The Tale of Neo Byston Well (1988) is a 3 episode OAV that takes place 700 years after the events of Aura Battler Dunbine (1983). This time the story takes place entirely in Byston Well as no one has access to the Aura Road that was used so much in the first Dunbine story. I first heard about the Dunbine OAV when I was a teenager and have been waiting many years to see it. My enthusiasm was dampened somewhat when I saw that the subtitles, prepared by a group called Freebird, were truly awful. English wasn’t even their second language. My limited understanding of Japanese helped me make sense of the awkward subtitles well enough to feel like I wasn’t missing much of what was being said.
The Tale of Neo Byston Well is one of those OAVs that suffered from a limited budget. The story, although quite different in nature from Aura Battler Dunbine, was interesting and the artwork was very good. The lack of budget showed in the quality of animation. Many scenes consisted of still images being moved slowly across the screen. It wasn’t annoying so much as sad. Mechanical designs as good as the Sirbine and new Zwarth deserve better treatment.
Neo Byston Well took a very different look at Byston Well than the first Dunbine story in 1983. Aura Battler Dunbine showed us complicated human politics in a fantasy setting with medieval technology. The world of Byston Well was changing as new technology was slowly being worked into human society. The Dunbine OAV takes us to the Byston Well of 700 years later. The new technology that was being integrated 700 years earlier has been forgotten and human society has even lost much of the medieval technology it had before. Neo Byston Well has a strong fantasy feel. Humans scrounge most of what they have and wonder at the mysteries left behind by the people of past ages. The two aura battlers seen in the OAV reflect this fantasy feel with a more ornate and organic look. This time, the aura battlers look like they were hand-crafted by wealthy courts rather than pulled off of an assembly line like in the Dunbine TV series. Since aura battlers were always constructed from the body parts of the immense wild animals of Byston Well, the OAV style actually looks more appropriate than the style of the TV series.
In the midst of this later age, a warlord called the Black Knight has the only functioning aura battler, a new model Zwarth, and is working to expand his domain. When he attacks the small city of Baran-Baran in an attempt to steal their rumored treasure he makes an enemy of Shio. Shio is a sort of far-ranging hunter scavenger who becomes a warrior when he sees that the Black Knight has captured Princess Remuru and decimated Shio’s favorite trading post. Before long Shio discovers that the treasure hidden in Baran-Baran is a second aura battler, the Sirbine. With the help of a fiorene named Silky Mau, Shio takes the fight to the Black Knight. During a siege of the Black Knight’s fortress by Shio’s new army we discover that a mysterious figure who has been supplying the Black Knight with advanced technology is a cursed character from the first Dunbine story who plans to use ancient missiles to open the Aura Road.
Although the animation quality suffers and the subtitles are poor I still enjoyed The Tale of Neo Byston Well. The character and mecha designs were inspired. The artwork for settings and creatures was top-notch. Although quite different, the new look at Byston Well increased its appeal for me. This OAV is only available via download but it’s worth it for those who have seen the Dunbine TV series.