In the near future, humanity has taken its first steps towards journeying into the far reaches of the galaxy. Upon doing so they discover a huge race of insectoid aliens known as "Space Monsters." These aliens seem dedicated to the eradication of mankind as they near closer and closer to discovering Earth. In response, humanity develops giant fighting robots piloted by hand-picked youth from around the world.
Shortly after the discovery of the aliens, Noriko Takaya, the daughter of a famous deceased space captain, enters a training school despite her questionable talents as a pilot. There, she meets her polar opposite, the beautiful and talented Kazumi Amano, and is unexpectedly made to work together with her as they attempt to overcome the trauma of war as well as their own emotions.
There is an ongoing controversy about Neon Genesis Evangelion and it's status as an iconic anime. As much as I dislike the main characters, I have to agree that NGE is a classic anime for many reasons. However, many diehard fans of the show become blinded to NGE's superior onee-chan, the show which marked the directorial debut of Hideaki Anno in anime - Top wo Nerae!
In the simplest terms, if Top wo Nerae! didn't exist, the NGE would never have been made. Many of the themes from TwN are key themes of NGE, and although NGE took a more metaphysical route with it's story, Top
wo Nerae! remains firmly rooted in a more realistic approach (figuratively speaking that is).
The plot for TwN pays homage to the classic tennis anime Aim for the Ace, something which is clearly reflected in the title. The hollywood movie Top Gun also influenced Anno with regards to how his characters should develop. The very simple and straightforward story is about a war between humanity and a mysterious alien civilization. Humanity is using every tool it can conceive of in an effort to win, however they are steadily being pushed back, and things look grim for Earth.
The story begins with Takaya Noriko, a 16 year old girl who attends a military training school in Okinawa. At first she seems rather clumsy and unreliable, however she possesses a steely determination as she desperately wishes to follow in the footsteps of her famous father Takaya Yuzo, an Admiral of the space fleet who went missing during the early days of the war.
The story then continues with the introduction of several other key characters, all of whom play a very big part in the development of Noriko's character, the most important being Kazumi Amano (the girl that Noriko idolizes), Ota Koichiro, and the young pilot Toren Smith.
I'll stop with the story there as this is only a 6 part OVA, and I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't watched it.
The art for TwN is excellent, especially considering the time it was made. The anime is 20 years old now, yet many of the action scenes still stand up to more modern shows. The character designs are reflective of the time, however they are still distinctive for each character. There are two areas where the art and animation deviated from what would normally be expected though. The first was the introduction of "bouncing breasts" into the show (making it the first anime to include such things).
TwN's usage of jiggling breasts wasn't actually meant as fan service originally (although many now see it that way). The original reason why they were included was because Anno wanted the characters to move as a real life person would move. It's unfortunate that many viewers nowadays will automatically see bouncing breasts and base the worth of a show on their inclusion (because they don't like fanservice, or love it far too much), when the original intent was for some far more innocent and blatantly non-sexual.
The second deviation from "normal" anime practices was the final episode. This episode was made almost completely in black and white and, unusually for anime, the episode was produced by creating the art and animation in shades of grey from the start, rather than shooting colour animation using black and white film. The final battle is also memorable for it's usage of still images, something which heightens the dramatic effect of the scene.
The sound quality for TwN is also excellent, especially given it's age. The OP is extremely catchy (it's stayed with me for 20 years after all), and the music throughout the show is often inspired in it's usage. The effects are of a very high standard, and although there may be some off-kilter moments, these are easily missed, and very minor.
One of the strange things about TwN is that, even though there are several key characters, the story is effectively about a young girl who comes of age and finds her place in the world. The characters are generally excellent in their roles, but as with NGE, almost all of the development goes to the lead character. Unlike NGE however, this works because the show is only 6 episodes long, and events happen at a much more condensed rate.
