Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno’s directorial debut, Gunbuster, begins with a fairly simple premise: what if Top Gun but with cosmic gear? The series is set in a time when aliens threaten to destroy humanity, and our survival depends on the academy training teenage girls to pilot mechs to go into space and punch the enemy in the face. The story centers on Noriko as she transforms from a brash but inept student into humanity’s best hope of winning the war. Gunbuster is in many ways the forerunner of everything Gainax would have done, from Evangelion to Gurren Lagann, with Anno’s distinctive directing style and ability to shoot the same scene from a dozen different angles, angular shapes, heroic sacrifices. , iconic poses, and rapid escalation to over-the-top threats that threaten the world are all present in this six-episode OVA.
But the real star of the show lies in how it uses time dilation to explore a highly emotional story about wasted time and sacrifice. You see, most of the show’s emotional moments revolve around using time dilation to show the difference in time between those on the front lines and those left on Earth. Noriko sees how former bullies become friends, friends become adults, and adults leave, and all this Noriko experiences in a couple of days. Instead of a quick montage apparently intended to cause emotional devastation at the beginning of Up, Anno returns to the idea over and over again to support the show’s themes of sacrifice and perseverance.