This anime is based on a novel originally titled Wings of Rean by Gundam creator, Yoshiyuki Tomino who of course worked as the director of this series. If you’re familiar with his work or the Gundam franchise in general, then you can recognize the approach and formula of how he does things, but in a different context in comparison to Gundam. And the original novel did not contain any mechs which was added at the insistence of sponsors such as Bandai. The pacing is appropriate for its length of 49 episodes and you’re getting all kinds of characterizations of the cast, and each character acts natural in their own way in relation to what’s going on to a point you can consider realistic. And eventually other elements of Gundam are loosely transitioned to this anime that fans of that series can appreciate.
The anime ends with some loose ends, not specifically the ending, but with some of the characters. And of course as you watch it, the characters have very unique names to the Japanese people in which American audiences would give a WTF reaction to. Such as the main antagonist and the rival is named Burn Burnings or whatever and the chief engineer of Drake’s army is named Shot Weapon. Yes those are their names and that’s the beginning of things to come.
Well this anime was broadcasted shortly before I was born and while I was in the womb which was nearly 25 years ago, so the old animation might translate as “bad animation” for the stupid and close minded as some have reacted to the first Gundam series and Lupin III during their broadcasting on cartoon network. To me, this was the best that early 1980s TV anime had to offer. In tradition to that of Gundam, the design of the antagonists have a traditional but yet old military approach appropriate to the setting with their costumes and ceremonies. The hairstyles and costumes of the rebels on the other hand look like they are going to enter the battle of the bands. Hey, it’s the 80s. So whether or not that is a good thing or bad thing is also up to you. I think in a rebel sense, that kind of design is appropriate.
The character designer is Kogawa Tomonori who has acclaimed international fame on his own end as the character designer of Southern Cross, which would serve as part of the Robotech franchise that was started by Macross. Speaking of Macross, mechanical designer Miyataka Kazutaka was also the mech designer for this series as well and is truly in some ways the aura battlers in the tradition of the valkyries in their own right though they kind of look like insects. I’m guessing they have a Kamen Rider influence. After all, Sho is a motorcycle driver and I’m going to continue making that assumption based on this detail as well. I estimate the aura battlers are the same size as the valkyries and also share some of its unique engineering by transforming into a fighter jet. The battle sequences are breath taking and combine the elements of both Gundam and Macross and saying that alone should be enough to convince you how great and spectacular they are. Considering this is a Tomino creation, the concepts will of course favor more to the tradition of Gundam. If I elaborate on that, it would be somewhat of a spoiler.
Well, I have yet to watch the dub. I have heard mixed things about it, and it is directed by Carl Macek, who is well known as the man who took some anime and meshed it together to make the Robotech franchise. But I just personally don’t feel any reason to watch the dub. Not really out of bad expectations of it, but simply I just don’t want to and I’m satisfied with the Japanese version. I’m not discouraging anybody from watching the dub, it’s just I don’t feel any reason to watch it. Nakahara Shigeru is the voice of Sho, he would later become famous amongst anime fans as the voice of Trowa from Gundam Wing and Android 17 in Dragon Ball Z. His role as Sho in comparison to his more famous ones, he’s of course on the lines of being like Camille from Zeta Gundam. He has issues and portrays being a teenager with them very well and sounding very childish. And my favorite seiyuu in this is Shimada Bin as the voice of the rival of Sho, Barn Barrings. His deep voice truly reflects the status and appearance of his character and it was truly tailor made for him. And of course, the presence of foreign characters, they do speak Japanese, but the anime has an interesting justified reason of why the characters can speak Japanese in this series. It’s just that in Byston Well, people can somehow understand each other. Like if someone is talking to you in Chinese, you’ll magically hear it as English and when you talk to that person, they’ll hear your English as Chinese. And of course it’s believable.
The music is also excellent and highly intense which is appropriate for the action, and relaxing and mystical in appropriate for the middle ages setting. So you’re getting all kinds of tracks appropriate for the atmosphere in terms of not just setting, but mood as well. MIO who would later rename her self MIQ sings both the opening and ending songs. The songs are also very kid friendly and are exclusively made for the show just like how the Macross and Gundam themes were. She has also sang the theme songs for Gundam 0083 and Area 88. I believe she also sang an English version of the theme song of Aura Battler Dunbine which I have yet to hear.
After watching this review or if you had any prior exposure to this series, then you can take an obvious assumption that this anime could have influenced Escaflowne by Shoji Kawamori, the creator of Macross. I don’t think that has officially been confirmed, but I say it’s still a safe assumption to make. As much as I personally highly regard Aura Battler Dunbine, I do see it will not appeal to everyone outside of a dedicated fan base of mech or the staff members or old school anime in general, just like how lets say fan service and the sports genre isn’t for everyone either. I say this is still a must see for fans of Gundam and Macross. But as I believe, if you appreciate excellent story telling, presentation and an approachable orthodox sense of originality, I say give this a shot.
