Fifteen years after the battle of the Absolute Defense line, in Okinawa, Kazumi Ohta pays her respects to her late husband’s grave. She meets with Reiko, who says space is a strange place because they were classmates, but Reiko is now ten years older. Reiko asks why Kazumi volunteered for a new mission when she’s already hero. Kazumi says she was only able to fight because of Noriko. Kazumi’s students give her a paper crane tree as a going away present and Takami gives her a letter to give to Noriko. Kazumi heads to Hawaii where she is met by a staff officer for Project Carneades. They take a ropeway into orbit, where Kazumi sees that they haven’t restored Australia yet. The staff member explains they’ve put all their resources into the Black Hole Bomb. He says they’re lucky that the Exelion’s explosion only destroyed three planets and caused Earth’s axis to fluctuate. He wonders if humanity has the right to use the Black Hole Bomb to destroy the center of the galaxy. Kazumi says humanity will be destroyed if they don’t. The staff member thinks that if that’s their fate, then so be it. Kazumi says all they can do is survive at any cost. The Black Hole Bomb, Buster Machine #3 comes into view and Kazumi thinks of how she’ll ride it to see Noriko. Near the center of the galaxy, as part of the Galactic Core Assault fleet, is the battleship Eltreum. On it, Noriko joins Jung in meeting admiral Tashiro. He tells them they just need to wait for the main force to arrive. Noriko wonders who will be piloting Buster Machine #3. Buster Machine #3, with Kazumi at the helm, enters warp and warps out at the Galactic Core Assault fleet. Tashiro is amazed that humanity was able to build something so big. Kazumi arrives on the Eltreum and immediate runs to Noriko. Later, they reminisce and Kazumi is reminded that although it was fifteen years for her, it was only six months for Noriko. She gives her the letter from Kimiko, which asks Noriko to return home while Takami is still alive. A holographic picture of Takami was also included. Noriko starts crying.
Tashiro briefs everyone on the plan to protect Buster Machine #3, which contains Jupiter, until it can implode. The fleet prepares for battle and launches the mass produced Gunbusters, the Sizzlers. Jung slaps Kazumi, saying she always takes what Jung wants and gives her the key to Buster Machine #2. She says both Ohta and the Buster Machine are Kazumi’s. Noriko tells her father that the war that began with his ship will soon be over. Kazumi tells her that she’ll be the pilot of Buster Machine #2 and Gunbuster launches. Tashiro asks his XO if he believes in God, but the XO says he doesn’t. Tashiro says he does and adds that at such a close distances, the Space Monsters shouldn’t be able to warp. He’s proven wrong as Space Monsters warp out and try to ram Buster Machine #3. The fleet attacks, but the Super-Exelion class ships are unable to hold them off. The Space Monsters ram Buster Machine #3’s barrier and self destruct. Kazumi says there are too many enemies, so Gunbuster separates. More Space Monsters warp out and self destruct, destroying the barrier. There are only twenty-two minutes left until the Black Hole Bomb implodes. A fierce battle between humanity and the Space Monsters ensues. Afterwards, all three Buster Machines as well as the Eltreum are operational. The count down for the implosion hits zero, but nothing happens. Tashiro is informed that not all of the slave generators are functional and the only way to trigger the implosion is the cause a chain reaction in the core. Tashiro wonders if there really is a God, and Noriko says she’ll make a miracle happen. She says her Buster Machine has a large scale degeneracy generator that can act as a fuse. Tashiro tells her to wait, but she doesn’t listen. Kazumi combines with Noriko and says that if they have two degeneracy generators, they can make it back to Earth. They enter Buster Machine #3 and descend into Jupiter, which is compressed to 1/30,000th its original size. Jung joins them in her Sizzler, but Noriko tells her it won’t withstand the pressure. Jung says she doesn’t care but Kazumi tells her they aren’t going to their deaths. Jung says it could take them centuries to return, but Noriko says they’re doing it so everyone else can live in the same time. Kazumi says that if she lives, tomorrow will always come. Noriko asks Jung to tell Kimiko that she’ll be back. Jung says that when they return, she’ll greet them with a big ‘Welcome back.’ As Gunbuster reaches the core, all communications are cut off. Noriko apologizes to Kazumi for dragging her into it, but Kazumi is fine so long as she’s with Noriko. Noriko rips out Buster Machine #1’s degeneracy generator and shoves it into the core. Buster Machine #3 activates and the Galactic Core Assault Fleet warps away. Jung tells Noriko and Kazumi to make sure they return. The Black Hole Bomb implodes and Gunbuster flies away. Noriko apologizes to Kimiko, saying she’ll never be able to see her again. On Earth, Kimiko thinks she hears Noriko calling out to her.
Twelve thousand years later, Gunbuster makes it back to Earth, but Noriko doesn’t see any lights. Kazumi wonders if they failed and humanity was destroyed after all. Suddenly, lights begin to come on and spell out WELCOME BACK. Noriko thanks Gunbuster and bids it farewell. Noriko and Kazumi head down to Earth.
First off, yes, this episode is in black and white, and no, they did not run out of budget. It was done intentionally for dramatic effect. The final battle was also composed of still images, but again, it had nothing to do with the budget. This episode was also presented in wide screen, adding a real theatrical feel to it. What an ending this is. The ultimate battle with the space monsters at the center of the galaxy and the selfless sacrifice of our heroines. There is simply one word to sum it all up: epic. You can’t help but let the tears flow every time that WELCOME BACK lights up. Gunbuster is one of the greatest anime ever conceived. Great animation, amazing music, awesome mecha action and most importantly: wonderful characters that give the series its heart. It has a greatness that I couldn’t even hope to convey with text. It has withstood the test of time and remains a staple that any anime fan (mecha fan or not) must see.