Case Number 06020

AURA BATTLER DUNBINE: VOLUMES 5 TO 10

Aura Battler Dunbine: Return To Byston Well (Volume 5)
ADV Films // 1983 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Aura Battler Dunbine: Battlers Of Byston Well (Volume 6)
ADV Films // 1983 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Aura Battler Dunbine: Mysteries Of Byston Well (Volume 7)
ADV Films // 1983 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Aura Battler Dunbine: Invaders From Byston Well (Volume 8)
ADV Films // 1983 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Aura Battler Dunbine: Terror From Byston Well (Volume 10)
ADV Films // 1983 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // January 20th, 2005

The Charge

No place on Earth is safe!

Opening Statement

Put on your thinking caps, it's time for Aura Battler Dunbine. Let me be up front: I came into this series at about the halfway point, Volume Five, and it took me a while to get the hang of things. After several episodes, I'm still seeing "new" characters pop up now and again. Don't try this at home -- a story as layered and complex as Dunbine is probably better viewed from the beginning to the end.

Yoshiyuki Tomino, who wowed giant robot and mecha fans with the various Gundam incarnations, breathes life into another world ruled by whomever has the biggest fighting robot, even though the story is really about the people who pilot the machines. Dunbine strikes me as a cross between Saint Seiya and Gundam, a nod to the days when vast, dense epics (usually centered around warfare, as Dunbine is) were the big anime draws. If this is your cup of tea, Dunbine will make you very happy indeed.

Facts of the Case

Show Zama is your average, everyday motocross racer. He lives in Tokyo, but when he is "harvested" by a creature known as a selkie and taken to an alternate reality called Byston Well to pilot giant fighting robots called Dunbines, his whole world is turned upside town. Turns out, he isn't the only "recruit" from what the Byston Well denizens call Upper Earth -- others have been taken against their will and forced to serve in the army of Drake Luft, a power-hungry ruler who wants to control all of Byston Well.

Luft is, as you might guess, not a popular ruler, and he is opposed by resistance fighters who don't like his imperialistic ways. This faction is led by Neal Given, whose ship is the Zelana. Show decides to join Neal and his crew when he realizes the two sides are headed for a bloody civil war, and another Upper Earth immigrant, Marvel Frozen, a talented Battler pilot, follows in his footsteps.

The part about the aura comes in because the pilots need to have a certain amount of "aura power" to pilot the massive machines. They are clumsy at first, until they hone their skills, which Show has spent much of the first part of the series doing. New recruits take their counsel from Chum Huau, a foot-tall sylph (think Tinkerbell without the magic wand) who has an extensive knowledge of ancient customs and magics of the people of Byston Welles.

The story arc over these five volumes starts with Show back in Tokyo, confronting his enemies and then his family. Although it is home, pressures from his family and concern that the Byston Wellwar might spill over into Upper Earth bring him back into the fight. Things get interesting when Elmelie Luft, daughter of Drake Luft, defects to Neal's camp in protest of her father's tactics. Of course no one trusts her, so she has to prove herself to the team by taking control of an aura battler and joining the fight. Although her talent impresses everyone, she takes some drastic risks that put everyone in jeopardy, and Neal nearly banishes her back to her father's side. Soon, things with the war start heating up as Drake Luft pushes forward to try and crush any remaining kingdoms, starting with Rau. No longer able to simply defend his lands, King Foizon has no choice but to bring out his own heavy machinery and join the fight. However, the Feeorine do not want Byston Well to be destroyed by this conflict, and they transport all the fighters to various parts of Upper Earth, thereby drawing an already shell-shocked world into the heart of their conflict.

The Evidence

What works about Aura Battler Dunbine is that the machines never take over the story -- it's the egos and the aspirations of the people involved that ultimately drive the plot. Therefore, we care about these characters and what happens to them, even the bad guys. This is essential for a story that has so many characters and plot threads. If you don't care about the people, you are almost guaranteed to lose interest, no matter how interesting the battle scenes are.

The animation for Dunbine is very much in the eighties style of series like Robotech and Saint Seiya. Characters such as Neal Given (who looks vaguely feminine with his bright pink perm and sweat band...it's almost impossible not to imagine him in leg warmers, as well) would be absurd in a modern-day anime, but with everyone else drawn in more or less the same retro style, he starts to blend in after a while. Also in keeping with old-school animation style, when the aura battlers and battleships go to war, the dogfights are intense and epic in scope -- there is nothing middling about the way these ships go at it, and each fight becomes like a carefully choreographed dance, a thing of beauty to behold.