Noriko is excellent as a lead character. There are some who find her annoying, whiney, etc, however those people are usually the ones who mark Ikari Shinji as one of the greatest anime characters ever (which begs the question of what drugs they're taking). Takaya Noriko, whilst being shy, somewhat nervous, more than a little unreliable (and she knows it), and constantly surrounded by people who really are better than her in many ways (we're talking geniuses in combat, piloting skills, etc), is understandably more than a little scared as to why she is part of such august company. The added pressure of having to match up to what other people can do naturally is telling on her development as a character. Although she does often become disheartened, she displays some of the best character growth seen in anime (in many ways far superior to that displayed by Shinji in NGE).
It's unfortunate that TwN was such a short series however, as the other characters are deserving of development. None of the characters were annoying in any way, and the relationships between them, especially between Noriko, Kazumi and Jung, are handled very well throughout the anime.
Top wo Nerae! is very enjoyable to watch for many reasons. The characters and their relationships, the dramatic tension, the taut storyline, all serve to whet one's appetite for more. It's truly unfortunate that, whilst NGE often receives plaudits from fans, this show is often overlooked or marginalised - even though it is better than NGE. Many fans of NGE dislike the fact that the TwN lacks NGE's symbolism and metaphysical elements, and blatantly ignore the fact that TwN was a landmark anime for several reason, not the least of which is the fact that it has a girl as the main character rather than a boy. This was almost unheard of at the time, especially as this show is very much action oriented. In addition, whilst Shinji is seen to suffer in NGE, many people automatically marginalise Noriko's suffering, partly because they perceive it as insubstantial, and partly because they believe that Shinji's trials and tribulations are "more believable" (pardon me while I laugh), than Noriko's.
It may seem odd, but it's easy to distinguish between fans of NGE who actually understood what was going on, and those who are simply emo fanboys/girls, by their reaction to TwN. The one's who do actually understand NGE actually like TwN, and can see where NGE has it's roots. The fanboys and girls will write off TwN as crap (which one are you I wonder?).
Humans versus aliens is not a new story, but what makes TwN unique amongst the many in the mecha/action genre is the fact that it very clearly shows the lengths to which humanity will go in order to survive. The only other show where this is highlighted is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, which shows just how rare this theme is in anime. NGE wasn't so much about saving the world from aliens, but more about saving yourself. Another rarity is the fact that TwN also clearly shows the training that young people must go through before piloting a mech (something that is suspiciously glossed over in NGE and many other mech shows).
This is one of those shows that I would recommend to everyone. It's a rarity of an anime that combines a great story, great animation, and some excellent characters. Many NGE purists would have you believe that that show is Anno's greatest work, however this is not the case.
Anno's directorial debut remains, to this day, his finest achievement.
Gunbuster, or Top Wo Nerae! (Aim For The Top, in English), is considered to be the first thing the in/famous studio Gainax put out that is still known of today, and is often credited for putting them on the map. There are many people who consider Gunbuster to be an unprecedented classic, and a shining example of how mecha anime should be done, even 22 years later. And as was the case with another immensely overrated, 6-episode OVA made by Gainax that I shall not name, I'm sure I will hear no end of flak for this review, but let's make this clear right now:
Gunbuster is fucking awful.
There is so much wrong with this anime I don't even know where to start. But much like that other OVA series I don't care to mention, I am absolutely dumbfounded by the popularity it commands. There isn't a single good thing I can name about this show, aside from maybe the fact that Hideaki Anno learned from his mistake and made Neon Genesis Evangelion, which was obviously extremely flawed in of itself.
But let's begin with one of the most glaring faults this show has: the science. This show has so little respect for physics that it makes Newton cry. This is especially prevalent in the first three episodes, having such faults as training for space missions on normal earth conditions, using objects to increase the gravity on them (because obviously, increased gravity is going to be a big concern in space), several occasions of objects seamlessly entering and leaving space without any damage to the surroundings (for example, a mecha coming in from space and landing in a forest clearing, which would probably devastate a large portion of the forest in real life), sound in the noiseless vacuum of space (though this is by no means the only offender for this), as well as several other chunks of absolute scientific nonsense. There are also several logical mishaps not involving science, like how the girls' bathrooms are in clear view through a large glass panel for all to see. Which, of course, provides us with a [i]hilarious[/i] fanservice moment.
