["Aim for the Top"]. Animated video series (1988 Japan; vt Gunbuster, 1990 US). Gainax, Bandai Emotion. Directed by Hideaki Anno. Written by Hideaki Anno and Toshio Okada. Cast includes Noriko Hidaka, Maria Kawamura, Rei Sakuma and Norio Wakamoto. 180 minutes (6 x 30 minutes). Five episodes colour, last episode mainly black and white.
A Future War Anime in which the teenage Noriko (Hidaka) volunteers as a Mecha pilot in Earth's military after her Starship captain father is killed in a disastrous First Contact. Early, deceptively light-hearted training missions are inspired in equal parts by Robert A Heinlein's Space Cadet (1948) and Starship Troopers (October-November 1959 F&SF as "Starship Soldier"; 1959) and by the practice cliches of mundane sporting Manga, particularly the tennis comic Ace o Nerae ["Aim for the Ace"] (graph: 1972 Margaret) by Sumika Yamamoto. Later episodes mix exuberant Space Opera with tragic losses and separations recalling the time dislocations of Joe Haldeman's The Forever War (June 1972-January 1975 Analog; fixup 1974), as ever-increasing Time Distortion leaves Noriko months, and then years behind her friends and family. The Bug-Eyed Monsters are revealed as the natural defence mechanisms of the galaxy itself, making humanity an unwelcome virus on the face of the universe, and calling into question the "just" war of the protagonists. Ever-escalating stakes culminate in a cataclysmic confrontation, a finale filmed in widescreen monochrome in imitation of Kihachi Okamoto's Battle of Okinawa (1971), in which the pilots detonate the planet Jupiter at the heart of the galaxy, followed by a tardy homecoming to an unrecognizable but grateful Earth (see Time Abyss).
Top o Nerae prefigures the apocalypse of the same studio's later Shinseiki Evangelion (1995-1996), and in depicting humanity fighting on the "wrong" side, is one of the better anime allegories of World War Two. It is also a lynchpin of Fan Service (see also Anime), discarding the traditional square-jawed heroes of Space Opera in favour of buxom girls in leotards modelled on the 1964 Olympics Japanese women's gymnastics uniform. Notoriously, the animators chose to present the last battle as a succession of still images, but allocated significant budget on realistic breast dynamics (now known as the "Gainax bounce"), a precursor of the following decade as anime pandered to an ever-decreasing audience of single adult males in Japan. It is loaded with genre references and ideas, including "Tannhauser Gates" inspired by a throwaway line in Blade Runner (1982), cetacean crew-members (see Uplift) and background cameos from vessels previously seen in Fantastic Voyage (1966) and the Star Wars films. The plot also artfully conveys the bittersweet self-doubt of sf fans turned professional; like the animators themselves, the eternally-teenage Noriko remains obsessed with rockets and aliens, while her childhood friends grow up, pair off and largely forget about the distant war in space. Deservedly, the series won the 1990 Seiun Award in the Film and Media category.
The series was novelized by Fumihiko Iino in two volumes (Tokyo: Keibunsha, 1989), and by Tōru Sonozaki in Top Gun Buster (Tokyo: Keibunsha, 1989). An official CD "sound collection" included trailers for a 26-part television iteration of the story, in which the extant six episodes formed occasional chapters. However, it is unclear whether the studio ever seriously intended to make this version. Obscure at the time of its release, but increasingly hailed as a key moment in the history of anime, Top o Nerae was revived in numerous formats a generation later, with a lacklustre and unnecessary sequel Diebuster (2004, ATX), the manga Top o Nerae: The Next Generation (graph: 2007) by Fumihiko Iino, the novel Top o Nerae: The Next Generation (Tokyo: Keibunsha, 2007) by Tōru Sonozaki, and a disappointing feature-length movie edit of the original (2006). None of these later spinoffs come close to the passion and energy of the original. Its modern influence can be most clearly discerned in Hoshi no Koe (2004) by Makoto Shinkai, which is often almost actionably similar. [JonC]
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