To start the New Year, I fell down the “Byston Well,” which had been something of a curiosity of mine for some time. Though Yoshiyuki Tomino is known as the father of Gundam and one of the pioneers of modern mecha, science fiction, he spent around thirty years developing a fantasy world, to which some attribute as his life’s work.
Byston Well is the main setting of this universe, a separate dimension described as being “between land and the sea” and is inferred to be an afterlife of sorts, “a place where our souls return to”. The world is filled with kingdoms, beasts, and different creatures, the most recurring being the mystical Faerie, a hierarchy of fairy-like beings. In the various Byston Well entries, we see different characters being spirited away or summoned to this world, a genre concept we’ve come to popularly know as “isekai”.
The world begins with Aura Battler Dunbine, releasing from 1983 to 1984. Tomino reportedly developed the series to compete with Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The story follows Sho Zama, a motorcyclist who is forcibly summoned to Byston Well to serve in Drake Luft’s army—a crucial part of his war campaign to conquer the land using powerful “Aura Machines” piloted by conscripted soldiers summoned from Upper Earth. Upon discovering Drake’s tyrannical rule, Sho resolves to join the rebellion against him.
Dunbine is a tragic tale of humanity’s endless ambition, filled with drama, romance, machiavellian scheming and the moral ambiguities of fighting a war, recurring themes in Tomino’s works, particularly the Gundam series.
Following Dunbine, the Byston Well series primarily evolved in the form of standalone novels, with works such as Aura Battler Senki (a novelization of Dunbine), Garzey’s Wing, Tale of Fau Fau, along with the OVA sequel The Tale of Neo Byston Well. However, I will specifically highlight what I consider to be the most significant complement to the original series—The Wings of Rean.
Tomino began publishing The Wings of Rean concurrently with Dunbine‘s broadcast in 1983. Rean follows Shinjiro Sakomizu, a World War II kamikaze pilot who is summoned to Byston Well in the midst of a battle in Okinawa. Using the Jikishin Kage-ryu school of swordsmanship, he becomes a holy warrior and the bearer of the titular “Wings of Rean”.
In 2005, an anime adaptation of The Wings of Rean was produced as a six-episode ONA(original net animation) by Sunrise with Tomino helming the series. The series characters were designed by Masashi Kudo, of Bleach fame, and feature radical new mechanical designs for the Aura Battlers by Tamotsu Shinohara, a renowned tokusatsu creature designer. The anime acts as a follow-up to the novels, with Shinjiro returning but now as an antagonist.
The anime’s protagonist is a Japanese-American boy named Asap Suzuki, who becomes entangled in the affairs of Byston Well after large warring Aura ships suddenly appear in Iwakuni and he meets Shinjiro’s daughter, Luxe. The Wings of Rean have seemingly chosen Asap to become a holy warrior. Decades have passed since the events of the novel and Shinjiro has become a militaristic tyrant not unlike Drake Luft in Dunbine. Shinjiro now aims to return to Upper Earth to exact revenge on the United States and Japan.
While Asap serves as the protagonist, the narrative is undeniably driven by Shinjiro. From his entrance in Episode 2, titled “The King of Hojo,” he assumes the role of the true main character. Even as the series progresses, Shinjiro once again becomes the bearer of the “Wings of Rean.” The audience is treated to a glimpse of the kingdom of Hojo he has constructed, showcasing his unwavering dedication to traditional Japanese culture. This commitment is evident in various aspects, including the kingdom’s attire mirroring traditional Japanese clothing, Shinjiro donning kumodori kabuki-style makeup, his army’s Aura Battlers wielding katanas instead of guns, and a prominently displayed model of a Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka kamikaze fighter.
This theme of strong Japanese nationalism is also present in Asap’s friends Rouri Yahan and Heiji Kanamoto. The series begins with them launching a terrorist attack on an American military base in Iwakuni, in protest against American military presence in Japan. When the two join Asap in Byston Well, they eagerly join Shinjiro’s army impressed by his anti-American ideals.
In the concluding segment of the series, as the Hojo and rebel armies are being sent back to Upper Earth, Shinjiro and Asap travel through time, forcing them to relive the horrific battles of the Pacific War. Upon their eventual arrival at Upper Earth, Shinjiro overwhelmed by despair, lashest out in a rage seeing a transformed Japan.
In a crescendo of anger and emotions, Shinjiro recalls the compassion he experienced as a kamikaze pilot. Faced with the imminent destruction of Tokyo by nuclear missiles, he tearfully makes the ultimate sacrifice. Utilizing the last remnants of his power, he poetically fulfills his duty as a kamikaze by absorbing the impending blast.
The Wings of Rean mirrors the tragic essence of Dunbine, delving into a narrative where a man finds himself ensnared not only in another world but also in the relentless grip of time. The Wings of Rean is a compelling exploration of the repercussions arising from the pervasive influences of nationalism and vengeance.