“Fortunate are those who remember the tales of Byston Well… ,” to quote the text that began many of the opening episodes for the 1983 mecha series Aura Battler Dunbine. Most fortunate are those that learn the lessons from the hardship of war, the downfall of power for selfish gain and the balancing act of dealing with emotional turbulence. Based on an adaptation of a concept from Gundam director Yoshiyuki Tomino that has been reinterpreted several times (Garzey’s Wing, Wings of Rean), Aura Battler Dunbine is a show that one never forgets.
Often times I end up in tears when watching certain anime. I often expect this from really great work that brings you into the story. This can either be from something very sentimental between characters, or more often, the death of someone dear to the cast and plot of the show. During the last two episodes of Dunbine, I cried… very hard. The brutality of the war and watching one by one heroes and even sometimes antagonists go down was as painful as many of the largest loses of my life. Dunbine may be Tomino’s most brutal series in terms of his “Kill ’em all” trademark? I would say even more so than the likes of Ideon and Zeta Gundam, two series I truly love. Yet Dunbine is not all dark and gloom, there is a lot of light and at times comedy, but it’s the finale that often defines how a series feels for me in the end.
The medieval European influence of Byston Well’s environment was a different take on the usual far future, outer space and/or alien invasion themes so prevalent to traditional mecha anime. Mixed with a form of fantasy laden technology and pagan mythological wonder, Dunbine would include insect like mecha designs (Aura Battlers), psychic powers and even fairy like characters that have a number of translated variations in English. This is a world where individuals like you and me are transported via the Aura Road to Byston Well from Upper Earth to play out in a struggle between power hungry despots, moral crusaders and nature priestesses that control the balance of Byston Well in their hands. A hopeful motorcycle enthusiast, Sho/Show Zama, is one of these select few who lands in Byston Well and learns quickly of the power games and ambitions of one local lord Drake Luft. Sho/Show eventually defects with his acquired Dunbine (his Aura Battler) to the opposing side and eventually earns the trust, as well as admiration of another Upper Earth exile, Miss Marvel Frozen, one of the best female mech pilots of all time. And to top things off Sho/Show acquires a sidekick (maybe cheerleader is a better term?), one of the Ferario (the fairies I mentioned earlier), Cham Huau, one of my favorite characters from Dunbine.
Byston Well and the concepts of aura power could relate heavily to our subconscious, both individual and collective. Byston Well was noted for being a place between sea and shore, a land where our souls come to rest after death, or perhaps even before birth. A world of dreams that in one aspect is outside our human existence, yet also running concurrently with it. The use of aura power reminds me of Ideon’s Ide power and Gundam’s newtype abilities. These are latent powers that are within us, where a select few learn to channel them, or awaken to them, like a Gundam newtype. Or perhaps it is the collective energies of our emotions, either peaceful, or destructive that shapes how we correspond with the universe much like Ideon’s Ide. Aura power also makes me think of the concepts: ‘thoughts create things’ and ‘the words we speak create our reality and actions’. Out of the subconscious comes forth our conscious reality.
Currently I have watched Dunbine in total twice and I will say like many of Tominos’s shows, it is best to have multiple viewings to gain as much perspective as possible. Tomino can tell a good story, but he does not always give the information in an expected manner. Lastly I can’t dismiss the character designs of Tomonori Kogawa as perhaps my favorite from his vast resume (Ideon, Southern Cross, Cool Cool Bye, Xabungle as examples). As part of a unique trilogy of mecha series created by Sunrise in 1983, including Armored Trooper Votoms and Galactic Drifter Vifam, Aura Battler Dunbine is mecha anime at it’s best featuring a world of fantasy with reality, joy with hardship and spiritual power with technology.
… and let’s not forget Dunbine has some of the most bizarre names ever to be featured in anime. How would you feel to be named Shot Weapon?