Shou Zama is an ordinary 18-year-old from Tokyo who finds himself summoned to the medieval fantasy world of Byston Well. Upon arrival, he is put into service under the ambitious lord Drake Luft, who seeks to greatly expand his power. Those like Shou who come from "Upper Earth" possess strong aura power and are ordered to pilot "Aura Battlers," insectoid mecha designed by a man named Shot Weapon, who also came from Upper Earth.
However, Shou's alliances quickly change when he meets Marvel Frozen, a young woman who has decided to rebel against Drake's political agenda. As he realizes the lord's true intentions, the boy chooses to join the fight against Drake and team up with Neal Given, who leads the resistance movement. The resistance isn't alone—Riml, daughter of their enemy and Neal's secret love, aids their efforts, hoping to escape from her father's clutches. As Shou finds himself fighting alongside his new comrades, they put their lives on the line to prevent the villainous Drake from taking over Byston Well before it's too late.
This anime is based on a novel originally titled Wings of Rean by Gundam creator, Yoshiyuki Tomino who of course worked as the director of this series. If you’re familiar with his work or the Gundam franchise in general, then you can recognize the approach and formula of how he does things, but in a different context in comparison to Gundam. And the original novel did not contain any mechs which was added at the insistence of sponsors such as Bandai. The pacing is appropriate for its length of 49 episodes and you’re getting all kinds of characterizations of the cast, and each character acts
natural in their own way in relation to what’s going on to a point you can consider realistic. And eventually other elements of Gundam are loosely transitioned to this anime that fans of that series can appreciate.
The anime ends with some loose ends, not specifically the ending, but with some of the characters. And of course as you watch it, the characters have very unique names to the Japanese people in which American audiences would give a WTF reaction to. Such as the main antagonist and the rival is named Burn Burnings or whatever and the chief engineer of Drake’s army is named Shot Weapon. Yes those are their names and that’s the beginning of things to come.
Well this anime was broadcasted shortly before I was born and while I was in the womb which was nearly 25 years ago, so the old animation might translate as “bad animation” for the stupid and close minded as some have reacted to the first Gundam series and Lupin III during their broadcasting on cartoon network. To me, this was the best that early 1980s TV anime had to offer. In tradition to that of Gundam, the design of the antagonists have a traditional but yet old military approach appropriate to the setting with their costumes and ceremonies. The hairstyles and costumes of the rebels on the other hand look like they are going to enter the battle of the bands. Hey, it’s the 80s. So whether or not that is a good thing or bad thing is also up to you. I think in a rebel sense, that kind of design is appropriate.
The character designer is Kogawa Tomonori who has acclaimed international fame on his own end as the character designer of Southern Cross, which would serve as part of the Robotech franchise that was started by Macross. Speaking of Macross, mechanical designer Miyataka Kazutaka was also the mech designer for this series as well and is truly in some ways the aura battlers in the tradition of the valkyries in their own right though they kind of look like insects. I’m guessing they have a Kamen Rider influence. After all, Sho is a motorcycle driver and I’m going to continue making that assumption based on this detail as well. I estimate the aura battlers are the same size as the valkyries and also share some of its unique engineering by transforming into a fighter jet. The battle sequences are breath taking and combine the elements of both Gundam and Macross and saying that alone should be enough to convince you how great and spectacular they are. Considering this is a Tomino creation, the concepts will of course favor more to the tradition of Gundam. If I elaborate on that, it would be somewhat of a spoiler.
Well, I have yet to watch the dub. I have heard mixed things about it, and it is directed by Carl Macek, who is well known as the man who took some anime and meshed it together to make the Robotech franchise. But I just personally don’t feel any reason to watch the dub. Not really out of bad expectations of it, but simply I just don’t want to and I’m satisfied with the Japanese version. I’m not discouraging anybody from watching the dub, it’s just I don’t feel any reason to watch it. Nakahara Shigeru is the voice of Sho, he would later become famous amongst anime fans as the voice of Trowa from Gundam Wing and Android 17 in Dragon Ball Z. His role as Sho in comparison to his more famous ones, he’s of course on the lines of being like Camille from Zeta Gundam. He has issues and portrays being a teenager with them very well and sounding very childish. And my favorite seiyuu in this is Shimada Bin as the voice of the rival of Sho, Barn Barrings. His deep voice truly reflects the status and appearance of his character and it was truly tailor made for him. And of course, the presence of foreign characters, they do speak Japanese, but the anime has an interesting justified reason of why the characters can speak Japanese in this series. It’s just that in Byston Well, people can somehow understand each other. Like if someone is talking to you in Chinese, you’ll magically hear it as English and when you talk to that person, they’ll hear your English as Chinese. And of course it’s believable.
