Reviewby Carlo Santos, Oct 22nd 2004
DVD 1: Tokyo 2040
Plagued by pollution, Tokyo in the year 2040 has become a grimy shadow of itself. That's why an organization known as DC is conducting research and trying to clean up Tokyo with advanced robots called RTs. Young, hotheaded Ken Ando wants to get into DC, but he initially fails the training course, so when a mysterious giant robot drops out of the sky during a routine mission, Ken--determined to prove himself--takes over another squad member's RT and fends off the invader. Ken gets a second chance and is admitted to DC, but the existence of the giant robot and its repeated visits are changing things for the organization. They activate Balcion, a battle robot, and start fitting the RTs with weapons too. Things get worse when, during one of the giant robot's invasions, it disappears in a black explosion and takes another RT pilot, Mizuki, with it. Mizuki returns a few days later claiming that the giant robot is named Cybuster, a sentinel from an alternate world called La Guias. But with a story so outrageous, will anyone believe Mizuki--even Ken, who's known her since childhood?
The moment those brassy chords hit you in the opening song, the purpose of Cybuster is clear--giant robots! Fighting spirit! Futuristic Tokyo! Oh, and did we mention the giant robots?
In a post-Evangelion and Gundam world, it's hard to find anything particularly interesting about Cybuster. It comes as no surprise when our hero fights off the mysterious invader in the first episode. It also comes as no surprise that DC is up to something sinister behind everyone else's backs. And despite the advances in technology, the standard of living has remained at late-20th-century levels for the last 40 years. In fact, everything about the show feels like something that's already been seen in another, similar anime. The linear direction of the early episodes is driven by one key point: who or what is Cybuster? Unless you're absolutely fascinated by this giant robot, it's hard to maintain any sort of interest in the story.
The plot of Cybuster treads along a tired, old path, and the characters in the show do the same. Ken is the classic hero with a fiery attitude; unfortunately, this archetype has come up so many times in anime that his portrayal is more cardboard than classic. It doesn't help that he often spouts clichéd lines that declare his fighting spirit. Ken's fellow RT pilots are all equally nondescript, and the only ones worth keeping track of are his friend Mizuki, whose job is to put him in his place, and Lyune, the requisite spoiled brat. The commanding officers, meanwhile, are caricatures of grizzled military types, barking orders and then getting all shady when DC's secret operations are brought up. This show doesn't even have a cute animal (like someone's pet dog or cat) to redeem itself.
It's hard to believe that Cybuster was produced in 1999, since some of the scenes look like unintentional attempts to capture the picture quality of an old-school giant robot series. The colors vary between vivid and faded, sometimes even within a single scene, and the backgrounds are generally dull. Sure, it's supposed to represent a ruined, polluted Tokyo, but for a relatively recent anime to look like this on DVD is disappointing. At least the artwork is surprisingly competent--the character designs are rather sophisticated for their time, looking forward to the smaller eyes and nostril-defined noses that are now in vogue among today's top anime studios. The robots, too, are well rendered, even if Cybuster does look like it walked out of the Escaflowne design studio and the RTs are ugly, blocky things made to reflect their mundane roles.
Cybuster appears to be one of the last relics of the 2-D hand-drawn animation era, featuring practically no digital or CGI effects. Because of this, there are subtle motions in the animation that lend it a warmth and realism that's sometimes lacking in digitally produced modern works. Even something as minor as Mizuki's hair swishes correctly when she turns her head. Unfortunately, the technical aspect of the animation is going to be hard to appreciate due to the picture quality issues described above. It's also irritating to see the characters' faces fluctuate in shape as animators get lazy and fail to stay on model.
A show with stereotypical characters calls for stereotypical voice acting, and that's just what the English dub of Cybuster delivers. The adapted script deviates from the direct translation a little more than it needs to, but that's a minor concern compared to how ordinary the voice acting is. Ken's trite lines about his desire to defend Tokyo are pretty embarrassing in English--most likely due to the poor source dialogue in Japanese. The rest of the dub cast also seems to realize that there's no way to rescue the script through translation. The music, meanwhile, is a hit-and-miss affair, consisting of some stirring orchestral tracks to build mood, but then suddenly going into synthesized instrumental pop during a fight scene. Either way, the background music doesn't particularly contribute or take away from the show. The one high point is the ending song, a delicate acoustic guitar ballad that belies the rest of the series.
The extras on the DVD are sparse even by anime standards; the inside cover insert is basically a scrap of glossy paper and the DVD itself features only trailers and some credits. With no clean openings and endings and no production artwork, it seems that Geneon is putting this product on the shelves just so they can say they did it.
In the end, Cybuster is the kind of show that's only suited to true mecha fans. Even then, the hardcore fans will probably dismiss it as an unworthy imitator of better giant robot shows. It's not as terrible as, say, Gravion, but after seeing the first few episodes, you may have doubts on whether to continue. Geneon didn't put a lot of heart into this release, and that's probably because most viewers won't be putting a lot of heart into Cybuster.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : D
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : C
+ Character designs have a sophisticated feel, despite limitations of the animation
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