BULLBUSTER – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser October 5, 20230 Comments
Tetsuo gesturing proudly at the Bullbuster

What’s it about? Hotshot young engineer Okine Tetsuo is transferring to a new company, bringing his passion project—the bipedal robot Bullbuster—with him. Unlike his old job, Namidome Industries is a ramshackle operation, tasked with doing “pest control” on the abandoned island of Ryugan. Running a business isn’t glamorous work, even when your job is taking down giant monsters.

I’ve got a real soft spot for “fantastical infrastructure” stories. It’s like the constructive answer to a thousand CinemaSins-tainted gotcha listicles, asking not “why is this unrealistic” but “what if there were unglamorous support structures making all this cool stuff happen?” There’s dozens of fun ways to take it, from edutainment like Heaven’s Design Team and Cells at Work! to genre parody like Miss KUROITSU from the Monster Development Department to commentary on corporate culture like, uh, Cells at Work. BULLBUSTER falls more on the latter side, framing its story of monster-fighting mechs through the small, borderline bankrupt company building the machines.

bullbuster grappling with a monster

Accordingly, most of the episode is work-com stuff rather than pitched battles—less Back Arrow, more SHIROBAKO. We have jokes about how Tetsuo can’t deploy to fight a monster until he fills out his paperwork, in case someone needs to be billed for insurance, while another pilot is grounded because he didn’t fill out his license renewal.

It’s the kind of joke that could get old fast but is smoothed along by a cast of archetypal but largely likable adult characters. Tetsuo is a pleasant take on the hotshot lead, confident and quick to get overexcited about his ideas but not smug or dismissive of those around him. We’ve also got three different women (and one more prominent one in the opening) with different personalities and body types. Office secretary Miyuki leans into more traditionally femme dress and seems to be the office mediator; pilot Ayumi is stoic, with a more athletic build (and, pleasantly, works as a team with Tetsuo rather than needing to be rescued so the newbie can show off his skills); and Tetsuo’s former boss Kanie has what I would lovingly call “Miss Piggy’s humansona” vibes. I’m tentatively hopeful about her; she’s loud and brash but nobody dunks on her looks or acts irritated by her input, and there’s an exciting mention that she can “drive any vehicle” that makes me hope she’ll be an active participant in future.

Kanie clapping her hand on Tetsuo's shoulder
Witch From Mercury set a high bar, BULLBUSTER. Can you at least manage “don’t treat this character like shit.”

The Bullbuster mech itself is clearly designed for a focus on R&D in storytelling, with the kind of multi-moving joints and pistons that would make a 2D action animator weep into their desk. It doesn’t feel designed for lots of cool-looking, beautifully choreographed fights, but for in-depth explanations of how the coolant systems keep the cockpit from overheating during battle. The CGI isn’t especially well-integrated into its surroundings, but both the Bullbuster and the monster of the week have a sense of heft to their movements that make them feel present in the 2D world. That does a lot to suspend disbelief about the disparate visuals, as do a couple really nice 2D cuts sprinkled throughout. I tip my hat to studio NUT (I’ll give you a minute), who showed this same deft hand for media mixing in Deca-Dence.

short gif of a man distracting a monster by beating on a taiko drum
Look, BluSky doesn’t have GIFs so this gets to go here for proper appreciation

I do want to consume this one with a couple grains of salt, though. This is an anime-original title (with a separate, simultaneous manga release), and Aoki Hiroyasu’s only other work as director/series composer is on the Netflix-buried Hero Mask. It was…less than well-received. The original concept creator is also credited as Nakao Hiroyuki, a name that will ring bells to denizens of only the deepest trash holes.

For those of you who have been outside, Nakao is the director of the Abunai Sisters OVA, a famously hideous CGI vanity project based on tabloid sensations the Kano Sisters. Don’t worry, I’ve saved you a google. It’s not all cursed—the art director is the same one from the severely underrated How to keep a mummy—but I’m somewhat bracing myself for this one to go off the rails by the end. With any luck, this will be unwarranted pessimism from someone still kind of smarting over Double Decker, and BULLBUSTER will continue to build on a charming opener. But if it does implode, I can only hope it does so with the best.

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