I cannot speak objectively about Gunbuster, as Gunbuster does not really deal in the objective. Like any really good giant robot anime, it’s about feelings, you know? Irrational feelings are best. You could ask all kinds of silly, logical questions about Gunbuster: why would one work out by getting in a giant robot and making it do pushups? Does putting a huge tire on the back of the giant robot make it harder for the pilot to pull the levers that make the robot to do pushups? Why are Gundam pilots always talking politics to each other mid-battle?
You’ve got to let all that go if you’re going to have any fun with Gunbuster, or hell, with anime. You’re going to have to embrace the irrational. The heroine of Gunbuster has only truly arrived when she learns to damn the torpedoes and just start screaming.
If there is one element of Gunbuster that is forever burned into my memory, it’s not the robot or the casual nudity or even the way my eyes always get misty at the end. It’s the sound of Noriko Hidaka screaming. The super robot yell is an indispensable part of the ritual, but in Gunbuster, it’s a little different. It comes from deeper, from the gut, and it feels different coming out of weepy Noriko than it does out of the usual tough guy. It sounds like it hurts. It’s straight, it’s honest, and it’s strangely moving, which is about how I feel about Gunbuster on the whole.
It certainly didn’t start out with such intentions: the beginning part is just a simple parody of the 70’s shoujo tennis manga Aim for the Ace with giant robots added in for flavor. Combining overblown shoujo melodrama with overblown robot antics led to a first episode that is merely goofy, but Gunbuster doesn’t stop there. Gunbuster is BSing gloriously all the way– from meticulously explained nonsense science to improbably designed bath houses– and as the tone becomes more and more somber, Gunbuster just keeps right on pushing into the ludicrous, playing it straight and asking over and over again to “indulge me just this once”. Along the way, at the end of a frivolous adolescent romance, Gunbuster drops the laughs entirely and, with a straight face and crossed arms, becomes so ridiculous that it’s poignant.
The Gunbuster, as Noriko would say, is not just some ordinary machine. The beatdowns delivered are some of the greats in anime history, and this is not simply because they’re unprecedentedly gigantic, but because they’ve got all this emotional weight behind them. Noriko, Kazumi and Coach Ohta’s soap opera all leads up to a giant robot jump-kicking through ten thousand battleships, and somehow it works. It doesn’t make sense, mind you. It works. There’s a 90-minute movie cut of Gunbuster that leaves this latter portion largely intact while skipping as quickly as possible through the early character development episodes, and while it has all of the iconic scenes, I think they’re a little bit numb.
By the end, Gunbuster is past reason and aiming directly for the heartstrings: there’s the black and white, Noriko screaming when it shouldn’t hurt and climactically tearing her shirt open, a theme song that would be overused if it wasn’t so good, and a famously sappy final scene. I realize all of these things are pretty silly, but by the end of Gunbuster, I am a broken man and I just don’t care. I guess I’m a big softie at heart: indeed, Gunbuster might only work on softies. If the Go Nagai rule has ever seriously emotionally resonated with you– that he who yells loudest wins and that you can yell louder than anybody in the world– you owe Gunbuster to yourself.