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.
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.
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.
A true classic anime. The series is over 20 years old so the art is going to turn some people off.
The story, the characters and the unique approach to the world of the Wee-folk is very well done. The Irish and Scottish lore that is mixed with the Japanese language and sense of honor and humanity is a cool blend.
The mechanical designs are all based off of natural life forms (like insects).
If you are a true fan of anime, love great stories and have a longing for something different then by all means watch this series.