall mechs in the earlier episodes, is composed of two transforming spaceships creatively named Buster Machine 1 and Buster Machine 2. However, a non-negligible amount of time during battles is spent as the two separate ships instead of always joining together into Gunbuster. It always buggged me in cheesy Power Rangers-type shows how they always team up their robots immediately instead of ganging up five-on-one against the monster. Yes, of course you’d want to be able to spread out when fighting a massive alien fleet. That just seems like common sense.

Of course, it also seems like common sense to arm all of Earth’s spaceships with powerful weapons instead of putting them all on the single Gunbuster, but hey.

And speaking of things that are cheesy, Gunbuster also has its moments here. Some of the names used in the series are painfully bad. For example, the Soviet pilot (hey, it was made in 1988) is named Jung Freud, and one of the trans-Plutonian planets is named Jupiter 2. (Fortunately, the other trans-Plutonian planets do have better names, but they’re foolish enough to have a syzygy going on when the good guys open up a mini black hole near Jupiter 2 to swallow an alien fleet.) Pilots have a habit of calling their attacks, especially in the big fight scene at the end of episode 5. And there’s more Gainaxing than you can shake a… well, you can finish that joke yourself.

One of the remarkable things about watching the series about 20 years after it was created is how ridiculously optimistic pace of technological advancement is. You have the invention of warp drive by 2015 (less than a decade from now!), the ability to build and rebuild huge fleets of interstellar warships after that, a laser cannon on Gunbuster that can bisect an alien twenty times the size of one of those ships at one go, and so on.

But the climactic final battle outdoes even those. The aliens’ home is in the center of the galaxy, so in episode 6 Earth takes the fight to them with Buster Machine 3: a.k.a. the supermassive Black Hole Bomb. The core of the bomb is Jupiter — yes, the planet — which gets flown to the center of the galaxy with the intention of collapsing it into a black hole that will destroy the center of the Milky Way. This all happens in the mid-21st century, mind you. And the plan works. Well, not at first, so Gunbuster has to go down into the Jovian core and jump-start the black hole with one of its reactors, and the time dilation its pilots experience results in them not getting back to Earth until the year 12,000 or so. (And no, I won’t spoil what they find when they get back.)

You can also tell Anno’s directing, because the series shifts gears from being playful and somewhat stereotypical to being serious and character-driven about halfway through, even so far as dropping the intro and ending sequences after episode 3 and making the final episode black-and-white. But at least this ending didn’t get him death threats.

So, the overall verdict? Gunbuster’s not bad at all, as long as you don’t think too hard about the science underlying things. (Memo to Michelson and Morley: you guys were wrong.) But I suppose that goes for most science fiction. Of course, considering the roughly 20-year gap between Gunbuster and its sequel, I doubt watching this was even necessary to follow Gunbuster 2. But if you’re going to only watch things that are necessary to watch, you may as well sell your TV now.

Except for FLCL, of course.