What puts me on the fence about Dunbine is what is ultimately either its greatest strength or its greatest weakness, depending on the preferences of the viewer. The massive cast of characters, the seemingly endless reach of the story, and the uneven pace (sometimes intense and fast-paced, sometimes slow and excruciating), poses the biggest challenge for the viewer -- the audience is constantly warring between a desire to sit back and enjoy the action or actually follow the plot and learn who everyone is...the story is often too dense to do both effectively. This is a series that reinvents itself every five episodes or so, throwing a new kink into the works to shake things up. For instance, Show's returning to Tokyo only to come back to Byston Well after not being recognized by his own parents comes straight from left field, and that's nothing compared to the entire armada's being transferred to Upper Earth. It's almost as if the writers were getting ready to wrap things up, then decided to keep going with a brilliant save.

For an early-eighties series, the picture quality of Dunbine holds up pretty well. Age-related wear shows up mostly as slightly washed-out colors, some edge bleed, and spots on the print. Other than a couple of darkish sequences (usually only for a few seconds at a time), the print is fairly uniform across all episodes and makes for a satisfying viewing experience. The sound quality fares a little better in the English dub, since the voice acting was recorded in 2004 and remixed with the original 2.0 Japanese music and effects track. ADV has gone for a fairly faithful translation, putting any "Westernized" references into the subtitles. In later episodes involving Russia in Upper Earth, the nuclear paranoia relevant to the time does not appear to be glossed over or buried in a cleverly neutral dub, as is the temptation when doing a contemporary dub of an older classic. The Japanese voice track does not, obviously, sound as good as the English voice track, but it sounds pretty good for a series that has been around as long as this one has. Voices are generally clear and well mixed with background sounds.

There aren't a lot of extras with these volumes, but a printed insert does give episode synopses and overall story arc, and production sketches offer a more complete glimpse at the characters and some of the machinery in the series. This latter is set to series music, as well.

Closing Statement

Ultimately, fans of old-school eighties animation and epic war stories will find themselves unable to resist Aura Battler Dunbine. The complex story is evocative of the work of Leiji Matsumoto, and the animation brings to mind that great space opera Robotech, complete with impossible hairdos. My only advice is to watch this series from the beginning, instead of trying to jump in the middle, because the story moves along at a pretty good clip, without a lot of time spent on recapping past events.

The Verdict

Despite a hairdo unbecoming a commanding officer, Aura Battler Dunbine is free to fight another day.

Review content copyright © 2005 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Aura Battler Dunbine: Return To Byston Well (Volume 5)
Video: 79
Audio: 90
Extras: 10
Acting: 80
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Aura Battler Dunbine: Return To Byston Well (Volume 5)
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)

Subtitles:
* English
* English (signs only)

Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Aura Battler Dunbine: Return To Byston Well (Volume 5)
* Production Sketches
* Production Notes
* Clean Opening and Closing Animation
* ADV Previews

Scales of Justice, Aura Battler Dunbine: Battlers Of Byston Well (Volume 6)
Video: 79
Audio: 90
Extras: 10
Acting: 80
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Aura Battler Dunbine: Battlers Of Byston Well (Volume 6)
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)

Subtitles:
* English
* English (signs only)

Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Aura Battler Dunbine: Battlers Of Byston Well (Volume 6)
* Production Sketches
* Production Notes
* Clean Opening and Closing Animation
* ADV Previews

Scales of Justice, Aura Battler Dunbine: Mysteries Of Byston Well (Volume 7)
Video: 79
Audio: 90
Extras: 10
Acting: 80
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Aura Battler Dunbine: Mysteries Of Byston Well (Volume 7)
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)

Subtitles:
* English
* English (signs only)

Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Aura Battler Dunbine: Mysteries Of Byston Well (Volume 7)
* Production Sketches
* Production Notes
* Clean Opening and Closing Animation
* ADV Previews

Scales of Justice, Aura Battler Dunbine: Invaders From Byston Well (Volume 8)
Video: 79
Audio: 90
Extras: 10
Acting: 80
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Aura Battler Dunbine: Invaders From Byston Well (Volume 8)
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)

Subtitles:
* English
* English (signs only)

Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Aura Battler Dunbine: Invaders From Byston Well (Volume 8)
* Production Sketches
* Production Notes
* Clean Opening and Closing Animation
* ADV Previews

Scales of Justice, Aura Battler Dunbine: Terror From Byston Well (Volume 10)
Video: 79
Audio: 90
Extras: 10
Acting: 80
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Aura Battler Dunbine: Terror From Byston Well (Volume 10)
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)

Subtitles:
* English
* English (signs only)

Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Aura Battler Dunbine: Terror From Byston Well (Volume 10)
* Production Sketches
* Production Notes
* Clean Opening and Closing Animation
* ADV Previews

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0084976/combined