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Aim for the Top! Gunbuster

Noriko and Gunbuster

As many of my friends know, I am a big fan of this much overlooked anime.  It is a strange one, considering it was originally intended as a spoof of the shoujo sports anime Aim for the Ace (based off the manga by Ryoko Ikeda). We have high school girls training in giant robots, making them do jumping jacks and push-ups in preparation for the impending alien invasion. All of this seems amazingly silly – the character designer Mikimoto Haruhiko, at a panel at AX2001, even said "When I saw the first two episodes, I didn’t want to have my name in the credits." So far, not a very compelling argument to watch this title; but wait, there is more to see here…

Noriko Takaya is the young daughter of the space-faring Admiral Takaya. Tragedy strikes when the Admiral’s fleet is attacked and decimated by hostile alien forces leaving only one survivor, Lt. Colonel Ohta. In response to this threat, all countries band together to create an Anti Space-Monster Defense Force. Several years later, a sixteen-year old Noriko is struggling to get through the humanoid machine-weapon training regimen of her high school. While seen as clumsy and inept by the general student body, Ohta sees a raw talent in Noriko and teaches her how to polish these abilities through "hard work and courage."

The beauty of this title is to go beyond the normal expectations of a giant robot anime. It starts off as your usual sports-anime with the typical "believe in yourself" theme, but takes a sharp turn away from this silliness and delves deeper into the minds of the characters during the course of the story. A timid young Noriko Takaya finds a strength within herself to win at any cost through a series of very harsh lessons; strong characters like Jung and Kazumi show personal weaknesses. It may, at times, seem like so much melodrama, but it is fun to watch and heart-wrenching.

Additionally, we are treated to some very well animated sequences, and we get to see what is to come from a young company called GAINAX. Many of the mechanical designs and cool analog devices used here can also be seen in later works such as Fushigi no Umi no Nadia and Neon Genesis Evangelion. There are also the nifty pseudo-science lessons at the end of some of the episodes which add to the detail of the series – concepts of time-dilation and the effects of gravity are well-used in this production. These "lessons" were again used in Nadia and spoofed in Martian Successor Nadesico.

If the first two episodes make you wonder about where this series is going, be patient and keep watching. If you don’t watch to the end, you will miss out on one of the finest endings in anime that I have ever seen (I have watched hundreds upon hundreds of titles, so I am not just shooting my mouth off here). I don’t cry much at movies, but this one brought some tears to my eyes.

As a final note, the quote from Mikimoto above has a second part:

"But when I watched the rest of the episodes, I felt that I had watched something worthwhile."

I couldn’t agree more.