Cybuster Vol.01: Tokyo 2040 Review
Tokyo 2029. A flash of blinding white light erupts near Tokyo Tower, followed by an immense earthquake that completely decimates the bustling city. The reasons for this sudden natural catastrophe is unknown, but ever since that day Tokyo has been left a dilapidated, crumbling shell of its former self. Everywhere you go there's rubble, every breathe you take is contaminated by the dusty fallout. Eleven years after the 2029 incident, further devastation is being caused by a spate of smaller earthquakes and natural disasters. In response to this increased damage a government funding organization called DC is busy cleaning up the debris that covers Tokyo like some ghastly shroud. Their latest recruits include: Ken Ando, a young man who is desperate to clean the city to improve the health of his asthmatic sister, his childhood friend: Mizuki Kamijo, a conscientious young girl named Nanase Ozaki, and the stuck-up Lyune Frank - daughter of DC's late founding member. These rookies get thrown into a baptism of fire when a strange alien robot warps into the city and attacks the DC cleaning mechas, causing only mild damage, but ever since this day DC becomes obsessed with destroying this foreign robot – so much so that they start to turn more and more into a militaristic organization.
Cybuster is a no-thrills meat and potato post-Evangelion Mechanoid Sci-Fi show. Do we have a naïve hero? – check, mysterious incidents from the past? – check, a strange robot that repeatedly warps into the city and attacks? – check. How about a government organization that at first seems noble and just, but later turn out to be something far more sinister? – check, check, check. All the familiar ingredients are here and conveyed in a similarly unoriginal manner, but Cybuster stands up moderately well in comparison to the numerous Neon Genesis Evangelion Clones out there. The characters are reasonably likeable and more importantly the story trundles along at a healthy pace, with plot revelations occurring in a timely fashion. When I first read the synopsis the environmental clean-up elements immediately put me on the defensive, worrying if the show would come laden with yawn-inducing eco-warrior rhetoric. Well, we've been spared any of this in volume one, but I can't say I'm too confident that subsequent volumes won't be delivering one or two "save the planet" preaches. The very fact our hero has a sister suffering from chronic asthma pretty much demands it.
For now though the focus remains firmly on the development of DC, the organization Ken Ando is so desperate to become part of. And it's a shady one indeed, in the first episode a black cloud explodes over Tokyo disintegrating a small chunk of the city. This is followed by an earthquake-tsunami combo that causes much more widespread damage, so early on we see exactly what's causing the recent natural disasters. In episode two Mizuki discovers a black box during a routine cleaning assignment, a few minutes after dumping said box on an aircraft waste carrier it erupts in the familiar black cloud that appeared in episode one. DC's answer to this tragedy is to completely cover up the incident, and their activities continue to go downhill from this point. To combat the new alien robot they start arming their mechas, even though the "enemy" never actively engages them in open combat. They even introduce a brand new warrior mecha into the DC line-up, this robot also happens to be Lyune's late father's final creation and she is only too eager to pilot it – at any cost. When Nanase Ozaki criticizes the company's increasingly aggressive armament policy she is swiftly demoted, and when Mizuki goes poking around the black box incident she not only discovers a similar device in Commander Saphine's office, but she realizes her very life is in danger. This leads into a rather trite subplot where Saphine repeatedly tries to bump off her nosy underling. While all this is going on our "hero" remains the only character who is totally blinded by DC's noble image, but he does start to come round to Mizuki's way of thinking by the end of the volume.
So there's a lot going on in this first volume and there's plenty of scope for the story to twist and turn as it progresses, which is just as well because the action sequences leave a lot to be desired. Most confrontations with the alien mecha consist of protracted "robot walking" sequences and brief spells of "robot wrestling". The DC mechas are just too slow, stilted and cumbersome to pull off anything exciting and the alien robot has so far demonstrated an amazing repertoire of about three moves! So I don't really see the action sequences improving much any time soon, but at least the storyline is strong enough to maintain interest, even if there isn't anything particularly original about Cybuster.
While I have tried my best not to reveal too much about each episode in these synopses, please bare in mind that the second episode and onwards may feature spoilers for the episodes prior.
