Magic n’ Mecha: What’s the Deal With Aura Battler Dunbine?

Aura Battler Dunbine wallpaper

I’ve always admired media that could pull off the aesthetic and narrative beats of two or more genres at once. 

It’s difficult enough to write a good story in today’s age of constant content where almost anything goes regardless of quality (albeit with a few gems here and there), but to strike the perfect balance between, let’s say, fantasy and sci-fi, is a feat.

In this writer’s opinion, it’s not enough to simply mash the ‘looks’ of two genres together and call it a day. There has to be some push and pull, a greater whole.

If I had to come up with anime that best exemplify this idea, Studio Ghibli films Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and its spiritual successor Princess Mononoke (1997) would be the front runners. However, there was an anime original released a year prior to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind that pulled off a similar ‘humans living with nature’ concept with an isekai twist.

And that would be a little anime called Aura Battler Dunbine.

With how modern and video game-esque the isekai genre is nowadays, it seems more and more like a new thing, a trend born from Sword Art Online and the like. 

And yet, isekai has always been a matter of fantasy world-hopping and not necessarily that of life-or-death games or game mechanics gone wrong.

Being the older TV show it is, Aura Battler Dunbine dives headfirst, unapologetic, into its non-video game world in a refreshing way.

What Is Aura Battler Dunbine

Yoshiyuki Tomino, the creator of the Mobile Suit Gundam anime franchise, also happens to be the man behind the underappreciated Aura Battler Dunbine.

Like its predecessors, Aura Battler Dunbine deals in human vulnerability, love, and war.

However, while the designs in Mobile Suit Gundam and its successors share a classic, distinctly robotic look to them (for the most part), Aura Battler Dunbine’s mecha mix said imagery with nature.

The anime original was produced by Nippon Sunrise, now Sunrise Inc. of Gundam fame (this studio was also responsible for iconic film Cowboy Bebop, Code Geass, and Love Live!), from 1983 to 1984. Though Yoshiyuki Tomino’s less celebrated TV series has since fallen to the wayside, it still brought something creative, dark, and unique to the table.

The TV series follows Japanese off-road motorcyclist Shō Zama and a woman named Marvel Frozen from Texas who are stripped from their homes and suddenly transported to the fantasy/sci-fi world of Byston Well.

As is the shounen way, our main protagonist Shō is transported to the parallel world the moment before a near-death experience. It is a combination of Shō’s ‘aura power’ and luck that grants him a place among freedom fighter Nie Givun’s ranks during the latter’s rebellion against the imperialist would-be tyrant, Lord Drake Luft.

Aura Battler Dunbine anime screenshot

Who Are the Characters?

Shō is a headstrong and heroic, yet troubled young man with quite the pilot aura whose own isekai moment of reckoning leads to conflict and opportunity alike. When Shō finds himself in the medieval Byston Well and is introduced to its insect-like mecha, the titular Aura Battlers (fueled by will power), he is actually swayed to Lord Drake Luft’s cause. 

Which I found pretty intriguing as far as narrative hooks go.

The protagonists typical of shounen tend to blend together in my mind, in no small part due to their tendency to be gung-ho guys with big appetites and big dreams. Though in our case, Shō doesn’t start his journey as an idealistic kid seeking adventure.   

On the contrary, Shō is a character who has to make up for a lot of wrongs early on in the show. And to his credit, make up he does.

Upon learning the truth behind his employer’s plan to ‘unify’ the land (at the urging of deuteragonist Marvel during a fateful fight), Shō steals the Aura Battler, Dunbine, and switches sides.

With that said, he and Marvel continue to develop an enemies-to-lovers, ‘will they, won’t they’ dynamic even while working on the same team…a dynamic that doesn’t exactly do the latter justice. But for the 80’s, Marvel’s balance of combat prowess and compassion was refreshing for a female character even if she did get bogged down by Shō’s story.

What makes Shō and Marvel so interesting are their vastly different lives prior to being spirited away to Byston Well as well as their relationships with those left behind as they juggle conflicting feelings, loyalties, and priorities.

And unlike modern isekai, the pair do get to return home from time to time. 

