Tuesday, February 06, 2007

U.S. Gunbuster DVDs!

There have been significant advances in animation techniques in the past 20 years, as becomes immediately obvious to a present-day otaku watching just about any anime from the 1980s. In general, character designs have gotten more consistent and more attractive, backgrounds more detailed and realistic, animation of movement and action cleaner and more convincing. It's not that modern anime has become uniformly better, even on a purely technical level, but it's undeniable that current productions do more with their animation resources, simply because new and improved ideas about how to, say, animate an explosion, have been invented. Top o Nerae! Gunbuster (Aim for the Top! Gunbuster) is about the only anime from ca. 1988 that a naive viewer might almost think was a high-end modern OVA. Gunbuster was many years ahead of its time, and not so much because it happened to resemble what anime would become, but because present-day anime came to resemble Gunbuster.

Gunbuster was, for example, the first commercial "meta-anime," the first anime made by fans, consciously aimed at an audience of anime fans. Initially content to deftly parody beloved shoujo melodramas, hero shows, sports manga and robot anime, Gunbuster went on to surprise viewers by turning serious, synthesizing something new and unexpectedly powerful from its mélange of inspirations. Gunbuster pilot Noriko Takaya was probably the first anime character who was herself an anime fan, and writer Toshio Okada and writer/director Hideaki Anno weren't content with playing Noriko's otakudom for a few self-referential chuckles. Instead, they use it to turn the show's framework of relativistic space travel into a metaphor for the indefinitely extended adolescence of young people in prosperous modern societies (as has been noted by several commentators over the years, including Ryusuke Hikawa in the liner notes for the new U.S. DVDs).

Of course, Gunbuster is a heck of a lot of fun to watch, subtle and prescient social commentary aside. You know those Lively Internet Debates about which fictional entity would win in a fight? The answer is always Gunbuster. Both Death Stars, 500 Borg Cubes, any two Heralds of Galactus, Great Cthulhu and Dick Cheney with a shotgun and a coffee mug of Everclear? Gunbuster takes them all in style, with Noriko and Kazumi yelling out the names of the moves they're using, just before turning their opponents into smoking holes in the space-time continuum. The show dishes out apocalyptic space opera on a scale not approached before or since (with the possible exception of Ideon), in anime or film, and if you can keep yourself from giggling with glee as the Gunbuster starts incinerating carrier-class aliens the size of planets, you're a better person than me.

My region 1 DVD box arrived last night, and there was much rejoicing: I've been waiting for subtitled Gunbuster in some kind of decent, non-VHS format since, oh, about 1990. In most respects, the new set from Bandai Visual's boutique Honneamise line is everything I was hoping for: excellent video quality, a proper translation, and top-quality packaging and liner notes. Extras on the DVDs include all six science lessons (including the two made for the Okaerinasai LD Box set), original trailers from the '80s, and new short animations exploring facets of the story that are relegated to the background in the main OVAs, like the workings of the "Sizzler" mass-production Gunbusters. Totally sweet.

I really wish that this post could be a piece of pure, unapologetic boosterism for a new release of one of my favorite anime of all time, but there is a significant problem with Bandai Visual's Gunbuster. The training sequence in the first episode was originally set to a piece of music called Honou no Tokkun (Blazing Special Training), which is a pastiche of the theme from Chariots of Fire. Apparently, someone at the home office in Japan got spooked by America's litigious reputation, and replaced the training music with the preparation-for-battle music used in episode 4, Sakusen Kaishi (Commence Operation). The sound in this part of the episode also seems distant and fuzzy. I've got my tapes and LDs to fall back on if I want to hear the original, and I'm not sure that a more casual Gunbuster enthusiast would even notice that anything was amiss, but to me Sakusen Kaishi in the context of the first episode just sounds jarring and wrong. In the end, it's not the sort of thing that would stop me from picking up the DVD set, but it's a blemish on what should have been one of the anime highlights of the year for American fans.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Matt, you should check out the Ask John commentary on this and other music changes in American anime releases (for me, the Zeta Gundam issue was even worse and still rankles).