#9 : Aim for the Top! Gunbuster

Igunbuster1 want to preface this with a little Pink Floyd lyric… “Remember when you were young. You shown like the sun. Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” I can take this a couple ways in regards to Gunbuster. First it is a love letter homage to an era of anime and special effects shows from the 1960s to about 1980. This is Studio Gainax remembering the beauty of discovering such fantastic visual fun in their youth. But, I have to point out our main heroine, Noriko Takaya, as the second reason. In this six episode OVA everything and everybody to some certain extent got older and or eventually left the material plane of her existence. All except Noriko, who because of traveling so much in sub-space remains forever young and in the process missed out on being with most of her peers. How many times have you felt that no matter what you did, you could not share it with certain individuals you truly loved?

gunbuster2Gunbuster begins amid much promise and joy as sixteen year old Noriko Takaya is a new student at an Okinawa high school that specializes in training space pilots. She hopes to someday be like her father (an admiral who died while serving in space), like her idol the beautiful and talented Kazumi Amano and prove herself able to the Coach Ohta (COACHEE!). Right from the word go we are essentially brought into a shojo sports anime that passes itself as a sci-fi mecha series (Aim for the Ace+Yamato+Getter Robo+Top Gun (wait that’s a Hollywood film)=GUNBUSTAA!!). Who knew one had to train in robots and run laps, do sit-ups and various other forms of exercise. I thought our heroes just climbed into mecha and magically knew how to pilot them from instinct?

Gunbuster3As stated earlier this is a love letter, the real definition of “Fan Service.” Aside from a couple shots of the usual “Fan Service” this show drips references of the many series I listed earlier and more as cues to say this show is for you or us. You loved this show, this type of character, this scene, etc.? Gainax is a studio founded by fans after all and this is them paying homage to the highest degree. It’s anime about anime. And what makes Gunbuster special is the fact that yes, there are a lot of these references, but it also tugs at you over time. Similar to Evangelion or Nadia (both directed by Hideaki Anno) we start off in fun and games and eventually step into the darker side. But Gunbuster is not so much grim as it is poignant. Young Noriko grows up learning about falling in love, reconnecting with the her lost past and maturity in general. It has a sweetness that is missing from Evangelion or Nadia. And it is this tenderness that makes it hold up still today. Plus, the artwork and animation is gorgeous and handled with the greatest of care. Even the last episode fades to that old standard of black and white. The first time I saw it I thought something was wrong with my TV.

Now Studio Gainax aside, if there is one individual who makes this OVA very special for me, it would have to be the great Haruhiko Mikimoto. I love this man’s work (I DO!, I DO!, I DO!) and for me, nothing and I mean nothing tops his character designs. The elegance and grace that is apart of his early signature style shows true form here and I rank the designs as great as the work he did for the original Macross and Orguss. “I wish they all could be Mikimoto girls”  (to the tune of Beach Boys’ California Girls). There is always a certain twinkle in the eye of those who are conceptualized by my man, right?

Gunbuster4Gunbuster may have been the second official project of Studio Gainax, and the directorial debut of Mr. Anno, but it would set a precedent that would follow for this group into the 1990s. It also reflects back to those of us who were excited about the future and the possibility of traveling through outer space like it was driving down the highway and piloting large mecha… but alas all we have are smart phones and wifi, kind of a let down when you compare it to our utopian vision of the future. Still there is a possibility if we all believe it is possible and stay young in heart and mind. Let’s raise a toast to you Gunbuster… we love you. KANPAI!!!

#7 : Dirty Pair: Affair of Nolandia

Ah the Dirty Pair… I mean Lovely Angels (watching to see if Kei is going to smack me), the quintessential dynamic duo of anime. You know them (at least I hope you do?), you love them and so do I. Of course we have had many renditions of these two trouble consultants for the WWWA including novels, television, OVAs, movies and that Flash series that I have no interest to dive into (maybe someday). But I want to look at a one-off oddball that just happens to be my favorite outing of Kei and Yuri. So grab Mughi and get the engines started as we head to the planet Ookbar so we can solve the… Affair of Nolandia.

Dirty Pair: Affair of Nolandia was my first trip with the Dirty Pair. Remember good old VHS? After finding a used copy of the Streamline release (more on this later) for a couple of bucks I gave it a shot and the rest is history for me. So what about this entry makes it perhaps my favorite outing, besides it was the first time with the ladies of WWWA?

Nolandia-1The look of this show is very different, not so much the settings, but the character designs. Gone are the more doe-eyed, cartoony look so familiar with these girls and what we get instead is a more streamlined  design reminding me a little bit of Zeta Gundam, a contemporary of this OVA. The tone is also a little different. Sure there are funny moments, but there are times when this show gets a little serious, particularly with the scenes dealing with psychic phenomena. And as for psychic or ESP ability, did you know that comes from the original novels? Very true and it is the only time this is ever seen in animated form. If you are familiar with the novels, you would know that Kei and Yuri became a team because both have clairvoyant talents. And if you didn’t know, READ, it does a body and mind good.

