#185 : Aura Battler Dunbine

“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.

ABD_1Often 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.

ABD_2The 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.

ABD_3Byston 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.

ABD_4Currently 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?

#114 : Space Runaway Ideon

Space. The universe itself is vast and beyond scope. Space opera as a genre is also larger than life, but often you can hold it in the palm of your hand. Themes and characters are bigger than life, but still relatable on some level. What if space opera could represent something even bigger than just off hand spaceship battles, or fun times trekking through the deep vastness of the beautiful great void. Can space opera encompass the function and consequences of the living universe, call it ‘God’ perhaps, depending on the actions you and your civilization make? After finalizing Mobile Suit Gundam, Yoshiyuki Tomino and Sunrise would gives us an answer in 1980 with Space Runaway Ideon.

Ideon_1Space Runaway Ideon may be the most epic and most importantly, the most sublime sci-fi epic in existence within the realm of Japanese animation. Gundam is one thing, Legend of Galactic Heroes is another, but Ideon is it’s own animal. Ideon ventures into unique territory in terms of emotion, intensity and characterization. Known often as a series where everyone and everything dies (Kill ’em all Tomino!), the true meaning of this series is so much more. The death and sacrifices are all consequences and actions of conflict and hatred. This of course is a product of ignorance and xenophobia to an extreme that once the negativity reaches a certain point, the only option left is total and complete destruction.

Ideon_2Even with all this seriousness one must remember that Space Runaway Ideon is first and foremost a mecha show. And what a giant robot indeed (105 meters/344.5 feet for a height), the Ideon is imposing beyond belief and is one of two mechs that literally scare the $h!& out of me (the other being Giant Robo). This is not so much for the overall size or power, but more so on the presence a mecha exudes. It’s about total respect. All this from what looks like a mix of a Gundam’s GM and Gun Cannon added together on a heavy dose of steroids. Literally… as this is a robot that can split a planet in half. This is power beyond power, almost ‘God’ like, hence why I give the Ideon such respect.

Ideon_3Beyond the drama and the Ideon robot itself, Space Runaway Ideon like many of the best mecha shows is about the relationships of it’s cast. And like many Tomino shows, this cast is large. Our story concerns two factions that make contact on a planet in the Andromeda galaxy. Earth based humans like us have begun colonization on the planet which they call Solo. Beyond the colonization, many of the scientists and researchers have discovered several artifacts from a past civilization including three huge truck like vehicles and a buried spaceship. The second faction known as the Buff Clan (yes that is their name) are on a mission to locate the legendary power of the Ide. They come upon this same planet, which they call Logo Dau and eventually both civilizations meet. In response, both sides start a conflict showing the darkest side of human interaction towards someone or something that is unfamiliar, or different.

Sadly Space Runaway Ideon would be become a victim of cancelization, most likely due to a lack of ratings not unlike the previous year’s Mobile Suit Gundam. This left several holes in the plot and a rushed ending. All the build up of 38 episodes led to an ackward final 39th. Yet the story was not over for in 1982 two movies would be released to finish the story properly. The Ideon: A Contact would act as a review and prequel to the awesome and powerful The Ideon: Be Invoked. I highly recommend both movies if you want to get the whole story of Ideon.

Ideon_4To conclude with Space Runaway Ideon, let us examine a quote by Albert Einstein… “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” If that decision in the end is a hostile one, there is nowhere to go except toward ultimate destruction… think about it. This applies not only to anime space opera, but also our lives as well. Similar to, but not the same as Evangelion, Ideon addresses the power of how we sometimes view our environment and ourselves and what happens in regards to how we react toward it. Space Runaway Ideon was and still is a show beyond any experience I have known and I will always count it as one of my all-time favorites.

#62 : Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ

The red headed step twice removed cousin that you swear has to be adopted.  Much is said about the reputation of Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ as the oddball of the original Universal Century timeline of Gundam. Now I can poo-poo all over this show too, but why? It is better to see the hidden glories inside this odd release. Let us instead look at the areas where ZZ Gundam does well as well as my areas of questioning, at least from my perspective.

ZZ_1First, it is well animated. Kind of generic, but Sunrise usually gives royal treatment to many classic series and that should not be overlooked. Also the change from Yoshikazu Yasuhiko to Hiroyuki Kiazume for lead character designer is not a bad change. Kitazume has great skills as an artist, so he is most welcome as a change. What would Judau have looked like other wise? Maybe a different eye shape perhaps? And by the way, is it me or are there like way more girls than dudes in this show? Nothing wrong with that and all of them are on the cuter side. Therefore the nickname for ZZ shall be forever known as Cute Girl Gundam (thats better than my nickname for Zeta, Bitchslap Gundam… just ask Kamille).

ZZ_2Second, patience and the 20 episode mark. When I first saw this series I watched about the first 20 episodes and was a little disappointed to say the least. In response, I did a very sensible thing… I took a break from it for about a month. Upon returning, to my surprise, the series began to change (for a short period of time) back into the older dramatic flavor of Zeta and MSG. This gave me faith to continue to the finish. And even though the show is far from perfect, I did finish it. Like anything in life, get away for five minutes to clear your perspective.

ZZ_3Third, we get resolution for Zeta’s tragic hero, Kamille Bidan. And after Zeta, I was worried beyond belief for Kamille, as he is my favorite pilot and the show just stops in a dramatic cliffhanger. Thankfully we see him get out of his shock and mental issues from the final battle of Zeta, though the price he paid for what he did may never be fully healed. The price of karma and severe PTSD on a newtype is a bitch! And… thank you Fa for standing by him.

Something else to consider… not every mecha series is, or even has to be, an epic space opera melodrama. While this may be true and can work for other shows, Xabungle and GoShogun come to mind, it is a serious jolt for my view on the classic Gundam Universe. Some may blame director Yoshiyuki Tomino since he has an interesting portfolio, but I know no anime is the sole responsibility of just one individual. Miyazaki may be the lone exception to that rule (he has his genius hands in everything) 🙂

ZZ_4Now for the main problem I have with ZZ. It is not the story, or the characters, or even the bizarre comedy. It is a more fundamental issue I have with many things in our culture. It’s that it is a product of a branding machine. The sole reason for ZZ’s existence is to continue a franchise to make more money. It’s a victim of marketing and higher ups trying to bend an already established universe and twist it around to make it appeal to someone else who would care less about Gundam. Gundam, like other properties, still continues today with constant revisiting leaving little room for originality. Perhaps mecha and Gundam perhaps are just dead concepts? Love live you beautiful giant robots.

…and also sometimes when a story is finished, it should be treated as such. Sequels after sequels are not always necessary.

So in the end we have a Gundam series that starts off with an introductory episode, the second episode features a food fight, we meet one of the missing Misfits from Jem and the Holograms and we get an episode where the boys have to dress up like girls to rescue their comrades. Not my typical definition of Gundam, but who knows, it may be more to your liking than you realize. ZZ Gundam may be far from perfect (what is perfect amyways?), but it is at least worth a view for the sake of posterity.