Next up for the chop, the characters. While the characterisation was shaky in Evangelion, here it is nothing short of awful. The main character, Noriko, stands in the tradition of Gainax in having their main characters be whiny, over-sensitive, and frequently completely useless. Noriko fits the bill for the most part, being a clear building block in Anno's later protagonist Shinji Ikari. And Noriko manages to give me a new appreciation for Shinji, because at least Shinji was well-written. Noriko is poorly written and completely unlikeable, and the rest of the cast is even worse. Her mentor is so worthless that I honestly can't even remember her name. You could replace her with a magical chipmunk that knows how to pilot a mecha, and the plot probably wouldn't change in the least, aside from the spousal abuse shifting to the animal variety. The worst character, however, is probably Jung Freud. I defy you to name a single thing she does in this show. She doesn't have the remotest significance, but Anno makes it clear we're supposed to know who she is. As far as her personality, she seems to flip from being the Action Girl to being The Rival, depending on what Anno wants her to be in whichever particular scene, but ends up completely insignificant regardless.
Next is the plot. Everything about it is very badly written. Everything about it is basically a cheesy 80's movie turned mecha, and the results are as bad as they sound. Noriko is a student at a school training mecha, and is chosen to go into space because her father saved the life of a man who wound up with authority on the matter. In short, he allows a girl with absolutely no piloting skill into a major military division.
In space, Noriko meets a boy named Smith who she may or may not be in love with. I might be more clear about it if he hadn't spent all of 5 minutes, if even that, on screen. She then winds up completely depressed when he dies, despite them having known each other for like, 5 minutes. Not long after, we are introduced to the antagonising force, which mankind has somehow found out thinks that we are destroying the universe. Considering these alien creatures never show any sign of intelligence or communication whatsoever, it is a mystery how people came to this conclusion.
Not long after, in a climactic battle which sees Noriko go into Shinji-mode, angsting and staying away from the battle, she eventually comes to and winds up piloting the titular mecha for some reason. Again, why a talentless teenage girl would be allowed to pilot something like this is a mystery. Nonetheless, she goes out and kicks a large amount of ass. Also, as shallow as this may be, there is one compliment I can give this series: the Gunbuster looks pretty damn awesome.
Moving along, the last two episodes are commonly hyped up to be absolutely fantastic, but this is absolutely untrue: There's nothing remotely good about them. Annoyingly, they had the potential to be, especially the finale. The last episode is made in black and white for no particular reason. The only likely reasons I can give are that they were either trying to be artsy and pretentious, or it was to save animation budget. Seeing how this is Gainax, the latter is rather likely. And to add to the damning evidence, what should have been an amazing moment, a battle of epic proportions where robots explode, heroic sacrifices are made, and aliens die, winds up being compressed into a few animation-saving frames. To make this even more infuriating, those frames make it look like something you'd actually want to watch. It's like a friend going to a concert you weren't able to go to, who then raves about it to you, bragging about what you missed.
Add to all this the most pretentious, cheesy, godawful, and all-round irrational ending, and you have the formula for a truly terrible anime. I can't name a single thing I like about this, aside from it having spawned an infinitely superior sequel, Diebuster. I mean, for fuck's sake... as much as I hated FLCL, this has truly dethroned it as the worst thing Gainax have produced. At least FLCL had some good concepts and production values behind it. If anything, it was just horribly executed, whereas Gunbuster is just a weak, amateur production in every single way.
Final Words: Bad physics, bad logic, bad characterisation, bad writing, bad animation, bad plot, bad directing, bad concepts, bad everything.