It is through these interactions that we become privy to just how much Shō and Marvel have changed in becoming unwitting soldiers in another land’s civil war.

As for the residents of this land, why not start with the cute sidekick?

Not only is Shō accompanied by Dunbine, the beetle of a mecha with a killer design, but an upbeat fairy named Cham Huau. Cham Huau pretty much exists to provide her pilot with encouragement and the rest of us, much-needed levity as the show grows darker in tone.

In fact, by the end of Aura Battler Dunbine, the fairy’s role takes quite the turn.

On the opposite end of the upbeat spectrum is Nie Givun.

Aura Battler Dunbine anime visual

The hardened leader of a small resistance of freedom fighters, Nie Givun is a man who harbors mixed feelings towards Shō (understandably) and Drake Luft’s daughter Rimul for a variety of reasons. Nie is the point-person for several characters, his illicit love for the latter serving as a constant source of sweet, sweet tension.

Speaking of tension, the moral rift between Drake Luft and his daughter, freedom fighter sympathizer Rimul, is in itself an important plot point as other forces come into play from the shadows.

Despite how much the father-daughter pair care for each other (and the degree to which our villain believes in his vision of a peaceful, unified world), Rimul alone unravels a plot against her father…by her mother of all people. Like love interest Nie, the gentle Rimul struggles to reconcile filial piety and truly following her heart. To her credit, she’s more than willing to go down the harder route.

Not one for subtlety, Bishot Hate is the name of the second shadowy figure who allies himself with Rimul’s mother, Luza. In turn, Bishot’s naive underling Todd Guinness may not be a native of Byston Well (having arrived alongside Shō), but his destiny becomes tied to the war in an unfortunate way.

Last but not least is Burne Bannings, Shō’s former commander while under Drake Luft’s employment as well as his main rival throughout the show. Like his master, Burne is not without his gray morality and more humane qualities.

What Is New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine, Garzey’s Wing, and The Wings of Rean?

Curious about what else creator Yoshiyuki Tomino had in store for Shō and company?

Well, New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine, also known as The Tale of Neo Byston Well released four years post-Aura Battler Dunbine (1988), is a three-episode sequel OVA set a whopping seven-hundred years after the explosive finale of the original TV series.

I say ‘explosive,’ but New Story of Aura Battler Dunbine still thrives on the interpersonal relationships and political strife its predecessor and Mobile Suit Gundam are famous for.

With that said, this OVA is quite the bittersweet affair with a new ‘cover’ Aura Battler, new locations to explore, and only a handful of old favorites reincarnated as side heroes and villains making a return.

An additional three-episode spin-off OVA called Garzey’s Wing (1996-1997) and a light novel spin-off series (published in 1983-1986) that was later adapted into a six-episode web series set in modern-day Japan, The Wings of Rean (released in 2005-2006), are the most recent entries to grace Aura Battler Dunbine’s legacy.

As far as spin-offs go, Garzey’s Wing and The Wings of Rean both manage to breathe new life into Byston Well to great success. The two build upon an already established world, a challenge in itself due to nostalgia, without having to rely on the original cast and lore.

Garzey’s Wing keeps things fresh by playing up the idea of parallel realities and parallel selves with its protagonist Christopher ‘Chris’ Chiaki. Unlike Shō, Chris’ consciousness is split in two during his isekai moment of reckoning. While Chris’ physical form remains on earth, his spiritual self manifests a flying ability called ‘Garzey’s Wing’ and is thrown into a slavery-driven conflict.

The Wings of Rean follows protagonist Asap Suzuki in an environment rife with modern American-Japanese tensions. When a revenge plot by Asap’s friends goes wrong, the young man encounters a Rimul-like princess of Byston Well and is transported to the kingdom of Hojo to assist in a resistance against the princess’ father, Shinjirō Sakomizu

Each Aura Battler entry has its own on-brand fantasy/sci-fi charm, but I love how this time around, the villain also hails from earth and brings with him his World War II biases. I think this type of villain does well to showcase ‘what could have been’ for our leads on top of their different perspectives on surviving in a distant land.

And as is to be expected of ‘Kill ‘Em All’ Tomino, the spin-offs aren’t afraid to delve into heavy losses either.

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