The music is also excellent and highly intense which is appropriate for the action, and relaxing and mystical in appropriate for the middle ages setting. So you’re getting all kinds of tracks appropriate for the atmosphere in terms of not just setting, but mood as well. MIO who would later rename her self MIQ sings both the opening and ending songs. The songs are also very kid friendly and are exclusively made for the show just like how the Macross and Gundam themes were. She has also sang the theme songs for Gundam 0083 and Area 88. I believe she also sang an English version of the theme song of Aura Battler Dunbine which I have yet to hear.
After watching this review or if you had any prior exposure to this series, then you can take an obvious assumption that this anime could have influenced Escaflowne by Shoji Kawamori, the creator of Macross. I don’t think that has officially been confirmed, but I say it’s still a safe assumption to make. As much as I personally highly regard Aura Battler Dunbine, I do see it will not appeal to everyone outside of a dedicated fan base of mech or the staff members or old school anime in general, just like how lets say fan service and the sports genre isn’t for everyone either. I say this is still a must see for fans of Gundam and Macross. But as I believe, if you appreciate excellent story telling, presentation and an approachable orthodox sense of originality, I say give this a shot.
This would be a masterpiece if anyone but Tomino made it. He follows the same stunted pattern of interpersonal drama in all of his shows. Prepare for criminal levels of autism from every character.
Aside from that the fantasy world teeming with insect-like mecha and especially its relation with Earth are very interesting. As with all cel animation, watching the Blu-ray edition of this is a treat.
Definitely one of the better mecha shows just by its concept alone. If you don't like medieval stuff you'll probably drop this before the focus shifts on anything else than big ol' ladybugs fighting each other for castles.
Aura Battle Dunbine focuses on a teenage boy named Show Zama who is whisked to another world called Byston Well where he becomes the pilot of the mecha, Dunbine, and eventually becomes a major part of a resistance movement to oppose the world conquest goals of the corrupt lord, Drake Luft. Being directed by famous Gundam director Yoshiyuki Tomino, Dunbine offers a good number of the director's trademarks with exploring the harshness of war, a cynical world view, and a high death count that affects even the show's major characters. The fantasy world setting brings about the applications of a mysterious power source called "Aura"
that are utilized by a number of the show's characters in various facets, among which allowing mecha pilots and aerial warships to enhance the powers of their technology. The constant combat and abuse of the Aura power utilized through the technology does gradually lead things to be complicated by the presence of outside forces that attempt to remove or kill off anyone involved in the conflict between those using technology utilizing the power of "Aura".
Outside of the focus on mecha action and war, Dunbine also does a solid job with its world building and character focus. The world of Byston Well adopts a number of medieval and fantasy elements to its world as outside of its "aura" power, other fantasy-based creatures like pixies and dragons exist within its world. The series also takes time to develop and flesh out a number of its major characters to offer a glimpse within their lives and how they are affected by Drake's machinations to control all of Byston Well for its residents or those who get transported to the realm from Earth. In addition, the series offers some surprising twists with its storytelling that lead the conflict between the resistance movement and Drake's faction to intensify, including some splintering of factions within Drake's own ranks.
This said, Dunbine does have its faults. A good part of the show's second half does drag a bit at points where episodes are focused on battles between the factions, but offering little to flesh out characters or advance the plot in any capacity. Some enemy characters shown to be legitimate threats to Show and his comrades don't get much fleshing out and are limited in their characterization, reducing the impact their demises carry. Also, the visuals to the series haven't really aged with its rough character design work and subpar animation, though its mecha designs are rather unique among mecha anime with their bug-like features.
Faults aside, Aura Battle Dunbine is still a solid entry in the mecha with its solid mix of fantasy and mecha action story elements while influenced under Yoshiyuki Tomino's direction for its storytelling direction. If 80s mecha anime grab your interest, Dunbine is a solid recommendation I would suggest checking out in spite of some of its issues.
I went into this anime because of its connection to Garzey's Wing. So my standards were set pretty low from the start. The first third of the show isn't very good. The main character is thrown into situations that make no sense, mood whiplash occurs between shots (one second an army seems hostile, throws stuff at the characters, then suddenly start acting friendly for minimally explained reasons,) and I had to switch from subbed to dubbed because the script seemed mistranslated because of how random some things seemed. I soon learned that wasn't the case. I understand that our main character is bewildered and confused,
but for the audience, it isn't an immersive confusion.