Episode 01. Messenger of the Wind: The year is 2040 and Tokyo has been turned into a crumbling skeleton of its former self by a devastating earthquake eleven years prior. Ken Ando, a young man whose sister Sayuri suffers from chronic asthma, has just taken his final test to join the Global Environment Research Institute, better known as: DC. The next day his results come in, Ken has failed and his life with DC now remains nothing but a vague dream. But when a strange alien robot appears within the city and starts attacking DC's clean up mechas, Ken decides he must help out at any cost – even if that involves stealing one of DC's defeated mechas.
Episode 02. Balcion: Days have passed since Ken Ando fought off the alien robot but once again it has returned to cause more trouble for DC. After the latest attack injures an entire team of experienced mecha pilots DC put into motion plans for the introduction of a new, more enhanced mechanoid robot into the field. Meanwhile, Ken and Mizuki have been assigned to an abandoned waste tip in the Tamagawa district. There Mizuki discovers a strange black box among the old rubbish, looking shiny and brand new, the box seems totally out of place in a tip that's not supposed to have been in used in over twenty years, but after Ken assured her that it's probably nothing, she throws it away with the regular trash. This action is about to set into motion an unfortunate sequence of events.
Episode 03. The Collapse of Tokyo: After discovering a second black box in Commander Saphine's office, Mizuki becomes suspicious about DC's motives. These doubts are only heightened when Nanase is demoted for criticizing the company's decision to arm its mecha units. As for her other team mates, Lyune doesn't care, she's happy piloting her late father's final mecha creation and Ken remains blinded by DC's noble public image and ideals. With no one else to turn to, she goes to Ken's journalist father for advice and further information on DC.
Episode 04. La Guias: Commander Saphine plants another "suitcase bomb" within the city while the new recruits tend to some crops back at the academy. When this device goes off it inevitably attracts the attention of Cybuster, which in turn springs DC and the rookie team into action. However, when Mizuki and company arrive on the scene to confront Cybuster, it becomes clear that the whole scenario has been orchestrated by Saphine to get the alien robot and Mizuki in one place at the same time. She has another suitcase bomb ready to kill two birds with one very powerful stone.
Episode 05. Artillery Training: Mizuki has returned from La Guias in one piece, but none of her DC coworkers are prepared to accept her story that Cybuster is only appearing on Earth to prevent the black cloud explosions from causing a major catastrophe on both his planet and Earth itself. In fact with DC actively increasing their armaments and aggressive policies, the situation is looking more hopeless than ever.
PresentationPresented close to the original 4:3 ratio, Cybuster seems to have been produced either on the cheap or with a deliberately retro style because it looks entirely hand drawn. As such, this isn't exactly the finest transfer out there and there are numerous niggling video artefacts that could affect the good health of any hardcore videophiles who are faint of heart. To start with there's an awful lot of grain present, perhaps indicative that the image as been blown up, another indication of this is that its generally soft, and to make matters worse outlines are enveloped not only by Edge Enhancement halos, but also sometimes a fine layer of mosquito noise and aliasing jaggies. Composite artefacts like dot-crawl and cross-colouration also rear their ugly head many times around areas of fine detail. Black levels are generally poor and accompanied by low-level noise at times, but brightness and contrast look fine so I would put this down to DVD compression struggling with the show's production. Another aspect of the cheap production is that the colour scheme itself is rather muted, with skin tones ranging from porcelain to grayish and pinkish hues, aside from the film grain they remain reasonably clean, although there is some noticeably colour bleed around character outlines. As bad as all this sounds though the image is certainly more than bearable, and when you take the low grade production into account it would probably be unfair to lambaste Geneon for how poor Cybuster looks. However, they have only assigned 6.5Gb of data to this five-episode volume. Perhaps upping the bit-rate would have helped tighten those black levels a bit and reduce the mosquito noise and colour bleed.
The usual choices of Japanese/English DD2.0 Surround are present, I naturally opted for the former for my primary viewing and it's a reasonably solid stereo track. Dialogue remains audible and clean throughout and bass is fairly rich, although perhaps a little "fuzzy" in relation to most newer shows, but dynamics are good enough and the action sequences sound pretty good. The English track sounds exactly the same for the most part, but the dubbed dialogue sounds a little bit muffled and not quite so clean in comparison to the Japanese. The dub itself does the job really, but some of the actor's performances are rather poor and some of the accents sound a little forced.
Optional English subtitles are present with no spelling or grammatical errors I can recall.