Shelf Life Aura Battler Dunbine
by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,
I'm finally getting a permanent office (read: cubicle) at my day job, which is a welcome step up from the computer on a table in a hallway I've been using for the past year. Naturally, my first thought regarding the situation was, "How much anime stuff can I get away with putting on my desk?" Given that I work in a library and most of my coworkers are nerds of one kind or another, I'm guessing that the answer is quite a lot. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
Aura Battler Dunbine
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Shelf Life Reviews
We've got a mecha-style blast from the past this week as James takes a look at the new Blu-Ray release of Aura Battler Dunbine.
What separates Aura Battler Dunbine from other shows that I've experienced is the way that it injects that familiar anime formula with the equally recognizable trappings of 80s era fantasy storytelling. The main hero of Aura Battler Dunbine is a modern-day delinquent bike racer from Japan named Shou Zama, who is all of a sudden whisked to the fantastical world of Byston Well, a land of faeries, monsters, magic, and political intrigue that is a decidedly 80s mix of Tolkien and George R. R. Martin. Everyone has candy colored hair, most of the men have mullets, and pretty much every corner of Byston Well would feel at home in the illustrations of an old AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide.
Then there are the Aura Battlers, the titular machines that man the frontlines of the war between Lord Drake Luft and the underdog soldiers being led by Neal Given. Shou was among a number of humans summoned by Luft from what Byston Well knows as “Upper Earth”, using the power of an imprisoned faerie named Silky Mau. Shou and the other humans of Upper Earth contain latent Aura Power that makes them prime candidates to pilot the Aura Battlers, which themselves have been designed by an American with the wonderfully campy name of Shott Weapon (nearly everyone in this series has a ridiculous name, especially the Americans). Shou's main rival is a cocky (and very racist) American named Todd Guinness, and while the both of them initially begin the story as soldiers for Luft, Shou meets another American, a woman named Marvel Frozen, who shows him that he may be fighting for the wrong side.
By now, the setting of Byston Well and the fact that Tomino is the series' lead creative will likely remind some of the infamous Tomino OVA, Garzey's Wing. While I've never seen the OVA myself, I understand its less than glowing reputation, but the good news is that Aura Battler Dunbine is essentially completely unrelated to Garzey's Wing, both in terms of plot and quality. While Aura Battler Dunbine definitely feels like a distinct Tomino production, the series strikes and ideal balance of sci-fi camp and wartime melodrama, making it a surprisingly entertaining testament to everything fun about 80s anime kitsch. First and foremost, I'd say that if you are the kind of viewer with a lot of patience for Gundam-esque cliché and the general goofiness of 80s-era fantasy, Aura Battler Dunbine has a lot to offer.
Personally, I was a little skeptical of Aura Battler at the start. I couldn't decide whether it was going to end up being the endearing kind of 80s cheese, or the irritating kind. Eventually, though, I found myself really warming up to the cast and their struggles, especially once Shou joins up with Marvel Frozen and Neal Given, and they go about building up their resistance forces and fighting the good fight against Drake Luft. Shou is by all accounts a complete doofus, the kind of hero who is good-hearted but more than a little thick-headed, but he plays well enough off of his companions that I ended up coming around to him. Marvel Frozen is a capable warrior and a decently written female lead, especially for a product from this time period, and Neal's love affair with Elmelie Drake, Luft's daughter, adds some fun, if predictable layers to the usual backstabbing, scheming, and military maneuvers that fill out most of the series' 49 episodes. Nobody in this cast is necessarily going to offer much by way of surprise or subversion for anybody that is familiar with this genre and this era of anime, but they're good fun, and they work well enough provided you know what you're getting into when you dive into Aura Battler's lengthy run.