That said, things get a lot better around episode 16-18. We start following a much more interesting cast of characters, and they actually explain their motivations and the world around them. They are not flawless by any means. Some characters are annoying, but their struggles are at least understandable given the plot.
And then around halfway through the series, the stakes get elevated, and things start getting interesting. As of this review, I'm not super familiar with Tomino's other works, but this is when some of the stuff Tomino is known for starts coming into play. While it's not as intense as some of Tomino's other works, it still works very well in this setting, and with these characters. If you're really into 80s mecha, or a big Tomino fan, the second half of this anime is worth it for that alone.
Most of these points are for the second half of the story. The story of a regular guy getting whisked away to a magical world, where he is naturally stronger than everyone else is nothing new. And the fact that the first part of the show is so poorly written doesn't help. But once we start following a new set of characters, things start picking up. And after a certain event happens to our main character, the story becomes truly engaging. The last act of the story is very noteworthy. If the story had started around episode 16, the story rating would have been much higher.
This is not very good animation. The characters almost always wear masks in battle, so the animators don't have to animate lipflap (or much of anything during these shots.) The characters aren't very expressive, and really lean on the voice actors to emote. The mechs themselves are well designed (nothing groundbreaking, but still well executed.) There are many shots of big ships slowly flying towards each other, while bullet/beam animations loop over it. The monsters are nothing to write home about either. That said, there are some genuinely beautiful shots in here. Most of them involve the mechs. You can tell what shots received budget support, and which ones didn't.
The music was inoffensive. It got you riled up when it needed to, and it gave you quiet moments when it needed to. Some of the soundbites sound archaic (stock baby crying and stock monster roars.) I do not think there was any voice direction for this dub. There are a few minor characters that are delightfully miscast. The voice actor who plays Show does a great job given what he had to work with. Some of the accents were distracting. My main gripes with the dub is that many of the female characters have extremely annoying voices (not helped by exaggerated accents.) The timing for these lines was also off, result in characters talking over each other. One character might say "I agree" before the other character is even done talking. It doesn't effect the story. But it is distracting.
The main character is a surprisingly logical. It's clear that all of the characters are intelligent on the battlefield. Off the battlefield is another story.
This anime has some of the most poorly executed romances I've ever seen. One couple, the guy just randomly asks if the girl has feelings for him with no build up that he was even interested. Then they kiss. And then a few episodes later they seem to forget that this conversation happened, and repeat the exchange all over again. There are some couples where they love each other "just because." There is an extremely clumsy love square that doesn't last long.
Show seems to have the largest range of emotion. He reacts appropriately to everyone around him. He also has understandable reactions to the bad things that happen to him personally, and the things that happen to others as a result of his actions. Keen has some very good moments early on, and is believable as a kid with more guts than most people around her. Elle is a very good princess, and I wish we saw more of her as opposed to Emelie (one of the most annoying characters in the show.) I was pleasantly surprised by how well Elle's grandfather was portrayed. He was realistic while being reasonably flawed.
Where this show shines is its villains. Emelie's mother is one of the most intimidating villains of the show, more so than the main baddy Drake. And she has a lot of competition for that position. It was a shame that there wasn't more focus on her machinations. Galaria was a great rival character. I'd argue she was a better rival than Todd. Her character growth was interesting to watch, in spite of her status as an antagonist. There were points where I almost wanted Bunnings to win. His struggle was relatable, and had he not chosen the wrong side, he could've become so much. I genuinely wanted him to switch sides, so he could have some well earned redemption. Jeryl was a delightfully ruthless antagonist. I was pleased with all of her appearances, her final appearance especially. And while not really an antagonist, King Elf did a great job of highlighting stupidity, the danger of said stupidity, and how that stupidity effects the battlefield. Most of the character points in this review come from the villains.
If you like 80s mecha anime, you will probably like this. If you like Tomino anime, you will probably like this. If you like nostalgically bad dubs, probably you will like this (it's no Garzey's Wing, but there are some funny moments in there.)
If you do not fall into any of these categories, you will have to get used to the low budget animation, and the low budget dub.You will have to sit through 15-ish episodes of not very good anime to get to the good anime that's buried under it. This anime is far from groundbreaking. But after the first 15-ish episodes, I found myself enjoying it. The last third especially was quite enjoyable. The ending is not as intense as some other Tomino works out there, but if you're just getting into Tomino anime, the ending will leave an impact with you. Maybe not the best anime for casual anime fans, but if you really like old school 70s or 80s anime, this is a pretty good watch.