Gunbuster starts with a fairly simple formula. Monstrous alien life forms are threatening the Earth, a young and inexperienced pilot must rise to the occasion and use a super-powered mecha to lead humanity's counterattack against the enemy and save the planet. The execution of this premise, however, is among the best in the genre, and the seamless way this merely 6-episode OVA covers the main character Noriko's growth from student to hero while escalating both the stakes and scale of her battles is nothing short of masterful storytelling. From schoolyard bullying, to losing loved ones in battle, to shouldering the responsibility of the entire human
race, we follow Noriko's development as a character, and the strengthening of her resolve to fight is likely better handled than in any other anime of this sort, relying on both subtlety and moments of sheer emotional power.
One impressive thing about Gunbuster is its general commitment to maintaining a setting based on hard science in many aspects that don't concern the Gunbuster itself. Ships travelling at sub-light speed undergo time dilation as per Einsteinian physics, meaning that time on a relatively stationary body like the Earth passes faster- many of the more emotional moments in the show are based on this difference in the passage of time between those fighting in space and those left behind on Earth. Furthermore, a good portion of the show centers not around the mechas but the space fleet, grounding the setting in procedure and a more realistic, wartime feel. This, in turn, makes the comparatively unrealistic mecha battles all the more triumphant for being special, unique among a setting dedicated to the relatively mundane. In fact, these moments have real power- not simply because it's cool to see a giant robot fight gigantic alien insects, but because every important fight is built up to, set up with real tension and high stakes while carrying the entire emotional weight of the characterization and conflicts. In other words, it's literally and physically exciting: something that can be said of very few things in the entire medium. Not only that, but the climax of the show along with its ending are incredibly powerful emotionally- the final episode is nothing short of moving on an inspirational, triumphant level.
Personally, Gunbuster is one of my all-time favorite series, and there are few things in anime that I ever enjoyed more. It's far from perfect though, most notable among its flaws being that there are moments when the budget of the show cannot catch up to its vision. Furthermore, the pacing in the first half is slower than the second, which allows for good and thoughtful characterization but alienates the first three episodes from the last three in terms of general quality- episodes 1, 2, and 3 only exist to build up episodes 4, 5, and 6. Being made in 1988, its style may put off some younger or newer viewers, and if you're not already somewhat familiar with the genre you may find it hard to suspend your disbelief in the initial episodes. In fact, it can only be fully appreciated by one already somewhat familiar with the super robot subgenre, Nevertheless, I implore anyone who considers themselves an anime fan to watch this short series. It might lack the artistic or literary value of a select circle of masterpieces, but it is a superb piece of work that does nearly everything better than almost anything out there.
First and foremost, I should mention this is my first review for MAL.
Secondly, I am surprised it took me so long to see this Anime through to completion.
The story itself was well done. While the actual content can be summarized to "Giant Robot destroys an army of aliens," it is multitudes deeper than that. But just as important as the content itself, the pacing to this Anime is wonderful. It zips right along with just about nothing that seems like it could have been omitted, and yet never felt too fast. It was the perfect length to keep myself fully engrossed into the plot.
What really made the plot matter was its wonderful depiction of the characters it entangled. They were all well detailed, and I felt no character was robbed of screen-time despite the shows brevity. Again, like the plot, I also felt no character wasn't needed as well. Even the weakest of characters get returning air-time, and prove to be an adequate drive for the main-characters to perform their duty.
The art is outstanding for the 80's, in typical Gainix fashion no less. Even the direction taken in the final episode ended up being amazing to actually watch in motion. However, the sound, while good, seemed to have some balancing issues with the BGM. The voices were amazing, and the VAs conveyed a lot of emotion in their performance, but at very stressful times they seemed to overly shadow the BGM and even sometimes the SFX as well.
Overall, I'd say Gunbuster is easily one of my favorite Mecha Anime ever produced. If you are even in the least bit interested in this show, I'd say give it a shot. Its short enough that you can spend a single rainy night finishing it, like I just did today.
Anyways, thanks for reading my review of Gunbuster!
Mecha anime shows are awesome but it's a shame that so few are released nowadays. Fortunately, AIC is bringing back one of their classics for older and newer fans. Is a reboot of Megazone 23 exciting enough to secure a successful crowdfunding campaign?