The directorial debut of “Evangelion” creator Hideaki Anno, “Gunbuster” starts out with a rather simple premise: what if “Top Gun” but with space mechas? The show is set at a time where aliens are threatening to destroy humanity, and our survival depends on an academy training teenage girls to pilot mechas to go out to space and punch the enemy in the face. The story focuses on Noriko as she grows from a cocky but inept student to humanity’s best hope for 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 knack for shooting the same scene from a dozen different angles, the angular shapes, heroic sacrifices , iconic poses, and quick escalation to over-the-top, world-ending threats all present in this six-episode OVA.
But the real star of the show is how it uses time dilation to explore a very emotionally charged story about time lost and sacrifice. You see, most of the emotional moments of the show revolve around the use of time dilation to show the difference in passage of time between those on the front lines and those left behind on Earth. Noriko sees former bullies become friends, friends become adults, and adults pass away, all of what Noriko experiences like a couple of days. Rather than a quick montage clearly meant to evoke the emotional devastation of the opening of “Up,” Anno returns to this idea again and again to support the show’s themes of sacrifice and perseverance.