The directorial debut from “Evangelion” creator Hideaki Anno, “Gunbuster” begins with a fairly simple premise: what if “Top Gun” but with space mechs? The show is set in a time when aliens threaten to destroy humanity, and our survival depends on an academy that trains teenage girls to fly mechs into space and punch the enemy in the face. The story focuses on Noriko as she grows from an arrogant but inept student to humanity’s best hope of winning the war. “Gunbuster” is in many ways a predecessor to everything studio Gainax would do, from “Evangelion” to “Gurren Lagann,” with Anno’s particular directing style and talent for filming the same scene under a dozen frames. Different angles, angular shapes, heroic sacrifices, iconic poses, and a rapid escalation to over-the-top, world-ending threats all feature in this six-episode OVA.
But the show’s real star is how it uses time dilation to explore a very emotionally charged story about wasted time and sacrifice. You see, most of the emotional moments in the show revolve around using time dilation to show the difference in time between those on the front lines and those left behind on Earth. Noriko sees former bullies become friends, friends become adults, and adults die, all of which Noriko experiences as a few days. Rather than a quick edit clearly intended to evoke the emotional devastation of the “Up” opener, Anno returns to this idea again and again to support the series’ themes of sacrifice and perseverance.