ANIME MINOR JEWELS SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
Dunbine is another work by Tomino, the Gundam dude and this time he kinda did it right as the story suffers a lot less from his “the characters make no sense” syndrome. For a change I could follow their line of thought, as well as the story.
Now the story part is about people from Earth being transported by force to another dimension, where they become pilots for huge robots that work with aura, this world’s life source. It’s very similar to Newtypes in this regard. So similar that it’s actually… a complete copy which was added by force. In the original story there were no mechas but the production company insisted to add some because Gundam was “in” and the show would sell better; thus you get these bug-like huge robots that work like Gundams. After all, how can there be a Sunrise anime without mecha? Throw them in, even for the lulz.
Anyways, the story continues with the lead pilot turning renegade after he sees how cruel his boss is and afterwards aids rebels and neighboring kingdoms to end his dictatorship. Oh I said kingdoms, didn’t I? Yes, it’s because the setting of the world is like the Middle Ages, accompanied with unicorns, fairies and … flying saucers and bug robots. Ok, it is a weird blend but it looks nice. I was getting several Lodoss and Dune vibes from it which was cool.
Most of the plot is about doing missions, like transporting a princess to safety or battling enemy camps, while occasionally we get several romantic sub-plots as well as various turn-heels, in a “not-so-Tomino” way, as they feel logical this time. Love and greed seem to dictate one’s actions in a clear to understand way.
The pacing will definitely feel slow for modern viewers, as the need to have a mecha battle in each episode feels forced and usually just an excuse to stretch an event to last several episodes. It was ok in the Gundam franchise as it was a trademark, plus it was a pure war/action drama. Dunbine is more of a fantasy/adventure and thus it seems like half of the battles were unnecessary or just a Gundam rehash. And that still didn’t save the last two episodes from going turbo and ending rashly two dozen sub-plots at once, which feels sloppy and unsatisfactory.
The story is not that linear or predictable, as at times armies transport from one world to another and they cause a lot of damage there, making you see the whole event more as genocide and less as war. Plus there is a big death total throughout the show than maintains the feeling of dread war leaves in its path. The ending is even killing almost all its cast, which Tomino reused as a concept from his Ideon work. Not that it was excused or anything; the way they all died was very convenient and happened for the sake of last impressions, which is a cheap method to gain attension.
As far as the cast goes, there is a huge variety in personalities and agendas that keeps them from becoming boring. Plus, many of them eventually die or just gain your sympathy along the way. But as far as personalities go, I only consider Chaum, the mascot pixie, to be the only memorable character for her perky looks and silly actions. She works as nothing but a comic relief but she is also a huge contrast to everybody else and as weird as it sounds, she is the only one I was cheering for. So ok, she is cute too, but that is not all I found in her. Tomino had another pixie in his later L-Gaim anime, yet that one didn’t manage to win me as much because she was mute and used too much as a panacea for various problems. Not that the cast is otherwise bad; it is in fact a worthy bunch of idealists and scheming aristocrats. Their names are also so weird; a blend of mythology and engrish that vary from cool to silly. They all have their purpose in the story and it’s just that the finale just wraps everything in a poor way.
The production values are bit hard to appreciate if you are accustomed to modern anime. There are a lot of jerky motions and still panels used, while the background will usually repeat in a fake way and the characters will look weird in many occasions. Other than that, the weird blend of sci-fi and fantasy create an interesting setting that can be captivating if you don’t expect to see Avatar. The music department is a lot easier to like as the characters have fitting voices that don’t feel fake like in most Tomino works, plus the music themes are very catchy and memorable.
In all, this is one of Tomino’s best works after Turn-A and the original Gundam season. I think he was drunk during production and thus wasn’t himself or something like that. There are many pacing issues and the animation suffers more than it should for its time but it’s otherwise a good sci-fi / fantasy anime. But I still place Escaflowne way above it, as it has a much better pace and a lot more story in it.
Oh, by the way, keep the hell away for the sequel New Aura Dunbine as well as the spin-off The Wings of Rean. They are as shitty as shit can get since Tomino was sober during those.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 6/10
General Artwork 1/2 (generic)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (very heavy on fantasy and sci-fi)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (slow)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (messy but solid)
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 5/10
Historical Value 1/3 (still remembered by some as an interesting retro title)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of the slow plot)
Memorability 3/4 (distinctive for a mecha show)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 4/10
The pacing is too slow and most battles are pointless, plus the ending is messy. All the rest are average to good.