First, allow me to put this up front: I am compelled to call this show "Gunbuster". This is how it was titled in North America decades ago and what I watched it under at that time. You can guess that I am a little bit biased toward it, based on those two sentences.
There are flaws in Gunbuster. I've lived with this series for long enough that I'm able to admit that. But the question is whether it's strong enough to overcome these flaws. This is what this review endeavours to determine.
This is the reason that I love this show. Hideaki Ano chose to use time dilation as a plot device, something that is rarely seen in most science fiction, even in pieces where doing such would make perfect sense. And it is used to full effect, influencing and revealing the motivations and psychology of the main characters and giving us one of the most deliciously bittersweet endings ever witnessed in an anime. Though he plays fast and loose with the physics, it's only to amplify the impact on the characters and, of course, on the viewer.
The best way to describe the art in Gunbuster is "freakin' awesome". One can see in it the embryo of what would become the over-the-top style that is now an integral part of Gainax's identity. The sleek design of the Exelion and the Eltreum. The immense scale of the Buster Machines. The action which seems to defy the laws of physics and Euclidian geometry.
And then there are the space monsters. These were designed in such a way that, from even a first glance, one can tell that they are not of this Earth and yet at the same time recognize them as living things. One at once are afraid to touch the ugly squiggly things and intrigued by the very nature of its existence.
The character art can put one off on occasion, such as Noriko sometimes looking a little bit developmentally disabled in certain scenes. This is the only thing that really keeps the art from attaining perfection, in my book.
If you are not pumped up by the Buster Machine March, then you are not human. The music sets the tone of the series almost perfectly. When the scene is sad, the music helps to make you feel sad. When the scene is action packed, the music gets you excited. When the scene is meant to inspire, sweet monkey nuggets, you are inspired!
There are a couple spots, especially in the first episode, where it doesn't seem to convey things properly, sort of like awkward first steps. But, other than that, the score is solid.
This is the largest flaw in the show. The way some characters act seems to strictly be to advance the plot. Admiral Takaya's sacrifice. Jung's apparent swings between bitter rival and a tender friend (though, considering that her name is Jung Freud, she might be a touch bipolar). And, of course, Noriko's actions in the third episode and most of the fourth, making these parts difficult to watch.
Having said that, the seemingly nonsensical decisions that are sometimes made do advance the plot in important ways. And they can often be justified if one puts a little bit of thought into it. The issue here is the mental gymnastics required for some of these justifications.
As I mentioned before, I am biased, so take this section with a grain of salt. But Gunbuster, in my opinion, is fun from beginning to end. Some parts are tedious, but you are rewarded once they're over with moments of pure undiluted awesome. The use of the principles of time dilation to facilitate character development (though not entirely scientifically accurate) genuinely explores how people would act under circumstances that our technology has yet to bring about. And the action sequences are incredibly well done and are worth taking the time to see.
In addition, there are countless little things that are a bonus for those who really pay attention. Noriko's room being covered in posters for classic anime such as Space Battleship Yamato and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The construction of the starships which seems to involve immense plastic model kits. The women preparing for battle with the space monsters by applying makeup and nail polish. The countless shout-outs to Gunbuster's predecessors. These minor inconsequential elements work to make light of tropes that existed in anime since time immemorial and that still exist now.
A loath as I am to admit, Gunbuster has flaws. These flaws, though, do not detract from one's enjoyment of the show in its entirety. You will become involved with the main characters, despite some of the incomprehensible decisions that are sometimes made. You will feel compelled to cheer out loud when the plodding buildup to some unadulterated excellence finally pays off. And you will be genuinely moved when the final scene of the final episode plays.