Nolandia-2.jpgSo what is it that brings our Lovely Angels out to Ookbar and eventually, the forest of Nolandia? Well let’s just say a scientist was looking to escape into exile and oddly the spacecraft he was traveling on ends up crashing. The pilots freaked out, stating that they saw the runway going all crazy. It so happens that this was in the same area our girls were sent to look for a missing psychic girl, Misuni, who is known to have powerful abilities. Can there possibly be a connection? Maybe. Of course along the way they have to deal with a large corporation, the local police force and a tough as nails tough guy, who happens to be a… now that would be cheating.

Nolandia-3Now back to Streamline pictures as I will now add in ADV as well. This is part of a handful of properties that have had an opportunity to be dubbed more than once. Of course the original Japanese track is great and ADV’s well… just gets the job done. The Streamline dub featuring Lara Cody (Kei) and Wendee Lee (Yuri) may be a little lighter in the translation, but this one works oh so well that I consider it canon, in my book. Both ladies brought a life to the girls that can rival the original voice actors. If you care to debate this by all means, but I am sticking to my guns. The Dirty Pair dubs may just be Streamline’s best work, with My Neighbor Totoro as well.

From what I could find from research, Affair of Nolandia was probably going to be an alternate OVA series that ended up only being a single outing. It would have been interesting to see where this different direction of the Dirty Pair would have gone, but that is now history. Thankfully we have this one and it is available on DVD and with both dubs no less.

#6 : Combat Mecha Xabungle

Xabungle4During an era when mecha shows on television were beginning to grow into a new form of sophistication through serious science fiction epics, which feature the titular named robot. Shows like the Xambot 3, Voltes 5, the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Ideon and Baldios showed the way into future. But, with all this taking everything completely seriously, there were moments when these studios and creators decided to do things a little more silly and spastic. Combat Mecha Xabungle would fit this alternate idea perfectly.

Xabungle2Ask many fans to say if they have heard of Yoshiyuki Tomino and usually two responses comes out: one, he is the guy who created Gundam and/or he is the guy who made horrid garbage like Garvey’s Wing. Of course there is middle ground in his career and Xabungle fits in quite nicely towards the better quality end. Known for his dark serious stories, which usually entail a large scale of character deaths. Now, would it surprise you that Mr. Tomino and staff can actually have a sense of humor? It goes to show that his popular reputation may not be completely true, though it is true he can be a bit of a cranky old man like Miyazaki (Hey kids get off my lawn!).

Xabungle is set in the future on the planet Zola, but this future takes it’s cues from the American Wild West. Though I would say it is not completely is this subject as there are themes that do not match up to the western genre, but the attitude is there. You do have cowboys, can-can dancers and towns in the desert, but you also have large land gunships, a caste system where the ruling class live in domed cities and other sci-fi concepts like brainwashing and large robots (yeah for giant robots). Also, on this planet there is basically one law, if you wish to seek revenge you have three days to accomplish your task. After that you should forgive what has been done and for our hero Jiron Amos, this is a law worth breaking. After all Timp Sharon, a guy who looks a lot like Clint Eastwood, murdered his parents. And would you take that standing down? No, but of course in the spirit of this show you have to trip, hover in the air, try to run back and fall down in the process.

Xabungle3I was surprised how well the comedy actually fit into the story. It is possible there may have been influence from the currently running Urusei Yatsura, famous for it’s hijinks, and maybe even the previous year’s parody filled GoShogun. I am sure this may have been partial to the fact as well to attract younger viewers, as this show was based on toys and not a model kit line, like that of Gundam. And in the tradition of Tomino character naming, we get some odd ones like Rag, Elchi, Blume and Chill (who has to be one of the best kid sidekick characters I have every seen) to name a few. But nothing tops Fatman, yeah Fat-o-man is more the appropriate pronunciation, but he is a muscle hulking quiet guy, not so much a fat man (still nothing tops Shot Weapon from Dunbine). But certain times there is some crafty writing such as Jiron saying, ‘I am the main character here’, or the comment when five of the characters end up in the Xabungle (by the way, it was built for two) and the comment came up, ‘hey why are there five in the Xabungle?’ ‘Well thats what you usually do in mech shows.’ EXACTLY! Let’s form Voltron, right?

Also, how many mecha series do you know where the robots, or should I say “Walker Machines”, run on ordinary pump gasoline, the same stuff you put into your car? The Xabungle does this, even the controls are a car’s steering wheel. And as for the titular blue bot, it’s not a bad design and it grew on me, but it’s replacement the Gallier never excited me. But the crown and glory is the Iron Gear, the heroes main land ship that turns into a giant robot (but no where near as impressive as the mighty Macross).

Xabungle1Xabungle didn’t blow my mind, but I was not expecting a masterpiece. I call this silly fun! It’s good, not great and I can’t call  it a classic, but it is one of those buried oddities that gets forgotten each passing year. In some ways I almost feel this show kind of harkens back to the simpler robot shows of the 1970s, though having a more complex plot structure without taking itself too seriously. If you have seen Xabungle, I salute you.