In a world littered with hype and hoopla, many solid anime titles slip through the proverbial cracks without ever achieving the type of recognition they deserve. Cybuster is one such series. In fact if not for an Amazon.com recommendation while placing an order for a few Gundam titles, it is likely I too would have joined the masses in overlooking the series entirely.
Debuting in Japan back in 1999, Cybuster managed to stay well below the US radar by failing to appear on domestic television. In fact the only way to experience this show is to purchase it across six individual single-disc releases from the now defunct Geneon-Pioneer label back in 2004. It may seem counterproductive to even bother reviewing a series from a company that has since folded but there are smoking deals still available on the Internet on used and new old stock copies of the show. For that reason alone it's worth taking another look at but additionally the fact that Funimation has been purchasing up the rights to re-release certain Geneon titles also means that there's always the chance of Cybuster seeing the light of day once more.
Cybuster spans 26-episodes and follows the exploits of a young man named Ken Ando living amidst the rubble and destruction of a quake-battered and environmentally trashed future Tokyo (in the year 2040). It doesn't take long for the mecha to begin appearing as the goof-off Ken is introduced as a mecha pilot-in-training for the environmental organization DC.
Character development is standard-fair here, if even a bit on the witty side. Ken Ando is portrayed as a bit more clueless and energetic than the dark and disturbed leading characters of say the Gundam Universe for example.
The early plot is advanced along with appearances by the enigmatic Cybuster, a robotic being both physically and technologically superior to any of the mechanized robots (RTs) belonging to DC. Our hero, in the mean time, is handed his walking papers from DC for his lackluster performance mingled with disobedience. This plot-twist puts a temporary focus on Ken's home life which in turn introduces a character who, in my opinion, steals the show: Ken's father. While most humor in anime is either over-the-top campy (read: slapstick) or completely unintentional (poor Japanese dialog with which to translate), the lines and delivery here are truly comedic efforts.
Without delving into overwhelming detail, the core of the story is broken down into essentially two key aspects fairly early on: What is Cybuster/ what does he want and is there more to DC than meets the eye? The second mystery begins unraveling almost immediately as the supposed environmentally conscious company begins arming their RT fleet with weapons systems. Cybuster's back-story, however, takes a majority of the show's 26 episodes to fully flesh out.
The world becomes a much bigger place once the discovery of micro black holes leading to a rip of a parallel dimension comes into play. It is here that all thoughts of Cybuster being simply a mechanical device come undone with the introduction of a race dwelling on the other side. Cybuster, it turns out, and a trio of like-minded sentient beings, is actually an elemental war idol. It is the elemental energy-forces behind these beings that choose pilots worthy of the machines themselves, creating a sort of lasting bond between man and machine.
The core conflict shifts to involve humans from our own world piloting idols from another dimension against an evil corporation in our world that's actually run by people from the other. Confused? Don't be- all that matters is that the lines between good and evil are clearly drawn here with a burst of environmentalism thrown in for good measure.
About the best way to summarize the show's plot threads would be through the word escalation. The smaller conflicts introduced and built upon in the earlier episodes continue to gain momentum right up until the 25th and final episode. Now earlier I did say that this was a 26-episode series and that's no mistake. In an interesting move, the production team decided to devote the entire 26th episode as a prequel to the events preceding the very first episode of the show.
While not a tearjerker per say, the effect is quite touching considering the episode pays tribute to one of the deceased and likable characters from earlier on (or later, depending on how you look at it).
As far as the look and feel of Cybuster are concerned, the staff did a commendable job capturing the tone and grit of early 80s giant robot animation despite being produced just a few months shy of the new millennium. Being one of the last examples of the hand-drawn animation era, Cybuster has a washed out color pallet made famous by shows like Gundam Wing half a decade earlier. Because of the hand drawn detail, there are subtle motions in the animation that lend a realism that's oftentimes lacking in more recent (digitally produced) animation.
Audio is presented with a choice of either the original Japanese dialog or English dub track (both in Dolby Digital 2.0) with a choice of optional English subtitles. While a majority of the English cast did an adequate job with the source material, a few moments involving Ken's gruff father make the entire English experience worth savoring.
All in all, nobody will ever accuse Cybuster of offering up serious competition to some of the biggest names in the mecha genre (Neon Genesis Evangelion or Raxephon for example) but it is a solid franchise that offers viewers a chance to get nostalgic without actually tainting any of their childhood memories.