animefringe august 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
Aura Battler Dunbine - Classic Old School Mech

Have you ever had the feeling that you should be doing something more with your life? That perhaps your true calling remains unknown to you? Maybe you merely need more time before you find your place. Sometimes, however, instead of a person discovering his or her destiny, the destiny finds the person.

Such was the scenario for Show Zama. He didn't have many friends, nor was his bond with his family particularly strong. Even his considerable talents at motocross sports failed to fill the gap in his life. Suddenly, however, his life took a completely unexpected turn.

While riding his motorcycle down the road, Show was summoned away from the world he knew into a place called Byston Well. At first, he was treated like a prisoner, but when he agreed to pilot his captors' Aura Battlers against their enemies, his technical knowledge as a former inhabitant of "Upper Earth" proved too valuable for them to keep him incarcerated. However, he still isn't quite content with his limited freedom, and the idea of going to war for a side he knows nothing about - save for the fact that they kidnapped him from his home - does not sit well with Show at all.

He learns that he is fighting for a man named Drake Luft. Luft intends to become the ruler of Byston Well, and using the magical attributes of his land along with the technological advancements he's made with help from Upper Earthlings, he has the military might to support his ambition.

Aura Battlers are insectoid mechs capable of flight, perfected by a brilliant engineer from Upper Earth. Not much is known about this man, who goes by the name of Shot Weapon. As the story unfolds, hopefully we'll learn how he came to Byston Well and why he decided to aid Drake Luft in his nefarious venture.

Show arrives in Byston Well with two other men from Upper Earth. One in particular, Tod Guines, doesn't have the same compunctions against picking a side for battle and going to war. He almost happily embraces his role as a Battler against Drake Luft's first target, Neal Given. Time will tell whether or not Show will stay on Tod's side for long.

The world of Aura Battler Dunbine is a brilliant mix of science fiction and fantasy elements. There are sylphs (spunky fairy-like beings with magical talents), odd creatures, and impressively imaginative machines populating the world of Byston Well. The insert for the first DVD lavishes high praise upon Aura Battler's creators for such a unique tale, and I'm inclined to agree. This series reminds me of Sega's Panzer Dragoon line of games, and from me, that's not a small complement. The animation may be dated, but the background elements are as impressive as I'm sure they were when this series first surfaced.

All this is to be expected from such a venerable production staff, though I suppose they weren't quite as venerable at the time. The show is based upon a story by Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hajime Yatate (the latter being a team of writers I just can't escape lately, having created Escaflowne, Gundam, Betterman, Cowboy Bebop, and many other highly respected shows.) Yoshiyuki Tomino also directed this work, which he hoped to make into a standard-setting anime release for its time. Watching it now all of these years later, I can say that I'm still impressed by what I see.

The English adaptation of Aura Battler Dunbine is being handled by ADV Films. They've already released the first bilingual volume of the show on DVD, both by itself and with a collector's box. The box is of the same quality as most of their other releases, which isn't quite up to par with nicer boxes such as most of Bandai's sets or the incredible wooden Samurai Deeper Kyo box from Media Blasters.

I'm already intrigued by the story here, and seeing as this is quite a long series, I suppose I have plenty more to look forward to. We'll just have to see if Show has truly found his calling as the series progresses. For the time being, I anticipate with pleasure Show's journey of self-discovery.