In general, the foibles of age and poor production values are this show's primary barriers to entry, and the only major criticism I have to lob at the series. It's very long, and the novelty of the setting and the janky 80s aesthetics wears off pretty quickly, so if you're not in the mood for a Yoshiyuki Tomino epic, Aura Battler Dunbine probably won't be for you. The show's visuals and music have aged very poorly, and I'm not sure if they would have been considered more than middling even back in the day. The animation is rough around the edges in even its best moments, and the music, while definitely era and genre appropriate, is repetitive and generally forgettable. The Aura Battler designs are nowhere near as iconic or interesting as their Gundam brethren, so Aura Battler's success really lives and dies with its plot and characters. I was on board, for the most part, but I could absolutely understand if anyone grew tired of it before the conflict really heats up in the story's later stages. Without spoiling too much, the relationship between Byston Well and Earth becomes more and more complicated as the series goes on, and the adventure becomes much more interesting as a result.
Sentai Fillmworks' Blu-Ray collection contains no extras, and the hi-def format doesn't so much enhance the show's aged visuals as it does preserve them. We also get the old ADV dub from 2003, which is the kind of badly aged production that is either going to be insufferable or ironically charming, depending on your perspective. Nearly all of the performances are stilted to some degree or another, and the use of accents to delineate political allegiance is inconsistent and generally not well done. The most dubious highlight would have to be the faux-Irish (or maybe it's supposed to be Scottish?) trill that Vic Mignogna puts on for Neal; he's come a long way in the past fifteen years, which is good, because this is one of the worst manglings of an accent that I've heard in a very long time. The Japanese dub is easily a higher-quality version of the series all around, but I enjoyed the English track too, since it only added another layer of cheese to the series' kitschy quiche. The only quibbles I would mention is that the dub's mix occasionally sounded off coming out of both my TV speakers and my sound bar, and I didn't experience the same issues with the Japanese track.
I don't want to give the impression that I only enjoyed Aura Battler Dunbine ironically; the story is genuinely a lot of fun once it gets past the sluggish opening episodes, and when the series did hit its prime, I was earnestly powering through it because I wanted to see how everything resolved. I'm not always up for old-school Gundam-style series, but every once in a while shows like Aura Battler Dunbine scratch that itch for a good old-fashioned giant robot epic. Aura Battler Dunbine won't be for everyone, but I'm glad that Sentai has worked to preserve this piece of anime history with this Blu-Ray release, and anyone that is curious would do well to check it out.
That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading!
Hey, Shelf Obsessed is back this week! This week's shelves are from Ashlee:
"Heyo~ My name is Ashlee (aka Aura Ichadora)! Last time I was featured in Shelf Obsessed was back on 3/20/17, and since then, as you could imagine, the collections for both my husband and I have grown! Granted, mine have grown larger than his, but hey, that's how it goes, right?
Anyway, besides the volumes of items changing, we've also grown with shelves! My figures used to sit on my bookshelves themselves, but we had the luck in finding a curio cabinet where now they sit protectively behind glass (although for the picture, I opened up the cabinet for a better picture). We also replaced the shorter, 3-shelf case that used to hold my POPs, figures, and some of my manga with a much taller 5-shelf unit; currently one of the shelves is empty, but that just means I have more space for more books! On the husband's side of things, he now has a small collection of Biohazard releases, something that he previously thought he'd never have. You can also see that he has also grown the collection in terms of more strategy guides, more games, and more figures (including the Nendoroid of Chris Redfield; his reaction when he saw it was pure joy!).
On the side of newer additions to my collection, after long last, I did finally complete my Jing: King of Bandits manga! That was at least a 9- or 10-year journey that I'm so glad I was able to complete. I also closed in the gaps in many of my collections, particularly my Fairy Tail collection (last time, I had a huge gap between Volumes 14 and 31; since then, the gap is now closed to just needing Volumes 25 and 27-30, although I still need to collect the rest past Volume 37). I also obtained a couple of new artbooks, as well as a few more random Japanese volumes for my little collection (not of Glass Mask, unfortunately, although my brother tried his hardest to find them for me while he was in Japan this past April!).
I think that's about all I have to say this time. Thanks for featuring me, and hopefully I'll be writing back in sometime in the future with maybe a bigger collection (we are lowkey hoping that next year we may be able to move into our own place)!"
It's great to see a collection grow and evolve over time, especially when there's a particular series or franchise that keeps expanding. Thanks for keeping us updated!
If you want to show off your own collection of anime, manga, games, and/or awesome merch, take some photos and send them to [email protected]!
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